CONSTITUENCY STATEMENTS: Apple imports
Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (09: 30): Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a coalition delegation to New Zealand to view firsthand the horticultural practices of apple orchards and packing houses. Members who took part included the shadow agriculture minister and the members for Murray and Wannon.
The arrangements coordinated by Alistair Ferris of the New Zealand Visits and Ceremonial Office were first class.
I must also thank Pipfruit New Zealand, particularly Chief Executive Officer, Peter Beaven, and Chairman, Ian Palmer, and the various orchards and onsite people who gave us an unfettered look at what they do and how they do it.
The four members who took part in this largely self-funded trip went across the Tasman with open minds.
Australia is now importing apples from New Zealand for the first time in 90 years. There are concerns in Batlow, in my electorate, about our ability to remain disease- and pest-free as New Zealand has diseases and pests which do not exist in Australia. Batlow is the apple capital of Australia and should not have its future jeopardised by federal Labor, which puts trade before quarantine. Apple orchards have been vital to Batlow's economy for 120 years.
These days 39 apple growers at Batlow provide employment directly and indirectly for 2,500 people—all hard workers; all taxpayers.
That wonderful history and those jobs have been placed at risk by a government which could and should have done more to look after its own. Instead, as with most things agricultural and many things of importance to regional Australia, Labor either caved in or did nothing.
Australia is at present free of fireblight. Fireblight is a contagious disease that particularly affects apples, pears, quinces and some ornamental plants.
An outbreak would devastate Australian horticulture, cause considerable environmental harm and be impossible to eradicate. Now that Labor has openedthe way for apples to be imported from New Zealand, every possible precaution to protect Australia's disease- and pest-free status must be taken and vigorously maintained.
It is of grave concern that three out of the first 13 consignments of New Zealand apples were denied entry. Australia originally barred apple imports after discovering in 1919 the bacterial disease fireblight in fruit from New Zealand. By 18 August 2011, just a day after the all-clear was given, seven permits had already been issued to New Zealand orchardists.
Later that same month a live-insect pathogen and potentially fireblight- carrying leaf matter had already been found in one of the first consignments of New Zealand apples bound for Australia.
The Australian government needs to urgently review its quarantine protocols to ensure our biosecurity measures are the tightest and toughest they can be.
Too much is at stake not to do this. Australia's reputation as a fresh-food producer, thousands of livelihoods and the future of our own export markets are at risk.
We cannot have our proud, sustainable and viable industries—indeed, whole towns—ruined because our
Federal Government did not do more under World Trade Organisation rules which would have made quarantine protocols far more stringent than they are now.
There is something to be said for states declaring quarantine areas similar to fruit fly exclusion zones in fruit-growing areas, such as around Batlow and the Murrumbidgee irrigation areas.