18 August 2011
Julia Gillard’s nod to potentially fire-blighted Kiwi apple imports is appalling, writes BRIDGET McKENZIE
THE attitude of the Federal Government when it comes to dealing with the major issues confronting regional Victorians is baffling.
The latest in a string of decisions that confound me is the possible green light to the importation of New Zealand apples under minimum quarantine conditions. I just cannot understand how a government could not lift a finger to avoid the risk of an industry wipe-out.
To much applause, a wink and a nod, Prime Minister Julia Gillard told the New Zealand Parliament in February their apples could come to Australia.
Why is the PM showing such disdain for Australian apple and pear growers, their families and the thousands of people who work in and around the industry? She does not understand there is a human cost of her flippant remarks expediently made in a foreign parliament.
Regional economies are underpinned by agriculture; by not putting Australia’s best interests first she has potentially cut the Victorian apple and pear industry off at the knees.
Following the PM’s nod to New Zealand trade interests, Biosecurity Australia issued a draft report explaining the quarantine measures to accompany the trip across the Tasman.
Despite 90 years’ of fire-blight disease in New Zealand, their apples could be sent to Australia having been subjected to growers’ self-assessment.
No quarantine officials on the ground, no third-party checks — just the growers giving the tick that fire blight is not evident. Talk about a conflict of interest.
The focused attention of apple and pear industry bodies and their campaign around the issue are to be applauded. They have staged protests, lobbied politicians, lodged a submission with Biosecurity Australia — but the Gillard Government doesn’t appear to be listening.
Under World Trade Organisation rules, Australia must decide on a course of action by today — either accept the recommendation of Biosecurity Australia and allow New Zealand apples to arrive under minimum quarantine conditions, or insist on tougher measures.
The orchardists are fighting for the tougher measures. They have no qualms about the competition from New Zealand; they just want assurances quarantine controls are sufficiently rigorous to keep out fire blight.
The Goulburn Valley, with Shepparton at its heart, has most to lose from fire blight spreading to Australia. Apple trees can recover from the disease after several years, albeit after huge expense and loss of income, but pear trees die. And almost 90 per cent of Australia’s pear industry is in the Goulburn Valley. So far, there has not been any acknowledgment of this from the Government.
While our Prime Minister has charmed and delighted the New Zealanders and possibly surrendered our quarantine powers to a foreign government, she has left the people of the Goulburn Valley bewildered and shocked.
This has been a pattern of her government. Many people in regional Australia feel as though they’ve been deserted by a government that doesn’t understand, doesn’t care. The list is long — prolonged and distressing process of Murray-Darling Basin reform, restrictive labour laws that make it very difficult to employ young people for a few hours after school, youth allowance measures which caused anxiety for thousands of regional young people, over-the-top food labelling laws that could add hugely to costs for our food processors, knee-jerk reaction to shut down live cattle exports, leaving hundreds of people jobless and an industry floundering to cope, and now a carbon tax to add to the worries.
The people of regional Australia are under mounting pressure. Their businesses, their way of life and their values are being undermined by people who rarely, if ever, set foot in country Australia. Their voices must be heard.
Bridget McKenzie is a Nationals Senator for Victoria