A Notice of Motion relating to the proposed importation of fresh New Zealand potatoes in Australia was passed in the Senate yesterday, referring an inquiry to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee.
The Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Biosecurity is reviewing plans to allow fresh New Zealand potato imports into Australia but the New Zealand potato industry has been ravaged by Zebra Chip disease, stemming from a bacterium spread by Tomato-potato psyllid insects.
The Nationals Senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie together with Senate colleagues proposed the inquiry consider the validity of scientific evidence, the extent of scientific knowledge relating to the understanding of the psyllid and other pests, and any related matters.
Senator McKenzie said it was essential to protect Australia’s biosecurity and reputation as a producer of disease-free produce, as the Gillard government’s track record on biosecurity was not acceptable.
“In the case of Zebra Chip disease, DAFF continues to reference scientific evidence from its 2009 Final Pest Risk Analysis rather than accept updated information.
“The European Journal of Plant Pathology last year published an article citing scientific evidence that potato tubers can transmit Zebra Chip without the Tomato-potato psyllid.
“Meanwhile, scientists remain divided on whether Zebra Chip can be transmitted via seed, despite the fact DAFF says it can’t.”
Potato growers in Bungaree last week said they had not even been consulted on the issue. Industry is acutely aware of the risks associated with letting diseased produce into the country, now the government must listen.
Senator McKenzie said she hoped the inquiry would hear from a wide range of industry and stakeholders.
“Zebra Chip has also been found in the United States of America, Canada and Mexico and caused damages of $200 million for New Zealand producers – we do not want the disease ruining our potato industry too.
“DAFF has reportedly received only 23 submissions relating to its review – hardly representative of the 9000 potato and vegetable growers across Australia.
“It is essential growers in particular voice their concerns around the government’s plans and take an active role in this inquiry, as some have said a decision to allow New Zealand potatoes into the country would be a nail in the coffin to our local industry.”
Submissions close October 10, 2012.
The Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee is to report on the inquiry by November 21, 2012.