Nat MP pushes Minister on GM Act repeal

24 Sep, 2015 02:00 AM
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The Nationals WA MP Paul Brown has urged Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston to get moving on the repeal of the Crop Free Areas Act during a parliamentary debate last week.
The Nationals WA MP Paul Brown has urged Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston to get moving on the repeal of the Crop Free Areas Act during a parliamentary debate last week.

AGRICULTURE and Food Minister Ken Baston has been given a clear message to repeal the Crop Free Areas Act this term, with The Nationals WA displaying their support for the move in parliament last week.

Agricultural Region MP Paul Brown threw his party's support into the spotlight during a Private Members' Business speech on Thursday, to assure Mr Baston that it is time to act.

"While we have the numbers in the lower house and in the upper house we should move on and put it to bed so this doesn't drag on any longer," he said.

"We have satisfied everything we need to satisfy with markets, contamination, human health effects, there is nothing left to prove."

Mr Baston flagged consideration of a repeal of the Act about 12 months ago, but concerned growers and industry groups have been increasingly pressuring him in the past few months to press forward.

Much of this pressure has coincided with the Labor Party indicating it would remove the moratorium on the Act, which allows genetically modified (GM) canola to be grown in WA, if elected in 2017.

This would prevent GM crops being grown in WA.

Then agriculture minister Terry Redmond allowed GM canola into WA in 2008 by writing an exemption allowing for large scale trials.

A formal full-scale commercial release was approved in 2010.

Australian regulators have declared GM canola safe, but there is community and political opposition to GM crops via the Greens and Labor parties because of food safety and marketing concerns.

"Labor keeps referring to themselves as this progressive party, but what they're fundamentally doing is behaving like Luddites from the 18th and 19th century, they don't want progress or development," Mr Brown said.

"The Nationals may have had a position before 2008 that we were wary of GM, but we have changed our position after looking at the issue and we are very happy to promote and repeal the Crop Free Areas Act.

"I have confidence that the repeal will go through this year.

"By raising the Private Members' Business, I was reinforcing the Nationals' support for the repeal of the GM Crop Free Areas Act and reinforcing to the minister that we have confidence and we're asking him to get on with it.''

The 2003 Act gives powers to the Agriculture and Food Minister to designate areas of the State where GM crops can't be cultivated, or specific GM crops grown.

It also provides powers to destroy GM crops and imposes a $200,000 penalty for recklessly or knowingly growing GM crops in restricted areas.

Ahead of the 2008 WA election, the former WA Labor government enforced the Act to help maintain a power-sharing arrangement with the Greens in the upper house which frustrated many grain industry members.

Some 76,000 hectares of GM canola were planted in 2010, and plantings have been steadily increasing from about 10 per cent of crops in 2011 and 2012, to 15pc in 2013 and 20pc in 2014.

Of the 1.1 million hectares of canola grown in WA last year, about 260,000ha was GM canola.

Mr Brown labelled the legislation "ridiculous and irrelevant" and highlighted the intent of the Act to protect WA's reputation and markets in a trial introducing the controversial crop to the State.

"It was never designed to protect the people or the environment, as it had already been agreed with the Federal Government that the Gene Technology Regulator would make the decision to release GM varieties after comprehensive assessment of the risks," he said.

"That was agreed to by the State minister at that time.

"It was never designed to protect the State from contamination; in fact, all that the Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act does is to limit genetically modified organisms being grown in this State."

But Mr Brown's arguments were refuted by Labor members Ken Travers, Darren West and Greens member Lynn MacLaren.

Ms MacLaren called for laws that protects farmers who do not wish to grow GM crops, specifically referring to the question of contamination and the Marsh vs Baxter case dealing with GM canola from Mike Baxter's property which had blown into Steve Marsh's organic crops.

"It is true that WA has a good reputation as a clean and green, non-GM producer," she said.

"I would not want to risk that reputation by loosening any control that we might already have.

"Rather than weakening farmer protection, we really should be strengthening it."

However, The Nationals WA?MP for Mining and Pastoral Jacqui Boydell highlighted the need to also support the many growers who have taken on GM plantings.

"WA grain growers should not be required to seek permission from the State Government to utilise GM technology, and have to wait for the government to make a decision on the repeal of that Act," she said.

As a part of the debate, Mr Baston reiterated his plans to repeal the Act and highlighted that choice was vital for growers considering growing organically or GM crops, and for consumers wanting to buy organic or GM products.

"We have moved on and the Act has served its purpose," he said.

"It was brought in as a precautionary measure for marketing purposes."

"Things have moved on since then.

"We have proven that we can segregate those products like any other grain and, therefore, I very much support the motion before us today."

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