Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (19:18): In reflection on the member’s very good speech, ‘Don’t come the raw prawn with me,’ I was thinking! I’ve been married for over 40 years and I’ve farmed for 35 years. My wife and I had been married for, I suppose, five or seven years when some new virus got into our wheat crops and we had to go off and purchase a whole heap of fungicides and spray them out to save the crop from severe devaluation She hadn’t heard of it before—and I hadn’t heard of this particular thing, either, at that stage—and she made up a list of all the things that, as a nonfarmer, she had never realised could go wrong with a wheat crop. There were about 35 things on the list. I looked at the list, and I said, ‘That wouldn’t be the half of them!’ So there is this realisation that there are so many things lurking around that actually want to damage what we do so well here in Australia.
We are fortunate because of the fact—and we’ve heard reference to it already—that we are an island, and that’s given us a great barrier against so many of these things in the world, and we’ve managed to keep a lot of them out. A lot of them we haven’t. Some of them we’ve even brought in ourselves. Rabbits, foxes, cats, sparrows and cane toads were all brought in on purpose. It’s unbelievable when you think about it now. Until cane toads, they had all been brought in on the basis of ignorance. By the time we got to cane toads, we had actually worked out that some of these things coming into Australia were not good for us. One such case was prickly pear. So we brought in the cane toads ‘after careful analysis’ that was supposed to make sure they would do more good than harm. We got that one wrong as well. But I think we’ve become more sophisticated as we’ve gone along. The last outbreak of something that we brought in where we hadn’t fully worked out whether it was going to be good or bad was the calicivirus for rabbits. It was a darn good thing it did get out, as it turned out, because it has given us a bit of a reprieve from the bunnies for some time.
We are moving towards an agriculture sector worth $100 million a year. We’re over $70 million now. It’s an outstanding success. I won’t get into the debate about what the climate has or hasn’t done to Australian farmers. I will only remark that we grow more every year of better quality, and we are exporting all over the world. It’s a great tribute to technology, to science and to smart farmers getting on with the job. I reckon every farmer who is about my age says, ‘I don’t see what we can do next that will be any better,’ but they all do. We are on a continuing two per cent growth on production, without worrying about prices. So these are great outcomes, but we need to protect the sector. Some of those other things that are out there have been touched upon already. Foot-and-mouth disease is one. African swine flu, I think, is a very interesting one. It has decimated—actually ‘decimated’ is an overused word, and it’s misused because ‘decimated’ means a loss of 10 per cent. It’s actually been far worse than that, with more than 50 per cent of the herd taken out through Asia. We’ve kept it out of Australia thus far. I was talking to some scientists about it, and I asked them: ‘What’s the vector?’ They said, ‘It’ll come in because pigs will eat offal.’ I said, ‘We don’t feed offal in Australia, so that’s not a problem.’ And they said, ‘No, we do.’ I said, ‘No, it’s banned,’ and they said: ‘No, no. We’ve got backyard farmers with a couple of pigs. They go off to Asia or Italy or wherever they go for their holidays, and somebody gives them this bung of you beaut stuff, and they take that home for the family. When it’s gone a bit off, after they’ve all had a chew on it, it goes to the pig out the back. That’s where it will come from.’ Then you understand, when customs officials are seizing all those goods coming in through airports—and we’re talking tonnes of the stuff—how lucky we’ve been, up till now, to avoid it.
I’m using up my time rapidly without getting to the point, but we have increased our funding over the last seven years by 60 per cent. That is obviously a very good thing, and there’s another $400 million coming in as a result of the last budget. This is a serious, first-grade issue, not just for Australian agriculture but for Australia generally. We have a natural advantage and we need to protect it. We need to make sure that we keep ourselves as clean and free of these things as possible. There’s pestilence and there are weeds. There’s varroa mite which could take out the bees. It’s an endless list, as I told my wife some years ago.