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Turia: Biosecurity Amendment Bill

Biosecurity Amendment Bill (no 4) / Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Amendment Bill (no 2)
Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party
Thursday 3 April 2008

Tena koe Mr Speaker, tena tatou katoa.

At the start of this week, passengers on Air New Zealand flight 21 from Fiji were treated to a surprise ‘manual spraying’ when it was discovered that the aircraft's bio-security clearance had expired.

Upon touchdown at Auckland, two Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officers boarded the plane and fumigated everything in sight, leaving one adult with a sore throat and causing a baby to gag and vomit.

As the passengers were quarantined, cooped up in a thick blanket of fog, no explanation was given for the unusual drenching. Passengers were left with no answers as to whether Air New Zealand should be held to account, or the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

In many ways, there are similarities between this one incident, and the purpose of the legislation before the House today, to amend the Biosecurity Act 1993 and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 to clarify the relationship between these two Acts.

As it transpired, Air New Zealand was responsible, the bio-security clearance of the aircraft having expired and emergency procedures being suddenly required at border control.
The central connection between the Fiji flight fumigation and these two bills is of course all to do with the level of information and clarity of roles between two separate organisations.

The Maori Party has taken a keen interest in the progress of this Bill as we have been concerned that the gap in the current statutory framework, which the court case brought by the National Beekeepers Association highlights, has created potential for confusion and conflict.

This is a Bill which turns that old adage ‘one standard for all’ on its head. And the two older parties, Labour and National, appear to be very happy to oppose this principle, opting instead to give preference to perceived trade benefits over and above the long term biosecurity of the nation.

The deliberate introduction of a new organism requires an approval under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, but when that known new organism is a hitch-hiker organism it's now able to slip in with only the scrutiny of the Biosecurity Act.

The Maori Party is very clear that the essence of the Court of Appeal decision in the National Beekeepers Association vs Chief Executive of MAF should be upheld.

That decision determined that the gazetted new organism, P. Alvei, is to first gain approval for import into New Zealand under the HSNO Act before bee products from Australia can be imported.
What the House is well aware of is that the Minister has always maintained that this decision created an unworkable legal framework for the management of biosecurity risks at the border.

And yet as my questions to the House earlier this week revealed, this so called unworkable regime has actually been working perfectly well for many years.

The 2005 Briefing to the Incoming Minister advised the new Minister that all new organisms entering New Zealand, whether entering deliberately or unintentionally, were receiving one standard of scrutiny under the HSNO Act.

Accordingly, once an organism has been identified as new, MAF is legally prevented from giving it bio-security clearance until it has been approved under the HSNO Act. This approval can only be given by the Environmental Risk Management Authority.

There is very little difference between this departmental briefing and what the Court of Appeal said in its judgment, and yet three years down the track, the nation is suddenly in a spin to amend the law.

The Maori Party has been extremely concerned at the seriously shortened period of time that has been allocated to this issue. We were alarmed that submitters had little more than a week to prepare submissions, and the select committee effectively only had a fortnight to consider the bill. And I do congratulate the select committee on the very hard work they have done.
We have, however, been very appreciative that changes have been made throughout this process, related to the suspension of powers to give bio-security clearance.

We were concerned that under the bill as it stood, it would have been lawful for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to give clearances to shipments of Australian honey within ninety days of the bill’s getting the Royal assent, even if the independent review panel set up under the bill has not yet been set up, and even if the import health standard allowing honey imports has not been reviewed.

A Clayton’s example of policy making if ever there was one.

We submitted a SOP to this effect at the Committee stage of the Whole House and were pleased to see the issue clarified, so that there will be a 90-day period for a review to take place, and that review will be held before any importation of Australian honey is possible.

Our proposal in SOP 189 was to ensure that the ninety day suspension period can only come into effect after the independent review panel has become operational, and not before.
In effect, we believed this amendment clarified the intentions of the Primary Production Committee to allow the import health standard for Australian honey to be looked at afresh.
While we are pleased that the changes around clause seven have been supported we still remain of the view that this Bill amounts to the serious weakening of our biosecurity controls at the border.

The importance of protecting our New Zealand bees from potentially harmful organisms must be understood right across this House as an issue of national importance.
Bee pollination is essential for grass, crops, trees, flowers – the entire infrastructure of our primary industry is dependent on it.

The effect of this Bill on our native flora and fauna has been minimised, the march towards free trade dominating over our biosecurity rights.
The irony is of course, if our honey bees are indeed compromised, the damage to our future trade might well be unimaginable.
Our colleague, Jeanette Fitzsimons, raised the issue during the second reading, that Department of Conservation official advice had been muzzled following it having identified there were significant gaps in the analysis leading to this Bill.
How rich is that, that the agency charged with the key responsibility for protecting our natural heritage and our precious indigenous flora and fauna was not consulted on further iterations of the Bill.
Yet again this Bill represents the practice of this Government to listen to those it wants to – in this case Crown Law and MAF - while ignoring the bulk of the submitters who fronted up with their concerns, including the pork industry, with its Maori pig farmers, the National Beekeepers Association, with Maori beekeepers and especially those in Ngati Porou and Te Whanau a Apanui specialising in the production of manuka honey, Federated Farmers with their Maori farmers, Meat and Wool New Zealand with Maori meat and wool producers.

Their selective hearing has been deemed necessary in the shameless pursuit of free trade.

The whole point about allowing Australian honey into the country is nothing to do with having robust bio-security at the borders. It is all about free trade, apples for honey.
As I noted at the second reading, the decision to import honey is a consequence of this Government’s penchant for trade agreements with Australia, particularly the desire to export our apples there.
So once again we have a divide and rule tactic being applied, playing off the bee keepers interests against the apple producers interests. Maori people and the Maori Party know these tactics only too well.

Bio-security protection has just become another commodity, like human rights and slave labour, which the Government has been prepared to sacrifice for trade and the fear of breaching New Zealand’s World Trade Organisations obligations.
The sad upshot of this decision, however, is that by giving priority to the WTO obligations, we open ourselves to the very real risk of not properly protecting our own flora and fauna, and in the process putting at risk of contamination a whole range of primary industries.
We have consistently put before the House, our understanding that Free Trade Agreements compromise our sovereignty by overriding domestic law.
We have always argued for fair trade not free trade - which does not compromise our sovereignty, threaten the status of the Treaty, impact on work standards and wage rates, or be complicit in other nation’s shameless lack of respect for human rights, indigenous rights, and the environment.

Arguments of course, which are uppermost in our mind as all eyes are fixed on China.

Mr Speaker, there is simply too much at stake here. The Maori Party will not support this Bill.


ENDS

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