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Third reading speech, Biosecurity-HASNO Bill


Delivered by Hon David Cunliffe, on behalf of Hon Jim Anderton:


3 April 2008 Speech


Third reading, Biosecurity-HASNO Bill

Madam Speaker, on behalf of the Minister for Biosecurity I move that the Biosecurity Amendment Bill (No 4) and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Amendment Bill (No 2) be now read a third time.

The Biosecurity and Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Legislation Amendment Bill was introduced in response to a December 2007 Court of Appeal judgment concerning an import health standard under the Biosecurity Act that had been issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, or MAF. The Court's judgment was confined to the particular import health standard before it, which was for Australian honey, but the Court's reasoning applied very broadly to most kinds of imported goods.

In short, the Court stated that all new organisms which might incidentally be imported in imported goods require approval under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (or HSNO) Act. This created an unworkable legal framework for the management of biosecurity risks at the border.

The Court's judgment resulted in legal vulnerability for most, if not all, existing import health standards, and made it necessary to suspend issuing any new import health standards or amending any existing ones.

This was clearly an untenable state of affairs, and made it necessary to respond rapidly with amending legislation. I am pleased that most of the parties represented in this House and those on the Primary Production Committee that considered the Bill have recognised the need for prompt legislative amendment, and support this Bill.

The key change that the Bill makes is to confirm that the Biosecurity Act, rather than the HSNO Act, is the correct statute for making decisions on incidentally imported new organisms. This is the way we understand Parliament intended the two Acts would operate, and this is how they have been operating up until the Court of Appeal decision.

It is also the way that officials from the relevant agencies agree that the Acts should work. Suggestions have been made from some quarters that this Bill is the result of some kind of turf war between agencies. I can assure members that MAF, the Ministry for the Environment, and the Environmental Risk Management Authority worked closely in developing the legislation, and are in full support of it.

Some concerns have also been expressed about the involvement of the Department of Conservation in the development of the Bill. Following the Committee stage of the Bill earlier this week, it should now be clear to all Members that DOC was properly consulted in the development of the Bill, and on the key Cabinet paper.

The Biosecurity and HSNO Acts were designed to work in partnership to protect New Zealand from the risks associated with the importation of organisms, with the Biosecurity Act focussing on the incidental importation of organisms with risk goods, and the HSNO Act covering the deliberate importation of new organisms. The amendments will ensure that the Acts can work in partnership more effectively, without compromising the level of protection for New Zealand.

The Bill was introduced into the House on 12 February this year. It was read for the first time on 19 February and was referred to the Primary Production Committee for consideration. The committee heard 15 of a total 53 submissions received on the bill.

I would like, on behalf of the Minister, to again thank the members of the Primary Production Committee for their valuable work on this bill. They had to tackle an issue arising from the interface between two quite complex Acts, in a very tight time frame. The committee worked hard to quickly gain an understanding of the problems created by the Court of Appeal judgment, while reviewing the concerns raised by a number of submitters.

The select committee did not agree with the proposals from some submitters that substantial amendments be made to the importation provisions of the Biosecurity Act. This, I believe, was the correct approach to take with a Bill that has been developed to do no more and no less than resolve the problems created by the Court of Appeal judgment, and that was being progressed quickly for that purpose.

The select committee did, however, amend the Bill to provide for an independent review process that can be used in cases where significant concerns have arisen during consultation over an import health standard.

MAF develops its import health standards by following a process, which includes peer review and consultation. MAF engages with its various stakeholders in developing import health standards, and most import health standards are developed without substantial disagreements. On some occasions, however, the process for developing an import health standard becomes affected by a protracted dispute over some aspect of MAF's risk management decisions. I would like to see the new provision for independent review used as a means of moving forward in those few cases where the import health standard development process has become contentious.

The select committee also grappled with how best to deal with the import health standard for Australian honey. On the one hand, the National Beekeepers' Association had obtained a Court declaration that no honey containing P.alvei, a micro-organism, could be imported without an approval under the HSNO Act. On the other hand, the HSNO Act is not suited to assessing the risks from passenger new organisms, and the select committee had legal advice confirming that there are no constitutional reasons not to validate the import health standard for Australian honey.

I understand that a number of members considered it was essential that there should be no imports of Australian honey until an independent review is completed. A Supplementary Order Paper to make sure the legislation has this effect was tabled by the Minister during the Committee stage, and agreed to by the House.

I endorse the common-sense approach of ensuring that no imports of Australian honey should be permitted until the review is completed. Notwithstanding this, it is important that the review be completed in a timely manner, and that it focuses only on the key issues that have previously been disputed by the National Beekeepers' Association. The process for developing the import health standard for Australian honey goes back a period of some years, and has already included extensive consultation and peer review. I would hope that the review can be completed within a period that is close to the 90 day period initially recommended by the select committee, so that final decisions can be made and all parties to the issues can move on.

In closing, I thank the members of the Primary Production select committee again for their work on this Bill, and commend the Bill to the House.

ENDS

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