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T2004/02 - Nationals back banana quarantine bid

AM - Saturday, 28 February , 2004 08:05:55
Reporter: Alexandra Kirk

ELIZABETH JACKSON: The Australian banana industry has secured the support of three key National Party Parliamentarians in its bid to have a quarantine decision overturned.

Last week, the nation's quarantine watchdog, Biosecurity Australia, cleared the way for banana imports from the Philippines under strict new standards.

But growers say the imports will bring with them some of the world's worst exotic banana diseases.

And the Nationals say the banana industry has a case, as Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The banana industry has won some powerful allies.

Grower leaders and scientists have briefed National Party Senate leader, Ron Boswell, Children and Youth Affairs Minister, Larry Anthony and backbencher, Luke Hartsuyker.

It appears to have paid off. Ron Boswell, for one, believes the banana industry has a case and he's going to support them.

RON BOSWELL: I'm certainly not saying that Biosecurity made the wrong decision. What I'm saying is that the banana industry through their scientists have pointed out some differences and those differences have to be explained.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well they're disputing Biosecurity recommendation aren't they?

RON BOSWELL: They are challenging the science.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And therefore you are too now?

RON BOSWELL: I'm asking for answers.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: With nearly 500 growers in his electorate, Luke Hartsuyker, is on side too.

LUKE HARTSUYKER: There certainly clearly seems to be a case for the banana industry in looking into the issue of protecting our clean, green image.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And Larry Anthony has about 200 banana farmers in his very marginal seat on the far North Coast of New South Wales.

LARRY ANTHONY: We've had a very strong regime. They've opposed this until very recently, and quite frankly, if you get people like the CSIRO who can't understand their models, I think it requires more time to understand why they came to this decision.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So do you think Biosecurity got it wrong?

LARRY ANTHONY: Well, we're going to test the veracity of the information that's been given to them.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And you hope that they'll come to a different conclusion in 60 days time?

LARRY ANTHONY: Of course I hope there'll be a different conclusion, but it has to be fought on the science.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The politics of angry banana growers is clear for all to see.

Biosecurity Australia's Mary Harwood says she's confident her organisation conducted an extremely rigorous analysis.

MARY HARWOOD: We welcome technical and scientific comment on the import risk analysis report. We have the most transparent methodology in the world and the most consultative process for assessing quarantine risk, and we're proud of that.

LARRY ANTHONY: The industry has 60 days to respond to the draft import risk assessment.

Agriculture Minister Warren Truss has said the proposals were based on sound science, but all three National Party MPs say eminent scientists are telling them there hasn't been any new scientific evidence presented, but that the methodology used to analyse risk assessment has changed.

LUKE HARTSUYKER: The goal posts have been changed in how you assess what is minimum risk and what is moderate risk and that's what needs to be challenged.

LARRY ANTHONY: And when organisations such as the CSIRO or people working for them provide concerns with regards to a report then I'd sit up and take notice.

RON BOSWELL: They've asked me to put certain points to Biosecurity and asked for an explanation.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And would you like to see the recommendation of Biosecurity overturned.

RON BOSWELL: If it is overturned it has got to be overturned on the science, not the emotion. If the science is raising questions, those questions have got to be answered.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: National Party Senator Ron Boswell, before him Federal Minister, Larry Anthony, and backbencher, Luke Hartsuyker, and that report from Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.