Biosecurity Legislation Amendment (Incident Response) Bill 2023

28 November 2023

It is a pleasure to rise to speak on the Biosecurity Legislation Amendment (Incident Response) Bill 2023. This is the first time in this place I have been able to speak on a bill that is related to agriculture specifically, and that is quite exciting for me, with a farming background myself – it is not just that side of the house that engage in farming. I also have a long history of farmers in my family.

Before coming to Parliament, though, my main career was as a primary school teacher. But we all have careers along the way when we are studying or jobs that we first do, and my very first job as a teenager was at a berry farm. I was a strawberry picker in the hot sun in the summer, picking strawberries and working in the cafe. It was a pick-your-own type of berry situation. They had trout in the dam and they had stone fruits, and it was just a wonderful experience to see how farming and agriculture worked, horticulture particularly, and the amount of hours and hard labour that farmers did – and I was only a teenager. But my grandparents’ farm was just around the corner. They had sheep, cattle and cropping. It was good fun being a kid growing up on a farm or seeing and being part of a farm, but you did not really see all the hard yakka that goes on behind the scenes – it is 24/7. My grandparents certainly worked very hard.

I loved that job. Little did I know that I would be doing a full circle eventually – that when my kids were very little and I had not gone back to teaching full time a friend and I would start our own boutique farm. We called ourselves ‘One Goose Farm’ – and I think I was the goose in that – but we would sell garlic and berries, a little bit of stone fruit or eggs and honey. We would go to farmers markets and we would sell at the farm gate. The best experience I had was actually talking to people about where their food was coming from and the amount of work that was going on behind the scenes to create this wonderful produce that people were buying. There is a bit of education that needs to be there; people do not understand where their food may come from or the amount of hours that go on behind it. It is a great experience to do that, but it also makes you understand that food is quite expensive. People say why are your garlic or berries so expensive, but I think the question is why the food at the supermarket is so cheap. That is really the question. It was a great experience. Biosecurity was always front of mind when we were doing that. We called ourselves boutique farmers because we did not own a tractor. Everything was done by hand – shovels and blisters on the hands at the end of the day. But we thought the best way to create the most high-quality food was to literally have our hands in the dirt and make sure that we were watching it daily. Biosecurity was really important – who was coming onto the farm, who was leaving the farm, what materials, hay or mulch we were bringing into the farm – to make sure that we were creating the best produce.

But an outbreak of disease can be absolutely devastating to farmers, particularly in our agricultural sector. Having those biosecurity measures does ensure that we are producing safe food, because contaminated livestock and crops do pose a health risk, and I have heard contributions today talking to that. But it is about the environment – invasive species, disease and pests can also have that negative effect on the environment. We need to implement those biosecurity measures to help prevent the introduction of, for example, non-native species that can really disrupt the local ecosystem. There is a reason why here in Victoria we do protect our agriculture so fiercely; it is because of that clean and green agriculture that we have. We are the envy of the world. Markets across the world want to buy our produce, and we should be very proud of that, but that is the reason why we are also very protective of that.

As I have mentioned, farming and farmers really ensure that seven days a week, 365 days a year, we have healthy, locally grown food in our supermarkets, and we should be very grateful for that. Another reason why this bill is very important is that the gross value of Victorian agriculture is that $17.5 billion which has been discussed today. But farmers also manage 50 per cent of our state’s total land area, which is absolutely incredible. That is also across the nation: farmers manage 51 per cent of Australia’s landscape. Every day those farmers are creating positive environmental outcomes on behalf of Australia. They really are the caretakers. Every farmer I know wants to leave it better than they found it to pass on to the next generation.

I will talk a little bit about the bill itself. The bill does amend the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994, the Livestock Management Act 2010 and the Plant Biosecurity Act 2010. It enhances Victoria’s capability to manage those biosecurity incidents, including preparing for, responding to and recovering from exotic animal disease or plant pest or disease detection or outbreak. This is a commitment that the government made to improving the management of exotic disease outbreaks and control capabilities and to enhancing our ability to respond to biosecurity incidents and improve those efficiencies within the system. The consequences can be significant, and these include economic impacts associated with eradicating a pest or disease, loss of access to national and international markets and impacts on productivity, jobs, employment and the natural environment.

I will just talk a little bit about how this relates to the Bellarine. This bill actually is very important to the electorate of Bellarine. We not only have a really strong agriculture sector but we also have a really strong and thriving aquaculture sector. Managing these biosecurity risks on the Bellarine is really fundamental to the prosperity of Bellarine farmers and residents. It is part of our history on the Bellarine. It is the social fabric of the Bellarine and will continue to be that really important part of our local economy. When you go to Bellarine markets and farmers markets on the Bellarine, they will be lined with Bellarine produce from honey, fruit and vegetables, baked goods, olive oils, wines and seafood to all those value-adding agrifood businesses and products that will be there as well. But of course there are challenges and there have been challenges on the Bellarine, mainly with housing developments really sort of aligning themselves right up against active farming and active farms. We need to ensure that we are protecting that heartland and that agricultural land on the Bellarine, and I am so pleased we have been able to do that with the distinctive area and landscape planning policy, which really did draw a line in the sand to say, ‘This is where the township boundaries will be’ and protect the agricultural land to ensure that future.

A member interjected.

Alison MARCHANT: And then they lock the gate. They do lock the gate. The best way that we can support that is to address those challenges, particularly locally on the Bellarine, of the movement of people coming in and out. I know farmers really focus on that, on who is coming in and out of farms, but a lot of people who visit the Bellarine do not realise that. They enjoy the beautiful views as they travel around, but they do not realise that they are very much active farms in the middle of the Bellarine. We can all play a role, so we should all be mindful of that.

sIn conclusion, this bill is really going to improve the clarity and the efficiency of emergency response management of exotic diseases and pests and does significantly increase those penalties for offences relating to exotic animal disease and livestock traceability requirements as well. It does improve that management provision to enhance efficiency and preparedness and those response activities, with the delegation of powers of the minister to declare control areas and restricted areas. We must do all that we can to protect our agriculture sector. We rely on it every day of the week. I want to see a thriving agricultural sector on the Bellarine. I support wholeheartedly our farmers, who work hard every day. I want to see Bellarine’s agricultural future continue to grow, to be celebrated and to be, going forward, part of our local economy, and I commend the bill to the house.