Genetically Modified Crop Trials



About this Item
SubjectsWheat and Grain; Genetic Engineering; Rural Industry
SpeakersGay The Hon Duncan; Jenkins The Hon Jon; Macdonald The Hon Ian; Deputy-President (The Hon Amanda Fazio); Rhiannon Ms Lee; Colless The Hon Rick; Nile Reverend the Hon Fred; Wong The Hon Dr Peter
BusinessBusiness of the House


    GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROP TRIALS
Page: 7939


    Adjournment (Standing Order 201)

    Debate resumed from an earlier hour.

    The Hon. DUNCAN GAY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [2.45 p.m.]: Hansard will show a break in the sitting, but it will not show that the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries made an announcement during that break. I have not seen any details about the announcement, but an honourable member has just given me a copy of a press release—which is more courtesy than the Minister has displayed. I note that 420 hectares is mentioned, which is a more appropriate area. If that is now the situation, I congratulate the Minister. I am disappointed that I cannot see anything about liability insurance, but I have given this document only a cursory glance. The Minister promised the farmers that they would be protected from liability before he granted an exemption. He said that he would not issue an exemption order until the issue of liability was resolved in a manner that guaranteed farmers were protected.

    I hope that when the Minister makes a contribution to this debate he indicates that this press release, which mentions 420 hectares, is incomplete, that he has honoured his word and that all New South Wales farmers—not only the farmers growing the crops—were covered for liability before he issued the exemption order. If he has not ensured that, he has breached not only a responsibility to New South Wales farmers but also an undertaking that he made in this Parliament not a week ago.
    The Hon. Dr Peter Wong: He has misled the Parliament.

    The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: The honourable member says that the Minister has potentially misled the Parliament and the Hon. the Reverend Fred Nile, because he and others had the document indicating that liability would be covered for all farmers before the exemption was granted. We now know that an exemption has been granted for 420 hectares and we expect the Minister to provide details about the liability cover. He made that commitment in the signed document that every member of this House took on good faith. The Hon. Dr Peter Wong said that the Minister has misled the House. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, because it may have been an accident that the press release heralding the exemption order did not contain that information. The Opposition's position is that the liability must be covered for farmers growing the crops and farmers whose properties may be affected by contamination.

    The Hon. JON JENKINS [2.49 p.m.]: I have engineered viruses and bacteria myself, so the field of genetic engineering does not hold any mystery, myth or fears for me. However, the potential for disaster is clear and overt, as is the necessity for caution. I said earlier that we must rely on the scientists and experts to make this decision in concert with the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. If someone presents evidence of omissions or errors on the part of the advisory council, I will support the call for correction. The advisory council should have dealt with the issue of liability for all farmers. I have seen the note the Minister wrote in which he agreed that liability would be covered. I remind him that on 20 November last year, when I was very new to this Parliament, we had a debate about genetically modified crops during which he guaranteed that the trial would not go ahead until Parliament had had a chance to review the situation. I requested that honourable members be given the chance to review the advisory council's report before the trial went ahead, and I would like the Minister to address that issue. Will he provide information on the reports from the advisory council dealing with not only the scientific issues but also liability?

    Rightly or wrongly, and for better or worse, genetic modification is coming. As an ex-molecular biologist, I have my own concerns about all forms of molecular intervention, including genetically modified crops. However, to be blunt, there will be contamination, not only from human intervention but also from animals and migrating birds, which will carry pollen and other organisms from one country to another. What we can do is ensure that we are prepared for this, and that the research has been done properly and the necessary planning has been undertaken to account for the contamination that almost certainly will occur.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) [2.52 p.m.]: A number of issues have been raised by members in the debate. The Hon. Dr Peter Wong, in his increasingly shrill manner in this Chamber, took it as an insult that I was unable to be in the Chamber between 11 o'clock and 12 noon. I can assure him that the insult was that he did not inform me that he intended to move the motion.

    Mr Ian Cohen: Like you held a press conference and made an announcement without informing—

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I do not have to inform you about any press conference whatsoever.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! Mr Ian Cohen is reminded that interjections are disorderly.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I was holding meetings with the stakeholders. This morning I informed the Nature Conservation Council that the decision was imminent, and every one of the stakeholders was informed of the decision and what we were doing. That is exactly what happened.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! Mr Ian Cohen will cease interjecting.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: The Hon. Dr Peter Wong made some absolutely outrageous statements in the House this morning. He did not check with my office to find out why I was not in the Chamber. Let us be clear about this issue. I have followed the letter of our legislation from the beginning. The legislation requires me—

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I have told Mr Ian Cohen twice to cease interjecting. Mr Ian Cohen is called to order for the first time.

    The Hon. Dr Peter Wong: Point of order: The Minister should be fully aware that he should be in the Chamber during debate on a matter concerning his portfolio. He cannot accuse me of not finding out why he is not going to be in the Chamber. The Minister's absence from the Chamber represents an abdication of ministerial duties.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! That is not a point of order; it is a debating point. Before the Minister resumes, I formally warn members that this is an important debate—so important that the House agreed it should be given urgency. The Minister should be heard in silence.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: For the benefit of the Hon. Dr Peter Wong, I was not in the Chamber this morning, for very good reasons. I was meeting with all the stakeholders involved in the process, including New South Wales Farmers representatives and other groups, to inform them that the decision was imminent. I stand by that. I have tried to follow the letter of our legislation all the way through. I have not come into this Chamber and prejudged the issues or tried to debate the issues in advance, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has done at every opportunity. I have allowed the stakeholders to consider the issues without my telling them what they should and should not do. I handed the report to the stakeholders and asked them to look at it and come back to me. They came back to me, another proposal was put forward, and I sent that out instantly. I did not pressure people or tell them what they should do. That is the way I have conducted myself on this issue. I have not tried to come into this Chamber every five minutes saying it should be done one way or another. I have conducted myself absolutely correctly throughout.

    Mr Ian Cohen: And politely too.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: You're not exactly polite. I wish to read the press statement I released today because it deals with the decision. It reads:

    Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Ian Macdonald, today said he proposes to allow three small research trials for genetically modified canola, but will hold back on a 3,000-hectare co-existence trial until the true benefits of the technology are known.

    "The three trials will cover no more than 420 hectares and will test different varieties of GM canola plants against traditional canola," Mr Macdonald said.

    "The trials will mark the first objective and independently evaluated on-farm research comparisons of GM and non-GM canola in Australia.

    "The results will go a long way in providing informed, factual debate on the issue of gene technology—as opposed to misinformation and sensationalised scare tactics.

    "If the three technology trials show clear and concrete benefits—and are carried out in accordance with strict protocols—then I will consider co-existence trials at a later date.

    "A number of farming organisations and grain handling groups have expressed concern that abandoning GM technology will place Australia so far behind our overseas competitors that we will never be able to catch up.

    "By taking a cautious, staged approach, NSW is neither ruling out the potential of this technology nor jumping in without more signs to guide us."

    Today's announcement follows four months of careful deliberation by the State Government and the NSW Agricultural Advisory Council on Gene Technology on a joint, four-part research proposal submitted by Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, and the Australian Oilseeds Federation.

    "While the State's expert advisory Council voted in favour of all four research projects—

    in overwhelming numbers—

    it did express concern about aspects of the co-existence trial," Mr Macdonald said.

    "The Australian Wheat Board—the country's largest grain exporter and one of the members of the Council— recently confirmed its support for co-existence trials but voiced concerns over the final destination of the crop.

    "At the same time, there has been widespread support for smaller trials designed to demonstrate the advantages of gene technology.

    "Even the Network of Concerned Farmers voted in favour of two of the three technology trials.

    'Given the divergent opinions on the co-existence research by Council members, stakeholders and the farming community, I believe a staged approach is the practical and reasonable path to take at this time.

    'Taking sequential steps is completely in line with established scientific practice.'

    Mr Macdonald also said his office has today consulted with numerous stakeholders prior to him announcing this decision.

    'Earlier today, I met with NSW Farmers' Association, the Australian Oilseeds Federation and Graincorp,' he said.
    'My office also spoke with Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, Greenpeace, Total Environment Centre, Avcare, and the Nature Conservation Council.

    'I felt it was important these stakeholders be contacted before I made any public announcement about my decision.

    'This follows a consistent track-record of consultation with key stakeholders on GM issues.'

    Mr Ian Cohen: You've lied to members of the House, though.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I have never lied to members in the House. I said yesterday a decision will be made imminently.

    Mr Ian Cohen: You jackbooted your way through the situation.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I call Mr Ian Cohen to order for the second time. I have cautioned the Chamber previously about interjections being disorderly at all times. It is essential that members with the call are heard in silence.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: The press release continues:

    Mr Macdonald said that the three technology trials in no way undermine the State's current moratorium on GM food crops.

    'Last year, the NSW Government honoured an election commitment when it announced a three-year moratorium on the commercial release of GM food crops,' Mr Macdonald said.

    'However, we made it quite clear when the legislation passed that research trials would be allowed to help examine marketing, trade and segregation issues.

    'This legislation was approved by the Legislative Council, including the Greens and the independents, last year.

    'To enable the three technology trials to move ahead, I will now seek a formal recommendation—

    the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is asking these other questions and making comments—

    from the Advisory Council on extension orders which I propose to make.

    'This step is in accordance with the requirements set forth under State legislation.

    People come in here, do not read the legislation, and jump up and down not knowing the process that has been laid out in the legislation by this Chamber. I am exactly following that legislation.

    The Hon. Dr Peter Wong: What about insurance?

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: Liability will be one of the issues considered by the advisory council when it advises me on the exemption orders.

    Mr Ian Cohen: You have not said anything about it.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: We will include the management details and responsibilities that will guide the trial forward.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: "Trust me, I'm a Minister"—is that what you are saying?

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: No, I am not saying, "Trust me."

    Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: Point of order: As the Minister has been reading an important document and there have been a lot of interruptions, would the Minister incorporate that press release in Hansard so we can read it without all the interruptions?

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I seek leave to incorporate the press release in Hansard.

    Leave granted.
    __________
Page: 7943
    NEW SOUTH WALES TAKES SENSIBLE, STAGED APPROACH
    ON GM RESEARCH TRIALS

    Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Ian Macdonald, today said he proposes to allow three small research trials for genetically modified canola, but will hold-back on a 3,000-hectare co-existence trial until the true benefits of the technology are known.

    'The three trials will cover no more than 420 hectares and will test different varieties of GM canola plants against traditional canola,' Mr Macdonald said.

    'The trials will mark the first objective and independently evaluated on-farm research comparisons of GM and non-GM canola in Australia.

    'The results will go a long way in providing informed, factual debate on the issue of gene technology – as opposed to misinformation and sensationalised scare-tactics.

    'If the three technology trials show clear and concrete benefits – and are carried out in accordance with strict protocols – then I will consider co-existence trials at a later date.

    'A number of farming organisations and grain handling groups have expressed concern that abandoning GM technology will place Australia so far behind our overseas competitors that we will never be able to catch up.

    'By taking a cautious, staged approach, NSW is neither ruling out the potential of this technology nor jumping in without more science to guide us.'

    Today's announcement follows four months of careful deliberation by the State Government and the NSW Agricultural Advisory Council on Gene Technology on a joint, four-part research proposal submitted by Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, and the Australian Oilseeds Federation.

    'While the State's expert advisory council voted in favour of all four research projects, it did express concern about aspects of the co-existence trial,' Mr Macdonald said.

    'The Australian Wheat Board – the country's largest grain exporter and one of the members of the Council – recently confirmed its support for co-existence trials but voiced concerns over the final destination of the crop.

    'At the same time, there has been widespread support for smaller trials designed to demonstrate the advantages of gene technology.

    'Even the Network of Concerned Farmers voted in favour of two of the three technology trials.

    'Given the divergent opinions on the co-existence research by Council members, stakeholders and the farming community, I believe a staged approach is the practical and reasonable path to take at this time.

    'Taking sequential steps is completely in line with established scientific practice.'

    Mr Macdonald also said his office has today consulted with numerous stakeholders prior to him announcing this decision.

    'Earlier today, I met with NSW Farmers' Association, the Australian Oilseeds Federation and Graincorp,' he said.

    'My office also spoke with Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, Greenpeace, Total Environment Centre, Avcare, and the Nature Conservation Council.

    'I felt it was important these stakeholders be contacted before I made any public announcement about my decision.

    'This follows a consistent track-record of consultation with key stakeholders on GM issues.'

    Mr Macdonald said that the three technology trials in no way undermine the State's current moratorium on GM food crops.

    'Last year, the NSW Government honoured an election commitment when it announced a three-year moratorium on the commercial release of GM food crops,' Mr Macdonald said.

    'However, we made it quite clear when the legislation passed that research trials would be allowed to help examine marketing, trade and segregation issues.

    'This legislation was approved by the Legislative Council, including the Greens and the independents, last year.

    'To enable the three technology trials to move ahead, I will now seek a formal recommendation from the Advisory Council on exemption orders which I propose to make.

    'This step is in accordance with the requirements set forth under State legislation.

    'These exemption orders will include the management details and responsibilities that will guide the trials forward.'

    Media Contact: Carina Bates on (02) 9228-3344 or 0411 021 412

    Editor's Note: Additional Facts Follow

    NEW SOUTH WALES TAKES SENSIBLE, STAGED APPROACH
    ON GM RESEARCH TRIALS: ADDITIONAL FACTS

    GM Canola and the Human Food Chain

    The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) has already determined that GM canola poses no additional risk to human health or the environment above conventional canola.

    The OGTR, not the State Governments, has responsibility for evaluating GM crops on the basis of human health and environmental issues. The States are responsible for exploring marketing issues.

    Unprocessed canola seed is not sold as a food product for human consumption in Australia.

    A Q&A document on the OGTR website states that ‘only the oil from canola seeds (for both GM and non-GM) is used in human food. Canola oil is highly refined during processing which removes both GM and non-GM genetic material (DNA) and proteins.'

    The Legislative Framework in NSW

    Under NSW legislation, there is a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of GM food crops until 2006.

    The legislation does allow for exemption orders.

    Exemption orders must be the subject of a recommendation from the NSW Agricultural Advisory Council on Gene Technology.

    The Council includes representatives from a wide array of stakeholder groups, including: Network of Concerned Farmers, Nature Conservation Council of NSW Limited, NSW Farmers' Association, NSW Agriculture, Graincorp Limited, Australian Wheat Board Pty Ltd, CSIRO, Avcare Ltd, and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

    The Council is headed by an independent chairperson.

    GM Legislation in Other States

    In March, Victoria announced it will introduce legislation that places a moratorium on the commercial release of GM canola until 2008. The legislation will allow for small-scale research trials.

    Tasmania has a moratorium on the commercial production of GM until 2008. Its legislation does allow for open-air trials on genetically modified non-food crops, such as poppies.

    South Australia has legislation that prevents the release of genetically modified crops for the next three years, except under strict conditions.

    Western Australia recently announced it will ban the growing of all GM crops.

    Queensland does not have a moratorium on GM crops.

    Media Contact: Carina Bates on (02) 9228-3344 or 0411 021 412

    —————

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I remind honourable members that I will be seeking further dialogue from the advisory council in relation to liability. However, I make it clear that the issue has been considered by New South Wales Farmers in meetings with insurance companies, and they have put out a comprehensive press statement in relation to the issue. These technology trials are small trials and two of them have received the tick-off from the concerned farmers. I know that might come as a surprise to some, but they ticked them off.

    The Hon. Rick Colless: I am just checking that right now.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: Good. These technology trials will enable us to see clearly the comparative value of the GM crops trial alongside conventionally bred crops. That is the purpose of the trials. We will also test the strength of the GM varieties in dealing with blackleg compared to the conventional varieties. For instance, last year blackleg wiped out $20 million worth of canola on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. This is a pretty important issue for us to ascertain.

    The Hon. Rick Colless: Is GM canola going to fix that? GM canola is not going to fix blackleg.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: It is part of the trials—it is one of the trials considered in great detail by the advisory council.

    Mr Ian Cohen: Is it three trials at 420 or 420 total?

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: Total.

    Mr Ian Cohen: Three trials at 100 and something each?

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: Something like that, yes.

    Mr Ian Cohen: No more than 420 overall?

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: That is correct. You should check with Jo Immig. The three trials are a total of about 420 hectares. As I say, they are comparison trials, trials of the different technologies versus both TT canola and ordinary canola, for the want of a better word. This will give us a pretty good idea of the relative merits of those trials.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: I indicate that I think having three trials of 420 hectares is sensible.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I would like to sit down!

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: Provided you have got the liability right.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: As I say, the liability issues will be part of a consideration. I will forward what the New South Wales Farmers have said about the issue and what they are saying about the issue to the committee.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: No, you have to fulfil your commitment.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I will be acting on the advice of the committee.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: You have to fulfil your commitment.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: My commitment is that I will go on the advice of the committee.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: No. You made a commitment to this Parliament.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: Stop making side issues.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! The Minister should address the House and not engage in a private conversation.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: It is not a side issue; it is a crucial issue.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: It is an absolute side issue. Small-scale trials have been conducted in this country for the past six or seven years by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator [OGTR], a Federal body. These are on-farm trials; these are not through chain trials. They are different to the trials members have been talking about over the past month or so. It is not a co-existence trial. These are on-farm trials under the OGTR.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: These are weasel words.

    The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: They are not. Trials have operated under the previous format for a number of years, and appropriate protocols will be put in place for the containment of these trials. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition knows, there have been approximately 140 trials in New South Wales over the past four or five years. He can grasp at straws to try to find some way to prevent any decent trialling in this State. I will seek the advice of New South Wales Farmers, Graincorp—which urged me to do the whole lot this morning—and other organisations in determining how the best interests of farmers can be protected, not the Green Nationals led by the Hon. Duncan Gay. In the time remaining to me I take umbrage at the attack by the Hon. Dr Peter Wong on Lindsay Cook and the department. Lindsay Cook is a long-term officer who has been skilled for many years on a whole range of issues, and the attack on him—

    [Interruption]
    That is outrageous. He works for the Department of Agriculture. He happens to believe that there is merit in having some trials. Also, in relation to this issue, I have made sure that I have not interfered with the council at any stage. It has presented a very good report. [Time expired.]

    Ms LEE RHIANNON [3.07 p.m.]: The credibility of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries in relation to this issue is in tatters. We have no confidence in what he says. What he has presented us with today shows that there is no significant change. He talks about 420 hectares, but that can still clearly be a commercial trial. Minister Macdonald has clearly earned the title "Minister Monsanto". He delivers for them time and time again.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: That is absolutely outrageous. I take umbrage at that.

    Ms LEE RHIANNON: The Minister has a problem. He is delivering for them time and again.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: I ask that the comment be withdrawn.

    Ms LEE RHIANNON: No. The Minister has not taken a point of order.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: Point of order: I ask Ms Lee Rhiannon to withdraw that comment.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! The Minister and Ms Lee Rhiannon will resume their seats. I have already reminded members of the importance of this matter, yet debate is degenerating to a ridiculous level. The Minister has the call on a point of order.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: I ask Ms Lee Rhiannon to withdraw her comment. I met Monsanto once. That was last year, around the time that the legislation was going through the Parliament. Other than that I had no contact with them whatsoever. I did not deal with Monsanto or Bayer CropScience. I dealt with the report of the advisory council, not Monsanto, Bayer CropScience or the Australian Oilseed Federation. I ask for the comment to be withdrawn.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: To the point of order: Traditionally debate in this Chamber has been robust. Many members have been called many things, but I should have thought that "Monsanto Macdonald" is one of the more mild terms that this Minister has been called in the past or indeed will be called in the future. I remind this precious petal, this world-class wimp who sits opposite, that in this very debate he referred to me as the Green National.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is not speaking to the point of order.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: That term could be the greatest insult ever.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. He is debating the point, not speaking to the point of order.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: I am making an acknowledged point about name calling in this place. This is a robust Chamber. I make the point also that "the Green National"—the name attributed to me by the Minister—could be regarded as an insult the equal of, if not worse than, that which was attributed to the Minister by Ms Lee Rhiannon. However, in my role of looking after farmers, I wear the name "the Green National" as a badge of honour.

    Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: To the point of order: I support the Minister in asking that Ms Lee Rhiannon withdraw the term. I understood that the member in fact said "MacSanto", and I suggest that term is quite different from "the Green National", which does not imply corruption or improper action. The term used by Ms Lee Rhiannon implied that the Minister is, in some way, corrupt and is influenced, or being bribed, by the companies referred to, and that is a serious charge to make against a Minister of the Crown.

    The Hon. Dr Peter Wong: To the point of order: I do not know how the honourable member could draw such an inference. The Minister in fact dealt with Monsanto: he said he met with representatives of Monsanto once. But no-one is accusing the Minister of receiving money from Monsanto. The fact is that Monsanto is a stakeholder and that the Minister dealt with that company. It was natural for him to do so.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: The Hon. Dr Peter Wong has just compounded the sin. I insist that Lee Rhiannon withdraw the comment. She regularly adopts such a tactic to try to create an image. I have not acted on behalf of Monsanto. I acted on behalf of the advisory council, which was set up by this House to provide a framework for discussing these issues. This matter should be debated without personal attacks. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition objects to being called a Green National he should ask me to withdraw the comment, and I would do so. I ask Ms Lee Rhiannon to withdraw her statement.

    The Hon. Duncan Gay: Further to the point of order: The Minister is being silly and trite. He is encouraging Ms Lee Rhiannon to be a martyr over a matter of little or no consequence. I congratulated the Minister on part of his announcement, noting the reference to weasel words, but I remind him that this is a robust Chamber. I did not take umbrage at his calling me a Green National—a name that I am sure was not meant to be complimentary, not by any stretch of the imagination. The Minister is being very silly in asking for the comment to be withdrawn, and he would be well advised to take some counsel on the matter.

    The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! Although it is a tradition that debate in this House is often robust, it is a matter for individual members to decide whether terms used about them by other members are offensive. The Minister has indicated that he regards the term used by Ms Lee Rhiannon as offensive and he has asked for it to be withdrawn. I uphold the point of order. When Ms Lee Rhiannon has withdraw the comment she may continue her contribution.

    Ms LEE RHIANNON: I withdraw the comment. However, I note that the Minister can dish it out but he cannot take it when nicknames are attributed to him. Previously he had an interesting nickname that related to a footballer. The Minister's credibility is in tatters. I realise that the Minister has already spoken in this debate and will not have an opportunity to respond further, but I suggest that he could resurrect some credibility by asking one of his colleagues to give a clear guarantee that there will be no commercial use of produce of this trial. The Minister has failed to address that central argument, which is why the comment about weasel words has been thrown up at him. We have no confidence that what he has said will actually happen. Therefore, we seek an assurance that there will be no commercial use of the produce from these trials. The Government made its position clear on the moratorium. The Minister has often said in debate that he is following the letter of the legislation. Perhaps he should follow the letter of his promise, which was made on 3 March 2003 when the Premier said that the State Government will place a three-year ban on the commercial release of genetically modified [GM] food crops. He further stated that a Labor government would pass laws—the New South Wales Gene Technology Regulation Act—to suspend the production of GM food crops until at least 2006. This trial, even in its reduced form, leaves that promise in tatters. When the Premier made that statement he was clear about the problems of GM food. On 3 March 2003 he said:

    It is right to exercise caution on this issue … Once the wide scale planting of GM crops begins in NSW, we cannot go back.

    That is why there is such concern and anger from different groups within the community and within the Parliament.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: Are you splitting with the concerned parties?

    Ms LEE RHIANNON: I acknowledge the comment of the Minister. Again, he cannot take it but he can dish it out, given that he seems to have a problem about with whom he lines up. He says he is following the letter of the legislation.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: No, I said that the concerned farmers voted for two of those trials.

    Ms LEE RHIANNON: Farmers are very concerned about this and the Minister will not acknowledge that or follow through on the clear concerns expressed by the Premier just prior to the election. My colleague Ian Cohen expressed concern at the time that this would be the first promise the Government would break, and it has well and truly broken that promise. The only way for the Minister to redeem himself is to give a clear assurance that there will be no commercial use of these crops.

    The Hon. RICK COLLESS [3.17 p.m.]: In contributing to this important debate I take on board the Minister's media release, which he distributed shortly after lunch. However, the media release does not address the fact that any issue with respect to liability will not provide a guarantee that farmers will be protected. Genetic engineering material has caused all the problems worldwide. I shall outline some concerns expressed by various groups in Australia in relation to the loss of export markets.

    As we all know, export markets are most important for New South Wales produce. Japan and Europe are demanding non-genetically engineered material, especially wheat, soya beans and canola. New South Wales farmers must continue to uphold their clean, green and genetically engineered free status. There is also widespread consumer and market opposition to genetically engineered produce. Consumers around the world have said no to it. There is a premium for GE-free and certified organic produce around the world, and Australian consumer awareness of that is increasing. There is growing community opposition to genetically engineered crops, and many New South Wales councils have responded to this concern, including the shires of Barraba, Cabonne, Conargo, Coolah, Cowra, Hawkesbury, Inverell, Lithgow, Mulwaree, Parkes, Quirindi—the list goes on. Many councils around the State have objected to genetically engineered crops being grown in their areas.

    There is no confirmed production advantage from genetically engineered crops. Some research I have seen compared genetically engineered canola with an older canola variety, which is comparable with later hybrid varieties. I am concerned that genetically engineered crops will be raised as a panacea for our concerns about improved productivity. Let me say this: There is a lot more to improving the productivity of crops than simply conducting small trials or undertaking a little research to put different DNA into crops. Genetically engineered material is unnecessary if farmers look after their land properly and get the nutrition of the crop and the soil balance right. Weed control, pest control and those kinds of things have been given as a reason for genetically engineered material. Again, if farmers look after their crops and land properly they do not need genetically modified material. They do not need to use large amounts of pesticides and herbicides because the land will look after itself if they give it a chance to do so.

    Crops around the world that have been genetically modified include corn, canola, and soya beans. There is a great deal of concern about some of those crops around the world. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of years ago referred to maize. As honourable members would know—I hope that at least the Minister knows this—maize is a particular native variety of corn that comes out of Mexico. There is concern that genetically engineered material has been found in the native fields of this naturally occurring corn in Mexico. The closest genetically engineered crops to that community were planted 95 kilometres away. Many scientists are now speculating that that material originated from genetically modified maize brought in from America as food aid for an impoverished region in central Mexico and that it has since multiplied.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: No, that is wrong. We will send you the material. What happened was—

    The Hon. RICK COLLESS: I will not get into a debate with the Minister now. I am merely putting on the record the contents of an article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of years ago. Another issue that is talked about is the distance that canola pollen can travel. As I understand it, the advisory committee has pulled a figure off the top of a wool shed—50 metres—as the distance for the buffer zone. That is ridiculous. I assure honourable members that the pollen will travel a lot further than 50 metres. I offer the following advice to the Minister: As part of these trials, pollen-collecting machinery should be placed at intervals from the genetically modified crop in order to determine how far the pollen travels. I assure honourable members that it will be more than 50 metres; it will certainly be hundreds of metres.

    The Hon. Dr Peter Wong: Or even kilometres.

    The Hon. RICK COLLESS: As the Hon. Dr Peter Wong says, it may even be kilometres.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: I will send you the research.

    The Hon. RICK COLLESS: The Minister can send me all the research he likes. I have some research about hybridisation and persistence in herbicides tolerant oilseed rape. The research states:

    Cross pollination frequencies recorded between winter oilseed rape plots in cross pollination experiments varied according to variety, size of pollinator plots, spatial arrangement and environmental conditions and was measured at distances of up to 400m from a large scale release of herbicides tolerant (HT) rape. The incidence and persistence of HT rape volunteers was not greater than that of non-HT varieties.

    The point is that the pollen will travel, and that is of concern to those whose land will be contaminated. In terms of liability, landowners will not be able to get rid of the contamination, and they will have to wear the cost of that. For example, if my bull got into the Minister's paddock and infected his heifers, I could charge the Minister for having my bull's genetics in his cattle. That is exactly what happened to Percy Schmeiser in Canada.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: No, it didn't.

    The Hon. RICK COLLESS: It is exactly the same.

    Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [3.26 p.m.]: I thank the Minister for supplying information about the staged approach to the GM research trials. In principle, many of us saw some value in having a commercial trial, because that will show whether genetic engineering works. The Government has announced that there will be only three small research trials for genetically modified canola; it is holding back on the 3,000-hectare co-existent trial until the true benefits of the technology are known. So it is a moderate trial. Although there is a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of GM crops, the legislation provided for trials to be held. I believe the research trials announced by the Government are consistent with, and within the bounds of, the legislation. We await the final report on the three trials, which will cover no more than 420 hectares.

    The Hon. Dr PETER WONG [3.28 p.m.], in reply: First, I thank honourable members who have spoken in this debate. They gave diverse views based on their expertise and experience. I thank also the Minister, although he was absent for part of the debate.

    The Hon. Ian Macdonald: I had to be.

    The Hon. Dr PETER WONG: I am not attacking the Minister. Today is one of the saddest days in the history of New South Wales. The Minister's announcement, made at lunchtime, proves that the Labor Government does not care about farmers or the people of New South Wales. Following last night's decision by Bayer to stop all GM crop trials in the United Kingdom, and the decision of other States in Australia, I expected the New South Wales Government to do likewise. This Government does not care about the environment, farmers or the people of New South Wales. GE crops will turn us into a pariah state. Our farmers will lose access to world markets and suffer economic loss on a grand scale. They may go broke.

    During the debate two issues became very clear. The first was the scientific evidence and the other was the liability issue. Although the Minister may challenge me in this regard, I suggest he has seemingly misled the House. I also read his announcement in the New South Wales Farmers Association News dated 25 March. At no stage was any insurance company named. Therefore, the liability issue persists and will continue to persist. With regard to the scientific evidence, I refer to the Greenpeace summary that reports on the United Kingdom farm scale evaluations of GE canola, the key points of which include:

    The studies found that GE canola has significant detrimental effects on biodiversity

    The studies demonstrate that, contrary to the claims of the GE industry, GE canola and the herbicide regimes associated with them will impact significantly on biodiversity, much more than conventional canola varieties. In the absence of environmental testing in Australia, these studies serve as the benchmark for environmental impacts associated with herbicide regimes used with GE canola.

    That summary refers to the following key findings in the gene flow in canola:

    Contamination by GE canola was found over a distance of 26 kilometres, probably as a result of bees;

    The physical isolation of GE crops will not prevent contamination

    Levels of contamination are highly variable, depending on regional differences.

    The summary refers also to the following key findings in the volunteer contamination of later non-GE canola crops:

    Long term in field contamination of non-GE canola will occur even with the planting of a single crop of GE canola;

    Without rigorous controls, subsequent crop impurity above 1% would persist for up to 16 years;

    On hybridisation between canola and brassica rapa, the summary referred to the following key findings:

    Genetic contamination from GE canola of related species is likely to be more frequent, widespread and severe than previously believed.

    Widespread, relatively frequent hybrid formation with related species is inevitable from male-fertile GE canola, contrary to previous claims.

    There is evidence upon evidence that it is unsafe and is of no benefit to us. The environment Minister of the United Kingdom, Elliot Morley, said:

    We do not apologise for the fact there is a tough EU-wide regulatory regime on GMs. It applies to the whole of the EU not just the UK.
    We always said it would be for the market to decide the viability of growing and selling GM once the government accessed safety and risk.

    Number 10's strategy unit report on the costs and benefits of GM last year did say there would be limited short-term commercial benefits in the UK for growing GM.

    It constitutes limited short-term benefit for a huge liability. On 8 October 2003 the famous Guardian newspaper carried the following article under the heading "Insurers refuse to cover GM farmers":

    Leading companies liken risk to thalidomide and terrorism.

    Insurance companies are refusing cover for farmers considering growing GM crops or for conventional farmers anxious to insure against GM contamination of their crops.

    The main farming underwriting firms likened the idea of insuring against the dangers of GM to the situation with asbestos, thalidomide and acts of terrorism. Some had a total exclusion clause so that any damage which might be associated with GM crops, even arson of farm buildings, nullified insurance claims.

    All the companies surveyed by Farm, a group campaigning on behalf of small farmers, felt that too little was known about the long-term effects of these crops on human health and the environment to be able to offer any form of cover.

    NFU Mutual, the company closest to the farming community, told Farm: "NFU Mutual will not indemnify the insured in respect of any liability arising from the production, supply of, or presence on the premises of any genetically modified crop, where liability may be attributed directly or indirectly to the genetic characteristics of the crop.

    In particular, no indemnity will be provided in respect of liability arising from the spread or the threat of spread of genetically modified organism characteristics into the environment or any change to the environment arising from research into, testing of, or production of genetically modified organisms

    Rural Insurance Group, which places business at Lloyds, puts GM crops in the same bracket as "acts of terrorism". The insurer said it had no track record upon which it was willing to base risk assessments.

    BIB Underwriters Ltd, with AXA Insurance, has a set exclusion clause which has been amended over the past year.

    It said it would turn down any policy that has any association with GM, which would include farm buildings and property insurance as well as public liability.

    Many times during the debate the Minister referred to the concerned farmer, yet not one insurance company has volunteered to insure the farmers. Not one was mentioned by the New South Wales Farmers Association and not one was mentioned by the Minister today. If the Minister has given undertakings, then he has misled the House. I will check Hansard, and if it is found that he has misled the House he should be censored. I repeat: I have information provided by a concerned farmer who called WFI, an agency aligned with New South Wales farmers. The WFI rural insurance policy clearly identified no coverage by the company for GM trials or experiments. The company representative also raised the issue of the class actions in Canada by farmers against Monsanto and the Canadian Government, seeking compensation for loss of income from genetic pollution. Members of this House should remember that even an insurance company closely associated with New South Wales farmers will not insure farmers.

    The concerned farmer checked with Elders Insurance, Allianz, QBE and CGU and received a consistent reply—not one of them was aware of or had received any information from its head office regarding meeting with New South Wales farmers or any specific information about the provision of liability cover for participants in the proposed GE canola trials. The farmer wanted to know who would go ahead with the proposed insurance—the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries or Monsanto? During debate the Minister said that he is conducting a more direct trial. There is no such thing as a more direct trial. I thank all honourable members who participated in the debate. In particular, I express my gratitude to Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile for supporting the motion to bring on this debate today. I realise I have breached the undertaking and that two extra members have spoken, but that was not intended. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile has been very fair. He knows this is an important issue and he supported the motion to bring on the debate. I do not take every issue personally. This is important for the State and the farmers.

    Motion lapsed.