MS TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (11:19): I thank members for their contributions on this bill so far, which will support Victoria’s agriculture industry and help safeguard food security, food safety and access to export markets which are vital to the state’s economy. Ms Bath discussed some questions which have been raised by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee. The Minister for Agriculture, Mary-Anne Thomas, has responded to the committee on those issues. Regarding protections against self-incrimination, it is necessary that a person answer questions or produce evidence due to the potentially large ramifications for the environment and economy of the failure of a person to discharge their duties and statutory responsibilities in relation to land management. The provisions provide a protection against direct self-incrimination where a person required to answer a question claims that their answer may incriminate them. The provision is reasonably justified and appropriate for persons who have assumed statutory duties to protect against broader environmental, cultural and economic harms where there is a strong requirement for remedial or enforcement action in relation to a failure.
In regard to penalties relating to noxious weeds, the bill graduates the penalties for noxious weed offences by declaration category—for example, from state prohibited weed to regionally prohibited weed, regionally controlled weed or restricted weed. The amended penalty units will improve alignment with penalties for equivalent pest animal offences. As noted by Ms Burnett-Wake in her contribution, these penalties reflect the seriousness of the threat posed by pests and weeds, which can severely damage agricultural industries.
In regard to the Dairy Act 2000, an amendment will ensure that Dairy Food Safety Victoria employees are accountable for their conduct against public sector codes of conduct and values. This is as expected by businesses and community members dealing with Victoria’s dairy regulator.
Ms Bath also raised changes to the appointments to the livestock disease compensation committees. The Minister for Agriculture has met and discussed these changes with the Victorian Farmers Federation. The minister has also written to the VFF to assure them that the changes do not preclude current prescribed industry bodies from continuing to nominate candidates for appointment as members of the committees. In advance of any committee appointment process, Agriculture Victoria will engage with the current nominating bodies, including the VFF, about how they can assist in promoting the committees’ roles within their membership and industry networks. These steps will help ensure that the committees continue to reflect the industry they serve.
This is a largely administrative and routine bill. However, misleading information circulating online has generated concerns amongst some members of our community. This has been noted by Ms Bath, Ms Lovell and other members in their contributions, and I welcome the opportunity to allay these concerns. Let us be crystal clear: this bill will not result in the destruction of crops, nor will it prevent people from growing their own food. Any suggestion to the contrary is false and misrepresents proposed changes in the bill. The amendments provide appropriate powers where they are needed, balanced with important limitations and obligations. As noted by Ms Burnett-Wake, this bill does not confer powers to search residences.
In response to the concerns raised by members in the community who have seen these claims, Agriculture Victoria has published a fact sheet on its website to provide accurate information. These claims have also been independently fact checked by outlets including Australian Associated Press. Claims that amendments in the bill will ban or in any way prevent Victorians from growing their own food are false. No-one will be prevented from growing their own food as part of these changes, and they will not result in the destruction of crops, whether they are grown on farms or in backyards. Our government firmly supports and encourages the right of people and communities to grow their own fresh fruit and vegetables. We also want to grow our agriculture industry and our exports to help supply more food to the world. Our produce is renowned locally and globally for its high quality, nutritional value and safety. Now, that is a reputation we want to protect.
Both Ms Bath and Mr Meddick have circulated amendments to the Wildlife Act 1975 which impact on the access of wetlands and proximity to hunters. It is vital that we maintain safety on wetlands. Existing provisions ensure a safe separation between hunters and non-hunters. Therefore the government does not support changes to these provisions. Mr Meddick has also circulated an amendment which would remove kangaroos from the definition of ‘game’. The government does not support this amendment, which would make the kangaroo harvesting program unviable and prevent the use of kangaroo meat as a sustainable, high-protein food source.
Mr Bourman—although he is not present today, and I wish him all the best in terms of his recovery—has raised with the government questions concerning proposed changes to the Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria. This has also been raised by Mr Meddick and was raised again by Ms Bath yesterday and I think this morning as well. I would like to have a house amendment to this circulated now.
Government amendment circulated by Ms TIERNEY pursuant to standing orders.
Ms TIERNEY: This concerns retaining the requirement for the president and the deputy president of the board to be registered veterinary practitioners. The Victorian government believes in the importance of having an open and transparent selection process to support diversity and inclusion across all government bodies. The amendments in this bill are consistent with Victorian government policy on good board governance, including that appointments be skills and experience based. However, the government recognises the need for further engagement with veterinary practitioners and the Australian Veterinary Association on this issue, and as such the government will not pursue the proposal to remove the requirement for the vet board president and deputy president to be registered practitioners in this bill.
Ms Burnett-Wake raised concerns over notices of entry in her contribution. Under amendments to the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1992 authorised officers are required to notify the occupier of the premises, such as a farmer, that it is being entered in the course of their duties. Where an occupier cannot be located—for example, in remote areas—authorised officers can enter but are to leave a notice of entry to inform the occupier. The notice includes details of the authorised officer, the purpose of the visit, what actions were taken, date and time et cetera. AOs must leave the notice in a conspicuous manner on the land or premises—for example, main gate or front door. A notice left is unlikely to be the only means of communication with the occupier. Usually further communication would be required with the occupier once contactable. Should the occupier not see the notice, there would only be limited impact, as the proposed notices of entry do not put any obligations or requirements on the occupier.
Dr Ratnam has circulated an amendment which would introduce a ban on second-generation rodenticides. The Victorian government acknowledges emerging concerns about the risks associated with second-generation pesticides, particularly in relation to impacts on non-target domestic animals and wildlife. That is why Agriculture Victoria has been working with the national regulatory body, which is undertaking a review of these products. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority is an independent statutory authority responsible for registering and approving agricultural chemicals, including rodenticides, before they can be supplied or used. The authority has the appropriate scientific capability to assess the risks associated and has the powers to determine controls on sale. The proposed amendment does not align with current national agreements on regulating agricultural chemicals, and it is important to maintain, we believe, national consistency on these measures. Therefore the government does not support the amendment.
I thank members again for their contributions so far and look forward to the committee stage.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.