Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Biosecurity)
: I move,
That the Biosecurity (Status of Specified Ports) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. The key provisions of the bill are, first, that specified ports are treated as having been designated or approved as places of first arrival under the Biosecurity Act 1993 for all kinds of aircraft, that is for airports, and vessels for seaports, from 1 July 1995 for certain specified ports and from 25 May 1998 for certain other specified ports.
Secondly, the biosecurity control areas are confirmed as having been established in these specified ports if biosecurity control area agreements exist. Third, the deemed approval of ports and confirmation of biosecurity control areas will not apply to convictions entered, or sentences imposed, from a certain period of time, until the date on which the port approvals were given, or the bill is passed, whichever is the earlier. Fourth, the deemed approval of ports and confirmation of biosecurity control areas will not apply to any court proceedings commenced before the date on which this bill is introduced.
The bill is needed, because when the Biosecurity Act was enacted in 1993, the ports used as a place of first arrival were approved as a transitional measure. The transitional measure ceased on 1 July 1995. Unfortunately at the time, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry failed to approve the ports, and consequently the ports were not approved as a place of first arrival, after 1995. The 1997 amendment Act enabled an approval to impose a limitation on the type of craft that could enter a port. Consequently, the amendment provided transitional approval of certain ports of entry for a period of 6 months. At the end of the 6 months the approvals expired.
During the 6-month transition period the ports were required to be approved under the amendment Act. However, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry failed to make the necessary approval, and consequently the ports were not designated a place of entry under the Act. The ministry—apart from apologising to everybody—is now in the process of issuing new approvals for relevant ports in accordance with the Biosecurity Act. However, the ministry’s failure to do this prior to now, exposes the Crown to civil action by those who might seek to challenge the actions of ministry staff operating at
ports and airports over the intervening period, even though, of course, this was unintended and without malice of any sort.
The bill is urgently needed to deem retrospectively certain ports to have been approved as places of first arrival. This will effectively eliminate the risk of future civil action being taken against the Crown for those historical oversights. Although clearly undesirable, the bill will effectively validate the ministry’s operation of the respective ports and airports in the intervening period only. The bill will not validate the three invalid convictions entered, or sentences imposed, during the period when the ports were not approved. Convictions will be quashed, and affected persons will receive redress. Fortunately, those convictions are relatively minor. Any civil proceedings commenced before the bill is introduced will not be affected, but thus far, as far as I am aware, there are no such proceedings.
The Government proposes that the bill is not referred to a select committee for consideration, as it is desirable that the legislation be dealt with expeditiously for obvious reasons. If the bill were referred to a committee, there would be a period after introduction, and before enactment, when persons would be aware of the Crown’s exposure and could take civil action. The passing of this bill through all its stages will remove the opportunity for any person to take civil action because ports were not approved—unintentional as it was—as places of first arrival. I gratefully acknowledge the support and cooperation of other parties in the House in assisting with the introduction of the bill.
SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki-King Country)
: First of all, Madam Assistant Speaker, can I take this opportunity to wish you and your fellow presiding officers a merry Christmas, because I may not have that chance on the last day of Parliament.
I thank the Minister for Biosecurity for, in his first job as Minister, playing catch-up with his Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry over what clearly has been an oversight. The National Party will be supporting the Minister in his endeavours. I totally agree with the Minister’s comment made at the Biosecurity Summit, when he quoted a former Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, who, as Opposition leader, had said: “The new Minister is of a calibre above that of the previous Minister.” When responding to an interjection about what that meant he said: “He is a bigger bore than the previous Minister.” So I congratulate the Minister on acknowledging that right upfront.
I tell the Minister that there are a number of issues that he will need to address very quickly. Not only will he have to fix up this measure and have it passed on 13 December—it is 14 December already, but, in the time-honoured fashion of the House, when in urgency it stays in the day that the urgency started; so the Minister is already a day behind in terms of what he is trying to achieve—but also he will have to do something about the major biosecurity problems we have in this country. Thus far every single piece of rhetoric I have heard from this Minister tends to indicate there is no progress on that, whatsoever.
Clause 4 inserts new section 184A, which basically does what the Minister outlined, and it does need to happen. But given that he has been able, through the process that has brought him to introduce this bill, to see that there are quite a few holes, as it were, in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, will he be doing something to fix up some of the other vacuums, or shortcomings, in the rest of his portfolio mix? When he made a speech to Federated Farmers and told them there was absolutely no logical reason to have a biosecurity strategy in place before an incursion took place—in fact, I think he said it was illegal to have a strategy in place before an incursion took place—did he know then that that is within his power? Clearly, he does not know that. If that is the case, perhaps he should get a briefing from his officials; they will tell him that the law
provides that he must, in some cases, have a strategy in place before there is an incursion. That is yet another gap in the law, or in the Minister’s knowledge—I am not sure. As far as I understand the law, there must be a strategy in place before there is an incursion, in a number of areas. I give but one: the potential foot-and-mouth threat that this country is under all the time. There is within the law a power for the Minister to make sure a strategy is in place before there is an incursion. So I am really curious about what the Minister was referring to when he made that comment.
The pest management strategy that his ministry has in place appears to be fairly robust in that area. Unfortunately, it is not robust in a number of other areas. During the process of this bill—and research obviously has gone on therein—the Minister might have a look at what other gaps there may be in the law, and bring those to Parliament, so that the people of New Zealand can be confident that this Minister is on top of his portfolio. There certainly is no evidence of it thus far.
I want to quote to the Minister section 69A of the Act: “A national pest management strategy must specify the following matters: (a) The pest or pests to be managed or eradicated:”. That throws up another question. Given that the Minister, presumably, knew that, and we have had a couple of incursions just recently—namely, sea squirt and didymo—was the Minister aware that under the Act he is required to try, first of all, to eradicate? We can see from the outcome, now that both those incursions appear to be permanent residents in New Zealand, and will be devastating not only to our biodiversity but potentially to our aquafarming economy, that the Minister himself may have slipped up in that regard by not doing what is required under the Biosecurity Act, which he is required to work under. Maybe the Minister has a different view of that; I am sure he does.
So when he says in speeches at biosecurity summits, Federated Farmers conferences, and other such places where he has spoken as the new Minister for Biosecurity, that it would be stupid—I think that is the language he used—to employ funds in the area of a biosecurity strategy before we have an incursion—[Interruption] It might be a good idea if the Minister checked the Act he is supposed to be working under, to find out the reason his warrant has been given to him.
I give the Minister yet another example of failure—by his predecessor—and that was the case of the varroa bee mite. Once again, there was a surveillance process, there was a biosecurity advance strategy, and neither was used. It was a wait and see situation; the Government would not throw money around willy-nilly, so it just waited to see whether that organism could live in New Zealand. Perhaps the Government hoped that a cold snap would freeze it out, or something like that. Maybe the Government had people sit down at the port with a fly swatter to try to catch the organism on the way through. That sort of approach has failed, and the cost to this country is billions of dollars. We have yet to establish what the cost of the didymo outbreak will be, but I suspect that it could be billions of dollars. So I say to the Minister that while we fiddle while the house burns, as it were, and fix up what is obviously a shortcoming within his own department, he might want to go back and look at some of the other major gaps within his department, to see whether there is something he can do about them.
There has been a 93 percent increase in the number of passengers coming into New Zealand—I am just telling the Minister this because I am sure he does not know. There has been a 40 percent increase in the number of cargo movements—containers and suchlike. That is the reason why we are far more at risk today—and all that is good because it shows there is growth in the economy—than we have ever been before. For the Minister to sit there and say we have the best biosecurity in the world is just not good enough, because it does not take into account all that extra traffic and extra risk. The Minister will tell us how many more millions of dollars have been put into
biosecurity since 1999, but he will never quote how much extra passenger and cargo traffic there has been. He will not mention that. There has been a 96 percent increase in container movements alone. Did the Minister know that? He did not know that. The last time he was anywhere near a port was when he was at the airport, coming into Wellington. He had no idea that was the case.
So the amount that the Government has put in, percentage-wise, compared to the increase in traffic, is miniscule, and the Minister knows it. He needs to go back and use his now-elevated position as No. 1 in a caucus of one, use that horsepower, to beat up the Minister of Finance and say that the biggest single risk to this country is the threat to our biosecurity. Of course, the Minister will make light of it, and, of course, the Minister of Finance will spit him out like he does all the other ill-prepared Ministers who turn up and do not know their portfolios.
Here is a figure that the Minister will not be aware of: 16,000 tonnes of foreign ballast water are estimated to be discharged into New Zealand waters each year. The question we need to ask is how the sea squirt got here. Well, 16,000 tonnes of foreign ballast water is discharged into New Zealand each year. The Minister should fix it while he has a chance.
METIRIA TUREI (Green)
: The Green Party will be supporting this bill through all its stages. We do not often do that for bills that have not first been referred to a select committee, but we recognise that this bill is solving a problem that happens from time to time in legislation, and it is quite right that Parliament should fix it.
Biosecurity is a critical aspect of the Greens conservation policy and process, and we take it very seriously indeed. In our view, any biosecurity strategy must be based on a precautionary approach and must recognise that many pest incursions are irreversible and should therefore promote the lowest practical risk approach to the way biosecurity is managed. We need only consider the didymo incursion to understand that it is not good enough to take time over these incursions when they occur. Didymo was found in the Lower Waiau and Mararoa rivers in Southland in October of 2004, and although I think that Biosecurity New Zealand did some good work on this issue, it is not good enough to wait until the problem gets bigger before serious and severe measures are put in place. For example, the research on how to kill didymo should have begun immediately after it was found, not a year later, because in September 2005 didymo was found in the Tasman district, in the upper reaches of the Buller River, in the Otago region, in the Hāwea, Upper Clutha, and Von rivers, and in additional rivers in Southland, the Oreti and the Upper Waiau. Of course the whole of the South Island is a controlled area, and it is not good enough that we allowed this to happen.
I do not think, and the Greens do not think, that the extreme dependence of our biosecurity measures on the education of New Zealanders and on individual responsibility will work effectively. It is not the best strategy. But it must be said that if New Zealanders do truly appreciate their environment and do hold it in the esteem that we frequently say we do, then we should all take more responsibility for the impact that our actions have on the environment, and on the biosecurity risks that our behaviour imposes. The Greens believe that from the outset all possible restrictions must be used to prevent the introduction and spread of biosecurity risks. Biosecurity processes must consider the harmful effects of toxins on human and non-target species and ensure that chemicals are used only as a last resort. The National Party suggested that somehow all the rivers in the South Island should suffer some form of chemical blasting with chlorine. That would kill everything, in an effort to get rid of potentially this one little thing. [Interruption] It was an insane suggestion, clearly made by people who have no concept of what it means to be environmentally responsible, and I am so pleased that
nobody has taken that suggestion the least bit seriously. Instead, people have recognised it as being ridiculously stupid, as it was.
We would like to see the Biosecurity Act include, as part of its purpose, the need to protect New Zealand from pest diseases and from GE organisms. We would like regional councils to be required to develop pest management strategies that cover both public and private land, and we believe we should encourage the preparation of pest management strategies that are ecosystem based as well as species based. There is no point in trying to attack individual species if we do not take an ecosystem approach, and that in fact is increasingly a part of the policy development process for conservation in general. We would like to see it included more in biosecurity, and, of course, there must be consideration of the cumulative impacts of biodiversity associated with imports.
Importers must have, and take, a greater level of responsibility for the biosecurity risks they pose. We would like to see increased funding for implementing biosecurity risk assessments and invasion response measures, supported through a levy on importers and people arriving at our borders. We believe that importers should be required to pay the full cost of eradication when negligence or non-compliance has been demonstrated by them. We need to enhance our ability to prevent exotic species from entering New Zealand and our ability to respond to any incursions that do occur. We have to continue with public education. We should be looking more seriously at the offshore inspection of containers, at increasing staff training and providing staff with the technology they need to do the job they want to do, and at making sure there is an emergency response fund that is well supported so that it can be effective. We also need to begin permanent pest surveillance programmes in and around all ports. We need risk assessments for exotic organisms, to consider their potential impacts on indigenous species and ecosystems, and on rural and urban environments, in addition to those on primary production and human health.
This is a significant issue for the whole country. If we do not impose severe and costly penalties on importers who, through negligence or non-compliance, put our country at risk, New Zealand will be seen as too soft on these issues, and the cost to our environment, our economy, and our people will be extreme. We have only one little country, and we have to protect it as best we can. We must give equal importance to biosecurity threats to the marine environment as we do to the terrestrial environment. We need much more caution and more stringent measures for marine biosecurity threats. We must take more seriously the risk that pollution, for example, imposes on our marine life. We have an exceptional abundance of marine life and ecosystems in our seas. Research is being undertaken in the Sounds to look at the medicinal properties of marine life that were hitherto unknown to us.
One of the major threats, for example, to the Hector’s and Maui dolphins, after gill-nets, is pollution of their habitats by toxins flowing into the sea from rivers, the dumping of sewage into the sea, and the dumping of wastes from dredging and seabed prospecting and mining. Biosecurity forms one part of the protection measures we can take to ensure that our endangered and critically endangered species are protected and that we do not continue to lose species in this country. If we do not take biosecurity issues extremely seriously and impose severe and mandatory controls and penalties, we risk a huge amount in our country. So, in terms of this bill, we are very pleased that the legislative lacuna will be filled, but it is only a small part of what needs to be done to truly protect our beautiful country.
PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First)
: New Zealand First will support this bill in all its stages. We received a copy of it only an hour or so ago and, as the Minister who opened the debate said in his speech, it comes about because of—to use nautical language—a Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry stuff-up. The ministry got it wrong.
There was an oversight, and this bill is now urgently needed because of the possibility of the Crown being exposed to civil action.
I agree with Shane Ardern, who spoke a little while ago, that the biggest single risk to this country’s security is biosecurity. I would like to explain to Shane Ardern—my colleague and, I think, my friend—a little about ships’ ballast, because he seemed to be making a little bit of noise about that. Shipowners are very conscious of the problems that a ship’s ballast brings with it. Currently, an overseas ship that is coming to New Zealand is meant to exchange ballast in mid-ocean.
Shane Ardern: They’re meant to.
PETER BROWN: Ships are meant to, and they make certain entries in their log books to that effect. Various shipping lines in various parts of the world are experimenting with heating ships’ ballast from the engines—
Shane Ardern: There’s chemical treatment, as well.
PETER BROWN: I do not think that chemical treatment has met with as much success as heating, but shipowners are reluctant to put in major, sophisticated methods to address the issue until they know that it will actually address it. I think I am correct in saying that at the moment the most accepted measure is exchanging the ballast mid-ocean.
Shane Ardern: But do they do it in rough seas?
PETER BROWN: It cannot be done in rough seas, if we are talking about large quantities, and it cannot be done all at once; it has to be done progressively, because it affects ships’ stability, stresses, and all those sorts of things. So whether ships exchange their ballast as fully as we would like them to is a debatable point. But I found that most of the people I dealt with in the area of shipping were pretty darn honest.
One area that concerns me, when I look at schedule 9, is that only five airports are mentioned. I would have thought that that provision could have been upgraded by now. Hamilton has international airlines coming into its airport, as does Queenstown, I think. As far as I am aware, Greymouth is a port. Maybe in the Committee stage the Minister will tell us why Hamilton, Queenstown, and perhaps some other airports have been excluded, because it is distinctly possible—
Hon Jim Anderton: There are two schedules.
Shane Ardern: On the back page.
PETER BROWN: Ah, there they are: Hamilton, Dunedin, Invercargill, Palmerston North, Queenstown, and Tauranga. But where is Greymouth? I thank the member for alerting me to that. I had not read the bill as far as that. Greymouth is not recorded as a port.
Shane Ardern: Tauranga is named with other ports. That’s not even in the amendment.
PETER BROWN: Oh, Tauranga is not in the main port area. This bill is urgently required. The Minister made that quite clear. I think it is incumbent upon this House to pass it with minimum delay. New Zealand First is quite keen to get on with the job, and we will support the bill through all its stages.
Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party)
: I rise on behalf of the Māori Party to address this bill in the context of its first reading. In the interests of bringing new ideas to this debate, our priority today is to focus particularly on the Biosecurity (Gypsy Moth Levy) Order. The Biosecurity (Gypsy Moth Levy) Order 2004 was made in the context of the Biosecurity Act 1993. The order provides for the levy to be imposed on all shipping containers and used vehicles imported into New Zealand, and is the liability, primarily, of importers, although an importer or a shipping agent must pay the levy. The levy is calculated on the basis of dividing the estimated annual cost of a surveillance programme by the estimated number of shipping containers and used
vehicles to be imported annually into New Zealand, and is to be spent on the surveillance programme for the gypsy moth.
Although we are pleased to see the introduction of the levy, it is the bigger issue around the eradication of the gypsy moth that still remains unresolved. That is an area of particular interest to me, given its implications for the people of Tāmaki-makau-rau, and, in particular, west Auckland. Just last month it was announced that a report into the health effects of the aerial insecticide spraying in west Auckland found that child asthma rates rose during that spray programme. The report from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research pointed to a plausible link to the spray programme. The report found that, for boys aged up to 4 years, hospital discharge rates for asthma conditions doubled over that period, 2002 to mid-2004, in the exposed population. One parent described his daughter as being hospitalised 28 times in a year with serious asthma. That is a hospital episode every fortnight for a 5-year-old girl.
Our particular concern with the linking of the moth spray to the incidence of respiratory diseases is the greater Māori asthma morbidity. The Māori asthma review concluded that asthma was more severe in Māori and that hospitalisation and mortality rates for Māori exceeded those of non-Māori. The review states that Māori are no more likely than non-Māori to develop asthma but that once they get it, it is more severe and tends to last longer.
The economic burden of asthma to New Zealand has been conservatively estimated as $800 million per year. For the sake of our society, our economy, and our community well-being, we must be vigilant in stamping out any factors that may serve to threaten our future progress as a nation. Eradication of the gypsy moth may not be as critical as the insecticide introduced to kill it. It must always be considered that in doing whatever we do to get rid of a particular problem, we must not increase the likelihood of other illnesses. In a way, it is like using a wet towel to hit a moth on a light bulb. Sure, we might get rid of the moth, but in the process we might end up in the dark.
HEATHER ROY (Deputy Leader—ACT)
: ACT will support the Biosecurity (Status of Specified Ports) Amendment Bill at its first reading, as it is obvious that urgent attention is needed for the problems that it seems have only just come to light. I think that that serves as a warning to us, and we should take it very seriously, as my colleague in the National Party Shane Ardern pointed out. The present Minister for Biosecurity says that we have the best biosecurity in the world, as did the previous Minister for Biosecurity, but the very fact that we are here in the House today debating this issue, under urgency, perhaps suggests otherwise.
This legislation is an amendment to the Biosecurity Act 1993, to correct historical oversights. As the Minister pointed out, those consequences were unintended, but we must take unintended consequences very seriously. One of the objections we often have to urgency is that bills go through all their stages in the House. They are not open to public scrutiny through the select committee process, which is where the public are able to make submissions, and therefore things are often missed out.
As others have pointed out, the bill is necessary because of an administrative failure by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The ministry failed to approve ports of first arrival under the Act before transitional approvals expired. Some of the briefing papers we have had suggest that the issue really only came to light at the beginning of November. But the failures by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry occurred in 1995 and 1998, so those historical failures, unintentional though they were, in fact go back some way.
I come back to the reason for the legislation. To fix things we now need to designate ports as approved places of first arrival but, more important, legislation is also needed, retrospectively, to deem courts to be approved. ACT has frequently spoken out,
particularly during periods of urgency, about retrospective legislation being put forward in this House. Probably the most famous piece of retrospective legislation was the legislation to save Harry Duynhoven’s bacon. We do object vocally, loudly, and often, to the fact that retrospective legislation comes before this House during urgency when proper scrutiny is not able to be given to it. We might find ourselves less likely to have to go back and amend legislation if that proper scrutiny did in fact occur.
It is very interesting at this time to look at the Crown Law opinion. The question should really be asked: does Crown Law think we have the best biosecurity in the world? I would suggest from the paper it put forward making comments on this issue that, no, it does not. The issues arising pending the introduction or passage of this bill have been put forward by Crown Law, which says that without this legislation there is no general power to inspect unaccompanied goods outside a transitional facility, and that it will be unclear what questions a person must answer after making the initial declaration about the presence of specified goods. Crown Law goes on to say that it will be unclear how long a person must remain at the port while inquiries are being undertaken and, lastly, that inspectors do not have the power to use reasonable force to require a person to be detained, so the power to search people will often be ineffective. Now, does that constitute the best biosecurity in the world? I do not think so, and neither does Crown Law.
A little further down in the same document, however, Crown Law comments that the bill as presently drafted would retrospectively immunise inspectors and the Crown from civil liability in relation to trespass, goods, false imprisonment, etc. So it is important that we have this legislation, but the question must be asked, particularly of the ministry: how did this situation arise in the first place? Crown Law says that the sooner the bill is introduced, the better the chance that there will not be any successful claims of that kind. I guess that in the greater scheme of things, that is correct, but with such glaring holes in the legislation perhaps concern will not be unfounded.
The retrospective aspect of the bill does not resolve issues relating to the constitutional principle that Governments should operate under law, and Dr Cullen should be very worried about that, if he is worried about good law-making. Good laws are enforceable and routinely enforced—I suspect Dr Cullen would probably agree with that statement—and they should be. Perhaps what we need to think about very carefully, in light of the fact that this legislation is necessary at all, is that all laws should regularly be reviewed to see what loopholes exist and, in fact, whether they are necessary. We have some very old and outdated laws in this country, and it would be a pertinent time to think about whether many of those should be reviewed at regular intervals. So constitutional principles should not be ignored during this debate. I think we have talked a lot about various biosecurity issues, but the broader principles should not be ignored either during the debate.
Crown Law noted that it is also undesirable for international airlines and passengers daily to be committing technical breaches of the Act. I just reinforce my position that law should be enforceable and regularly enforced.
Although there are many problems there, and ACT agrees that they must be attended to very swiftly, there are warnings around the whole issue of why it took so long for the matter to be picked up in the first place, and the issue of why the previous Minister and this Minister continue to maintain that we have the best biosecurity in the world when, in fact, our biosecurity measures have such glaring holes in them. ACT will support this bill, but we would like some consideration, particularly during the Committee stage, to discuss the issues further.
SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki-King Country)
: I agree with the Minister. In 1993 it was a National Government, and again in 1995 and 1998. But that was the forty-fifth Parliament. Which Parliament are we in now? Maybe the Minister has forgotten. He has been here a long time, and he has been through so many Parliaments he cannot remember. This is the forty-eighth Parliament. Let me just say this. That Minister has been a Deputy Prime Minister in that time, and it has taken him until today to pass legislation that will be enacted on 13 December. Currently out in the wide world it is 14 December. Those who are listening on radio are confused already when one tells them that the bill is being passed on the 13th and it is the 14th, but in Parliament that is what happens.
Can I also challenge the Green Party member who said—and it certainly is linked to the discussions that the Minister just had about the need to close up this gap—that I from the National Party had suggested we should go out and attack all the rivers in the South Island. I did not. When didymo was first found in the South Island it was in the bottom third of two rivers in Southland. So I suggested that there may be a way—and I know that there is, because many people have made submissions along this line—of chemically treating those rivers. Yes, it would have been devastating to the biodiversity in the bottom third of those rivers.
Darren Hughes: It is a problem.
SHANE ARDERN: Yes, I know what the problem was. The Labour Government was scared about what Green Party members—the rest of its twig and feather mates, on whom it relies for support—would do, so it never even considered that option.
I tell members that the pristine rivers in the whole of the South Island are now contaminated with an algae that will absolutely devastate the biodiversity of those rivers. The members of the Green Party will say that they stand for green principles. I
ask them to reconcile that for me because I cannot figure it out. Perhaps the Green member will take a call and tell me how that is so. The bottom third of two rivers in the South Island would have been devastated, under the proposal that I am suggesting, for about 2 years and then the biodiversity would have returned. That is what I understand to be the case. If members want to know where this information came from, I got it from the Minister’s office—surprise, surprise. So I ask the Green Party member to do some research.
There is a bigger issue even than didymo at stake here. It is the fact that our biosecurity, both in terms of our legislation and in terms of the adequacy of the Minister and the Government to respond, has gaping holes in it. It is a historic issue that has been inadvertently discovered, as it were. It is a bit like the bee varroa mite when it came across our borders, and 5 years after it was here the Government announced a strategy. This Government, the Government of Mr Anderton—the member ranked No. 1 in a caucus of one—has decided to introduce a strategy to contain the bee varroa mite 5 years after it was introduced.
I ask the Minister, for goodness’ sake, over the summer months, to sit down with his advisers and to let them bring him up to speed. The director-general is a fine chap, I am sure the Minister will agree, and he will be on top of some of this stuff. I ask the Minister to give him the time to bring him up to speed, please, for the sake of New Zealand.
When the Minister has done that, I suggest that he ask a few hard questions about how, even though we have all these grand overviews about how we have the best biosecurity in the world, we have endless incursions—weekly incursions, in fact. The Minister has just resigned himself to not even trying to eradicate. He has just walked away and washed his hands—and he will not be able to wash his hands in the South Island rivers any more, because they will come out covered in didymo. I ask him, for goodness’ sake, to get on top of the portfolio and have a look at some of the gaps in it.
Even if that does not work—and I suspect it will not—I ask the Minister to listen to some of the international advice. Professor Roger Morris has put together many, many discussion papers on this, and the Minister and his officials will not listen to that advice. The Minister might find that he can do this within baselines.
I notice that the Minister of Finance is in the Chamber, which is very good, because if he looks at what has been spent on some of these belated eradication attempts that have failed, he will find that it is millions of dollars. A little more should have been spent on surveillance in some areas and on strategy upfront in terms of an instant response, and I agree with the Green Party member who suggested we should have had an instant response to didymo.
The Government knew about this problem in October 2004. Here we are now, in December 2005, and about 3 days ago the Government released a strategy whereby people had to wash their fishing rods and were not to go across Cook Strait with dirty gear. What was wrong with the Government doing something straight away, particularly when it knew that there was something it could have done? Why did the Government not do that?
Instead of sitting over there laughing and carrying on when somebody suggests an alternative, the Minister needs to hold his officials to account and ask them why they never, at least, considered that option. The Minister can laugh and go on, but we already know what the answer is. The Minister is too closely aligned with the twig and feather brigade that he depends on for his support. The Green members said it was impossible to treat the bottom third of two rivers in the South Island because the biodiversity in them would be devastated, so we will just have to live with didymo, which will devastate the biodiversity in all of the rivers of the South Island until it comes into the
North Island and then it will do it there as well. The Minister needs to take some account of what has happened there.
The sea squirt situation is, of course, yet another area where we have no strategy. We are chasing it around the country, hopscotch. There are ways of treating that, which are biodegradable and will not devastate the environment. The Minister will be aware of them. He can sit over there, chirp away like some kind of budgie, and support the rest of his team, but the reality is that there is a way of treating that. Why not do it? [Interruption] The Minister should go and talk to his advisers, because they can tell him. They have told me.
I tell the Minister to go and talk to his own department. There is a way of treating sea squirt. For didymo, it is too late. The Minister has allowed it to go. He has let that go.
Hon Jim Anderton: We could not have treated it before.
SHANE ARDERN: It could have been treated, in the two rivers where it was.
Hon Jim Anderton: How could we have treated it?
SHANE ARDERN: The Minister knows the answer, and I am not going to bother with that.
Let me just say to the Minister that 19.9 tonnes of fruit fly material came into this country last year, carried by people. What will the Minister do about that?
Hon Jim Anderton: Do you want to spray them?
SHANE ARDERN: I would not mind spraying the Minister, but the people do not need spraying. What we need is thorough checks. I ask the Minister to listen to this figure, because clearly he is not aware of it—people at airports carried 9.3 tonnes of meat and poultry products into this country last year on their person. How is that able to happen?
The Minister sits there, laughs, and makes light of it. This country is at huge risk of a foot-and-mouth outbreak, and the Minister sits there and thinks it is a big joke. That shows the depth of this Minister—absolutely none; zero depth. He is going to go out and hug and cuddle all these people. When he first became the Minister, he gave a speech and said: “I’m the Minister who gets things done.” I remember this Minister telling us he was also the “Minister of Lower Petrol Prices”. Do members remember that? This Minister needs to go out and get something done about this.
Biosecurity is a major problem. Three tonnes of seeds came into this country last year, in grannies’ little handbags. And that Minister has done nothing about that, either. If the agriculture sector wants to import a new cultivar of some sort and it has to go through the hazardous substances system, which of course is a robust one, it cannot get it through. But granny can bring it in, in her handbag. The Minister will say that we have the best biosecurity system in the world. People carried 5,829 plants into this country last year, on their person. The Minister would not know that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Where did you get that from?
SHANE ARDERN: I got it from his department. He would not know that, because he has never bothered to have a briefing. He should have a briefing from his own department.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No you didn’t. You stole those facts and that speech.
SHANE ARDERN: Stole them from where?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: From that Minister.
SHANE ARDERN: How could I steal them from that Minister? That Minister does not even know that they exist. How could I steal them from there? I did not get them from that member. The member got them from me. [Interruption] I am on my feet, here. That member got them from me. That is where they came from.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes you did, it is 4 months old.
SHANE ARDERN: It is more than that. It is about 8 months old.
The saltmarsh mosquito cost $36 million—the Minister of Finance might want to know this—and the list still goes on. Do something!
SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki-King Country)
: The Biosecurity (Status of Specified Ports) Amendment Bill is unfortunate in terms of the parliamentary process, because we have had here an oversight that has gone through a series of checks and balances and has not been picked up. It demonstrates that clearly there are huge gaps in our biosecurity in this country. If something as basic as this can slip through in Parliament, where law is supposedly drafted, checked, implemented, and then followed up by officials, it is no wonder that whole shiploads of stuff can slip through in the middle of the night. It is no wonder.
The Minister Jim Anderton’s biosecurity is full of as many holes as this bill is here to fix up. The Minister needs to get off his chuff over the summer months and get on top of this portfolio. He is now in charge of a very important area, and I have seen no evidence at all that the public of New Zealand can have any confidence, so far, in what the Minister proposes to do. The Minister is clearly either suffering from the after-effects of whatever he was on last night or lacking what it is that he should be on. He is sitting there giggling like some demented teenager at some of the serious things that have been put forward here today, and he is not, in any way, attempting to address them.
During part of the time that this obvious deficiency existed in the legislation, this Minister was the Deputy Prime Minister of the country. How many people knew that? Not very many—about as many as those who know that he is ranked No. 1 in his caucus of one. The Minister, who now has that high ranking, should do something, and so far we have seen no evidence of him doing so. We have seen Jim Anderton give speeches to a number of different outfits, and he has said: “I’m the Minister who gets out and does things. I’m the Minister who fixes things up.” Well, I am not sure that the Minister of Finance, who is sitting next to him, is as confident in Jim Anderton’s ability to get things fixed up as Mr Anderton is. The Minister needs to do something, in that regard.
The first thing is that the Minister for Biosecurity needs to be in touch with his own department. In 2002 MAF Biosecurity released a paper on the future funding of biosecurity services. That paper asked about industries being involved in pest management strategies. In two major speeches so far, the Minister has said that there cannot be a pest management strategy until there is an incursion. It is mad to do that. So we get a situation like the one we had with the post-weaning multisystemic wasting syndrome in pigs, in which the industry itself was misguidedly led to believe that when something like that happened, the Government would be there with a strategy to fix it up. Of course, we had years of inaction and of virtually nothing happening at all. There was a lot of discussion and no action. Ultimately, the industry said to the former Minister: “Look, Minister, if you had told us that that was the case, we might have been
prepared to put in some dough ourselves.” So why does this Minister not talk to industries—in particular, to our primary industries—and say to them that this is a big threat to New Zealand and our economy, and that obviously it is in the national interest for those threats to be addressed?
National understands that industry may be prepared to get alongside us and work with us. This Minister will not do that—never in his life will he do that. The simple reason is that philosophically he is deadly opposed to it. It would be like talking to them—to those who might know what they are talking about—and accepting their advice. We could not have that—not under this Government. It will never happen.
When we look at what happened with the varroa bee mite, we see the reality that it took the Government 5 years to implement what is now a very inadequate strategy. We do not even know what that will cost the country. Has the Minister ever considered what that will cost the arable industries?
Hon Jim Anderton: How do you fix the varroa bee mite?
SHANE ARDERN: Well, it cannot be fixed now that the Government has let it go. It is a permanent resident. We will not even be able to keep it out of the South Island. How good is this Minister—can he keep it out of the South Island? Can he stand up in the House today and tell South Islanders that it will never go into the South Island? This Minister cannot even guarantee that the varroa bee mite will not go across to the South Island.
Hon Jim Anderton: Are you going to guarantee it won’t go out of the South Island?
SHANE ARDERN: Well, the Minister could have guaranteed it would not come into New Zealand if he had done something about it. He knew about it in time to actually treat it. They got rid of it in northern Australia—in a much greater geographical area than we have. How did they do it? What did they do? The Minister might want to have a look at what the Aussies did. I am not one who likes being beaten by the Aussies, but this Minister accepts it without any trouble at all.
On average, every day in this country 337 people are caught at our airports bringing in something that is a biosecurity risk. What has the Minister done about that? What has the Government in its 5 years done about it?
Hon Jim Anderton: We’ve caught them.
SHANE ARDERN: Well, OK, so what about the ones that have not been caught? Biosecurity New Zealand, the Minister’s own department, estimates that only 90 percent are caught, at best. So what will the Minister say in response to that?
Hon Jim Anderton: What are you going to do?
SHANE ARDERN: Well, we will certainly do a bit more than what this Minister is doing, which is absolutely nothing. So far we have seen from the Minister a lot of hot air and absolutely no action. He needs to realise what a threat this is to the country and get on top of that.
I ask the Minister of Finance whether he knows that the painted apple moth has so far cost $52 million, and that $794,000 a year is allocated on trying to control that alien. Did he know that? The reality is that if that money had been spent upfront on surveillance, there would not be that ongoing cost. That is a typical, short-sighted approach of: “Let’s try to fix it up once it gets in here.” The Minister of Finance needs to talk to his Minister for Biosecurity and get him to do something about that, because he is costing the Government and the country a lot of money.
The Minister for Biosecurity has so far shown an absolute lack of knowledge of what he is supposed to be doing. I repeat for the Minister that under section 69A of the Biosecurity Act a national pest management strategy must specify the following matters—the Minister needs to hear this—it must specify the pest, first of all, and then the strategy or management process in terms of eradicating that pest. That is what must
happen under the Act. The Biosecurity Act also states that any person may prepare a proposal for national pest management strategies. How does that square with the two speeches from the Minister that said we cannot have a pest management strategy until there is an incursion? His Act actually requires that there be a pest management strategy. The Minister is in breach of his own Act, and he does not even understand that. So I suggest he read the Act over the Christmas period, and once he has read it he should be able to see the inadequacies in it, such as the one that we are here today to fix up.
He should get some good advice, though; he should not rely on the advice he has been taking so far. He should not talk to the feather and twig brigade; he should get some proper advice. He should get some solid support for his ministry. He should talk to his colleague the Minister of Finance and get some horsepower into this area.