DRUGS, POISONS AND CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES (POPPY CULTIVATION AND PROCESSING) AMENDMENT BILL 2013
Written on the 26 March 2014
Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria) -- The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation and Processing) Amendment Bill 2013 provides for the creation of a licensing framework for the commercial cultivation and processing of poppies for therapeutic and research purposes. Alkaloid poppies enable the manufacture and usage of opiates. These have incredible benefits for patients experiencing pain.Indeed the global demand for legal opiates is increasing at a dramatic rate as new markets emerge with greater numbers of people able to avail themselves of the wonders of modern pain management and medication.
This legislation was introduced into the other place by the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, Mr Walsh, and there are aspects of this new framework, which the Labor Party is pleased to support, that will be the responsibility of that minister and others whose responsibilities sit within the Department of Health. The Department of Environment and Primary Industries will be responsible for the administrative and enforcement framework, and the Department of Health will be responsible for the manufacture and extraction of opiates.The bill outlines the way in which a licensing scheme would work.
It is important to note that there have been trials under way for some time in Victoria -- 18 trials in 6 locations -- which have had varied results. Product from these growing trials across Victoria will need to be analysed to provide the growers and the purchasers of the poppies -- that is, the pharmaceutical companies -- with decisions to make about where in Victoria the best poppy growing sites are. There are many variables that can impact on the quality of the product, and therefore its viability as a crop, its strength and its purity, which are obviously very important considerations in the growing of poppies for the manufacture of opiates.Three companies have been permitted by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries to undertake very small-scale research trials, and they are GlaxoSmithKline, Tasmanian Alkaloids and TPI Enterprises. This legislation is the next step in enabling Victoria to develop a poppy industry.
At present the poppy industry in Australia exists only in Tasmania, and Tasmania is one of the world's largest producers of poppies. There are, appropriately, very tight local, state, national and international controls around the sale, manufacture and distribution of opiates and narcotic materials, and Tasmania has enjoyed great economic benefits from being in a position to support this industry. The poppy processing industry in Tasmania is estimated to generate in the order of $100 million per annum.The parliamentary library has produced a research paper for members, and I urge members to look at it. That research indicates that the farmgate return to growers has been between $70 million and $90 million in recent years and that the industry employs about 1000 people. It is a significant industry for employment in Tasmania, and it is an industry that is growing at a rate that is greater than Tasmania has the capacity to sustain.
Tasmanians may be offended by that sentiment, but Victoria has the capacity to support the growth of poppy cultivation, and I suggest and the government does too, in a way that Tasmania cannot.
Trials have commenced and this legislation provides for appropriate licensing arrangements to enable this industry to be established in Victoria. At the moment production is undertaken by GlaxoSmithKline at its site in Port Fairy, a workplace that I have had the opportunity to visit. It is an incredibly sophisticated manufacturing operation. I hope the passage of this legislation will lead to the creation of new jobs in manufacturing, as well as, obviously, provide significant benefits for farmers who are in a position to take advantage of this development.
There was a media report in my local paper, the Ballarat Courier, about a local man managing a trial on his family property. It talks about the benefits for that family of diversifying what has traditionally been their farming crop. It describes the need for farmers to be able to diversify. This legislation represents an opportunity for a number of farmers to benefit from the development of a new industry in Victoria. That article also quotes Steve Morris, the general manager of GlaxoSmithKline, who indicated that it would be the company's intention to commercialise this trial within five years. Trials take time, seasons need to come and go, and assessments need to be made about the best locations to grow crops. This industry has great potential to create and grow jobs in Victoria, which is something the Labor Party has a strong and proud record of doing.
Labor is very pleased to support the introduction to Victoria of a new industry and of a new crop in agriculture, one which presents opportunities for jobs growth in manufacturing. The opposition is comfortable with the arrangements around the licensing scheme. I should also put on the record that opposition members appreciate the briefings that we received from both people in the industry and departmental representatives on how this will work. We are all about regional jobs and we are confident that this will be a good thing for Victoria. I commend the bill to the house.
Mr RAMSAY (Western Victoria) -- It gives me pleasure to speak on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation and Processing) Amendment Bill 2013. In doing that, I commend the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, Peter Walsh, on bringing forward this bill.One of the first meetings I had as a new member of Parliament for Western Victoria Region was with a delegation of land-holders who wished to provide trial sites for potentially growing poppies in Victoria. Given that we already had a processing facility in Port Fairy and that many of my friends in Tasmania were growing poppies under a licensing arrangement, it made sense to me that we should also avail Victorian producers of that opportunity.
I have been closely involved with the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) in relation to those growers who were assigned to do some research at the trial sites that were indicated by the previous speaker, and I take an interest in the results of the research at those trial sites. It gives me some sense of satisfaction that today, after three years as a local member supporting, encouraging and advocating for full-scale commercial growing of poppies in Victoria, we will vote on this bill. It is pleasing that the opposition is also supporting the bill.The bill opens up a whole lot of opportunities for regional Victoria, which I will go through in some detail. To put the bill in context, it provides for the establishment of a licensing framework to authorise the cultivation of alkaloid poppies and processing of poppy straw for commercial and research purposes. The bill sets out a compliance and enforcement framework to oversee the licit cultivation of alkaloid poppies and the processing and transport of poppy straw.
The bill also allows for suitable persons to apply for or renew a licence of up to three years to cultivate poppies for commercial purposes or for a licence or renewal of a licence of up to one year to process harvested poppy straw. On that aspect, the bill provides that the secretary of the department must not issue a licence if an applicant or an associate of the applicant has committed a serious offence in the last 10 years. An associate of an applicant includes a spouse, partner, parent, sibling or child over the age of 18. A serious offence means an indictable offence involving dishonesty, fraud, drugs or assault.New section 69NB, inserted by clause 4, is necessary to mitigate the risk of alkaloid poppies being accessed for criminal purposes, including in circumstances where the licence-holder is not a party to or directly involved in any potential criminal activity. Relatives of a licence-holder can exert particular influence over that licence-holder and may have access to information not publicly available about poppy cultivation and processing activities. A relative of an applicant who has been convicted of a relevant serious offence may pose a potential risk to the security of alkaloid poppies or poppy straw. The scheme exempts licence-holders from what otherwise is a very serious offence, being the commercial-scale cultivation of narcotic plants, and therefore it is essential for applicants and their associates to be fit and proper persons. These provisions are similar to existing sections in the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 relating to the cultivation of low-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cannabis.
In the low-THC scheme the definition of 'serious offence' does not include indictable offences involving assault, but does extend to offences involving dishonesty, fraud or cultivation or trafficking in a drug of dependence where the maximum penalty exceeds three months imprisonment.
While not stated in the Tasmanian legislation -- and I might add that it is under review at the moment -- there is a process in Tasmania where the names of all interested parties of an applicant need to be provided to the Tasmanian government, and these interested parties may be checked for previous court convictions, particularly in respect of drug-related matters. To the extent to which this provision may limit an applicant's right against arbitrary interference in family, it is considered that any such limitation be reasonable and demonstrably justified under section 7(2) of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006. So there are restrictions in relation to those who are applying for a licence, particularly in relation to their history.
Applications for a licence to cultivate poppies or poppy straw must be accompanied by evidence to the satisfaction of the secretary of DEPI that the applicant is a fit and proper person to be given a licence and evidence of the commercial or research activity they wish to undertake. I have identified some conditions under which those licences would be approved. The amendments provide for matters which the secretary of DEPI must consider when determining whether the applicant and their associates are fit and proper persons for the purpose of being issued a new licence. The secretary must consult the Chief Commissioner of Police when considering whether to issue or refuse a licence. The chief commissioner may oppose an application on various grounds, including on the basis of protected information. Applicants may appeal against the decision made by the secretary of DEPI not to issue or renew a licence at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Private hearing provisions are provided in the amendments if the decision to refuse to issue or renew a licence is based on protected information.This bill also allows for the creation of an alkaloid poppy register which facilitates the recording, reporting and administration of the framework by DEPI. The register is confidential and only accessible to authorised staff and Victoria Police. Cultivation of poppies can only take place if a valid contract between a licensed grower and a licensed processor is registered in the alkaloid poppy register by DEPI. The bill provides the secretary of DEPI with powers to authorise inspectors to carry out activities to determine compliance with licences by licence-holders and others involved in the industry. General powers of inspectors include the ability to enter and inspect licensees properties, inspect and sample plant and soil material, intercept and examine machinery used in the harvest and transport of poppy straw, and require the provision of licensee documentation.
Commercial poppy cultivation for therapeutic purposes is currently confined to Tasmania on the basis of a 1971 ministerial exchange of letters between the commonwealth, states and territories. In that context there are significant restrictions in place and conditions for those who wish to grow poppies in Victoria, much of which is based on Tasmanian legislation and the Tasmanian experience in relation to the security of growing poppies. It is pleasing to see that, as I said, Victorian producers will now have that opportunity, assuming this bill is passed today.As many members would be aware, for the past 40 years Tasmania has been the largest producer of opium alkaloid poppies for the pharmaceutical industry. In recognition of a growing and ageing population, more is being done to support health and longevity. To this end the bill will amend the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 to allow for the commercial-scale cultivation of alkaloid poppies in Victoria for therapeutic and research uses.
The creation of a new industry in the cultivation of poppies will bring benefits to farmers, the agricultural sector and transport within regional Victoria. In Tasmania the Poppy Advisory and Control Board in 2012 reported an industry gross value of around $100 million, with farm gate returns of between $70 million and $90 million in recent years. Further, in 2009 it was estimated that poppy cultivation supplies approximately 1000 jobs in Tasmania. If Victoria could share in that success it would be a huge boost to employment and the economy.However, the cultivation of alkaloid poppies requires strict controls and processes. I have gone through the detail of that at some length. To this end, the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation and Processing) Amendment Bill 2013 provides that applicants for grower and processing licences must be deemed fit and proper, and I have covered that requirement off.
The bill will also exclude any extraction of opiates other than for the purpose of chemical analysis. Victoria already has a regulatory framework under the principal act for the manufacture and extraction of opiates, and that framework will continue to be administered and enforced by the Department of Health. Further, the bill will ensure that cultivation is compliant with the requirements of processors and that crops are not grown in excess. Requirements and limits, including contractual arrangements between a licensed grower and a licensed processor, will need to be registered with the department. The establishment and maintenance of a register will include details of all the individuals involved in the industry: the growers, the processing sites and the contracts.
In 2013 the Victorian Department of Health approved small-scale research trials of alkaloid poppies. These were conducted by GlaxoSmithKline, Tasmanian Alkaloids and TPI Enterprises in Victoria. The purpose of the trials was for cultivation only. They were spread across 13 sites within the state to help scientists work out which areas and what growing conditions would be most suitable to grow poppies. Once the crop was grown, harvested and analysed, the plant matter was destroyed.
Whilst the cultivation of alkaloid poppies has been primarily done in Tasmania, the medicinal alkaloids are extracted from the poppies at the GlaxoSmithKline factory in Port Fairy, in my electorate of Western Victoria Region. The company uses the extract from the poppy straw in pharmaceuticals such as thebaine, codeine and morphine, which are all vital ingredients in many pain-relieving medicines and are used in a range of pharmacy and prescription medicines worldwide. It makes sense for Victoria to be the new location for the poppy industry considering its climate similarities with that of Tasmania and the GlaxoSmithKline processing plant in Port Fairy.This bill builds on the commitment of the coalition government to support job growth and build a stronger economy. The creation of a poppy industry will complement the investments already made by the coalition government in regional Victoria, including most recently the commitment of $22 million to support SPC Ardmona and $100 million for the Goulburn Valley.
The benefits this bill will provide to regional Victoria are extensive, and on that basis I commend the bill to the house.
Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- As both the previous speakers have outlined a great deal of the technical detail of the bill, I will not go over that again. While the bill is highly technical, it is straightforward. If we are going to have a poppy industry in Victoria, we want to know that it will be well regulated and that the people who are operating it are fair, reasonable and trustworthy. As Mr Ramsay and Ms Pulford have outlined, it is an extremely good thing that this will create regional jobs and build diversity by giving farmers another crop to grow.
The Greens will obviously be supporting the bill. As I said, while it is highly technical bill, it is a necessary bill.It is good to see that all those regulations will be put in place right at the outset of this new industry to make sure that it operates well and is well protected.
Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) -- I am pleased to rise and speak on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation and Processing) Amendment Bill 2013. I listened intently to the contribution of my colleague Mr Ramsay, who described the history of the poppy industry very well. I was also interested to read about that history in the research brief produced by the parliamentary library. It was interesting to look at how this industry evolved and how Tasmania has built a successful poppy industry.I too would like to commend the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, Mr Walsh, for further supporting regional industry and bringing to this state new industries with the potential to develop new export markets.
As Mr Ramsay highlighted, a great deal of work has been done in the preparation of this bill in relation to regulation and licensing, the penalties that can be applied should regulations be breached and determining who should have inspection and enforcement rights.It is a very good industry for rural Victoria. I know many people in Tasmania have benefited from this industry. As I said, it is a new industry for Victoria. With an ageing and growing population there is a demand for opioids, and morphine and codeine are a significant part of the pain relief provided to many patients on a regular basis. That is exactly what the poppy industry is for. It is about extracting those alkaloids that produce codeine and morphine. They are highly addictive drugs so the industry is highly regulated, and that needs to continue, but the drugs are very important for our health industry.
The fact that companies such as GlaxoSmithKline are situated in regional areas like Port Fairy is a good indication of this government's support for jobs in regional industries. I again commend the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security for his thorough work on this legislation. The trials conducted by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries have been very thorough and well regulated and they have been very well supported.I am not going to add too much more to what has been already highlighted about this bill and to what other speakers have said other than to say that this is another example of the Victorian government highlighting opportunities for Victorians. Whether it be in industry, in export markets or in supporting regional jobs and growth within those areas, this government understands how important the agricultural industry is. It understands the complexities involved in the regulation of such crops and what needs to be done.
The government also understands the export opportunities. We have seen that time and again with the trade missions to Asia, China and the Middle East promoting our food and fibre products to those markets. They have had much success and have brought in billions of dollars worth of income to Victoria. Mr Walsh has been on many of those trade missions, and I commend him for his leadership, for building those relationships and identifying opportunities. Importantly, I commend him for the work he has undertaken in identifying a new industry and implementing the very necessary regulation and licensing aspects involved in the legislation.
I commend the work he has done in the department and commend the bill to the house.
Ms DARVENIZA (Northern Victoria) -- I am pleased to make a contribution to the debate on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation and Processing) Amendment Bill 2013. The bill amends the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 by inserting new parts into the act and allows for the commercial-scale cultivation of alkaloid poppies in Victoria for therapeutic and research purposes. Labor recognises the potential for this new industry in Victoria and therefore is not opposed to the bill which will allow for the commercial growing of poppies in Victoria for both therapeutic and research purposes subject to very strict regulations.
Labor has always been committed to driving any opportunity to create more jobs and investment, particularly investment opportunities in rural and regional Victoria.In the past when we were in government we were involved in assisting local communities to address new challenges and to take advantage of those opportunities when they arose, and this is definitely a new opportunity for Victoria.
Tasmania, as has already been pointed out, is the world's largest producer of opiate alkaloids for the pharmaceutical market. It produces about 50 per cent of the world's concentrated poppy straw for morphine and related opiates from merely 10.7 per cent of the production area. GlaxoSmithKline, for example, currently ships poppy straw from Tasmania to its Victorian processing plant in Port Fairy to produce morphine, codeine and thebaine.Ms Crozier talked a little in her contribution about the therapeutic uses and the highly addictive qualities of morphine, and most of us are aware that morphine is a very powerful analgesic.
It is a narcotic, and like other opiates it acts directly on the central nervous system to relieve pain. It does not come without side effects; as with all pharmaceuticals it can create a range of side effects. It is also highly addictive and dependency can develop quite quickly. Morphine is medically prescribed for the relief of moderate and severe pain and is found in a range of different preparations.Codeine, which can be found in most household drug cupboards and is well known to all of us, is the most widely used and naturally occurring narcotic in medical treatment in the world. Therefore there is a very high and ever-increasing demand for it, particularly as we have an ageing population. One of the things we know about the use of morphine rather than codeine is that it is a particularly good drug for use by elderly people who might be taking a range of other medications because they have a number of different medical complications.
It is pain relief that works well when combined with other medications and is not often contraindicated for other medications.Codeine is medically prescribed for the relief of moderate pain and is also quite a strong cough suppressant and can be found in a range of syrups and cough prevention and suppression medications as well as being available mostly in tablet form. Thebaine is a minor constituent of opium. It is controlled under international law, but it is not used therapeutically.
There are two reasons for the industry looking to expand to commercial scale here in Victoria: firstly, as I have already said, the increase in demand for the therapeutic uses of the medications that are derived from the opium poppy, and secondly, the seasonal risks that are now associated with growing opium poppies in Tasmania.It is a very high-value crop and has the potential to create a $100 million industry for our state within a decade, so it is a considerable economic investment for the state which will create jobs as well as enhancing the economic wellbeing of rural and regional Victoria. Field trials are currently under way and the locations of future cultivation areas will be determined by the yield attained during those trials as well as by local factors such as seasonal variations and water security.
The bill provides for the establishment and maintenance of a register which will include details of all individuals involved in the industry and list growing and processing sites as well as providing details of contracts. The register will be confidential, but limited access will be given to authorised persons and inspectors as well as members of the Victoria Police.
Licences will be subject to various terms and conditions and limitations and restrictions, including some relating to the variety of poppy to be cultivated; security and surveillance measures that will be put in place; and keeping records. There is also provision for the notification of the Department of Environment and Primary Industries of changes to ownership and management of the business of the applicant; the disposal of the harvest material and the crops; and the requirement for inspections, supervision and surveillance by inspectors.
Security is important, and I note the excellent information that has been provided by the Parliamentary Library on just how important security is. The opium poppy is a potentially dangerous crop, and community safety is particularly important.That is why the regulation and safeguards within the industry are so important.
There are two main security concerns. Firstly, there is a concern that unauthorised individuals may steal the poppies for personal drug use or experimentation, which can result in toxic substances being produced and consumed. There have been a number of deaths in Tasmania as a result of this activity, so we need to be very mindful of that. Secondly, there is a risk that poppies might be stolen by organised crime groups and used in the illegal drug trade. The establishment of the register and the licensing processes address those security issues.Mr Ramsay outlined the powers that are given to the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Primary Industries and the authorisation of qualified persons as inspectors, and in terms of the bill covered in some detail what constitutes a 'suitable person' to be involved in the production and growing of the poppies.
As Ms Hartland pointed out, the bill is fairly straightforward and the opposition is not opposing it. Provided that regulations and restrictions are put in place so that it is a highly regulated industry, it should be a worthwhile investment opportunity for rural and regional Victoria.
Mrs MILLAR (Northern Victoria) -- I am pleased to make a contribution to debate on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation and Processing) Amendment Bill 2013. I have taken the opportunity to attend briefings in relation to this bill, and I am aware of the huge amount of work that has gone into investigating and facilitating this new agricultural opportunity for Victoria. I pay tribute, as I have often done in this place, to some excellent work done on this bill by the excellent staff of the Department of Environment and Primary Industry.
The bill provides for the commercial-scale cultivation of alkaloid poppies in Victoria, which will offer to rural and regional Victoria further enhanced potential to grow its economy, create more Victorian jobs and grow the enormous potential of Victoria's agricultural sector. This is another example of what this government is doing to deliver real economic growth and jobs to rural and regional Victoria. This industry has the potential to grow to a net benefit of $100 million within the first 10 years of operation, with the value of the crop being estimated at between $20 million and $30 million.Payments are made to growers based on the weight and percentage yield of alkaloid in the crop. As has been discussed at length by other speakers, alkaloid poppies are grown commercially to extract valuable pain-relieving medicines for the health industry. This is viewed as an emerging growth industry, particularly in the Asian markets.
Currently Tasmania is the only state in Australia where poppies are legally commercially grown. Tasmania is the world's largest producer of opium alkaloids for the health industry, with approximately 800 licensed growers being contracted by producers to grow a specific quantity each season. Approximately 30 000 hectares are currently under cultivation in Tasmania. Due to Tasmania's share of the market and biosecurity, climate and other risks, the pharmaceutical industry has been keen to diversify and establish new growth areas. These concerns were borne out during the 2013 growing season in Tasmania when unusually wet conditions resulted in a crop reduction in the vicinity of 30 per cent.Victoria's climate and rich soils are ideal for this crop, and no doubt many members will be aware of poppies growing as weeds in various parts of the state.
A number of small trials are currently being conducted in Victoria, and this will further establish evidence of the suitability of this crop for Victorian conditions.
This bill provides for the establishment of a licensing framework to authorise the cultivation of alkaloid poppies and the transportation and processing of poppy straw for both commercial and research purposes. Because of the nature and history of this crop, which other speakers have detailed -- and I have certainly been asked questions in relation to the security aspects of this endeavour, particularly at field days and agricultural shows in northern Victoria -- there are a number of safeguards contained in the bill, which was drafted after consultation with the Chief Commissioner of Police.
Cultivation can only take place if a valid licence is issued by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI), and the granting of licences will be subject to the person or the persons who operate the business being assessed as being fit and proper to do so. In practice this means those who have been convicted of committing serious offences in the last 10 years or those who are associates of those who have been convicted of committing serious offences in the last 10 years will be unable to obtain licences.In my view this is appropriate and provides some safeguards for the safe operation of this industry.
These safeguards give confidence to the Victorian public that strict controls will be in place to ensure that only those issued with licences and those with valid contracts with licensed processors to grow poppies will be able to grow the crop. It is also good to know that the opposition is comfortable with the licensing provisions and safeguards, as was noted by Ms Pulford.There are three stages involved in producing opiates from alkaloid poppies: the cultivation and harvest of alkaloid poppies; processing, being the preparation and treatment of the poppy straw; and manufacture, being the refining of the poppy straw to extract the opiate. My understanding is that this third stage in particular is a highly complex and technical process. Compliance at all stages of the process will be monitored by DEPI, with the secretary of the department having the ability to authorise inspectors to determine compliance at each of the stages.
I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, Peter Walsh, the department secretary, Adam Fennessy, and the staff of DEPI, who have put an enormous amount of work into initiating this bill and the framework to set up this industry in Victoria, which will expand the potential of our agricultural industry and also increase jobs for Victorians. The benefits for Victoria are extensive. I commend the bill to the house.
Mr EIDEH (Western Metropolitan) -- I rise to make a brief contribution to the debate on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation and Processing) Amendment Bill 2013, which we on this side of the house will not oppose.
This bill will amend the current Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 to introduce licensing for the commercial cultivation and processing of alkaloid poppies, also known as opium poppies, within the state of Victoria for research and therapeutic purposes.
The poppy originated in the Middle East thousands of years ago, and currently there are 250 species of poppies in the world. The sap from the opium poppy -- papaver somniferum -- creates the strong pain-relieving drug opium, which following passage of this bill will be cultivated and produced in Victoria.Currently Tasmania is the only Australian state that legally cultivates and produces alkaloid poppies for the pharmaceutical market. Tasmania produces roughly 50 per cent of the world's concentrated poppy straw for morphine and related opiates. This production has contributed significantly not only to the Tasmanian economy but also to patients who require these medications to live out the rest of their lives comfortably in palliative care.
This bill provides wonderful opportunities for our state -- namely, for the Victorian economy, the agriculture sector and regional Victoria.However, one of the most significant opportunities this bill creates is employment opportunities for skilled workers from across the state and for people living in the communities where farming and manufacture will take place. Victorian Labor has made it clear that its priority for Victoria is ensuring that employment is sustained and continuously created. We on this side of the house fully support anything that will create employment.
This licensing framework will also provide Victorian researchers with an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the opium poppy and build a foundation for groundbreaking research in the future. Currently the legal manufacturing of alkaloid poppies occurs only in Spain, Turkey, France and India. This legislation will ensure that the poppies and opium produced in Victoria will have access to a global market. I commend the bill to the house and wish it a speedy passage.
Mrs COOTE (Southern Metropolitan) -- It gives me enormous pleasure to speak on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation and Processing) Amendment Bill 2013.
Others before me have outlined the bill in great detail. At the outset I note that, unlike most bills amending the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 which are of a health nature, this bill is economic in nature and relates to an important and growing agricultural crop that will help direct Victoria's future.
This is quite an extensive bill, at 77 pages, but in essence it provides for the commercial-scale cultivation of alkaloid poppies in Victoria for therapeutic and research purposes. The reason the bill is so extensive is that it establishes a new agricultural industry. Also, because the use of alkaloid poppies in the pharmaceutical industry is for narcotic purposes, this bill must be comprehensive to ensure the new industry is regulated correctly. We have heard from a number of speakers who have gone into great detail about this point and explained how the Department of Environment and Primary Industries has done such an extraordinarily thorough job in bringing this bill to the Parliament.
Every year as I stand in the darkness at dawn at the Shrine of Remembrance on Remembrance Day and listen to the poem about the poppies in Flanders field it crosses my mind that the poppies that we wear in November remind us of peaceful times -- of an armistice and a time of hope and future for the whole world.But equally, not the same poppies but poppies nonetheless have been in the wrong hands and used by the wrong people for the wrong purposes throughout parts of Afghanistan, Thailand and the Golden Triangle. Generations of young Australians and young people across the entire world have been badly affected by heroin, the drug made from opium poppies. In fact it has ruined and destroyed lives.
This is a contentious bill. The larger population does not quite understand how the use of poppies can be therapeutic. For some time there has been therapeutic poppy production in Tasmania, as we have heard. It is important to understand that now with modern technology poppies can be used for the best of purposes. That is what this bill is about. This bill is about making certain that as much control as possible is exercised and careful consideration is given at every level so that when the results of poppy production go out into the community all conditions are covered.This will establish a new industry in the agricultural sector in Victoria. Alkaloid poppies are used in the production of legal opioids, such as morphine, codeine and thebaine, and other opioids produced by the pharmaceutical sector for use as prescription and over-the-counter medication. These are the legal products of alkaloid poppies; however, opiates such as heroin are illegal in most parts of the world and they are used illegally. We think of areas where there has been misuse, and we properly recall that one of the highest value crops for the Taliban government in Afghanistan was alkaloid poppy cultivation and the production and export of heroin to the developed world.
This has been one of the world's major problems: how do we give these areas some economic opportunity that is not dependent on an illegal substance? The Golden Triangle in South-East Asia, which includes Burma, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, also produces a large amount of the illegal poppy trade resulting in the production of heroin.For this reason the cultivation of alkaloid poppies is strictly regulated at international, national and state levels.
At present, with the exception of trial farms, the only legal alkaloid poppy farms in Australia are in Tasmania. These crops produce about 50 per cent of the world's concentrated poppy straw which is used to make morphine and other pharmaceutical opioids. The Tasmanian government estimates that this industry contributes $100 million a year to the economy and employs approximately 1000 people. Some of the Tasmanian crop of concentrated poppy straw is processed in Port Fairy in Victoria. Globally other alkaloid poppy producers include Turkey, France, Spain and India, and of these, Tasmanian producers are among the most efficient.Victoria can now begin growing these poppies, developing the pharmaceutical products as value-added and exporting them around the world.
The pharmaceutical industry has already undertaken trials around the state to ascertain the best climatic conditions and soils in Victoria for growing these poppies. As I said, it is imperative that proper precautions are taken. We are dealing with what can be and, as we have seen internationally, is a very dangerous product.In his second-reading speech the minister noted that the intensive manner of harvesting poppy straw and processing it into opiates has proven unattractive to organised crime. I go back to the statement by Ms Darveniza when she said that these crops could be taken over by organised crime. This industry is unattractive to organised crime because of the nature of the processing, but steps to regulate it are important to prevent unattractive elements from entering the market. It is important that we put in place proper regulations to make quite certain that criminal elements do not enter this market.
This matter is addressed predominantly in clause 4 of the bill, which deals with licences to cultivate and process the poppies. The new section 69NB inserted by clause 4 is headed:Matters to be considered in determining a fit and proper person.
This is very important. It outlines the purpose for this as being, as I said earlier:For the purpose of preventing criminal activity in the cultivation of alkaloid poppies and the processing of poppy straw ...
Specifically, it sets out that the secretary must be satisfied that:
(a) the applicant or any associate of the applicant has not been found guilty in respect of a serious offence (whether in or outside Victoria) during the 10 years preceding the date of making the application ...(b) the applicant and each associate of the applicant is a suitable person to be concerned in or associated with the cultivation of alkaloid poppies or the processing of poppy straw ...
(c) the applicant's property or premises will be suitable for the cultivation of alkaloid poppies or the processing of poppy straw, as the case requires, in relation to location, facilities and proposed security arrangements ...We can see from this that the bill goes to great lengths to prevent the involvement of criminal elements in poppy cultivation and production. In conclusion, this bill will establish an exciting new agricultural industry in Victoria.
We in this place today are celebrating the very long career of a person from rural Victoria, the Minister for Higher Education and Skills, Peter Hall. Agriculture has been very much at the heart of his entire political career. I would like to take the opportunity while speaking on this this bill to congratulate Mr Hall on an extraordinarily successful career.He is well loved by his constituents in rural Victoria. He has been a huge part of the coalition and has carried a lot of weight in his portfolios. I know that there will be students in our TAFEs at the moment who will go on to fabulous careers thanks to the work Mr Hall has done. I congratulate him on a successful career. As someone said this morning, it is very rare that someone leaves this place with their reputation enhanced. His certainly will be, and we will certainly miss his great speeches and contributions to this place. We will all be missing Minister Hall very much in the next parliament.
This bill will have a direct and positive impact on the Victorian economy. It takes seriously the possibility of criminals becoming involved in this industry and takes steps to protect against this. I commend the bill to the house.
Mr O'BRIEN (Western Victoria) -- I too wish to briefly rise to lend my support to this bill, being the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation and Processing) Amendment Bill 2013. I can pick up much of the wonderful contribution made by Mrs Coote both on the bill and on the slightly divergent but nevertheless relevant contribution she made recognising the contribution of Mr Hall to agriculture and training. The bill itself is an important bill because, as Mrs Coote has outlined, it will allow for the commercial-scale cultivation of alkaloid poppies for therapeutic and research purposes, establish in key elements a fully licensed framework for poppy growers and processors, and create an effective compliance and enforcement framework to oversee the industry.
I also wish to join my colleagues in acknowledging the work of Mr Walsh, the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, his department and the other departments that have carefully worked with the industry and relevant growers.We have certainly facilitated the careful consideration of this legislation and this industry. For example, in July 2013 an article in the Warrnambool Standard quoted comments from me where I acknowledged the existence of the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) plant in Port Fairy.
In short terms, the merits of this bill in permitting a licensed, controlled and carefully regulated industry in Victoria are best and most simply explained by recognising that whilst the subject matter of the bill deals with a beneficial therapeutic substance, the bill also has concerns in relation to illicit narcotic activities. In a regulatory sense we have existing processing plants in Victoria, and the Port Fairy GSK plant is obviously an important part of that. It has been established for some time. We also have the poppies that are legally and successfully grown in Tasmania.The industry wishes to diversify into Victoria.
When you have the industry already existing, essentially, in a processing sense in Port Fairy and in a growing sense in Tasmania there is no valid reason it should not be considered. Obviously the communities where the poppies are grown and the wider Victorian community need to be carefully consulted, and Minister Walsh has undertaken that process together with the companies and the relevant farmers, particularly those at trial sites, as well as with the relevant councils and other interested persons to ensure that this bill can now come before the house.
As has been said in the second-reading speech, this is a significant opportunity for regional Victorian growers to diversify. Even if, for example, they wish to be potato growers or other high-yield crop growers in a suitable climate, this gives them another string to their bow when negotiating with suppliers. It is about the food and fibre security Minister Walsh and Minister Hall promote. I could refer to, for example, the Grow Your Food and Fibre initiative, which was co-hosted at Parliament House by the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, Peter Walsh, and the Minister for Higher Education and Skills, Peter Hall.
That significant initiative -- including the inquiries, findings and reference to the importance of growing education pathways -- again demonstrates that in a modern agricultural industry we need to consider different and in some instances highly technical forms of farming to add to the existing, more traditional forms of farming to allow for that diversity, to allow for security and to allow for farmers to be in the best position to continue their important farming operations and return more cash through the farmgate.
Returning to the bill, finally, I would also like to pick up another issue the minister took action on which gives an example of the way science and agriculture can work together in this important area of pharmaceuticals. That was an important presentation the minister hosted, together with the Labor Party representative -- I think it was Daniel Andrews, the member for Mulgrave in the Assembly -- and the Monash alumni graduates.It was coordinated by an ex-staffer of the minister, Damien Farrell, who recognised the opportunities that come from research on pharmaceuticals through Monash University and which can then be applied to crops, such as poppies, which are the subject of this bill.
I would also like to acknowledge, by way of example, the significant jobs opportunities that this bill provides for the processors and the security it can give those operators in GSK. One of the operators I have spoken to is someone I know because I played football with him. Matthew Shields is an excellent centre half-forward and a worker at GlaxoSmithKline. GSK has certainly been quietly hoping that this legislation would come before the house because it assists in shoring up the plant at Port Fairy to have enough diversified supply between Victoria and Tasmania.As Mrs Coote outlined, there are concerns about narcotic use.
As has been said, this is one of the most highly regulated, if not the most highly regulated, areas of agriculture. Certainly Victorian farmers can be regarded as farmers who would be eligible to meet the fit and proper person test, but strict and serious criteria have been outlined in clause 4 of the bill. It inserts new section 69NB into the principal act, which, in summary, provides that applicants for the licences must be deemed fit and proper by the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Primary Industries before a licence can be issued. Applicants and associates who, for example, have been found guilty of a serious offence within the 10 years preceding the application will not be issued with a licence, and licensed applicants will be required to demonstrate that their property or premises are suitable for the activities authorised under the licence. The key test for suitability of premises will be governed by security and community safety concerns.Again the communities will be and have been involved in extensive consultation.
This is a significant reform and an additional string to the farmer's bow. It will support the right to farm and it will support our agricultural food security, and I note that it has the support of the house. With those words I commend the ministers for their work and I commend the bill to the house.
Hon. P. R. HALL (Minister for Higher Education and Skills) -- I want to thank those who spoke on the bill for their support: Ms Pulford, Mr Ramsay, Ms Hartland, Ms Crozier, Ms Darveniza, Mrs Millar, Mr Eideh, Mrs Coote and Mr O'Brien -- quite an extensive list. I would also like to thank those who took the creative opportunity to somehow relate this bill to my presence in the chamber today and for their personal and very kind words.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time; by leave, proceeded to third reading.