Tuesday 27 November 2018
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Consideration and Noting - Government Administration Committee B
- Blueberry Rust in Tasmania - Report

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam Deputy President, I knew the Chair of our committee would cover the report in detail.  He was terrific.  Well done - your chairmanship of our inquiry was exemplary and we all felt we were making progress right through.  It was a very important inquiry conducted on behalf of blueberry growers and the circumstance within Tasmania and where we found ourselves in respect of Biosecurity Tasmania's and DPIPWE's handling of the whole situation.

The member for Windermere outlined that, and there is no need to go back over it.  I have spoken to growers to test their reaction to what has gone on and submit some of the comments I received.

Since the report was released, some growers feel there has been no further input from Biosecurity Tasmania.  No contact about supporting the recommendations. They have not heard a thing about it, nor anything about supporting the organisation.  They thought there was a failure about the scientific facts revealed in the report.  They have no faith in their organisation, Fruit Growers Tasmania, which they were working to and put their trust in.  No faith in Fruit Growers Tasmania at all now, and they are looking to support their own organisation.  Generally, I believe it was the bulk, if not all, of the fruit growers.

I will tell members what happened - and you would remember, member for Windermere.  The evidence we received in the report from Peter Skillern of the TFGA was damning.  It was strong and he was very supportive of the blueberry growers.  If I was a blueberry grower, I would be going back and knocking on his door and saying, 'Give us a hand, Peter', because he made it quite clear they were not treated well and the TFGA would look to support to them.

He was not touting for business.  It was the way he conducted himself - that they are looking in this direction.  They are developing their own united group and having it under the umbrella of the TFGA.  I asked if it was only a few, and they said, 'No, we are not divided and everybody has that belief'. We talked about one of our strong recommendations, which was, if I recall correctly, about communication and how it had failed the growers and the organisation, and yet I have no updates at this stage regarding the level at which infected properties are now functioning.  DPIPWE is not looking at alternative control options - or Biosecurity Tasmania, whichever one you want to sheet that home to - and that seems to come from the top within the department.  They feel they are being ignored or that the report is not being taken seriously.  The member for the Government might give us a different opinion; however, that is what I am hearing. 

I have also heard, from links within DPIPWE, that it does not seem to have served them well - 'Not happy, Jan' was the real feeling I got, whereas I would have thought they would be saying, 'What a breakthrough - that report was fantastic, they will take notice of it and they will take some action on it'.  The Leader might say it is a different story altogether, but what I got is that they are not happy with the way DPIPWE has dealt with them in the aftermath of the report.

I can still perceive animosity from the growers about the way they are being treated.  Perhaps we will hear differently from the advisers and from the Leader.  It was a little frustrating for me because, as you know, I like to be a 'glass half-full' person;  I like to think, 'Okay, we have done all that, we have highlighted all that; we have done the report, we have done the inquiry so let's move forward.  What is there in the future?'  What I have coming back, however, is that they want the department to come clean with the way it has dealt with this; they want honesty and they want the background dealt with thoroughly.  It is okay for them to call for that.  I would sooner see us move forward into a better landscape.  There is a sense the department has not addressed the issues of what occurred in the past.

As to the need to reconsider the maintenance, of course there are surveys coming up; we have the report, we are moving into a new season, surveys are coming up and they have been asked to be part of the surveys of their properties again to see how they are travelling as far as any infections are concerned.  They have also been told that markets can be applied for, but growers are still quite a bit in the dark - that was the message.  Where is the extra communication?  That message was so hot and strong.  I thought I would not have one mention that communication is still not good.  I thought it would be the first thing to be jumped on.  Let us start this communication process going.  One of the big criticisms was about communication. 

When I talk about the future, people are still positive about the blueberry growing industry.  It offers a lot of promise because we grow very good fruit here.  People want our fruit.  I think I told the story, when we were talking about the inquiry, about how one of the growers in my electorate was exporting, of her own volition, to Hong Kong.  She built up a little market with a pallet every now and again going to Hong Kong, then she got a knock on the door and a bloke from Canada came in and said, 'I want to have a look at your blueberries'.  She asked, 'How did you find out?'  He said, 'I've tried them in Hong Kong.  We want them for Canada.'  Because the product was organically grown and the quality was so high, now she is exporting to Canada.  There is positivity within the industry, but of course they are not going to be happy until the fruit is in the punnets and being sold, because the market is still nebulous.  They are still not sure.  They want to see those markets being communicated with, being developed properly in Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia - those markets being developed properly and supported through the process to ensure their product into markets on the mainland.

That is as much as I want to contribute.  I know it is a negative, but I will wait to hear what the Leader has to say.  My thanks, like those of member for Windermere, go to the people who gave evidence under a fair bit of duress because of the way they had been treated and what they had to go through.

I will not go into it.  I suppose we skirted around the issue in the report but that was certainly not fair.  You know of which I speak and it is the sort of thing we do not want to have happen in Tasmania.  We do not want people treated this way.  We have to nip it in the bud, because if this prevails in Tasmania, we are in trouble.  A different world altogether.

Hopefully, it will not occur again, but certainly the people were very courageous in many ways.  They were very intelligent, informed and knowledgeable about their fruit and the industry and were prepared to share their knowledge with us.  We learnt a considerable amount and had a good experience. If we think about the process we went through, the findings and recommendations made, it will be very helpful to the industry, DPIPWE and Biosecurity Tasmania to have highlighted the things the way we did.