October 25, 2012


Pacific Beat, AM & Rural, ABC
Updated October 24, 2012, 2:46 pm

Australian senate inquiries have begun examining the risks of allowing ginger from Fiji and pineapples from Malaysia to be imported into Australia.

Australian growers have told an inquiry into Fijian ginger imports that buying the overseas crop could devastate the local industry, as the imports run the risk of carrying a pest known as a burrowing nematode.

They say nematodes have been known to wipe out up to 70 per cent of Fiji's crops.

Senator Bill Heffernan is taking part in the inquiry and he has told more research needs to be done to stop the produce coming into Australia.

"From the first snapshot of this, there's not enough science put into this," he said.

He says Fiji should bear the cost of the research.

"It appears to me unfair that the cost of proving the science on this falls on Australia and not on Fiji and I think that's one of the things we'd like to see changed," he said.

The Rural and Regional Affairs committee is presided over by six Australian senators and gives organisations and individuals a chance to tell Australian lawmakers their views on policy and legislation.

It will produce reports on the issues which can include recommendations for government.

Australian pineapple growers such as Les William have also expressed concern about a disease called heart rot being brought into the country via Malaysian pineapple imports.

"In Malaysia there's up to 40 to 60 per cent losses in the field," he told

"If it gets here, we just could not sustain that level of loss."

There are also fears cheap imports will undercut local growers' prices.

Biosecurity Australia, an arm of the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), has said the danger of exotic pests and disease is manageable through strict quarantine measures.

But Mr Williams says growers are not confident the measures will protect Australian crops.

"We have Biosecurity Queensland saying it's a moderate to high risk and Biosecurity Australia says it's a low risk," Mr Williams said.

The Senate Committee's final reports are due on November 29.

Potato imports
Australian potato growers say they remain convinced that importing potatoes from New Zealand is too great a risk for their industry.

DAFF Biosecurity is recommending that the Australian Government allow New Zealand potatoes to be imported for processing in Australia under strict quarantine protocols.

But South Australian, Tasmanian and Victorian industry representatives told a Senate inquiry in Canberra on Wednesday that the government should reject that recommendation.

Potatoes South Australia's chief executive Robbie Davis says any risk that the devastating zebra chip disease could make it across the Tasman is simply too big a risk to take.

"Premium quality is our competitive advantage. If the Australian potato crop is contaminated by zebra chip alone, without considering the other pests and diseases, the industry's farm gate value, and the value all the way down the value chain to the consumer, could potentially halve. Just at the farm gate, that is a quarter of a billion dollars," he said.

Zebra chip causes potatoes to develop a black stripe when they are cooked, making them inedible.

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