Labor slammed for GM move

Rueben HaleCountryman

Labor’s Darren West MLC has come under severe criticism from farm groups, as debate over the State’s GM crop fee areas Act rages on.

Mr West, who is the WA Labor Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture and Food, has been accused by the State’s major farm lobby groups of time wasting and stalling tactics, after orchestrating a marathon debate to repeal the Genetically Modified Crop Free Areas Act of 2003 in Parliament last week.

The Act, introduced by the Gallop Labor government, prohibits cultivating GM crops in WA.

However, farmers in WA can currently grow GM canola because of an exemption order written in 2010 by then agricultural minister Terry Redman.

If the Act was removed, the power to regulate the use of GM crops in WA would transfer from the agriculture minister to the national Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

In a rare act of unity between the State’s peak lobby groups, WAFarmers and Pastoralists and Graziers Association, Mr West and the WA Labor were accused of “playing silly politics with farmers’ livelihoods” by opposing the lifting of the Act.

The parliamentary debate on securing farmer choice in Western Australia is welcomed, however, unnecessarily extending debate to delay or entirely prevent the vote on the GM moratorium repeal bill is outright irresponsible, the groups said in a joint media release.

“The WA Labor opposition should put politics aside for the sake of the State’s farmers and the success of WA agriculture,” it said.

But Mr West said he was surprised by the criticisms, because whether or not to grow GM in Western Australia was not the focus of the debate

“The debate is about whether the decision around GM food crops are made here in WA by the agriculture minister or by a Canberra bureaucrat,” he said.

“The last time WA surrendered such powers to Canberra was the right to collect GST on behalf of the State and that has been a complete disaster for Western Australia.”

However, Mr West was keen to point out that he remained highly respectful of the views held by WA’s farm lobby groups.

“But my job is also to take into account the views of all of the stakeholders affected by this debate, which includes consumers,” he said.

“The 2003 Act was agreed to by Liberal, National, Labor, Greens and One Nation and has served us well for the past 13 years.

“And farmers have been able to grow GM crops under this Act and it should be maintained.”

Meanwhile, Williams grower Lewis Johnstone said Mr West’s true position on GM was unclear to voters.

Mr Johnstone, who grew a GM canola crop last year, but will be planting oats this year, said he felt Mr West and WA Labor were attempting to stall progress on the Act to appease their urban constituency as the State elections moved closer.

“Mr West’s arguments are many and varied on this issue and I am still unsure what his true position on GM is,” he said.

“He talks about GM controls and GM marketing of grain as a reason to preserve the Act, but if I want to sell my canola for $50 a tonne less than someone else who perhaps is selling non-GM that is my decision. It’s definitely not a reason to regulate and waste taxpayers time and money and'''''' industries’ time and money.”

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