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COMMITTEES - STANDING COMMITTEES ON AGRICULTURE AND WATER RESOURCES - REPORT

I wish to thank the committee for the compilation of this report. I think it is a very useful contribution in this field and makes some very interesting points, not least of which is the importance of the honey bee industry in Australia. That industry, worth an estimated $100 million per year, is comparatively small, but its value to Australia's economy is much greater. It has been estimated that pollination services provide $4 billion per annum in value to agricultural industry in Australia. That is a big and important contribution.

I thank all the committee members for their work in this field. It is important to note that without honey bees for pollination many fruit, nut, vegetable, legume and seed crops could not bear fruit or seeds. That is why this area is so important. Although a range of insect species can pollinate plants, honey bees play a vital role in pollinating many horticultural crops. In addition to the pollination of crops, bees can also assist the grazing industry by improving the yield and persistence of common fodder crops such as clover. This can reduce agricultural input costs and may also have environmental benefits by reducing the need for graziers to use fertilisers or other chemicals. This industry does not receive the recognition that it really deserves, and its importance needs to be highlighted when reports such as this are handed down.

I need to mention the wonderful work on honey bees that is being carried out in the electorate of Calare. There are many people working diligently in this field, including those who run Maya Sunny Honey, which produces a 100 per cent raw honey range handcrafted wholly by Andrew Wyszynski. Andrew's passion for bees started at a very young age in the countryside of Poland, where he helped and learned from his parents on their apiarist farm. Maya Sunny Honey has 250 hives, and its products are stocked all over Australia, including at David Jones, Harris Farm and even here in Canberra at the National Gallery of Australia.

I could not discuss honey bees in Calare without mentioning the Mudgee Honey Haven and Frank and Trish Maiolo, who run the honey haven. It is one of the premier tourist attractions in the Mudgee district, established in 1990. Frank and Trish currently have 400 hives. They produce a variety of honey products, including pure honey, creamed honey, gourmet honey, BeePower active honey, health and beauty honey products and mead-honey wine, which is made using a time-tested ancient recipe, fermenting pure Australian honey to create unique flavours and aromas. There are three mead-honey wines in the range: honey mead, spiced mead and honey liqueur. Members of the committee will no doubt be very keen to sample some when they are in the Mudgee area.

Dougal Munro has been beekeeping since the age of five, when his father had a large apiary. When he was not tending to the large family orchard or their massive vegetable garden, he could be found inspecting the bees. Dougal's farm is located at Springside, just south of Orange, and is a little over 120 acres. His parents purchased the property in 1979. It was in addition to their separate and much larger farm closer to Orange, which has been owned and farmed by Dougal's family for almost a century. Dougal currently has 120 hives at the property near Orange, where he also farms garlic, potatoes, artichokes, asparagus, horseradish, apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, plums, figs, mulberries, kiwifruit and quinces. There is even one lonely sugar maple that he has for maple syrup. He is another great achiever in the field.

So is Cottesbrook Honey, which is based at Fitzgeralds Mount, between Blayney and Bathurst. Tracey and David Parker operate 600 hives there, and they have been doing that since the 1980s. Cottesbrook Honey specialise in producing premium varieties of honey, honeycomb, creamed honey, beeswax and other beehive products. Not only do they keep hives but they also process and pack their own honey.

I also have to mention the Australian Queen Bee Line, who are based in Orange. Charlie and Brenda Casido run honey production there. They have got a centre. They carefully gather pure honey products from their own bee communities located throughout eastern Australia. Their collection area ranges from southern Queensland right through to Victoria in the south. Charlie and Brenda produce honey and honeycomb products, royal jelly, pollen and beeswax. Their bees are also hired to a number of orchards in our region, to pollinate stone fruit and cherries. We all know how important orcharding and horticulture are to the Calare electorate. Australian Queen Bee Line are currently selling around 10,000 queen bees Australia wide. They are also exporting around 10,000 queen bees to the international market. I caught up with them at last year's Australian National Field Days and was able to gain a greater understanding of what they actually do there. They are doing a wonderful job. It brought home to me that bees are the unsung heroes of horticulture, because, when you listen to all of the work that the Casidos do in terms of pollination at our orchards, it is quite amazing. They are providing bees to Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, the Philippines and Canada. Charlie and Brenda say that there is a huge demand for queen bees in Canada, of around 65,000. However, they can only supply 10,000 of them, due to seasonal conditions. They have currently got five permanent staff and five casual staff on call.

I also have to mention Goldfields honey, which is situated at Vittoria, between Orange and Bathurst. Grant and Vikki Lockwood have been operating Goldfields honey for approximately 40 years. They have 5,000 hives and, along with producing honey products, also provide pollination services across the central west of New South Wales as well as Victoria and parts of Queensland.

I note that the report makes six recommendations to the government aimed at improving early threat and detection strategies for the biosecurity of Australian honey bees. The government will be responding to the recommendations in due course, but I think it is fair to say the government has not been idle in protecting Australia's biosecurity. The government is aware of the potential for bees to be illegally imported into Australia. A proactive investigation by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources was launched in February 2015 and remains open. A number of pathways have been examined, and no instances of illegal bee smuggling have been detected to date. However, in 2000, a New South Wales beekeeper was prosecuted after being detected trying to smuggle queen bees into Australia concealed in pens, of all things. So there is a need for constant vigilance in this field.

Australia does have systems in place to increase our protection from introduced bee pests and diseases such as varroa mites, including incursion prevention systems which include the requirement for all vessels arriving into Australia from overseas to provide the department with a pre-arrival report so that a biosecurity risk assessment of the vessel can be undertaken prior to its arrival. Cargo can only be imported to Australia under approved, strict biosecurity conditions that effectively manage pest and disease risks. There are inspections at the border to intercept smuggling and reduce the risk of entry of foreign bees and any pests and diseases they carry. There are also early detection systems in place such as general surveillance activities at airports, seaports and premises under approved arrangements. The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program is also in place, which uses sentinel hives, catch boxes and other methods to detect exotic bees and bee pests. There are emergency response procedures in place as well. So I think the government has been proactive, but there will be a response to the recommendations of the report in due course.

Can I conclude by thanking the committee for their important work in this field. It means a lot to electorates such as Calare that have a heavy investment in horticulture. Can I also conclude by thanking all of those involved in the honey bee industry in the electorate of Calare and across Australia for the important work that they do in our communities and for our regional economies. It is important work. It is work that is not recognised enough, but hopefully, through this report and this process, they will get the credit that they so richly deserve. I thank them in this House today.