QUARANTINE BREACH: by News WeeklyNews Weekly
Inquiry needed on citrus canker
, July 31, 2004
According to a report in The Australian (July 16, 2004), the company that owns the central Queensland farm at the centre of the citrus canker outbreak "has contributed money to a National Party organisation which conducted research for party politicians including Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss".
Using Australian Electoral Commission records, Rory Callinan and Leisa Scott have documented how the farm's owner, Pacific Century Production, paid $5500 to the National Party's Queensland research company in the 2001-2002 financial year.
"During the same financial year, in an unrelated development, Pacific Century Production signed an uncommon confidentiality agreement with the Federal Government's Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service which allowed the farm to harvest a grape crop despite having been investigated for illegally importing plants from China, California and The Philippines.
"A spokesman for Mr Truss said he had not known about the payment or about the confidential agreement. He said Mr Truss, along with other Queensland-based National Party politicians, paid a levy to the company which provided research for polling.
"The spokesman said the confidential agreement between AQIS and Pacific Century Production had been signed during the caretaker period in the lead-up to the 2001 federal election, meaning Mr Truss could not have known about it.
"He said Mr Truss had never had any personal contact with the owners or operators of Pacific Century Production and the agreement had been signed on legal advice after Pacific Century Productions took legal action."
An AQIS spokesman told The Australian
: "We are regularly involved in activities where commercial-in-confidence is a consideration."
But the spokesman "refused to detail the terms of the agreement, which was signed after the company's farm had been investigated over allegations it's multi-millionaire Filipino owner, Philip Cea, had illegally imported plant material ... Mr Cea has denied the allegations, which were never proven".
Queensland National Party state director Roger Harcourt said he believed the report paid for by Pacific Century Production had been for research relating to the Gold Coast real estate industry. He said the research company was no longer associated with the National Party.
Meanwhile, ABC Radio has revealed that more citrus canker has now been found at the property in question.
So far 8,000 trees have been destroyed with a further 50,000 earmarked for destruction.
Should this fail to contain the disease, all 250,000 trees on the farm will be destroyed.
According to a former employee of Mr Cea who is taking action for alleged breach of agreement, the farm had illegally imported papaya, citrus and grape material, avoiding quarantine.