Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (11:01): I would like to rise to speak briefly on this bill. As speakers before have said, this is a very broad piece of legislation that covers a number of other acts and a number of areas of our agriculture industry. I note Dr Cumming’s contribution. I think many of us have received some quite alarmist emails about what this bill might do, whether it is pulling up people’s veggie gardens in their back gardens or impacting on the biodynamic industry or the organic industry. I have no doubt that certainly some of the correspondence I have received has cleared up some of those concerns and found that they are unwarranted.
The area that I just want to touch on today is the amendments to how we treat hemp licences and how we treat the small but burgeoning hemp industry in Victoria. As many of you know, we established a hemp task force here in this Parliament. I am fortunate to be a member of that task force. This is really to look at the challenges and opportunities that the industry is facing. I am pleased to say that this bill does go to some of those challenges, one in particular, which is around aligning the THC allowed in hemp plants across the nation so we will have a standardised measurement for that, which will enable for much greater import-export, particularly across our state borders.
This product has incredible potential. It is quite an extraordinary plant. It is a crop that Victoria should be doing everything in its power to enable and to build. Hemp has been in Australia since the First Fleet. Hemp seeds came out with Sir Joseph Banks. There are some theories that not only were we designed to be a penal colony but we were designed to be a hemp colony, because as we know, back in the 18th century the British navy survived on hemp. The British navy could not exist without hemp. Its sails were made of hemp, its rope was made of hemp, its uniforms were made from hemp, and most of its hemp came from Russia. We were seeing those Crimean wars way back then, and it is a timely reminder today—not that we buy much of our hemp from Russia anymore—that the reason that they looked at hemp down in Australia was that they were worried about the regular supply of hemp coming from the Russian nations back in the late 18th century.
Hemp has been in this country for well over 200 years. It is a product that has been grown for thousands of years. If you look at some of the most ancient Chinese manuscripts that still exist, they were made from hemp paper, and they still exist because they were made from hemp.
Hemp is making plastics. It is cleaning up toxic soils. It is cleaning up toxic water. It has got innumerable uses. Look at the bioplastic polymers; if anyone is interested, I have got a hemp bowl in my office that is strong—so strong. I literally have thrown it around the car park here trying to break it. It will not scratch. It will not break. It is an extraordinary product. Really, in a weird way it is quite magical. It is extremely light, it is extremely strong, it is biodegradable and it is renewable, unlike petroleum-based plastics we are using now. Products that feel just like plastic are made from just grounding up the hemp stalk. You just ground it up, mix it with water and make yourself some plastic. In fact there is a company, sadly not in Victoria but operating now out of Tasmania, that is looking to supply little disposable salad bowls for Woolworths and Coles because they can do a translucent one.
I am just trying to paint the picture that hemp is an incredibly diverse and important crop, and it should be the future for paper in Victoria. In fact it should be the future for timber in Victoria. If you are interested, I have also got some composite hemp products that mimic a four-by-two plank, that mimic plywood, but are stronger, and rather than waiting for 20 years for trees to grow, it takes four months for a hemp plant to grow. One acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees.
Ms Symes: Still going on about this?
Ms PATTEN: Every opportunity I get to talk about hemp I will. We are saying that 1 acre of hemp produces as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees, and the hemp takes four months to grow compared to the 10 to 20 or even 80 years that we need for the trees. It has got a far higher concentration of cellulose than wood—that is why it goes further.
These are just two products, but it can do rope, it can do textiles, it can do clothing and it can do shoes, food, insulation, hempcrete and biofuel, so you could literally run a city on hemp. In fact I was looking at some hemp buildings the other night. One acre of hemp will build a building, so you could actually grow your own buildings in Victoria in four months rather than in the decades that it would take to do that with timber.
As I mentioned, I support the aspects of this bill that align the THC values across the jurisdictions, and that is something that the hemp task force really did—we made those recommendations. But the hemp industry says we need a goal of 1 million acres, and at the moment I think we are at about 288 hectares, so we have got a long way to go. We need to be encouraging agriculture to take on this crop, and this bill does not do that.
What we heard loud and clear from farmers and people involved in the industry is that we need to remove the stigma around hemp, and there still is significant stigma around hemp. It has been caught up in the kind of hard-on-drugs, cannabis debate for decades—for centuries. In fact there was that link that was erroneously made earlier, in probably the 1950s, that led to a real prohibition on hemp. Hemp is really only coming back in this century again.
We needed to simplify and streamline those licences. I acknowledge there have been some improvements in that area. I think the last tranche of changes to those licences went way too broad, so we were looking for police records of a stepson. We took a very broad definition, and I am pleased to see that this bill has narrowed that.
But still, the fact that in this bill the Chief Commissioner of Police can veto a hemp licence sends a completely wrong message about what a hemp crop is. A hemp crop is not a cannabis crop. It is not an opium poppy crop. It is a crop that makes great paper, makes great clothes, could make great plastic, could make great houses, could make great roads, could make great hempcrete sound barriers. It should not be taken to this much higher level of licensing, as if it is somehow dangerous.
I note also—and the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee noted this in their report—the exemption from the spent convictions scheme. So even if someone had a very historical conviction for something, that would be disclosed in deciding whether this person could have a hemp licence. I mean, you would probably get more danger out of growing a rapeseed crop, and certainly if you were growing acacia. The types of poisons and drugs that you can pull out of acacia—DMT for one—are far more dangerous than this, and you are not asking for licences for people to grow acacia, even though very dangerous substances could be produced from that.
I will signal now that I intend to vote against, at the very least, clauses 57 and 58 of this bill. I think that it was a real missed opportunity, that we should have got ahead of the curve here and that this bill should have been about promoting the hemp industry, about promoting the opportunities of hemp in Victoria, rather than what I am seeing here. It is further stigmatising, it is further telling potential growers that this is a dangerous crop and that the police commissioner may have a role in deciding whether they can grow it or not. So as I said, I think it is a missed opportunity. We still have a hemp task force, so I am still optimistic that we can start promoting this industry in Victoria in other meaningful ways. But on that note I will finish my contribution, and I look forward to listening to the committee of the whole.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 26/5/22