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31 May 2023, 16:34
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan):

It gives me great pleasure to speak on motion 70 introduced by my Legalise Cannabis Victoria colleague, the sartorially splendid Ms Payne. It is high time that we explored the economic and environmental benefits –

**Members interjecting.**


It is high time – for the peanut gallery – we explored the economic and environmental benefits that industrial hemp can bring to Victoria. Industrial hemp has enormous potential to replace unsustainable and damaging raw materials across any number of industries.

As a food, fibre and cellulosic source for paper, building materials and suchlike it offers many opportunities for Victorian agribusiness innovation. Hemp provides an alternative raw material source to many existing unsustainable materials and, in so doing, helps build sustainable consumption and production patterns based on a circular economy, consistent with the UN’s sustainable development goal number 12, ‘Responsible consumption and production’.

Hemp’s environmental credentials are impressive too. It is biodegradable and capable of breaking down completely in three to six months. It has uses in land regeneration and remediation of contaminated environments, and of course, as has been discussed previously, hemp’s rapid growth enables it to sequester carbon at about twice the rate of your average forest.

Hemp is well suited to Victorian growing conditions, tending to thrive in the same soils and locations as wheat, barley, corn, carrots and potatoes, and it offers farmers an alternative crop that helps protect them against monocrop price fluctuations. This is of real benefit to our primary producers.

The economic benefits of industrial hemp are broad, but a good place to start is the revenue that production would bring to Victoria. To give you an idea of the crop value of industrial hemp, 1 hectare of industrial hemp can produce up to 10 tonnes of raw hemp. Industrial hemp has three components: the outer bast fibre is primarily used for textiles and ropes; the woody inner hurd is mainly used in building materials, paper and increasingly in plant-based plastics; and the seeds are an excellent source of food and oil. After processing, bast fibre is worth about $6000 per hectare, the inner hurd will earn about $5500 per hectare and seed is about $3000 per hectare, so producers could earn around $14,500 per hectare, which is double that of cotton with less than half the water and half the production costs. That is great news.

But we have a problem. Processing infrastructure is essential for industrial hemp, as it is with most products. The process required by producers to break down the plant into marketable components needs specialised equipment to do the job, and that equipment needs to be located proximate to the hemp-producing region to make it viable. The current state of affairs is we can grow hemp, although we are getting our arses kicked by Tasmania. But we can certainly grow the stuff, and we can chop it up and we can bale it. But to refine that raw material to actually add value to the product, we are currently mainly exporting it offshore for processing and then shipping it back here, exactly the same way we deal with our timber pulp processing. It defies logic, and it is certainly not in the best interests of Victoria or Victorians. If we are to create a viable hemp industry that creates long-term, well-paid employment and that benefits our primary producers and our regions, we need to build the infrastructure to process industrial hemp here in Victoria. We also need to be actively identifying and capitalising value-adding downstream manufacturing, again to create good jobs that are well paid, particularly in regional and rural Victoria.

With an early exit from native logging at year’s end, we have a unique opportunity for industry innovation and transition and the development of an alternative for paper pulp that the state should seize now, starting from the base of a well-considered parliamentary inquiry. One of the desirable outcomes of this inquiry would be the formulation of an industry plan for the growth and development of an industrial hemp industry, a plan that combines all facets of the industry, from research and development to agricultural production through to manufacturing and sales.

Bringing all these threads together will require a long-term vision and government support. That is where we as a house come in. Internationally the market for industrial hemp is currently at $11 billion per annum and is expected to grow to $27 billion by the end of this decade. With government support we can develop an industry that adds value for our farmers, creates much-needed jobs in our regions and increases Victoria’s export earnings, all while helping Victoria meet its emission reduction targets.

I would like to pick up a couple of points that were made by Ms Crozier in her contribution, first of all the suggestion that this might be a ‘back door’ to legalisation.

For too long industrial hemp has been sort of like the victim of a drive-by shooting, caught in the crossfire of the prohibition on cannabis. Meanwhile, Victorian farmers are keen to get a foot into this fertile international market, and it is now time that we give Victorian hemp a chance to thrive rather than struggling with the current cumbersome regulatory framework. Can I say that this is not simply the view of Legalise Cannabis Victoria, this was certainly the impression we got when we met with Ms Germano, the president of Victorian Farmers Federation. Secondly, Ms Crozier, I also want to make the point – and I think this is a really important point in terms of this conflation of medicinal cannabis or adult-use cannabis with industrial hemp – that these are very, very different types of plant, and to be able to grow industrial hemp it has to have less than 1 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol. In other words, you could smoke a hectare of industrial hemp and you would get none the higher for it. You may die of asphyxiation, but you certainly would not get stoned. Again, I talk about this sort of drive-by mentality that hemp is cannabis is whatever –

**Georgie Crozier interjected.**


Yes, that is where you were going. That is where you were going.

The second thing is with regard to the interim report, and I think the important word here is ‘interim’; it is just that. It is an interim report, and the process of the production of that report was gutted by COVID. So the report, the task force work, was never completed, and the department has – and we have met with them – no intention of bringing that report to any finality, the task force work on that. So the process that we are proposing is not to duplicate the work of the task force but rather to update the process and to finalise it – to actually come up with some good working recommendations to address the state of the industry.

In conclusion, I would suggest and would commend to the house that this is a proposition worthy of full consideration, and I urge all of those in this place to lend their support to this inquiry. I commend the motion to the house.

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