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Thursday, 13 February 1997
Page: 936

Mr HICKS —My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Has the minister's attention been drawn to criticism from the Community and Public Sector Union today of Australia's move towards quality assurance for beef exports? Are the union's claims correct or are they damaging to Australia's move towards greater efficiency in the industry?

Mr ANDERSON —I thank the honourable member for the question. Yes, I have seen those criticisms and in the Canberra Times this morning there is an article headed `Reforms threaten meat exports'. At the outset I want to reassure the House that the Commonwealth's planned reforms are in fact all about improving food safety and quality as a vital investment in this country in securing new and existing markets. Industry and government together recognise that consumers here and abroad want and demand ever higher standards of food safety. Better processes will be required in the future to meet those rising expectations.

The approach that we are adopting, the so-called HACCP based system, agreed by all Australian governments, already implemented in Victoria and increasingly now being picked up by the other states, is now used extensively worldwide in food production right across the region. The point that needs to be understood by some of these people, including Ms Felicity Rafferty, is that the game has moved on. Things change. I know that sometimes that is hard for people like to Felicity to recognise, but these are the not the old days where visual inspection of carcasses was the best way to secure food safety in the meat industry.

These days the safety and quality issues of the 1990s go to the heart of things like micro-biological contamination and residues. They need much more sophisticated approaches to pick up. So, in short, criticism from Felicity Rafferty of the CPSU is a travesty in this area. It is really all about protecting a job—her job—and the few hundred people that she represents, regardless of the implication for the 50,000 other Australian workers, most of them in the regions, who work in this massive Australian industry.

The great irony in all of this is that in referring in her rather emotive and sensational way to the tragic deaths that we have seen in America and in this country from things like E.coli in recent times, she overlooks the very real probability that those sad deaths would have been avoided if the system that we are developing had been put in place.

This government is about protecting and enhancing our export opportunities. It is hardly going to put consumers at risk or implement processes that cannot be justified here or internationally. Apart from anything else, we have seen from the international experience what BSE has done to consumer confidence amongst meat eaters. We are putting in place total quality control systems which will remain under the watchful eyes of government employed regulators. Those measures are designed to maximise, not minimise, our opportunities in our markets here and aboard.

In conclusion, it is hard to avoid the observation that we probably should not expect anything else from the person who went to the United States and urged American consumers—can you believe this—to boycott Australian product.

Mr Adams —A great record!

Mr ANDERSON —It is a great Australian record, reflecting our great commitment to all of those jobs in this vitally important rural and regional industry! But it is well reflected in the sorts of attitudes and commitments we see from people opposite when it comes to the things that matter to rural people.