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Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Page: 1037

Mr RIPOLL (10:33 AM) —I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this very important bill, the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Amendment Bill 2010, which I am happy to say is supported by everyone in this parliament. There is no opposition because it is a good bill. It is a flow-on and reduces the regulatory burden on business, ensuring that we remove duplication and administrative burdens where we can and that regulations match what happens in practice, particularly at the farm gate. This bill amends the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 and implements a reform that was agreed by the Council of Australian Governments in late 2008. It is really part of a broader agenda which this government has brought forward—that is, a seamless national economy. If we are to compete internationally, if our primary producers are to have every advantage that government can provide, we need to play our part not only by reducing the regulatory burden but by creating a seamless national economy, ensuring that we remove overlaps or duplication across departmental regulations so that what happens in practice is the same as what is needed to happen in public health regulation.

These reforms call for the recognition of domestically grown produce by Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to improve the residue risk assessment and promulgation of the resulting maximum residue limits to the Food Standards Code. This bill addresses some of the deficiencies in the FSANZ annual reporting requirements and also corrects some minor inconsistencies. The objective of the amendments is to eliminate that duplicate administrative process between FSANZ and APVMA and the conflict in maximum residue limits without compromising public health. Public health is obviously a primary concern but you might have found—without these amendments being brought in to make the necessary changes—that, while herbicides, pesticides or other chemicals a primary producer uses may be legal, they may not meet the food standards requirements, which would mean that farmers might not be able to sell their produce. There is an inconsistency there which needs to be sorted, and it is to be done through these amendments.

The maximum residue limit is the highest concentration of a residue of a particular agricultural or veterinary chemical that is legally permitted in food or animal feed. APVMA sets that maximum residue limit in the course of approving registrations and permits for specific chemical products which reflect the residue resulting from those which would be used on crops or livestock.

The Food Standards Code also includes a corresponding maximum residue limits standard, which reflects the levels permitted in the food that is available for sale. In today’s world where everything is global, it is important that we have the right standards, that they are consistent and match across agencies because there is such availability of produce from different parts not only of the country but of the globe. In the interests of public health, it is important to get those standards right.

Another aim of this reform is to remove a specific time lag which exists between getting any standards gazetted and prescribed and in the promulgation of corresponding maximum residue limits standards into the Food Standards Code. There is a time lag and this can cause some confusion or create a circumstance where a primary producer would use a particular chemical legally only to find that, because of the time lag as the crop matures or  the animals are ready for the lot, they can no longer sell those products, which would be unacceptable. It is in the interests of primary producers that we get the standards right and remove the time lag. This is all done in conjunction with making sure that the standards are of the highest level. This will maintain the current degree of scientific rigour and assessment required before a decision on a maximum residue limits standard may be made, thereby ensuring the protection of public health and safety.

There is a financial impact with these changes. The reform agreed by COAG was done without additional funding, so the funding has to be transferred from one organisation to the next—from Food Standards Australia New Zealand to APVMA. The funding associated with these two functions should be transferred as appropriate and in accordance with the roles each body now plays. The quantum of that funding will be agreed by the ministers of the day.

There are also a range of amendments relating to annual reporting requirements which correct some minor inconsistencies. The need to do this arises simply from the relatively complex amendments made to the FSANZ Act back in mid-2007. This was subsequently identified by the Department of Health and Ageing, which identified a number of gaps. The amendments are required to ensure that there is effective monitoring of the act itself. In terms of timing sensitivities, the reforms should not be delayed any further. We need to resolve a number of legal issues with regard to the respective roles that the Food Standards Australia New Zealand and APVMA standards play. Dealing with them should be considered urgent now, as we have them before us. Any additional delay would actually create a disadvantage for primary producers. I know that primary producers are waiting for the outcome of these amendments so that they can get on with their business. These are good amendments that do the right thing in streamlining a number of approval processes. The legislation is also about eliminating duplicative regulation and removing the red-tape burden but at the same time not jeopardising the protection of public health in the process. This is about better integration and the very important role that these two regulatory agencies play. I know it is well supported by everybody in this place and I recommend the legislation to the House.