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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 785


Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (15:36): I am very pleased to speak on this matter of public importance. I do find it disappointing that the Minister for Health could only find about one minute to talk about preventative health measures, because he talks a lot about the cost of health and about why people need to pay $6 when they go to the GP. Every time, we here him talking about how costs are blowing out. He is softening the electorate up for big cuts.

What all the health professionals out there will tell you is that investing in prevention is critically important, ensuring that people are prevented from getting sick in the first place. One of the critical things about preventative health is preventing obesity. That is one of the key things that a lot of health professionals will say is so important when it comes to preventing things like diabetes, cancer, heart disease and the like.

One of those important things is helping people with their daily intake. In fact, I was a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing that reported on and undertook a critically important inquiry into obesity in Australia. One of the things that really came out from the evidence we heard is that people would like to easily be able to determine what is in their food in the packets on the supermarket shelves. We heard from mums and dads who said they would like to know whether or not they were buying a healthy alternative. That was really critical for them.

Indeed, it can be very confusing, because packets of food look very similar. We have seen today from Choice—they actually use the star-rating system which we are debating—that they found, for example, under the algorithm, that Bega's Stringers cheese would receive a 4½ star, whereas the Kraft Strip cheese would only receive two stars. They are very similar products with very different nutritional value. According to Choice, the Nabisco Ritz crackers would get half a star and the Arnott's Jatz Originals would get two stars. So we can see that products that look very similar can actually have very different nutritional value. Parents and people who visit the supermarket in their busy lives would love to look at the front of the pack and be able to see how much nutritional value is in the product rather than trying to work out what the sodium content is, what the fat content is, what the saturated fat content is and what the trans fat content is. A simple front of package is really important.

Public health experts, mums and dads and a whole range of public advocates are saying that this is the way to go: 'Let’s have front-of-pack labelling that is simple to understand and can easily be seen.' What is more, this system is voluntary, and food manufacturers can work out whether or not they want to apply this system. So it seems very confusing that, when the states and territories have been working on this, when public advocates have got to the point where they believe that it is ready to go and when even the food industry, while they might not like it, have come to the position where they do understand it and some are willing to endorse it because it is voluntary, the new Assistant Minister for Health pulls this website.

We have heard differing versions about why this was. First it was a draft. She said that it was a draft and should never have been put up. Michael Moore, from the Public Health Association, said that it was 'inconceivable' that the website was only a draft. He said:

I looked at it very carefully, and there was nothing that struck me about it as being a draft. It just doesn't make sense.

Then we got Senator Nash's second excuse: that it was premature and it was not ready to go. That is not the view of state health ministers, who believe that it was finalised and ready to go in December. I have a letter here from the Hon. Jack Snelling saying that he has extreme concerns that the healthy star-rating website that went live on 5 February has apparently been withdrawn without discussion through the Front-of-Pack Labelling Steering Committee. The only evidence we have is Senator Nash saying that it was premature, but of course that has been debunked.

The third excuse was that it needed a cost-benefit analysis. As a lot of people have made very clear in this debate and previous, there was no evidence in the communique of the health ministers that any cost-benefit analysis— (Time expired)