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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1776


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (13:13): Firstly, I commend the member for Fremantle for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. I say in response to the member for Bowman—I heard his contribution—that rather than attacking the member for Fremantle and misrepresenting what she said, perhaps he should look back at his own government's stand last week where, led by the Prime Minister, they announced measures that effectively take on board the very concerns that the member for Fremantle has alluded to and raised in the debate today. I welcome those announcements by the government because it shows that we can do more. The real question is: why haven't we done it earlier?

Indeed, it took 21 cases—and there may well be more—of hepatitis A to break out in this country before the political leaders across both sides of politics, including in state governments, finally stood up and took note of what is happening. To date, the representations made by the member for Fremantle, by me, and by many others in this parliament, have effectively fallen on deaf ears. And all we have had in response is lip-service or minor changes that have not given consumers the confidence that they are entitled to.

There are two issues in respect of this matter, and both the member for Fremantle and the member for Bowman talked about them. The first is to do with biosecurity; the second is to do with the labelling system and, in particular, country-of-origin labelling. Only last week in this very chamber I spoke about those matters. When I did so, I called for: firstly, clearer country-of-origin labelling; secondly, more screening; thirdly, equal standards being applied to exporters and importers; and, fourthly, transfer of oversight of country-of-origin labelling to the ACCC, which is something that the Blewett inquiry recommended but was never taken up by our side of politics at the time.

World demand for food is growing, and we know that as a result of that we are going to see not only more food transferred from one country to another but also producers of food looking to whatever methods they can to speed up the way in which they produce that food. We will see greater use of pesticides and chemicals. We will also see more insanitary conditions and places that we would not grow food in being used to grow food because of the sheer necessity to do so. That includes the way we grow our poultry and pigs around the world—I have raised this on previous occasions—and the use of intensive animal growing, which also raises real health concerns. We are going to see more of this and that is exactly why we need to be more cautious and more vigilant in the way we manage both the importer food coming into this country and how it is grown here.

We know that Australian farmers and the Australian agricultural sector—which, from memory, is worth $38 billion a year to this country—could be very much at risk if we get disease that is currently not here coming into the country. Once that happens, it will decimate some of the growers in this country, so we have a lot of dollars at stake and, just as importantly, the health of our citizens at stake. They quite rightly have an expectation that governments will act in a responsible way to ensure that their health is put at minimum risk. We know that in Australia we have a marketing advantage to both our own consumers and overseas consumers because of our clean green image. It is in our national interest to ensure that that is in no way damaged and that that perception both here and abroad remains intact.

With respect to the country-of-origin labelling, consumers have a right to know where a product comes from, because, if they at least know where a product comes from, they can also take on board personal responsibility for what they purchase and consume. Many consumers I speak to know full well countries that they would prefer not to buy food from, but they cannot make that choice if the labelling is not clear. We have been calling for that to be made clearer for years and years, and it is good to see that we are slowly moving in that direction.

The last thing I want to touch on is this: in Australia when food is produced we have local, state and federal governments all of whom apply health regulations to the production of that food. We have no guarantee that the same processes apply for food that comes from overseas. Even if we do get told that it does, we do not have inspectors at the other end making sure that people are complying in the same way that compliance is met here in Australia. I have been through food producers in Australia—packing sheds and real food producers in the city—and I can assure you I have no qualms at all about buying food from producers that produce in Australia, because I know that they meet their obligations.