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Thursday, 8 February 2001
Page: 21654

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (9:36 AM) —I table the explanatory memorandum and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted

The speech read as follows—

This Bill implements the Government's commitment to make the legislative changes necessary to commence the food regulatory reforms agreed to by the members of the Council of Australian Governments on 3 November 2000. The signing of the Food Regulation Agreement 2000 was the culmination of lengthy consideration by all governments of the recommendations of the Food Regulation Review Committee, chaired by Dr Bill Blair OAM.

The Prime Minister announced a review of food regulation in his March 1997 statement, More Time for Business. The Food Regulation Review Committee was tasked with making recommendations to Government on how to reduce the regulatory burden on the food sector and improve the clarity, certainty and efficiency of the current food regulatory arrangements whilst, at the same time, protecting public health and safety. After considering the recommendations made by the report of the Food Regulation Committee, COAG agreed to a package of food regulatory reforms that ensure a nationally coordinated approach to food regulation, to apply across the whole food supply chain.

The new food regulatory reform package will ensure that:

· public health and safety is strengthened and maintained;

· there is national consistency in the interpretation, administration and enforcement of food regulation; and

· consumers have sufficient information to make informed choices.

The new food regulatory framework is designed to operate efficiently by reducing costs to industry, government and consumers. In particular, it seeks to improve the timeliness and responsiveness of the food standards setting process while maintaining the transparency of, and community confidence in, the food regulatory system.

The Agreement establishes a new Ministerial Council, the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council. The Ministerial Council will, among other things, develop domestic food regulation policy as well as policy guidelines for setting domestic food standards. Recognising the primacy of public health and safety considerations in developing such policy, the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council will be based on the existing Council of Health Ministers (ANZFSC). Its membership may also include other Ministers nominated by individual jurisdictions covering portfolios such as primary or processed food production, or trade. Each jurisdiction will have one vote with a lead minister for each jurisdiction being chosen. Most jurisdictions have already indicated that their lead Ministers would be from the health portfolio.

The Bill will establish a new statutory authority, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (the Authority), to be based upon the existing Australia New Zealand Food Authority.

The prime function of the Authority will be to develop domestic food standards that are to be adopted nationally. These standards are to be developed based on scientific and technical criteria and in accordance with the objectives set out in section 10 of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority Act 1991, dealing with protection of public health and safety and the provision of information to consumers.

The Authority will have a Board. The Board will approve standards developed by the Authority and notify those standards to the Ministerial Council. The members of the Board will be appointed by the Commonwealth Minister for Health and Aged Care but only with agreement from the Ministerial Council. The Board membership must include someone with expertise in consumer rights. The FSANZ Chief Executive Officer will be appointed by the Board.

The new food regulatory arrangements will strengthen Ministerial authority and accountability. The Ministerial Council will develop and promulgate policies that are consistent with the objectives and other matters set out in section 10 of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority Act 1991, in order to give clearer guidance to the Authority in its development of food standards. This will enable the Ministerial Council to direct, rather than react to, proposals by the Authority. It will also have the capacity to direct the Authority to review any standard, and can reject any proposed draft standard, in accordance with the arrangements set out in the Food Regulation Agreement 2000.

The Bill sets out the process for the development of food standards that takes into account these roles of the Ministerial Council. The Bill also makes provision for the transition from the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) to the statutory authority Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and other amendments that are consequential on the re-naming of the Act and the creation of the new Authority.

The new food regulatory framework is designed to ensure that food businesses produce food that is safe and suitable for human consumption. To be effective, it must apply across the whole food supply chain. The Authority will therefore eventually be able to develop all domestic food standards that are to be adopted nationally and with New Zealand, including those that under current arrangements are or would be established by the (Ministerial) Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand.

The arrangements for the development of these primary product standards will be developed by the new Ministerial Council and may require further legislation. New Zealand has indicated that it will not be adopting these primary product food standards because it has other systems in place for their development.

The Ministerial Council will also determine the arrangements to provide for high level consultation with key stakeholders.

The new arrangements are designed to enable food standards to be developed more quickly, if agreed by the members of the Ministerial Council. All standards (except those urgent standards that must commence immediately to protect public health and safety) will commence if the Council has informed the Authority that it does not intend to request a review of a draft standard approved by the Authority, if a period of 60 days has expired without the Council requesting the Authority to conduct such a review, or, in relation to an approved draft standard that has already been reviewed twice, the Council does not reject the draft standard.

Because of the proposed capacity of the Authority to eventually develop all domestic food standards to be adopted nationally, the Board will be able to have a wider range of expertise than does ANZFA (for example, the Bill enables the appointment of members with expertise in primary food production and small business).

It should be noted that consumer rights are protected in this Bill. The Amended Act will require that the FSANZ Board must have a member with expertise in consumer rights. At the same time, the new regulatory model maintains the existing open and publicly accountable arrangements which allow input by all interested groups. Within the Act there is a set process for FSANZ to follow when developing standards that require public consultation through calls for submissions on the draft standard as it goes through the assessment process.

here are other key elements of the new food regulatory system that do not require legislative change. First, a Food Regulation Standing Committee will support the Council. The membership of this Committee consist of heads of health departments, and heads of other government departments that reflect the membership of the Council, as well as a senior representative from the Australian Local Government Association. The Committee is to be chaired by the Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care. Secondly, the Council will establish a mechanism for the provision of stakeholder advice by representatives of the interests of consumers, small business, industry and public health.

Ordered that further consideration of this bill be adjourned to the first day of the 2001 winter sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.