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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 13654


Senator O'BRIEN (12:54 PM) —The purpose of the Export Control Amendment Bill 2003 is to amend the Export Control Act 1982 to, firstly, redraft part of section 11Q(5) as a consequence of the repeal of section 16 of the act by the Criminal Code Amendment (Theft, Fraud, Bribery and Related Offences) Act 2000 and, secondly, amend section 23 to allow certificates issued in relation to goods for export to describe goods that originate from Christmas Island or Cocos Island as goods from those territories. It is interesting that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry should introduce a bill that effectively deals with truth in labelling. Australia's access to international markets is reliant on our reputation as being free from pests and diseases that exist in the rest of the world. Yet under this minister we have seen that reputation eroded.

During the May estimates hearings this year the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service admitted that drums of Chinese honey have been transiting through Australia for the purpose of relabelling the products as being of Australian origin. They are then reshipped to our markets in the United States. The honey may have been contaminated with chloramphenicol, which AQIS says causes the disease aplastic anaemia in some susceptible individuals. AQIS could not confirm the number of shipments that had transited through Australia. The Senate estimates committee also heard that some international honey has been labelled `product of Australia' and shipped to third countries without even landing on our shores.

This honey laundering is occurring on an unknown scale. According to an AQIS official, agriculture minister Warren Truss had in May this year known about the problem for up to 12 months—that is, in May he had been in possession of information about it for 12 months. The committee heard that, even so, Australia still has no arrangements in place with customers of genuine Australian honey to identify the real product. According to the minister's department, this is a problem for importing countries. But Labor disagrees. This scam has the potential to do serious damage to the reputation of Australian honey producers.

This honey laundering scam revealed by Labor is not the first such scam. Labor also revealed in July last year that meat from other countries is being sold in the international marketplace under forged Australian health certificates. In response to a question on notice, Mr Truss confirmed that in the 18 months to July 2002 some 233 metric tonnes of meat from unknown sources was sold overseas and passed off as coming from Australia. This illicit trade and the associated risk of disease or chemical contamination to our customers could have cost Australian rural industries billions in lost exports. For example, if a shipment of beef contaminated with mad cow disease were to find its way to the US or Japan under forged documentation, it could cast doubts over the entire system of certifying Australian export meat. That could close those and other markets to Australian products. Thanks to Labor, Mr Truss appears to have addressed the problem of beef export health certificates, but we will of course be keeping an eye on this matter continually. Mr Truss is yet to act on ensuring the integrity of export honey marked `product of Australia', and every day he delays he is damaging the international reputation of not only Australian honey but our entire export certification process for agricultural and food products.

Whilst on the subject of exports and the government's mismanagement in this area, I must point out the plight of the Tasmanian apple industry. I have had a number of representations from Mr Gary Groombridge talking about the difficulties in making a living as an apple producer and the fact that India has real potential as a market for Tasmanian apples. However, the Indian government places heavy import tariffs on our apples. I wrote to Minister Vaile to ask what he had been doing to have these trade restrictive barriers reduced. To his credit, Mr Vaile in his response advised me that he was aware of the problem and had raised the issue with his Indian counterpart during a trip to India in February this year.

I must say that, like the Howard government's lacklustre efforts on the Japanese beef `snapback' tariff, Mr Vaile's efforts have clearly been too little and too late, and India maintains its tariff position on the importation of Tasmanian apples. I think Minister Vaile's efforts in this regard leave a little to be desired, and I will continue on behalf of Tasmanian apple growers to monitor Mr Vaile's performance on this issue. As I said earlier, market access for our agricultural and food produce depends on our relative disease-free status and the fact that, when people overseas buy Australian, they know—or at least they did know—what they are getting. The inability of Mr Truss to manage this key part of his portfolio risks billions in export income—income to farmers and income to workers who work in the sector and also in the processed food sector—and risks the jobs of thousands of Australians. As this amendment seeks to preserve trade benefits that arise from Australia's unique pest and disease status—something that Labor at least takes seriously—we will support this legislation.