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Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Page: 1353


Senator COLBECK (3:35 PM) —I 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 is a Bill for an Act to ensure equivalence to Australian production standards in the importation of bovine meat and meat products, and for related purposes.

This Food Importation (Bovine Meat Standards) Bill 2010 has come following the Rudd Government’s decision to allow the importation of beef and beef products from countries that had reported any cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).  As a result of this decision, these importations could take place from 1 March 2010.

In 2001, the Australian Government took the responsible decision to implement measures to protect the public and the beef industry from potentially contaminated beef products. This followed the reporting of BSE in a number of European countries. Until the Rudd Government’s decision, announced by the Trade Minister, Health Minister and Agriculture Minister on 20 October, these measures remained in place.

This Bill will ensure stronger, more rigorous measures are written into law if any importer does wish to bring beef or beef products into Australia from countries previously reporting cases of BSE. It will give the public confidence that the potential for BSE contaminated beef entering Australia is minimised.

The Bill gives force of law to standards for the assessment of bovine meat and meat; and maintains the assessment and importation requirements relating to bovine meat and meat products that applied at 1 July 2009 unless and until appropriate import risk analysis procedures are undertaken.

The Federal Coalition recognises the Minister for Agriculture’s announcement on 8th March that the Government will undertake a rigorous science based Import Risk Analysis on any beef being imported into Australia in from countries which have had a BSE outbreak. We welcome this announcement.

The Government’s announcement comes following the Coalition’s indication last week it would introduce this Private Member’s Bill. However, this Bill will go further than what the Government has announced.

First and foremost the Bill will require that beef products must not be imported into Australia unless they have been, at a minimum, the subject of assessment requirements under section 8, that is, the assessment process such products were subject to prior to 1 July 2009.

Secondly, the Bill requires that the Minister satisfies himself that the country or region of the imported product has in place a program of ‘birth-to-death’ traceability to identify the origin of animals. This traceability must be at least as rigorous as Australia’s National Livestock Identification Scheme which the Australian beef industry is compelled, by law, to participate in.

The Bill will enshrine, into legislation, the need to conduct an assessment process for imported beef products ensuring the Australian public and the Australian beef industry is not potentially at the mercy of a Government simply wishing to rubber stamp beef importation requirements. This assessment process will be based on the assessment processes which applied in relation to the importation of bovine meat and meat products as at 1 July 2009.

Should the Minister determine that changes in the assessment process are required, the Minister can, by way of legislative instrument, vary the details of the default assessment process. This will ensure any changes to the assessment process are subject to the full scrutiny of the Parliament.

Further, under this Bill, the Minister may also determine new assessment processes, again by way of legislative instrument, either for the industry as a whole or in respect of particular countries or regions; or in respect of particular classes of countries or regions. The requirement that this be by legislative instrument again ensures the proper involvement of the Parliament in any changes in this area.

Thirdly, and critically for the Australian consumer, this Bill introduces certain country of origin labelling standards. The importation of beef products from countries previously reporting cases of BSE has caused significant community concern particularly with respect to the inability to identify imported beef products under current labelling laws.

The Bill requires the Minister to determine within 28 days after the commencement of this Act, a labelling standard relating to country of origin labelling for beef and beef products imported into Australia. The determined standard must contain labelling requirements in relation to beef which provide consumers with, at a minimum, the same information as is required in relation to pork under the country of origin labelling standard in force as at 1 July 2009.

Debate adjourned.