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Thursday, 11 March 2010
Page: 1674

Senator WILLIAMS (4:06 PM) —I rise to speak on the Food Importation (Bovine Meat Standards) Bill 2010 put forward by Senators Joyce and Colbeck in relation to the ministerial decision from Ministers Burke, Crean and Roxon to allow the importing of beef into Australia from countries that have had confirmed outbreaks of BSE or, as we commonly know it, mad cow disease. This bill is most important, and I would like to say that that decision by the ministers was actually supported by people such as Greg Brown from the Cattle Council of Australia. I want to make the point that one of our greatest marketing tools in Australia is our clean, green image. People not only in Australia but overseas can buy Australian food with total confidence, whether it be our beef, our vegetables, our lamb or whatever. We have a great advantage in our island nation where fortunately, for decade after decade, we have escaped many of these diseases. So having to face a situation where the ministers had made this decision to allow the importing of beef was of great concern. There was so much concern that I had a poll on my website where 3,191 people voted, and 98.7 per cent opposed the ministerial decision. They are people concerned about keeping that clean, green image we have in Australia and about the risk of bringing disease into this nation.

This bill says three things. Firstly, that we do not allow the importing of beef from countries that have had this disease, BSE, until a proper import risk analysis has been carried out. Thankfully, the minister has agreed to that and will now continue along those lines. That is a pleasing result. Why he did not do that in the first place is beyond me but, thankfully, Minister Burke has now announced that he will be carrying out an import risk analysis. Let’s wait for the science on that. That is the right thing to do and something we have called for since day one when this issue arose.

Secondly, Australia has the National Livestock Identification System, which was controversial when it was first introduced. Many of the cow cockies did not want it. Some said it was expensive, a waste of time and not necessary. However, it was brought in and implemented. We can go back over time to the seventies when we conducted the brucellosis testing of cattle right around Australia to eliminate that disease. That is why I come back to this clean, green image and the way we have protected our country from such diseases.

We now have a national livestock identification scheme. Surely, we should not be importing beef from any country that does not have an equivalent trace-back, trace-forward scheme, so if a disease is discovered, you can trace it back to its origin. Identification from birth to plate is what we have in Australia. If we are going to consider importing beef, we should at least insist on an equivalent scheme.

Finally, we need a labelling system so the Australian consumer can identify what they are eating. Australians have, for a couple of hundred years now, eaten our beef with total confidence. A labelling system that identifies imported beef and where it comes from, to me, is essential. Thankfully, the government has now acknowledged that.

This bill says three things. The government have already conceded on two out of the three. I hope they concede on the third by accepting this legislation. I would like to thank the public for the pressure they have applied on this issue. As Minister Burke said, there was a loud call from the public. That call was justified. People were concerned about the risk of importing a disease into our nation that we do not have here, and rightfully so.

Honourable senators interjecting—

Senator WILLIAMS —The interjections of those allies of Mr Greg Brown I can hear in the background are beside the point. We have achieved two out of three concessions and there is one step to go.

I am not going to speak for long on this but I just want to say steps have been taken in the right direction after a disastrous decision by our ministers. Thankfully, the public pressure and political pressure have brought some commonsense to this whole debate. I commend the bill. I will not spend any more time speaking on this. I will allow my colleagues to continue the debate.