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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2291

Senator STERLE (4:30 PM) —I will not take up too much time of the Senate, but there is a dissenting report from government senators. I will not get into the semantics of a good stoush across the chamber with Senator Heffernan, which is unusual because we quite passionately combat each other. Senator Heffernan uses words like ‘weasel words’ and ‘face-saving’, and I think that is disingenuous of Senator Heffernan.

Senator Heffernan did say that there has been new science since the committee established this inquiry. I will not argue but it is also imperative everyone understands that in 2001, when the previous government put the blanket ban on the importation of meat from countries that had had BSE outbreaks, that was the right decision at the time. There is no argument about that. This decision to relax the importation rules was not taken because Minister Crean had nothing better to do. There was new science available. There is no argument about that. Also, it is imperative that Australia understands that the beef industry approached government through the RMAC, the Red Meat Advisory Council, and its members. Its members include the Cattle Council of Australia; AMIC, the Australian Meat Industry Council; the Sheepmeat Council of Australia; the Australian Lot Feeders Association, MLA and the NFF.

To clear up a few things: the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mr Burke, has decided to implement the IRA. Quite simply, he did that because he heard the concerns of the community, he heard the concerns of the committee and he heard the concerns of his backbenchers—being Senator O’Brien and me. It was a good decision. There is no argument about that. There are another couple of things I wish to take note of. If the policy had not changed, if the Australian government had not worked closely with the beef industry, and if there had been an outbreak in Australia of BSE—and I know that side over the will want to jump down and have a fight, and I am quite happy to have the fight with them—in meat in Tasmania, every bit of meat all over Australia would have had to have been taken off the shelves. Now that is not the case and that is good policy. There are a lot of beef producers out there who know that it is a good policy, and that was told to us on many occasions.

Another area I want to touch on is food labelling. I will conclude my remarks after this. I have absolutely no argument with food labelling. A lot of consumers want improved food labelling. We are moving down the path of addressing food labelling. But Australia’s border protection and quarantine protection should not be determined on the shelves of Woolworths, Coles or the butchers. That has to be done through quarantine. Food labelling should all come down to a choice for consumers. On that, I will conclude my remarks. The best way of reassuring the Australian community that effective protocols will be put in place is to provide for the safety of the imports through the IRA.