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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 361


Senator XENOPHON (9:37 AM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table explanatory memoranda relating to the bills and to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

TRANSPORT SAFETY INVESTIGATION AMENDMENT (INCIDENT REPORTS) BILL 2010

Every day, thousands upon thousands of people put their trust in pilots to get them from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ safely.

And with the advent of low-cost carriers it’s fair to say more and more people are flying more and more often.

In the past decade, air travel has grown by 7 percent per year and it’s expected to remain at this rate of growth in years to come.

Thankfully, the incidence of plane crashes in Australia is exceptionally low.

And we need to do whatever it takes to ensure that this remains the case.

It’s axiomatic that there’s very little margin for error when it comes to flying aircraft, and it’s essential with the absolute best flying our planes.

On 21 July 2007, a Jetstar Airbus A320 was being flown from Christchurch to Melbourne.

Upon its approach into a foggy Melbourne, the pilot in command did not perform the go-around procedure correctly and, in the process, the crew were unaware that the aircraft was continuing to descend.

The aircraft came within 38 feet of the ground before anyone realised.

After re-climbing, the pilot then attempted to land a second time but this had to be diverted again due to the fog. The plane eventually landed safely at Avalon airport.

Upon their return to New Zealand, the crew reported the incident to the airline operator, who took five days before reporting the incident to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

It was later revealed, however, that the internal report given to the ATSB by the operator excluded key information which led to the authority determining that a formal investigation was not required.

It was only after media reports some months later that the ATSB made further inquiries into the incident and discovered the withheld information.

It seems the information given to the ATSB at first instance did not tell the whole story.

The ATSB subsequently found that an investigation was required and its report was highly critical.

As a result, Jetstar  adopted Airbus’s standard procedures for go-arounds, and instigated a review of its third party training procedures.

Indeed, the 21 July Jetstar incident may not have seen the light of day had it not been for third parties coming forward with information.

Under the Act, ‘responsible persons’ (such as pilots, airline operators, etc.) are required to report all reportable matters to a ‘nominated official’ (such as the Australian Transport Safety Board) as soon as is reasonably practicable.

However, there are currently no penalties for altered reports being provided to aviation authorities.

This Bill seeks to remedy this, and to ensure all reports given to authorities about incidents are accurate and true to the events that occurred.

This aims to ensure that safety measures can be reviewed, training processes addressed and protocols investigated.

Without incidents being reported and properly investigated, the whole industry will suffer, and this Bill seeks to improve the ongoing safety standards in Australia’s aviation sector.


WATER (CRISIS POWERS AND FLOODWATER DIVERSION) BILL 2010

For the first time in a very long time, water is flowing into the Lower Lakes of the Murray River.

Thanks to heavy rains this winter, the Lower Lakes will be full for the first time in five years.

Fish and bird species will be pulled back from the brink, and irrigators and businesses finally have something to celebrate.

But we cannot forget that we are only one small step - a dry winter, a new raft of water licences upstream - from ending up right where we were.

The state of the Murray Darling Basin is still the most pressing environmental and social crisis this nation faces.

For more than a century, state and federal governments have treated this river like some kind of magic pudding.

They have over-allocated the river time and time again, and my home state of South Australia has paid the heaviest price.

We were the ones being asked to watch the Lower Lakes die. 

Our irrigators were the ones who are suffering the most - and, despite the recent influx of water, are still suffering.

And all of us are the ones still facing the very real prospect of not having enough water for critical human needs within a decade.

I must say, the response to this current crisis by the state and federal governments has been nothing short of underwhelming.

The Council of Australian Governments agreement on the Murray Darling Basin has so many holes in it that if it were a boat, it would sink.

I have said on numerous occasions that I believe only a federal take-over will achieve the once in a hundred years fundamental reform of the river system that is so desperately needed. 

We need one river system with one set of rules. And only a true national take-over can achieve that.

However, in the absence of a full federal takeover, this Bill gives the Murray Darling Basin Authority the power to manage the water resources of the Basin as a single system during periods of extreme crisis, in situations where there is significant rainfall in other areas of Australia.

This would mean that one single Authority will be able to make decisions as and when action is required in the overall, national and best interest of the Murray Darling Basin, rather than relying on the individual and, perhaps at times, selfish, interests of each state and territory coming into play.

There have been two occasions this year in Queensland, where floods and heavy rain have resulted in overflowing rivers.

Each year, wild weather events around the country continue to take place - flooding in the north while there’s drought in the south.

There’s no doubt we are seeing the effects of climate change, and given the situation our Lakes are facing, it only makes sense to send these waters south.

I was pleased that, earlier this year, New South Wales reached an agreement with South Australia to divert 148 gigalitres to South Australia, just enough to save Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert for at least another year.

While this generosity is appreciated, it seems like South Australia is constantly being left to beg for water from the eastern states.

And of course, this new influx has made an incredible difference.

But what if it hadn’t happened? What if there hadn’t been the heavy rain to finally fill the River?

South Australia would have still had that agreement, and Lakes Albert and Alexandrina would have survived for another year.

But there would be no certainty beyond that.

Under this Bill, in events of significant rainfall in areas of Australia and during periods of extreme crisis, the Murray Darling Basin Authority will take full responsibility for the management of water resources.

I have consulted the experts on this issue in developing this Bill and at this time I would like to take a moment to thank Professor Mike Young from the University of Adelaide for his time.

Based on science, the definition of an extreme crisis under this Bill is considered to be:

When the level of water in lake Alexandrina is continuously less than +0.0 Australian Height Datum (sea level) for more than 3 consecutive months; and,

When allocations to high security water entitlement holders in any irrigation district have been below 20 percent for more than 2 consecutive years.

If the lakes are below sea level then quite simply no water can flow to the Coorong.

Under this Bill, when these levels or periods are reached, the Murray Darling Basin Authority will be able to address the crisis not only from a national perspective, but to ensure the Lower Lakes survive.

This Bill gives the Authority the power to make sure the groundwater and surface water allocations are at the level necessary for system maintenance and to maintain river heights at a minimum level; for the environment; for salinity management and for water uses and holders and water access entitlements or water access rights.

It will also empower the Murray Darling Basin Authority to share, manage and allocate Basin water resources, make allocations to entitlement holders and allow the diversion of water from flood-affected states or where there is significant rainfall.

The reason the Murray Darling Basin Authority would have these powers is because, as a national body, it will act in the interest of all states and territories.

Currently, we have states and territories, each with vested interests making decisions about the Murray Darling in the interest of their own states.

But what is needed in the long term is a full federal takeover - one concentrated authority - to make decisions about the Murray Darling in the best interest of the river and of the nation.

I understand that the Authority’s Basin Plan is still to be released - I hope we will see it soon - but we cannot afford to relax just because everything’s looking good at the moment.

I believe it’s vital that we secure the future of our rivers - and make sure we never go back to where we’ve been.


FOOD STANDARDS AMENDMENT (TRUTH IN LABELLING—PALM OIL) BILL 2010

When you’re shopping for your weekly groceries at the supermarket, and you turn over the packet to read the ingredients of a bag of chips, a block of chocolate or a box of biscuits, you’d expect that “what you see is what you get”.

But, believe it or not, that’s not always the case.

And what’s being hidden from us is potentially impacting our health, and is destroying the environment.

Palm oil is one of the world’s leading agricultural commodities and is widely used as an ingredient in food products, cosmetics and other household items.

In fact, palm oil can be found in approximately 40 percent of food products at the supermarket, and every year, the average Australian consumes around 10 kilograms of palm oil without even knowing it.

Instead, under the current food labelling laws, manufacturers are able to label palm oil as “vegetable oil” on their packaging.

Well, for starters, the oil palm is a fruit, not a vegetable.

Secondly, palm oil is high in saturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fat, and, according to the Heart Foundation, biomedical research indicates that the consumption of palm oil increases the risk of heart disease.

Thirdly, in South East Asia alone, the equivalent of 300 soccer fields are deforested every hour for oil palm plantations, and each year more than 1,000 Orang-utans die as a result of land clearing in this region.

There’s no question that the current labelling laws are inadequate and are misleading consumers.

Being allowed to disguise palm oil as “vegetable oil” means that Australians aren’t able to make an informed choice for themselves and for their family about what they buy at the supermarket because they’re not being given all the facts.

Zoos Victoria, Adelaide Zoo and Auckland Zoo in New Zealand recently launched the “Don’t Palm Us Off” campaign calling for palm oil to be labelled specifically on food packaging.

In the first twelve months of the campaign, over 130,000 people signed on to show their concern about palm oil.

So, the community is behind this Bill.

Some manufacturers are even behind this Bill.

Yet why isn’t it compulsory for palm oil to be specifically listed as an ingredient on all packaging?

Put simply, if we are what we eat, we have a right to know what we are eating, and this Bill will give consumers truthful, accurate and clear information about what they are purchasing.

May I take a moment at this time to acknowledge the support of my colleague, the Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Bob Brown, who has co-sponsored both this Bill with me.

Senator Brown’s continued support and work towards ensuring consumer protection and seeking improvement in labelling laws for the betterment of the public is encouraging and admirable.

In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations requires that each individual fat and/or oil ingredient of a food is to be declared by its specific common or usual name.

That is, palm oil is listed as “palm oil”.

Similarly, under the provisions of this Bill, regardless of the amount of palm oil used in the food or to produce the food, palm oil must be listed as an ingredient of the food.

It’s important to be clear that this Bill is not calling for a boycott of products which contain palm oil - rather, it is designed to enable consumers to know the whole truth about the ingredients that particular product contains so that they can make their own choice prior to purchase.

Just like the inclusion of wheat in a product is labelled to inform consumers with possible allergies, so too should shoppers be told that palm oil is contained in a particular food product.

Since announcing my intention to move this Bill, I have been contacted by a dozens of people, outraged that they didn’t know and couldn’t tell that palm oil was an ingredient in their food.

And I share their frustrations.

Consumers should be able to trust that when the list of ingredients is printed on the packaging, that ALL the ingredients are included in that list.

But quite simply, under today’s current food labelling laws, they’re not.

The current rules means Australians can’t trust what they read on the packaging.

On the issue of conservation - palm oil can be produced sustainably and manufacturers should be encouraged to use certified sustainable palm oil rather than palm oil which is produced as a result of deforestation and loss of wildlife habitat.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, for example, a farmer will chop down all the trees on his land and sell the timber for money. He’ll then burn the stumps and plant oil palm which is fast growing and from which he can crush the fruit to produce palm oil and also sell the shells of the palm fruit as food for cattle.

But by cutting down these trees, Orang-utans lose their habitat. In fact, 90 percent of Orangutan habitat has been lost already and it’s forecast that at the current rate of deforestation, Orang-utans could be extinct in the wild in less than 10 years.

And on a broader scale, the environmental impact of deforestation is significant. How can we be serious about looking after the environment, when we’re not encouraging businesses to farm sustainably?

Palm oil can be produced sustainably. Under criteria set out by the international Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, sustainable palm oil plantations are ones which are established in already cleared land, rather than through deforestation.

It also includes requirements for reforestation along the river-line, bans on pesticides, appropriate labour conditions and wildlife friendly practices.

Under this Bill, manufacturers who use certified sustainable palm oil will be able to list the use of the ingredient as “CS Palm Oil” to indicate its sustainable origins and to show consumers that they are sourcing their ingredient from a sustainable oil palm plantation.

This Bill will encourage food manufacturers to purchase from sustainable palm oil producers and will provide consumers with all the information they need to make their own choice.

Calling palm oil “vegetable oil” is misleading. Not telling Australians that palm oil is one of the ingredients in or used to make a product is unfair.

This Bill will make it compulsory for manufacturers to list palm oil as a specific ingredient if palm oil has been used in the food or to produce the food.

Consumers have a right to know and this Bill gives them that right.


Senator XENOPHON —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.