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Economics References Committee
24/09/2015
Third-party certification of food

SMITH, Mrs Kirralie, Director, Halal Choices Incorporated

CHAIR: Welcome. Is there anything you would like to add about the capacity in which you appear today?

Mrs Smith : As well as being the director of Halal Choices, I am also a consumer.

CHAIR: Mrs Smith, I want to begin by thanking you for what is a very detailed and extensive submission that you provided for our inquiry. I acknowledge that putting together these kinds of submissions takes an immense amount of time and effort, and I did want to say that we appreciate all the work and effort you have gone to to produce that. In the Senate economics committee we deal with a lot of big agencies—big banks, especially—that have an incredible amount of resources, and even they struggle to put anything of that quality together. I do want to acknowledge the quality of the work that you have put together.

Mrs Smith : Thank you.

CHAIR: I invite you, if you want to, to make some opening remarks or an opening statement.

Mrs Smith : I realise that it is a 200-page submission, but I would like to say a little bit more. First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address the committee. There are many and varied issues surrounding halal certification in Australia, as you aware from the almost 1,500 submissions that you have received. I want to state that I think the export issues should be dealt with separately to the domestic market. I am primarily concerned with the domestic market for consumers.

In 1982, there was a royal commission into the meat industry. One recommendation was that halal certifiers should be permitted to make reasonable charges to cover wages and out-of-pocket expenses for their part in the system. Such charges should not be seen, though, as a way to raise revenue for other Muslimpurposes unconnected with the meat industry. This has clearly not been heeded. There are no substantiated figures of just how much profit the halal certifiers earn; however, there are boasts by individuals that some of them have become millionaires as a result of this industry. We also know that other halal organisations have millions of dollars to spend onMuslim purposes 'unconnected with the meat industry', despite what the royal commission recommended. Profiteering to promote Islam via our everyday grocery purchases is a primary concern for many Australian consumers.

The Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, recently told Four Corners that we have had halal certification for 50 years. What he failed to clarify is that the main concern for the domestic consumer is that in very recent years halal certification has moved from primarily being a marketing tool for red meat export to being a major revenue raiser for Islamic religious purposes. It has moved way beyond red meat export and it now covers approximately 80 per cent of all grocery purchases that Australian consumers would make in this country. While an argument may be made for limited halal certification on some red meat exports, no-one seems able to satisfactorily answer why the Australian consumer needs to be subject to halal fees and practices for domestic purchases. Should our food chain really be about funding the promotion of Islam?

I would also like it noted that I have been ridiculed, mocked and harassed by many people, including prominent Muslim leaders. Such leaders have tried to muddy the waters with meaningless name-calling and misinformation without engaging in the actual concerns that we have as consumers. My family has had to move house and keep our location secret because I have dared to ask questions about the halal certification industry in Australia. My issue is primarily with the payment of fees for Islamic religious practices and the imposition of such on all Australian consumers.

Consumer boycotts are a reaction to the betrayal of leading supermarkets and retail companies who refuse to adequately label products and give them a true choice at the point of sale. Promoting and funding religious practices must not continue without the consumer's knowledge or consent. Some certifiers will argue that halal fees must be paid on already compliant products to give Muslimconsumers peace of mind that such products have not been contaminated, but I want you to note what the Food and Grocery Council said: there is no contamination; it is not a food health safety or hygiene issue; this is purely an Islamic religious fee that is being paid which is irrelevant to approximately 97 per cent of the Australian population. For instance, pork and alcohol are not contaminants. They are not classed as contaminants on any level. There are safely consumed by many Australian consumers and so for Islamic certifiers to say that they are a contaminant is incorrect and misleading.

Australian consumers, myself included, are very frustrated with the lack of choice and information regarding halal certification on their everyday grocery purchases. It is almost impossible to make informed choices as many products are not clearly labelled or the company refuses to give clear and accurate information about halal fees and practices on the items they produce. I have produced this booklet. I believe it has been handed in. It gives you an idea of the companies that are paying for halal certification. Most of those do not put that on their label.

Consumers are concerned about animal rights issues, revenue-raising for the promotion of Islam, the imposition of Islamic religious rituals without knowledge or consent, as well as the question, 'Where does the money go?' It is my sincere hope that this committee will take these genuine concerns of Australians consumers very seriously. I want to commend each of you for this opportunity to take it very seriously and I look forward to answering your questions.

CHAIR: Mrs Smith, thank you so much and thank you for that fantastic introduction and the remarks. I am going to draw an analogy, because I am perhaps quite sympathetic to some of the points you are making. This is a committee that has spent most of its time dealing with the financial services industry and we do a lot of things on banking and multinational tax avoidance. Part of the theme of this committee over a long period of time over many inquiries has been the issue of transparency and about giving people more information, be it through financial products or tax disclosures. It sounds like part of what you are saying is this. There are probably three types of consumers—and we could put percentages on them, but it does not really matter. There are those who are seeking halal products and want to purchase halal products. There are those who are probably indifferent—and, in my opinion, the majority of people would fall into this category. And there are those who have an objection to purchasing halal products, whatever that objection that may. They may have an objection with the Islamic nature of it or, like the RSPCA, have an objection to do with animal rights. For whatever reason, people are entitled to their opinion. It seems that the argument that you are making is that the third group of consumer should have the right to have more information and more transparency so, whatever their reason is, they can make an informed decision about whether they want to purchase the product—is that correct?

Mrs Smith : That is correct. But of those who are indifferent, many of those are also ignorant. They do not know anything about the industry. For instance, after the Four Corners report recently, some people contacted me to say that they did not know anything about it and were perhaps indifferent beforehand but with the information have now moved into the third group that you referred to.

CHAIR: From a public policy perspective, and we are here to make recommendations to government about setting rules, if people in the community want to engage in debates about whether something is or is not right, consumers are entitled to make that decision themselves. People like yourself may inform them of one opinion; others may come and give a different view. That is part of the public policy debate that makes this country great. I want to get clear my understanding of what you have been saying. Someone like me perhaps would not share your objection to halal products, but you are saying that people want to have the democratic right through consumer action to make a decision about whether they want to purchase something. I would argue that there are people like me who are sympathetic to other people having that right, even though their reasons for not wanting to purchase halal is not something that I would necessarily share. I want to get to the specifics of it.

From a policy perspective, where do you draw the line? This is the challenge. You are saying that you know of people like yourself who would like food labelling to change to inform people of whether or not it is halal so they can make a conscientious objection. I do not think that is an unreasonable argument. That is the position you are putting forward. But where do you draw the line, in your opinion? Where do you stop? You are speaking specifically about halal. For halal, you could call it religious certification. Then there are the organic products and certification, and people say that that should all be declared. From a public policy perspective, the question for us is where do you think we should draw the line about how much information you give consumers without making it such a burden that you almost cannot package your product?

Mrs Smith : I am not sure I can answer that question other than to say that, as a consumer, I want that information. I want it to be clear. Through my submission, you can understand that it took years to find out from companies whether they are halal certified or not. The other issue is that a cow may be slaughtered according to Islamic rights then the fee is paid and then the fees could be paid again at the wholesaler. However, because the retailer refuses to pay those fees even though it is halal certified and has undergone all of those processes, it is no longer classified as halal because money has not changed hands with one of the big supermarkets to say that it is halal. There are so many complex issues here, I do not think there is a simple answer to that question.

CHAIR: Your point—the one I am perhaps sympathetic to—is that more transparency and more information for consumers will allow them to make decisions for themselves.

Mrs Smith : Sure.

CHAIR: I would put on the record that I am perhaps not of the same view on those decisions themselves, but that is my opinion. Effectively it sounds like what you are saying is that, if I do not share those views and if there is a more informative labelling option, it is not something where I would have the choice as a consumer to take one course of action and you as a consumer would have the right to be able to take a different course of action. That is the point I think you are coming here to make. Is that fair?

Mrs Smith : We want choice. We want information. Yes.

Senator BERNARDI: Mrs Smith, you opened your remarks by referring to the 1982 royal commission. What evidence do you have that certifiers are profiteering from this rather than conforming to the recommendations of that royal commission?

Mrs Smith : Where to begin is hard. First of all, you have two categories of halal certifiers generally. One is the private companies, and then you also have the not-for-profit organisations, but in both cases many say that they have huge profits and they are going—say, in the case of AFIC—to fund lots of schools, charities and Islamic organisations. They are activities that are not related to the meat industry. That is plain and clear to see. Then we have private companies that are halal certifiers, and again they are making boasts in media and social media that they are millionaires and making a lot of money, and again we would suggest that that is not connected to the meat industry.

Senator BERNARDI: You also made the point, in response to Senator Dastyari, about the halal certification chain, if you will. If a beast is slaughtered in a halal way and fulfils those requirements, is it your evidence that it ceases to be halal as soon as there is a non-halal aspect of the chain—a transport operator, for example, who is not a Muslim? Would that break the chain?

Mrs Smith : I gave evidence in my submission that there was a delivery driver who was in exactly that position. He did not have to change anything in his processes and the way he operated his business other than to pay money to a halal certifier, and he was boycotted by the retailers and in the mosques and was not able to continue his business as a result of that. As I said, there are so many examples of where meat is in fact slaughtered in a halal way but, either because it is transported with pork or it is not transported with an approved halal certified company or the large supermarkets will not pay the fees to say that it is halal—that is what the supermarkets say to us: 'We have no obligation to tell you that it was slaughtered in that halal manner.'

Senator BERNARDI: The evidence that we have received is that there are 76 abattoirs that are certified or authorised for export. The evidence was also that the majority of those, if not all of them, are halal compliant. There are also another 80 or so abattoirs, I believe, around Australia that are not export certified. Do you have any information about how many of those are halal certified as well?

Mrs Smith : No, I do not, and we have found that information very hard to come by. Many people do not want to answer our questions, because of the exposure, I guess, that it has had in the media and because of this inquiry, and some have been quite antagonistic towards answering those questions as well and just do not want to get involved. They do not want to give us that information, so it is hard to determine.

Senator BERNARDI: Do you have any idea of the fees that are involved for individual certifiers?

Mrs Smith : Again, we have a very broad spectrum of fees. Some companies will pay a few hundred dollars a year, and there are reports that some abattoirs are paying $2.4 million a year, and everything in between. It can be thousands or tens of thousands. On the whole, though, most companies will not disclose it, and the halal certifiers will not tell us. We have been told that some companies will actually sign nondisclosure forms as such. So it is very difficult. There is no transparency in this industry to have those questions answered for us.

Senator BERNARDI: But some would argue that it is just a commercial-in-confidence transaction and it is none of your business. How do you respond to that?

Mrs Smith : When companies are being pressured into paying those fees and, again, it is not related to the actual service that is provided or it is unconnected to the meat industry, and where the money is going may be funding the mosques, the schools, the Islamic charities and perhaps beyond, consumers want the right to understand where that money is going.

Senator BERNARDI: Where is the pressure on companies to subscribe to halal certification then coming from?

Mrs Smith : That is varied. It comes from some of the halal certifiers. As I have explained, some of them, because they want the whole chain halal certified, will put pressure at different points along that chain. We have also been told by some companies who have paid for it in the past that they were told by, perhaps, the large supermarkets that if they did not get this kind of certification that the supermarkets would go elsewhere and find another supplier. For most businesses in this country, that is a terrible thing to hear. They do not want to hear that their customers will go to the competition instead of using their product, and, if the fee does not seem that much, they will do it. There are many consumers who obviously, on a point of integrity, have a big issue with that.

Senator BERNARDI: So you have companies that are paying for halal certification—whether because they voluntarily want to do it or because there has been some pressure applied to them—but a lot of them, according to your evidence, are not identifying that their products are halal certified. So why would they pay for something if there is no benefit to them of it or if they are not prepared to market that and use it as a resource?

Mrs Smith : I think that there are a lot of complexities here. I do not think there is a straightforward answer. Some of them have told us that they did not want to be labelled racist bigots, so they paid the fees. Others felt that they were offered a price that—say, $1,000, a year—did not seem very much, and, if it was going to open a market, to them that was worth it. Others felt pressured that they would lose the opportunity to sell through that retail outlet, so they made that choice.

Senator BERNARDI: I cannot miss this point. I am terribly sorry, but how is halal certification in any way related to racism or being called a racist?

Mrs Smith : That is a fantastic question. It cannot be related to racism. Islam is not a race. Halal is not a race; it is a religious certification. I think it is an absurd, ignorant and offensive term that is used to try and shut down this sort of conversation.

Senator BERNARDI: In your investigation, how many companies have you come across that are not open about paying halal certification schemes?

Mrs Smith : What do you mean by that?

Senator BERNARDI: When you contact them and ask, 'Do you pay for halal certification?' and they do not want to discuss it and do not want to disclose whether they do or not?

Mrs Smith : I would find it really difficult to put a figure on that. I have contacted personally around 600 companies. Especially in the initial stages, in 2010 and 2011 when I began, I would say that probably half of them were very evasive or they were very difficult to get that information from. They wanted to know why. They would ask if I was Muslim, they would ask what I was going to do with that information, or they would simply say that they did not have that information and were not able to let me know. Some were very straightforward and happy to give us that information and copies of the certificates. As time has gone, they might acknowledge that they have halal certification, but they will not be open to any further questions.

Senator BERNARDI: When it comes to certifiers, in your research have you come across evidence of one certifier refusing to acknowledge the authenticity or efficacy of another certifier—'If you want to have my certification, the entire chain has to be through my company'? Do you have any evidence or suggestion of that?

Mrs Smith : Yes. Very early on in my research, I contacted the Halal Certification Authority of Australia, believing that the word authority meant that it was either government approved or had some sort of weight behind it. At that point, they published an 11-page halal guide. I am not sure how many pages it is now, but the one that was sent to me then was 11 pages. It seemed very confusing to me, because I was led to believe that that halal guide was the comprehensive final word on what was halal or permissible. I noticed that in that guide there were many companies that did have the symbol on the product but were not included in the guide. So when I rang the Halal Certification Authority of Australia and asked them to clarify, they said that they would not recognise other certifiers in Australia, that they did not believe that other certifiers were following either the Hadith or the Koran, and that the other certifiers did not have the correct qualifications. They said that they refused to acknowledge them, that they would make it widely known in the Muslim community that you could not trust those other certifiers and not to trust their symbols, and that they would explain to businesses that they needed to be halal certified through them if they wanted to be accepted in the Muslim market.

Senator BERNARDI: Once again, isn't it just a business marketing opportunity? They say, 'We are the definitive authority, you should rely on us rather than these other operators that may have sprung up overnight.'

Mrs Smith : Possibly. Personally, I think that is terrible conduct to do that. But I also think, unfortunately, you have that extra added pressure, where companies do not want to get involved when it is a religious issue—and as we have clarified, it is not a race issue. But that is the pressure that companies feel, that they just do not want to be a part of that, so they will just go along with it anyway.

Senator BERNARDI: The number of halal certifiers is in the twenties, I understand—more? Okay. It is a substantial number. Obviously, they vary from large operators to smaller operators. Who, in your understanding, confirms the veracity of the processes that they go through? Do you have any evidence that the processes of halal certification may be perhaps not as substantial as otherwise may be thought?

Mrs Smith : We know there are at least 33 halal certifiers in this country. There are probably more that we are not aware of. You had the Department of Agriculture on the first day of hearings explain there are 22 halal certifiers that are registered with AQIS for red-meat export. But I have also included in my submission a Muslim man who saw the opportunity to profit from halal certification. He is not registered. He just started the business of his own bat—I am not sure what qualifications, if any, that person has—and is going around to takeaway food outlets and, for exchange of money, giving them a certificate to say that they are halal certified. So in answer to that, my understanding is there are no recognised qualifications to start this business. There is no board or even international authority. There is a lot of discussion around the world at the moment, whether it is going to be Malaysia or Saudi Arabia, or who it is going to be that will start setting some international standards, but there is no standard, there is no qualification, and there is no regulation.

CHAIR: Mrs Smith, what we are dealing with here is the export market and the domestic market, and the intersection between the two. That obviously adds a level of complexity. Part of what you are saying—which is evidence we have had to this effect also—is that for the export market, there are different recognised authorities that different governments across the world will recognise, and there is only so much power in the Australian space as to telling the Qatari government or the Saudi government. If we want to export to them, we have to fit in within their rules. It is the export market, and Australian producers will fit in within them. That is part of the complexity. But I do want to stress, your point seems to be around the domestic market as opposed to the international market. There are a whole lot of international complexities, and we have had a lot of evidence and a lot of strong views that the export market—you touched on where former senator, now Minister Barnaby Joyce has made remarks about the importance of it from an export perspective. Let us just park the export part aside and talk about the domestic market.

Mrs Smith, the point you have been making, and the point you make largely in your submission, is that people have conscientious objections, they are entitled to their objections, and people do not have to agree with their objections, but as consumers they should have the right to make an objection if they want to, using the power of the consumer in a free market—is that fair?

Mrs Smith : Yes.

CHAIR: And you are saying that to be able to exercise that freedom of expression in a commercial sense, there is an absence of information?

Mrs Smith : Correct.

CHAIR: I have to say, the idea that people should have information to be able to make decisions is not something that a lot of people would by unsympathetic towards. At the same time, it sounds like what you are saying is there are elements of the industry itself that perhaps lack a degree of regulation—is that so?

Mrs Smith : Yes.

CHAIR: And that is something we are looking at elsewhere, and you are not the only person who has said that. The bit, though, that I just want to touch on is this notion that while you believe consumers should have the right to have information to be able to make decisions for themselves—and it seems like you do not have an issue with this—provided that is the case, businesses can make a commercial decision as to whether or not they want to partake in a halal certification process. That is a business decision, but if they make that business decision, consumers should be informed so that they can make a decision themselves. Is that a summary of what you are saying?

Mrs Smith : Yes, that is correct. Can I add something to it though?

CHAIR: Yes, of course.

Mrs Smith : I would just like to add that I think there are many businesses that do not understand or do not have enough information to really make that as a true commercial decision. I have been told by a number of them, whether it is tea, salt, milk, nuts, grain or honey, they are all classified permissible halal by the Muslim community. And so this exchange of fees or being told that they need to have a certificate, I think, is somewhat misleading and I do not think the companies understand this in a lot of ways. So that may not be your responsibility but, as a consumer advocate that is something that is very important to educate people on.

CHAIR: Okay. Mrs Smith, the point that you are making, which is one of consumer empowerment and consumer choice and being an activist in that space, people do not have to agree with you to respect your right to be able to be an advocate for a consumer position. We deal a lot with groups like Choice and others who sometimes we do not agree with what they advocating, but their right to be able to advocate and inform consumers is a principle that I think you would find a lot of support for.

I do not want have your position wrongly framed, but you are not putting the position that says that people and companies should not have the right to undertake halal certification. You are not saying that companies should not have the rights, should they choose to for commercial decisions, to partake in halal processes. You express some concern around the transparency of halal processes. That is your opinion, you are entitled to that. But your big position is you want consumers to have more information so that they can respond in whatever way they want to choose.

Mrs Smith : Correct.

CHAIR: Okay.

Senator BERNARDI: Mrs Smith, I want to pick up on a few other things. I use the term 'animal husbandry', and there are people concerned about slaughter. We have had evidence that the vast majority of halal certification involves stunned slaughter, particular where it is cattle. How do you respond to that?

Mrs Smith : I have not been able to go to an abattoir and I do not understand all the processes fully. But I have had people who have worked in abattoirs contact me—so this is anecdotal, I cannot provide evidence to that. However, they say that the reversible stunning actually means that the animal will regain consciousness while it is bleeding out and it is quite a different process to the stunning that may happen without that—in what I would call the 'normal' way of slaughtering the animal.

Senator BERNARDI: Okay. This is new to me, I did not know there was reversible stunning and regular stunning. We just talk about stunning of beasts and you presume that knocks their brain out and there is no pain involved. So you have had anecdotal evidence there is a thing called 'reversible stunning'—

Mrs Smith : Correct.

Senator BERNARDI: which immobilises the beast for a period of time; its throat is then slit and it regains consciousness while it bleeds out?

Mrs Smith : Correct. One of the west Australian halal certifiers actually states on their website that they are against pre-stunning. However, because it is a law in this country to do that, they go along with it. But at the same time, they still issue the certificate. So again, it is just an interesting point that they do not agree with it, but they will take money for it anyway.

Senator BERNARDI: Even if you do not have an issue with the religious aspect of this, for a consumer to make a conscious decision there may be those who are concerned with the ethics of ethical treatment of animals and the slaughter of animals. And so if a meat product has been subject in any way, shape or form, to a religious ritual, even labelling in that space will benefit those who have the ethical issues attached to it.

Mrs Smith : Yes, it will. That is right.

Senator BERNARDI: That would apply, of course, to kosher—we have had evidence about that as well—and any other form of religious ritual, I suppose.

Mrs Smith : Yes. I specialise in looking at halal, so I cannot speak to the other things.

Senator BERNARDI: You have also suggested about the funding—you do not know where the funding goes. You may have heard the interaction we had before with AUSTRAC and ACC and so forth. What is your position on the funding?

Mrs Smith : First of all, we do know—as Senator Dastyari explained—that there is no disputing the fact that money does go to mosques, Islamic schools and Islamic charities. A lot of consumers do have a conscientious objection to that and do not want that money raised without their knowledge or consent. I am happy—and I will speak for myself—that any approved religious expression in this country has the right to fundraise. However, I think it needs to be with people's knowledge and consent. In this case, that is not what happens.

The second thing relating to the hearings this morning is that, to me, it is quite clear that the government cannot definitively say that there are no links to funding either extremists or terrorism. Over and over again in those reports they talk about the charities being one of the major conduits for funding terrorism, and all of the halal certifiers—maybe not all, but let's say the majority—boast about how much money they give to charity. I do not think that there is ever going to be a direct link. As with most criminal activity, there are no direct links, and that is why we need investigations to uncover these sorts of things. But it is quite clear that the halal certifiers are giving to charities, and AUSTRAC, AIC and ACC have all said repeatedly that those charities are major conduits for funding extremists and terrorism both here and overseas.

Senator BERNARDI: There was a charity I mentioned this morning, HAI, which a very vocal halal certifier—I would say—boasts about contributing to. A cursory search finds that HAI, internationally, is linked to some unusual organisations. Have you uncovered any other sorts of suggestions about charities involved in activities that are not in the national interest?

Mrs Smith : Yes. I have many pages in my submission, as you would be aware. Firstly, overseas there is a lot of documentation from the FBI, the CIA and the US treasury, as well as the Canadian department of revenue, that there are strong links between those charities and Hamas, Hezbollah and the things you mentioned earlier. There is a lot of evidence—official government evidence—documented overseas of those things. I do think that the point that is constantly made by our government officials is that there may be—well, there are—genuine humanitarian aspects to this money raising, but it is very hard to determine what goes to the humanitarian side of things and what goes to funding the terrorists. There is no clear distinction that is able to be made in that.

Senator BERNARDI: Are there any links internationally between halal certification and the funding?

Mrs Smith : I will just find it in my submission.

Senator BERNARDI: I think there was somewhere in Canada, but I am not sure. I just wondered if it was off the top of your head.

Mrs Smith : Just for accuracy's sake, I would like to read it. In Canada, the example is that the Muslim Association of Canada did raise money in a number of ways, and one of the ways was through halal certification. They then gave money to IRFAN of Canada, and IRFAN then channelled approximately $14.6 million to Hamas. In that time, IRFAN has been deregistered as a charity and is no longer able to raise funds that way. That was one documented way. In the US, it was the Holy Land Foundation around 2001. CAIR, in America, was another, similar to IRFAN; it was an unindicted co-conspirator of the Holy Land Foundation, which was also found to be funding terrorism at the time.

CHAIR: I think you have picked up, Mrs Smith, that I am sympathetic to part of what you have been saying today. But I do not want to miscategorise what the ACC and AUSTRAC said this morning. AUSTRAC and the ACC—and I am paraphrasing their words so I may misquote them slightly here—said explicitly that there was no direct link between this and funding extremism. And they used the words 'direct link'. Going beyond the direct link, in their view of the powers that they had available and with the information available to them they seemed to express no concern that halal certification and the money was being used for that purpose. That is their view and their opinion. They expressed that this morning.

For a lot of people, that may satisfy them enough. They may feel comfortable with that level of information. You are saying that there are people like yourself and others who do not share that view and feel that there are more indirect ways. The point that I would make is: the evidence provided this morning from ACC and AUSTRAC was that they disputed the notion, based on the evidence that they had, that there was a link between this and funding terrorism. There are others who may have a different view, and they are entitled to their different view. Your point, Mrs Smith, seems to be that greater transparency will allow those who have a different view to be able to exercise their rights as consumers in how they choose to purchase products.

Mrs Smith : Yes. But obviously the reports were not read in their entirety and there was some cherry picking going on this morning as well. As I have said, AUSTRAC in 2010 said that they list financial contributions through formal charitable donations as one of the three most common methods by which terrorism funds are raised in Australia. We know that these halal certifiers are giving to those charitable funds. I do not think the question was answered this morning other than it was not a direct link. Yes, we need more transparency and more investigation so that the government can comprehensively and confidently say to consumers that our grocery purchase dollars are not going to fund extremists or terrorists.

CHAIR: What I would say to that—and, again, I am trying to frame this in a question, but we are having more of a conversation than a questioning—is: based on the evidence that I was given this morning by the ACC and AUSTRAC, the point that you are making is not one that I nor others may necessarily share. But the point you are making—and, again, this is, perhaps, where I am trying to find some common kind of thing about the different views that have been presented—is that regardless of ACC's position and AUSTRAC's position, and the position that others have put, you would like to see a situation where consumers are empowered to make more decisions for themselves. That is pretty much the theme of what you are about.

Mrs Smith : Absolutely. Halal Choices—we want choice.

Senator BERNARDI: I want to just state for the record: I understand that Senator Dastyari is making a point, but AUSTRAC and the ACC said they were concerned with money laundering and direct links. There is no suggestion for a moment that these are not businesses. So they are not laundering money; they are giving money to organisations which may or may not be used as conduits to funnel funds to prescribed organisations to fund extremism and to fund terrorist organisations. There is no assurance from AUSTRAC or ACC because they said they cannot track what happens to the money when it gets to the other end. That is the reality of it.

Mrs Smith : That is what I heard.

Senator BERNARDI: They have limited investigative powers. They do not look at the domestic market. They do not track the money that goes into AFIC and exactly what organisations it goes on to then fund. They do not track what HIA does with its money, and other international charities. We know it ends up with Hamas. What Hamas does with it, we do not know.

CHAIR: On a point of clarification, Senator Bernardi: now we are just rehashing and, perhaps, mis-characterising to an extent evidence that was already provided this morning.

Senator BERNARDI: Oh, please! Come on!

CHAIR: No, no. Hear me out here.

Senator BERNARDI: If you do not do it, I will not do it. What about that?

CHAIR: But then what would we be doing here? The point, I guess—

Senator BERNARDI: Just do not repeat yourself! Do not repeat it again, because then we will go through it. Let's move on.

CHAIR: There is a Hansard record. People can go back and assess what exactly the agencies said this morning, and probably can do a better job of doing that than us trying to rehash. I understood it slightly differently from what you said. But the record will speak for itself in time.

Mrs Smith : But as a consumer it does not put my fears to rest. From the evidence I have heard and the reports I have read, I think there are still more questions. And it is reasonable for us to ask some questions. I actually have not made allegations that these things definitively do; I have said that overseas these links have been made. I have said that I have genuine concerns about these things. And I would hope that the government would take it very seriously and would want to investigate it.

CHAIR: What you are saying is that consumers have a right to know, just as Senator Bernardi supports the right to know for multinational tax avoidance and minimisation.

Senator BERNARDI: That is another inquiry. You are muddying the waters. You are a specialist in muddying waters.

CHAIR: No, I am asking the question that it seems to be a theme of transparency here. That seems to be the theme, and I want to give Mrs Smith the opportunity to be able to present—because the theme of your report and your campaign as I read it, while there were views in some areas that I did not share, and I want to be clear about that, seems to be transparency. The questions I have been asking are around that.

Senator BERNARDI: On that we are agreed. Mrs Smith, you referred to Barnaby Joyce. You said that the halal certification industry has been around for 50 years in this country.

Mrs Smith : That is what he said.

Senator BERNARDI: Yes, that is what he said. Is it correct?

Mrs Smith : I have not looked into it in its fullness, but I do know that there has been legislation since about 1982. That is for the red meat—

Senator BERNARDI: Arising out of the red meat—

Mrs Smith : The royal commission, yes.

Senator BERNARDI: That begs the question, if halal certification is a requirement for Muslims in choosing their food: Muslims have been in this country since the Afghan camel herders, going back 150 years. What did they eat before they could find certified products?

Mrs Smith : I do not know, because I was not there, but I would suggest that they just ate normal food. Again, I have anecdotal evidence of refugees and asylum seekers coming here who are of a Muslim faith and have never even heard of something called halal certification. They do not even understand what the question means when we ask them, 'Do you need your food halal certified?'

Senator BERNARDI: Did you see the Four Corners program—

Mrs Smith : I was in it!

Senator BERNARDI: That is right; you were featured in it, actually. Apparently I was, too. I have not watched it myself. But you obviously saw it.

Mrs Smith : Yes.

Senator BERNARDI: Did you see the evidence by one of the Victorian certification authorities maintaining that money does not flow overseas?

Mrs Smith : Yes. It was one of the Victorian ones, I believe, who said that the money stays within Australia for Australian mosques and schools, but later on in the program it was revealed that a $5 million school is being built in Indonesia with some of the money from halal certification profits.

Senator BERNARDI: I understand that arising out of that program a representative of one of the religious leaders in Indonesia said that this was entirely unnecessary. I do not want to mischaracterise it, but are you familiar with what he said?

Mrs Smith : I do not have the specifics of that, but I have quoted where they have been quoted in newspapers saying that certainly halal certification should not be for profit—that there should be no fees for those sorts of things. That comes from a number of halal certifiers or Islamic leaders around the world.

Senator BERNARDI: Let's see whether we can get some areas of agreement here. Would you be in favour of a system where products that are naturally halal—honey, milk, water and you mentioned nuts, and fruit—

Mrs Smith : Yes, and vegetables, seed grains—

Senator BERNARDI: Yes, that sort of stuff. Would there be an opportunity for every provider of those to simply say, 'This is halal approved' or 'naturally halal' or something like that and put that sticker on it without having to pay a fee?

Mrs Smith : I would support that, but I would also suggest that Muslims already know that, so it is unnecessary to put that on any manufacturer or producer.

Senator BERNARDI: Then, what is your way forward? How do you see this working? What is the government's role in this to assist the consumer, to prevent rorting, as you might characterise it? What should we be doing?

Mrs Smith : It is hard to summarise it. First of all is choice; that is my primary platform.

Senator BERNARDI: Everything should be labelled.

Mrs Smith : Everything should be labelled. And, as I said, there are complex issues, because, as I have said, meat, particularly that sold in the large supermarkets, can often be halal slaughtered. It is not considered halal at the point of sale. So, somewhere along the line those people have a conscientious objection to having their meat ritually slaughtered and not getting that information here. Even though they cannot, according to probably Islamic law, say, 'This is halal certified meat'—because it may then have undergone some process that makes it no longer halal for a Muslim consumer—it has still been halal certified. So, it is very complex. I do not know that there is a simple solution there.

Senator BERNARDI: In one of my outrageous speeches to the Senate I suggested, regarding those who have an ethical objection to religious slaughter of any nature, that it should be a requirement for any meat product that is subject to religious slaughter to say, 'This has been subject to religious slaughter.' It might not be halal; it might not be kosher, at the end of it. But it should be labelled to suggest that a religious practice had been involved in the butchering of the beast, and then consumers can make that choice themselves. It would not necessarily have to have 'halal' on it; it would just say, 'subject to religious slaughter'. So, if you have an ethical or religious objection to it, you can make an informed choice.

Mrs Smith : Absolutely. But, again, there are also great complexities there, because if you buy a chocolate bar that has gelatin in it and that gelatin is halal certified—with processed foods there are so many ingredients, so many things that add into that. One halal certifier boasts that all gelatin in this country is halal certified and therefore every processed product we are eating has been subject to those religious rites and fees. It seems so large and so complex. That is why I have not set out a very comprehensive way forward, but I think labelling is a starting point, but it is certainly not my end point.

Senator BERNARDI: Yes, where do you end? If we go back to what Senator Dastyari said about transparency and about consumers being able to make an informed choice, it also seems that there needs to be transparency about the money that is changing hands, the ethics of the certifiers themselves, the processes that they go through. I have heard anecdotally of a certifier agreeing to certify a practice even though they had not seen it because it was too far away to travel.

Mrs Smith : That is correct. In my submission I have included an email exchange involving an animal rights organisation that claims that bribes are paid to get certification in some markets. That was confirmed on the Four Corners program. When one of the departments here was asked that question in the hearings they denied any knowledge of that, but I think that those sorts of things definitely need to be investigated. And there is anecdotal evidence of halal certifiers just doing it for money, basically, and it has nothing to do with the service that is provided.

Senator BERNARDI: 'Write me a cheque and I'll give you a certificate.'

Mrs Smith : Exactly. And I do not know whether I can say this—

Senator BERNARDI: Just say it, and we will tell you whether you can!

Mrs Smith : A halal consultant who was due to appear today but for whatever reason chose to pull out confirms that in his submission. He says that there are fraudulent and corrupt practices within this industry. Companies are paying for services that are actually not being given in return.

Senator BERNARDI: Just for the record, and I am sure the chair will pick this up, a number of Islamic organisations that were scheduled to appear before the hearing have requested another date because of—the Eid festival?

CHAIR: The Eid festival, yes.

Senator BERNARDI: So, it is of religious significance to them, and the committee, quite wisely, listened to that, and hopefully we will hear from these people later on.

Mrs Smith : I hope so too.

CHAIR: Just to confirm, for the Hansard record, several Islamic organisations have been very willing to come before this inquiry and will come before this inquiry. Today was just not the right day for them to come. We will certainly be hearing from them as well in this debate.

Mrs Smith : Great.

CHAIR: It seems to be a bit of a separate issue, but you do make the point that you have been given anecdotal evidence that there are situations in which people have misused or have been taking money for doing halal certification when the certification has not taken place.

Mrs Smith : Or the inspection perhaps has not taken place.

CHAIR: I would say that in a way that flows to your broader point with consumer choice. The victims of that are actually the consumers out there who are wanting to purchase halal products and who have been ripped off in that process. Is that fair?

Mrs Smith : Absolutely. That is correct. Muslim consumers are also disadvantaged. There are a lot of discussions about those things as well.

CHAIR: That goes back to the initial question when I asked whether it is fair to categorise people into three groups: those who particularly want to seek out halal products for religious reasons or cultural reasons or social reasons and are entitled to; those who want to not purchase halal products for whatever reason; and then those who may be indifferent, in the middle, and that group is up for debate. And people can have views within all three groups. But you are suggesting that part of what this inquiry needs to be looking at is also making sure that those consumers who want to purchase halal products are not getting a raw deal in the system as well.

Mrs Smith : And I do have Muslim consumers who purchase Halal Choices, either a shopping guide or a phone app, or contact me through the website, who express grave concerns about some of the products that are halal certified, because either they work in the industry or they know that the ingredients are not actually halal, they are not permissible. Yet a fee has being paid, a symbol has been put on it or it has been labelled as halal certified, but many Muslim consumers have contacted me, upset, saying, 'But that's not halal; it's not permissible for us to eat that, so why is it halal certified?'

Senator BERNARDI: Indeed, in I think the UK recently there was a product labelled as halal certified that was 80 per cent pork or something like that.

CHAIR: I think under our laws, from what the ACCC said this morning, that would be false and misleading advertising. But I think what the ACCC also said this morning is that part of the challenge with false and misleading advertising is the sheer size of everything that is being looked at—200,000 complaints.

Senator BERNARDI: This inquiry arose out of quite literally thousands of contacts that I have received regarding mostly halal, but a few other certification schemes as well. I wanted to compare and contrast the various schemes. I am glad the Senate agreed to do it. But it is an opportunity to allay a lot of misconceptions, a lot of the alarm. Frankly, I do not know what the truth out there is and what is not the truth. That is what we are seeking to get to the bottom of. You have an organisation called Halal Choices. How many consumers do you purport to represent in the sense of how many have contacted you and expressed concerns about this? I am guessing it is quite a number, given the work you have put into what you have produced.

Mrs Smith : For social media I have around 18,000 followers. However, on our website—I am not very technologically able!—we get reports monthly and yearly of the traffic, and we get up to 100,000 unique visitors a month to the website. I would suggest that that is quite a large number of consumers who are visiting the website. The website is primarily the shopping list. That is primarily what it is there for.

Senator BERNARDI: I am finding it difficult to establish the truth of some claims by people who contact me, but it is your evidence today that you have found it difficult, too, to identify the veracity of come of the claims that are made. It is not about saying whether they are right or wrong; it is about finding out what the truth is.

Mrs Smith : I absolutely am committed. This conversation needs to be had often. I feel that it gets shut down a lot by different elements of the community. But I feel that my website provides a vehicle for people to have these discussions. I do not agree with everything that is either written on my Facebook pages or emailed to me. There are a wide range of views and a wide range of reasons that people are concerned about halal certification. But I am before you because I think there need to be choices, and I think there needs to be information to be able to make those choices.

Senator BERNARDI: Part of that means companies being up-front, labelling being up-front, certifiers being up-front and—I am loath to say that government has a greater role than it already does in anything, but maybe government needs to look at a way in which it can police this or regulate it.

Mrs Smith : Absolutely.

CHAIR: Thank you so much for being with us today. Again, I want to commend you for the amount of work that went into your submission.

Senator BERNARDI: Mrs Smith, may I thank you, too.

Mrs Smith : Thank you senators.