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

Gaynor, Mr Bernard William, Private capacity

[11:58]

CHAIR: Mr Gaynor, thank you for being with us today. So we don't recap things that have already been covered, have you heard all the evidence that has been presented today?

Mr Gaynor : I did not hear the first witness and I arrived towards the end of the second witness.

CHAIR: In that case, we will not ask you questions specifically about evidence that was provided this morning if you were not here. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Gaynor : I am a writer about conservative issues in Australia.

Senator BERNARDI: I am a writer about conservative issues in Australia too.

CHAIR: I do not know what to say that. Mr Gaynor, I just want to give you an opportunity, if you have a brief opening statement or opening remarks, then we will get to questions.

Mr Gaynor : Thank you very much. I would like to start by thanking the Senate Economics References Committee for holding this inquiry, and for the opportunity to appear today. Food certification is an important issue. It affects all Australians, and it is an issue that has many Australians worried. I do appreciate the opportunity to present these concerns, concerns that have been outlined in detail in my submission, and that are not just shared by myself but are shared by millions of Australians. This level of concern is demonstrated by the large number of submissions received by this inquiry. I would like to mention briefly that my submission received the support of nearly 6,000 Australians in just a few days. This number has since grown significantly, although due to the cut-off time for submissions, I was not able to include the details of many additional Australians. We sincerely hope that this committee will listen to our concerns, understand them, and then provide appropriate recommendations to address them.

It is obvious that when it comes to food certification, the primary area of concern for Australians is halal certification. Under current arrangements, there is a crisis of confidence around halal certification, and this has led to a market failure. This market failure is demonstrated by a lack of clarity over halal certification and, in some cases, outright refusal by food producers to provide consumers with details about their products. There is no doubt that the failure of food producers to provide Australian consumers with information about the Islamic component used in the food-production process is because of negative connotations held by the Australian consumer about sharia-law-compliant food.

The 2011 review into food-labelling law and policy identified that it was necessary to impose mandatory labelling in circumstances where precisely this type of market failure occurred. The Islamic community is divided over standards, procedures and the power gained by certifying authorities. That is one aspect of the crisis, and it affects those who wish to comply with sharia law. But it is not the aspect that concerns the majority of Australians. The vast majority of Australians have no interest in complying with sharia law when they sit down at their dinner table. For this majority, the crisis of confidence comes for many reasons, but I put forward that there are four main reasons that ordinary Australians are concerned.

Firstly, halal certification is viewed as a form of religious tax that funds the growth and spread of Islam in Australia, and that it is ultimately funded primarily by the non-Muslim majority of the population. Secondly, halal certification is seen as a way of imposing sharia law and Islamic religious beliefs on the majority of non-Muslim Australians every time they sit down to eat. Thirdly, halal certification causes concern, because it results in the embedding of an Islamic religious ritual in the food-production process of meat products. This necessarily results in discriminatory employment practices, and raises additional concerns about a loss of religious freedom. Many Australians also have concerns that the Islamic slaughter process results in adverse animal welfare. Fourthly, Australians feel like they are being taken for a ride. Halal certification is sold as a means of gaining access to export markets. But in the case of Australia's staple meat product, chicken, 95 per cent of it is consumed in Australia, and most exports do not go to Islamic nations. Yet, almost all chicken-meat in Australia is sacrificed to the Islamic god, Allah. Halal-certified chicken is not exported, but it is consumed locally by a population that is 98 per cent non-Islamic.

It is irrelevant whether these concerns held by ordinary Australians are about Islamic religious beliefs and halal certification are valid or not in terms of this inquiry. But I would argue that there are strong and legitimate reasons to hold those concerns. Those concerns exist, and the Commonwealth government has no power or legal role to play in presenting the case or proselytising for Islam. It does, however, have a role to play in ensuring that consumer confidence is addressed when there is a clear market failure in food-labelling arrangements. The market failure and crisis-in-confidence over halal certification can be addressed very easily, and it can be done in such a way that it does not limit any Australian's religious freedom, whether they be Muslim or not, and it can be done in a way that fits with our fundamental belief in freedom and choice.

Quite simply, where food, religion and money meet, this should be disclosed to the consumer. The consumer then can make an informed choice about what sort of products the wish to purchase and eat. Unfortunately, due to the complexity and requirements of sharia law and the processes used by halal certifiers, consumers are not being informed when food, religion and money meet. This can be seen by the chicken that is sold at a major supermarket without any halal logo or symbol, even though it was sacrificed to Allah, slaughtered by a Muslim employed specifically on the basis of his religious belief and certified by a halal authority in the production phase—for a fee that is then used to fund Islamic programs in Australia or overseas. If retailers disclosed these facts at the point of sale, the crisis of confidence would be addressed and the market failure would be rectified. This will probably not address, I agree, the concerns that many Australians hold about Islam and sharia law, but at least those who hold those concerns would be free to make decisions that they feel are appropriate when they shop for their food, and they would not feel forced into culinary sharia law compliance at their dinner tables.

That is why my submission makes a number of recommendations in this area. The key recommendations are: that mandatory labelling of food is required where a religious element is added into the food production process; where food is produced by a person employed specifically because of their religious belief; and where religious certification schemes are used to raise funds for a particular religious community. In addition, my submission recommends that a voluntary food industry standard and logo should be developed for products that are naturally halal and are therefore, in the halal certification process, subjected to a negative certification. This would eliminate the requirement for these food producers to pay for the certification of products that are inherently halal, reducing overall production costs and eliminating the concern that Australian consumers feel that they are funding the spread of Islam when they shop for food. These recommendations will not reduce the ability of Muslims to purchase and consume food that complies with sharia law. Instead they will provide both Muslims and the majority of Australians who are non-Muslim with clarity, allowing them to make free and informed purchasing decisions. These recommendations will increase choice.

Finally, it is important to note that my submission does recommend that Australian exporters should not be forced to comply with food labelling laws for products they sell overseas. The Australian community does not want to hurt our exporters; however, where exporters do sell to the Australian markets they must provide consumers with information and choice. There is a good reason for this: the Australian consumer should not cede his rights or religious freedom because we have an export market to Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. Finally, I thank you for the opportunity to briefly outline these concerns and some proposed solutions, and I now look forward to your questions.

CHAIR: Thank you for that, Mr Gaynor. I want to acknowledge that these are matters that you have obviously spent a lot of time thinking and working on. The amount of work that goes into preparing those kinds of statements and those kinds of views is not insubstantial, so that should be acknowledged and appreciated.

You heard the kind of conversation we were having with Mrs Smith. It is fair to say that I probably come at a lot of these things from a very different perspective than you do, Mr Gaynor, but I want to focus on where there may be a convergence of views that I am interested in, as opposed to where there is not. You outlined four reasons why you and others have an objection to halal certified foods: you saw it as a religious tax, you saw it as the promotion of sharia law, it embeds an Islamic ritual, and there is a sense that consumers in that process have been taken for a ride. That is a summary.

People like myself or others may not—and in my case, do not—share those views, but it seems that in your submission the constructive point you are making is that they are the views you hold. You express that they are not the views that you alone hold, and that there are other people who hold those views. We can have a debate about how many it is; you have used the terms 'millions of Australians', I believe it is less than that. But park that to one side. It seems that what you are saying is that you want to see a certification process that would allow you to conscientiously object to products that are labelled. You want to be able to express your conscientious objection to halal certification for whatever reason that may be. It may be because you do not like the Islamic nature of it, it may be because you do not like the food-stunning process of it—as the RSPCA and others have objections. You want to be able to express those objections through not purchasing halal products, and you feel the certification system has let you down because you do not have that option, because you do not have that information.

Senator BERNARDI: These are splendid soliloquies. Splendid!

Mr Gaynor : I understand what you are saying, Senator, and I think, in general terms, it is correct. I would say that it is not conscientious objection. I would say conscientious objection is where you are a minority in a larger system that is imposing requirements on you that have some problem with your conscience and you object to those. I represent the majority of Australians who are non-Muslim, so we are not conscientiously objecting at all. We just want to see our way of life continue; but the majority of meat in Australia is sacrificed to Allah. According to the statistics of the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, about 95 per cent of chicken meat in Australia is sacrificed to Allah. There is a mismatch there between—

CHAIR: Can I ask you a question about that?

Mr Gaynor : Yes.

CHAIR: So what? If your objection is the labelling of it, is your objection that 95 per cent of chickens are slaughtered to Allah or that when you go into a shop you do not have the right to be able to purchase products that are not sacrificed to Allah?

Mr Gaynor : It is both. I do object to eating something religious.

CHAIR: I am trying so hard to agree with you, Mr Gaynor. You are making this difficult for me.

Mr Gaynor : I understand that. I am not saying that people have to have my views. I would say we live in a democratic society and everyone has got different views. If someone wants to eat a chicken that has been sacrificed to Allah, then I say go for it 24/7. I do not want to go down that path. I find it strange in a non-Muslim country that it is difficult to find a chicken that has not been sacrificed to Allah.

CHAIR: But if that is a commercial decision, Mr Gaynor, and if the labelling issue were addressed, the point you are making is that you should be able to go into a shop and purchase a chicken that has not been sacrificed to Allah—for whatever reason you have that objection. Again, I want to stress that it may not just be an issue with the faith component of it; it may be with the slaughtering process. It could be whatever. You might just not like it for whatever reason. It is about consumer empowerment. But, so what if 95 per cent are slaughtered to Allah? I mean, as long as it is labelled and people want to purchase it on that basis, then so what? Who cares if 100 per cent of people want to buy it that way? Shouldn’t that be a matter for the market?

Mr Gaynor : I think it should be a matter for the market, absolutely. Two per cent of the population want to buy chicken that is slaughtered to Allah, yet 95 per cent of chicken meat sold in Australia is slaughtered to Allah. That is a mismatch there. You could argue that maybe it is five per cent who want it or what not.

CHAIR: Is it a mismatch, though, Mr Gaynor? In fact, if I am chicken producer Ray and I am making a commercial decision, as a business, that this is something I want to do—you are saying people should know, consumers should have more information as to what they are doing; it is an argument that obviously Mrs Smith has put as well—so what? So what if 100 per cent of it is being slaughtered to Allah? So what? How is that relevant to the percentage of the Muslim population, provided it is a business and a market decision?

Senator BERNARDI: As long as consumers can make a conscious choice.

Mr Gaynor : Sorry, Senator. It seems a strange market decision to certify almost every chicken produced in this country as halal and then not disclose that to consumers. That is a strange market choice, because that is what is happening. As I have detailed in my submission, if you walk into Coles or Woolworths or go to Lenard's Chicken and ask them if their chicken is halal, they cannot tell you. But if you ring the chicken producers, they will tell you, in almost all cases, that their chicken is halal. In the cases where they will not tell you, as with Ingham's chicken—I believe it was in my submission—who said they will not answer that question, if you want the question answered, you need to ring the Islamic Council of Queensland. That is a strange commercial decision for that company to make; but that is the situation we are faced with.

Senator BERNARDI: Mr Gaynor, Chair, blessed are the peacemakers; so I am going to agree with both of you for a moment. Senator Dastyari makes a point that, if consumers can make a clear choice through labelling and they can choose and vote with their purchasing decision whether they want a halal slaughtered chook or do not want a halal slaughtered chook, it should not concern you how many people choose the halal slaughtered chook. You personally will not choose it; some people will not care.

Mr Gaynor : I do agree with that. I am not saying that there should not be halal slaughtered chickens in Australia.

Senator BERNARDI: Let me just conclude this. The guts of it is that you want consumers to be able to walk in and vote with their dollars about whether they want halal or whether they want non-halal—

Mr Gaynor : Yes.

Senator BERNARDI: because they do not like the religious element or they do not like the animal husbandry element or anything else. That is a true market decision. As for the chicken producers: if they are compelled to put halal or not halal on it, people will make their choices accordingly, and the market will say whether you are right or Senator Dastyari is right.

Mr Gaynor : Absolutely. On this issue I think the best approach is a free market approach, and, to have a free market, there needs to be information. You cannot have information if there is nothing that is provided to the consumer.

Senator BERNARDI: May I say that that is what struck me about your submission. You went to a lot of work contacting organisations and clearly you got different information and responses from the same organisations according to when you called and who you managed to get onto. The ACCC earlier said that that is not necessarily misleading; it just can be the lack of knowledge within an organisation. We accept that, but, if you struggle with it and big organisations are struggling with it, it is little wonder that consumers are confused and there are thousands and thousands of people—maybe millions—who want to get to the bottom of what this is all about and how much of their product that they consume is subject to these sorts of religious tithes.

Mr Gaynor : Yes.

CHAIR: A point of clarification: I think what the ACCC said this morning was that what they regulate is false and misleading conduct and, insofar as that has been interpreted by the law, the act of not giving information is not deemed false and misleading in itself.

Senator BERNARDI: You are quite right.

CHAIR: The policy question for us is whether or not that is something that should be judged.

Senator BERNARDI: That is indeed a policy question, but it is not relevant to what I just said. I said that the ACCC said it is not necessarily deceptive or misleading if organisations give conflict information, as Mr Gaynor has unearthed, because it is sometimes just a product of who you get onto and whether it is above or below their pay grade—whatever the case may be.

CHAIR: Yes, sorry.

Senator BERNARDI: It is not necessarily malicious; it is just compartmentalised.

Mr Gaynor : I certainly went to pains not to paint it as malicious. I just think people working in supermarkets generally have a very poor understanding of what is halal, what is sharia law, what the process is and what the product is. It is clear to me that across the supermarket industry it is hard to get answers, because people simply do not know. They are not trying to hide anything at the coalface from the consumer; they just do not know themselves.

Senator BERNARDI: If you go in to ask the deli assistant if this chicken is halal, it is not likely that they are going to be advised about everything. O said in Woolworths store No. 3 that it is illegal to sell halal products without a logo. That is clearly not the case. So that is a bit misleading.

CHAIR: Yes, it is a lack of knowledge.

Senator BERNARDI: Yes. This is the thing. It comes back to this all the time and it is consistent from a consumer angle. It is about clear and appropriate labelling so that consumers can make their respective choices based on whatever criteria they deem necessary or important to them.

CHAIR: I'm starting to agree with Senator Bernardi, and that's worrying on many levels!

Senator BERNARDI: Scary, isn't it! We'll have to adjourn the hearing!

CHAIR: Especially the bit where he said we need more regulation and with regard to your point, Mr Gaynor, that regulation is what is required for a free market.

Mr Gaynor : If I could be so bold, you asked Mrs Smith a question that I thought was very good, and I would like to give some input.

CHAIR: Sure; what was the question? I thought all my questions were very good!

Mr Gaynor : You asked her where you draw the line on the certification. I think that answer has already been found for us. In my submission I refer to it towards the end. We do not need to reinvent the wheel on this.

Senator BERNARDI: Could you remind us?

CHAIR: Yes, if you have it in front of you. I read your submission a couple weeks ago.

Mr Gaynor : That is alright. It is the last paragraph on page 83. This is from the 2011 report into labelling logic. Before this it talks about things like halal certification being an issues based issue that lends itself to voluntary certification but one that may need to be monitored if self-regulation is ineffective. The last paragraph explains when self-regulation becomes ineffective and constitutes a market failure that requires mandatory labelling to solve. It says:

The Panel proposes that market failure is the principal argument that should be advanced for any prescriptive intervention in food labelling in the area of consumer values issues. There are mutual market benefits (to buyer and seller) of promoting food with positive/aspirational origins (e.g., chocolate from Switzerland), yet non-reciprocal benefits from withholding such information when it relates to origins with perceived negative connotations (e.g., food products from countries with poor human rights records). This situation constitutes market failure and the reason for government intervention on the issue of CoOL.

So country-of-origin labelling came because some food producers were trying to hide the country of origin from consumers. The market failure was because the certification or labelling was deficient because to reveal the information would probably have reduced market share. I would argue very strongly that, in the case of halal certification, where we have many food producers selling halal products or products that are from an Islamic ritual that would have been halal at some phase early on in the production, withholding or failing to disclose that constitutes a market failure. Quite clearly the upside of halal certification appears to be export markets. We appear to be saying we are going to tell our export markets but food is halal certified, but the Australian consumer is being kept in the dark. Producers are failing to disclose to the Australian consumer the certification, the Islamic origins of the food or the religious ritual that is part of it, and that is what is constituting the market failure in this case.

CHAIR: To be honest, I am not quite sure I necessarily agree with you in terms of using the term 'market failure' there, but I accept the point you are making.

Senator BERNARDI: This is a question I probably should have asked of Mrs Smith as well. In your examination of halal certification, have you come across any other religious certification organisations that are operating in the Australian market or even internationally?

Mr Gaynor : I am aware of kosher certification.

Senator BERNARDI: I should have mentioned that, I beg your pardon—as part of this inquiry.

Mr Gaynor : My recommendations in my submission relate to religious certification, so they are not focused specifically on halal. They are focused on wherever there is a religious input. It is not a negative certification like saying it does not have alcohol. That is a negative input. It is a positive certification to say this blessing has occurred or this sacrifice has occurred. Where there is that kind of religious intervention in the food production process, it should be disclosed regardless of what the religion is. So I am aware of the Jewish process. I am also aware—although I do not have much information about it—of it in relation to the Sikh religion. It is not so much a certification issue and I am no expert in this area, but they seem to want to avoid meat products in particular that have been blessed under a different religious law, so that is an issue for them.

Senator BERNARDI: Indeed. We have had evidence that it is forbidden for them to consume products that have been blessed. They specifically identified Islam, but I am not sure if there are any others.

Mr Gaynor : I am not aware of any other religious food certifications.

Senator BERNARDI: I am trying to find a way through this. I am guessing that many Muslims and many Jews do not want to consume pork products. It would satisfy their requirements in many instances to say it contains no pork like way say things contain no traces of peanuts for other people who have allergies or contains no alcohol in the case of those who do not want to consume that. That would be what you would call negative labelling.

Mr Gaynor : Yes.

Senator BERNARDI: And that is a product for the market. But you are saying that, where there is a positive intervention—where there has been a religious ritual exercised in any way, shape or form on a product that is available in the market, it should be disclosed. I could characterise it in this manner: we have freedom of religion in this country, but you are suggesting we should also have freedom from religion for those who want to opt out of particular things as well.

Mr Gaynor : That is one way of putting it. I would not say 'freedom from religion'. I have got my religious beliefs, and, as part of my religious beliefs, I do not involve myself in other religious beliefs. Some people could say that is freedom from those religious beliefs; that is one way of putting it. But, as part of religious freedom, Australians should have the choice of their faith, and they need to work out—

Senator BERNARDI: Which is the freedom of religion that we all have.

Mr Gaynor : Yes. And part of that is to not be forced—

Senator BERNARDI: To participate in others'—

Mr Gaynor : to participate in other religious beliefs. I argue that when you are forced to purchase pretty much chicken that is sacrificed to Allah, whether that be a free market way of approaching it or not, that is a form of reducing religious freedom.

Senator BERNARDI: So it is a compulsory participation in a religious ritual, even if it is just a financial mechanism of doing it?

Mr Gaynor : Yes.

CHAIR: I would not share those views. But I think your point, Mr Gaynor, is that I do not need to share those views for you to be able to exercise your views if you had that information?

Mr Gaynor : Sure. And, Senator, you can eat all the halal certified chicken you wish. I would not want to stop you from doing that either.

CHAIR: Thank you. I will assume I have been, and I will continue to do so—

Senator BERNARDI: He slaughters his own chickens!

CHAIR: When I was speaking to Mrs Smith before, I said that there are three categories of consumers. Firstly, as to halal or kosher or any kind of certification, there are people who want that type of certification—and let us just talk about religious certifications. Let us talk about kosher and halal—they are the main two religious certifications—because that seems to be the bulk of where your inquiry is going, because you look at it from a religious rights perspective. So there are those who seek it out. Secondly, there are those who are indifferent and could not care less, and who, regardless of how much information you give them, are not going to change their behaviour. They like eating Oporto's, regardless of whether or not it has been slaughtered bioethically or not, and, even if you told them, it is not going to change what they do. Thirdly, there are those who would want to object and not choose to do it.

Say we went down the path of doing what you are saying, and what Mrs Smith is saying, which would be to provide more information to consumers—and again we will talk to some Islamic leaders at a further date; I cannot imagine them having an objection to greater labelling. Again, I do not want to speak for them because, if they want to seek these products out, having that information is not going to hurt them. It is not going to hurt the people in the middle, who do not care, because they do not care anyway.

The argument against it that I imagine is going to get put to us is that all of this—and this is what has happened in the entire food labelling debate—is a cost impost on consumers, and that every time you go down this path of verifying and labelling—and there is only so much space on a packet—these things are not free, and the act of doing that is a cost. I am sure that, if we end up speaking to the grocery council and others, they are going to say: 'Hang on; this becomes a cost and a cost that is put on consumers.' The question for us, as policymakers, needs to be: is that a cost that is worth imposing? Because it is a cost; it is not—

Mr Gaynor : I understand that, and I think it is a good question. Certification is a cost, and disclosing it to the consumer is, presumably, another cost. There is the question of how much space is on a label. I am not denying that. But I think we can be creative, and we are especially fortunate today with the internet, and the easy access to information available on the internet, that we can come up with solutions that allow enough information to be provided to consumers to have choice, even if it is not all on the packet. For instance, you might choose—due to space limitations—to have a very small disclosure on the packet, but there could be a website where that additional information could be located for consumers who wanted that information. That probably would be much cheaper anyway than putting it on the packet itself and redesigning the packet every time some production process changes or those types of things.

Senator BERNARDI: There will be many food producers and retailers that would say that that already happens, and for anyone that is interested they can go to halalchoices.com.au and pick up that sort of information. You can go to Cadbury's and you can find out that all their products are certified, even though they do not have the label on the packet. It is not realistic that a consumer is going to go and walk around with their shopping guide and examine every little thing. It just does not make much sense. And why would you pay for a certification if you are not going to highlight it to your market to say, 'Hey, look at this. This is really good'?

Mr Gaynor : Yes. I think that, if you are going to incur the cost of certification, that should be disclosed. How much information goes on the packets is something to be decided, but I would disagree that you can go to food producers and get the information already. You cannot. If you go to the chicken producer—I cannot remember which one it is here—they will tell you to go and talk to the Islamic Council. They refused—

Senator BERNARDI: Inghams, it was.

Mr Gaynor : They told me that it is company policy not to answer the question. So you cannot get the information when you ask for it.

Senator BERNARDI: So it comes down to appropriate labelling, because it is not always available on the internet, and you cannot make it mandatory. I know how governments disclose information on the internet. They hide it in a myriad of webpages, and no-one can ever see it, or it is very difficult to find. I just keep coming back to it. The other point is that you could argue that it is the informed choice for Muslims and non-Muslims alike with respect to halal and in the fact of the Jews' kosher certification as well. They need to make an informed choice for themselves.

Mr Gaynor : Yes. I will just go back to the internet point because there needs to be information there on the packaging, but not all the information can fit on the packet. I am talking now from the perspective of the Islamic community. There is a wide discrepancy between halal certifiers on their standards and processes, and that information as to what their standards and processes are simply cannot be put on a packet. I believe that they should be made to disclose their processes so that people who are searching for certification understand exactly what they are getting, because it is very difficult to have consumer confidence in a certification industry where the Islamic Council of Western Australia state publicly that stunning during the slaughter process is against Islamic requirements, but they will still issue halal certification when animals are stunned.

Senator BERNARDI: Sticking with Islam for a moment, there is a divide between the Sunni and the Shiah, and there are other interpretations of Islam out there. Are we really expecting a Muslim to sit there and say, 'Okay, I'm a Sunni; every product I consume has to be authenticated by that particular certifier of that strand of my religious beliefs, and I won't consume one that's been certified by an alternative certifier'? It is completely unrealistic, so you cannot have—

Mr Gaynor : Sorry, are you saying they are not doing that?

Senator BERNARDI: I am just wondering whether that is the case.

Mr Gaynor : Well, it is, and I will take you to my submission, where—just bear with me for one second—there is a Facebook page where there is a lot of Islamic unhappiness over the certification process.

Senator BERNARDI: I am familiar with the Facebook page. There are also issues on MuslimVillage with the authentication of the chickens and so forth, so I am familiar with that. The question is: how far do you go with this? That is really the question that we are going to rack our brains about and try to form a united response to, aren't we, Senator?

Mr Gaynor : I will go back to my submission.

CHAIR: I would not go that far, but, yes, we will definitely try to.

Mr Gaynor : Labelling logic said that, when there is a market failure which is through the withholding of negative information that has negative connotations, that should be addressed with mandatory labelling. My submission argues that, where there is a religious element in the production process et cetera, that should be disclosed.

CHAIR: You did not say it before, and I let it go, but I will just put on the record that the idea that it is a negative connotation is a matter of interpretation, which is not one I share. But that is your opinion, and that is the point I suppose you are making.

I know that in your submission you draw on different views within the Islamic community. I think it is fair to say that you are not and do not purport to be an expert on Islam or to speak on behalf of—

Mr Gaynor : No, I am not trying to solve the differences. I am not trying to do that. That is up to the Islamic community to do.

CHAIR: To end: in your personal objection to this—and, again, you are entitled to your personal objection, and others have different objections; there are those who choose to object because of the stunning process, and the RSPCA have real issues with some of the steps that are taken, and I want to put that on the record—you come from a religious rights perspective.

Mr Gaynor : I would not just limit it to that. I certainly do have that objection but, as I detail in my submission, there are serious concerns about where the money goes. Even if you take the whole extremism issue out of this, it is raising money for a religious community in Australia and overseas that Australians are subsidising every time they shop, pretty much. Most Australians are not Islamic, so there is a concern about that.

CHAIR: Why is that a concern?

Mr Gaynor : If I were being asked to raise funds for the Buddhist community, the Sikh community, an atheist community or the Labor Party and I did not want to fund those organisations—

CHAIR: If you were raising funds for the Liberal Party, you would be running a royal commission.

Mr Gaynor : Well—

CHAIR: I could not miss that. I should not have said that—sorry.

Mr Gaynor : I make my points. People should be free to fund the organisations they support. Only two per cent of the population is Islamic and they can raise funds, I am sure, as much as they want. But 98 per cent of Australia is actually funding the halal certification process in this country, and that is going to support the Islamic community. That is why it is seen as a tax. I understand all the technical legal arguments about that, but that is the way it is viewed.

CHAIR: Again, I am going to put it on the record. My point here is I do not agree with you that it is a religious tax. I do not agree with sharia law. I think you are trying to say—

Mr Gaynor : Sorry, you do not agree with—

CHAIR: I do not agree with the reason that you choose to object.

Mr Gaynor : Sure.

CHAIR: Again, this is where I am trying to find some common ground here. You are not saying I need to agree with your reasons for objecting. You are saying you want the information so that you can make your objection.

Mr Gaynor : Yes. We need to have the choice. I will turn the question back. If only two per cent of chicken was halal certified, it would be like saying, 'We want to increase it to 98 per cent and anybody who objects has no reason to object—we're just going to do it.'

Senator BERNARDI: You chose a perfect analogy before in respect of political fundraising. I am a Liberal who would never knowingly give money to the Labor Party. It is a rarity. But if a business is a substantial—

CHAIR: I think your leader has in the past, but keep going.

Senator BERNARDI: If a business had a strong link to the Labor Party and continually gave them hundreds of thousands of dollars every day, I could exercise my right not to go there, and I would know that because it is disclosed.

Mr Gaynor : That is correct.

Senator BERNARDI: Similarly, when Senator Dastyari says to people, 'Don't go and shop at Cory's supermarket because he's funding XYZ,' it is exactly the free market and it is all disclosed. In this instance it is not disclosed. I believe it is a very reasonable analogy.

CHAIR: Can I make a point of clarification, Senator Bernardi. I think in this instance it is inconsistently disclosed.

Senator BERNARDI: Yes, that is true. It is inconsistently disclosed.

CHAIR: It is not that it is not disclosed; it is inconsistently disclosed.

Senator BERNARDI: The omission is a deliberate act.

Mr Gaynor : Yes.

Senator BERNARDI: That, I think, is significant. They choose not to put it on there, for multiple reasons, but it is a conscious decision not to. When 70 per cent of our meat is exported through these abattoirs, the remaining 30 per cent, which is being halal certified, is not disclosed as halal when it appears in our supermarkets. That is a conscious decision. Everything else is certified and stamped 'halal'. I wonder why they are not disclosing to Australian consumers.

CHAIR: Every labelling decision is a conscious one, whatever the reason for it may be.

Senator BERNARDI: Yes, but there is a conscious act of omission, because it has come out of the same factory, the same packaging line. Everything about it is the same except for the fact there is no halal stamp on it.

Mr Gaynor : Yes, and I would say—

CHAIR: I disagree with that, but we can talk later about it, in the Senate.

Mr Gaynor : The food labelling decisions that are made are made to increase market share or sell the most products. If domestic producers thought that halal certification declarations were going to help them sell more products, it would be on the packet already. That is why—

CHAIR: It is on a lot of packets, though.

Mr Gaynor : Not many. If you ask, you get no information. That is why the Labelling logic document stated that market failure is where information is withheld because it has negative connotations. It is obvious from the response to this inquiry and the fact that this submission got 6,000 signatures in about 10 days that there is a great deal of concern in the community about halal certification.

Senator BERNARDI: It also begs the question: if a company is paying for halal certification and it is not putting it on the packet, it is not putting it on the website and it is not prepared to inform consumers, why are they paying for it? Why are they doing it?

Mr Gaynor : It is a very good question, because I honestly do not understand that. If I were a business certifying a product, I would be disclosing it because, as the Labelling logic document itself says, these voluntary certification schemes are a way of increasing market share. I would be doing it for a business reason. Why are they not disclosing it and why are they still paying the fee, however nominal it might be or however large it might be? That is an important question. I am surprised that these producers and wholesalers are not answering the question. I would have thought that, if they were so in favour of halal certification, they would have presented their case.

CHAIR: They have, in fairness. Again, we are conflating, and it is difficult not to conflate, what is an export decision and what is a domestic market condition. As much as we may sit here and decide that they are two very separate things, from a production perspective at times there is a correlation between the two, for process reasons.

Senator BERNARDI: Chickens are a good example.

CHAIR: Mr Gaynor, something I want to draw your attention to is this. There have certainly been many people who have expressed a view and who have concerns. You have noted 6,000, and that is not an insignificant number of people by any stretch of the imagination. We have not heard any major concerns expressed to us in the evidence that has been provided so far from proprietors and businesses. In fact, the grocery council and others who have come from the industry perspective have presented an alternative view that does not discount the rights and views of consumers. But I do not think we are now in a position to be talking about the views of the people in the industry when they themselves have not expressed their views to us.

Senator BERNARDI: We have not heard from that many in the industry.

CHAIR: No. We can hear more as we go through.

Senator BERNARDI: On the nondisclosure, am I correct that the nondisclosure can also act as a barrier to other people's informed religious choices—for example, the Sikhs, if they cannot eat blessed meat?

CHAIR: I am not sure Mr Gaynor is an expert on Sikh religious practices.

Senator BERNARDI: No, but we have received evidence and it is about—

Mr Gaynor : I take the point. If you do not know what religious element has gone into a product, you simply cannot make an informed choice. You might buy it on the assumption—

Senator BERNARDI: Or the promise of the deli assistant.

Mr Gaynor : Yes, that is right. But, if you actually knew the facts about that, you might make a very different choice. I think that is important. The export industry is obviously very important and Australians do not want to hurt our export industries, but I will make this point. It seems to me and to many Australians that our trade with Saudi Arabia, Malaysia or the other countries is considered more important to the national interest than Australians themselves.

CHAIR: I do not agree with that statement.

Mr Gaynor : So we are going to disclose to consumers overseas religious elements of a product because it is going to make us money, but we are not going to disclose to Australian consumers at home the religious element of a product because we think it is going to lose us money. I do not think you can have your cake and eat it too.

CHAIR: I am not sure I agree with that statement—

Senator BERNARDI: You do not have to. This is a beautiful thing about the Senate. We can get a whole bunch of different views, put them on the record and distil them into a unanimous report, can't we, Senator Dastyari?

CHAIR: That is a beautiful segue to end this hearing. Mr Gaynor, is anything else you want to add?

Mr Gaynor : No. It is all in the submission. Thank you very much for the opportunity to present and appear today. I think it is a very important inquiry and a lot of Australians are watching with interest, so thank you very much.

Committee adjourned at 12:44