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PC hears compelling evidence on SPCA Safeguards action

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THE HON DR SHARMAN STONE MP Federal Member for Murray

Monday 28 October 2013

PC hears compelling evidence on SPCA Safeguards action

The Productivity Commission held a public inquiry into its recommendations not to grant emergency Safe Guard duties on imported fruit and tomatoes in Melbourne on Monday.

The Productivity Commission claimed that it well understood the damage done to the industry, in particular to growers, but their argument was that the cause of this damage could not be largely attributed to cheap imports. Rather they said it was supermarket behaviour and high costs of production that were the main culprits. Hence putting on duties or tariffs on the imported product to level the playing field in price would not do a great deal of good they concluded.

In her written submission to this inquiry and in her presentation on Monday Sharman Stone the Federal Member for Murray argued that contrary to the findings of the Productivity Commission, it was, without a doubt the flood of cheap imports made even cheaper by the high Australian dollar which was the key cause and trigger for the SPCA and industry troubles.

She argued that the supermarkets and the hospitality industry snapped up the dirt cheap imports, despite the potential food safety and contamination concerns given the countries of origin of much of this product. Supermarkets happily expanded their home brands with the flood of cheap imports, and could confuse the shopper with Australia’s lax country of origin labelling laws.

As well as replacing locally grown product with the imports, some of it at almost half the price of Australian grown goods, the supermarkets were also able to force very low prices onto the local suppliers, given the very real threat to replace them with imports should they demand a fair return, Sharman Stone said.

SPCA in their evidence were most concerned that Aldi data had not been included in calculating volumes of imported product, when it is in fact a major player. As well they were concerned that considerable buying by the food services sector, for example by hospitals and aged care facilities and restaurant and other caterers was not taken into consideration.

SPCA also expressed concern that there were some breaches of the commercial in confidence supplied data, saying its publication was not agreed to and was therefore unlawful. As well the SPCA team objected to the South American representatives being allowed to give evidence without


making a submission available for scrutiny, but with full knowledge of all other submissions, and without any opportunity available for a response from anyone else.

Mr Ross Turnbull and Mr Sali Besim gave evidence as orchardists, stressing the time it takes to re-establish orchards and the damage already incurred. The COGS Mayor Jenny Houlihan gave evidence of the broader economic impacts in the region if SPCA fails, and agree to supply the confidential consultant’s report which details these potential impacts.

The Productivity Commission will now reflect on this new information presented on Monday and will either amend their recommendations or proceed to the final part of the inquiry, to be finalised by December, Sharman Stone said.

Media: Mary Coad 0400941210