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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 263

Senator LAMBIE (Tasmania) (12:08): I rise to briefly speak on the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016 and in doing so I ask the same question everyone else is asking: why has this legislation taken so long, and why is it still incomplete to the standard it is required to be at? This is a classic example of why this parliament needs to better prioritise the legislative agenda and why Australia's media should report on the issues that are really important to average Australians.

This is a significant issue that deserves more attention than trendy issues like same-sex marriage. I am fed up with the amount of time and attention that is now being given to the same-sex marriage debate in this place and in mainstream media. A solution to same-sex marriage, Indigenous recognition, and euthanasia for the terminally ill is simple: we hold a referendum and two plebiscites on the day of the next federal election and hear what Australians have to say on these important issues of the conscience, without the exorbitant and onerous costs and without the interference of mainstream media. I believe there is an opportunity to put a private member's bill before the Senate which gives the people, at the next federal election, an opportunity to have their say on those three very important social and moral issues: same-sex marriage, Indigenous recognition, and euthanasia for the terminally ill. End of story—now let's get on with running this country and talking about matters which concern people in rural and regional areas, especially like where I am, on the north-west coast of Tasmania.

Stronger country of origin labelling has been an issue that has been around since Adam was a boy, and neither the Liberal-Nationals nor Labor can claim the moral high ground in this situation. The definitive report on this matter, according to the Parliamentary Library study, was the Blewett review. The library report says:

On 23 October 2009 the Chair of the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council announced that former Australian Health Minister, Dr Neal Blewett AC, would head up the Panel which would undertake a comprehensive examination of food labelling law and policy.

On 28 January 2011 the review panel officially presented the final report entitled Labelling Logic to the Chair of the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council.

The Blewett Review noted that there was a general level of consumer uncertainty about 'claims to the 'Australian-ness' of a product' and acknowledged that a Newspoll survey conducted in April 2010 reported that '63 per cent of respondents incorrectly identified the originating source of a product where the term 'Made in Australia' was used'. The Blewett Review concluded:

The confusion is compounded by the 'Australian owned' claim and by a flood of `Australian Made' logos... At the heart of the confusion is the 'Made in Australia' claim and the efforts of manufacturers to 'highlight the Australian-ness of their foods'.

The Blewett Review made a number of recommendations of direct relevance to country of origin in relation to food specifically:

that mandatory country of origin labelling requirements for all food products be provided for in a specific consumer product information standard for food under the CCA rather than in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code)

that Australia's existing mandatory country of origin labelling requirements for food be maintained and be extended to cover all primary food products for retail sale and

that for foods bearing some form of Australian claim, a consumer-friendly, food-specific country of origin labelling framework, based primarily on the ingoing weight of the ingredients and components (excluding water), be developed.

Government response to the review

Of the three above recommendations in relation to country of origin by the Blewett Review, the Government did not support two of them and merely 'noted' another (the recommendation to extend mandatory country of origin labelling requirements to all primary food products for retail sale).

So I, like many other Australians, am trying to work out why a government would spend all this money on a report which was basically ignored. Why? Was it a case of political donations unduly influencing good government policy? I note that a lot of effort has been put into the description of a 'Made in Australia' logo with a little kangaroo. I have to say, I think most of us do love Skippy.

I am more interested in making sure that a logo which screams 'Made in Tasmania' is given more attention. The Tasmanian brand is better than Australia's. My home state of Tasmania is renowned right around the world for its fresh produce. Our salmon is some of the best in the world, and our dairy products are second to none. And if you have not had a tender, medium rare Cape Grim steak yet, I tell you what, you have not lived. People travel from all over the world to Tasmania to experience the clean, green produce that only Tasmania can provide. Tasmanian producers are passionate, innovative and hardworking people. They pour their hearts and souls into their own products, because a lot of these products are niche. Our air is the most pure in the world, and our soil is the richest. Our biosecurity measures are top notch, to ensure we maintain that clean, green image. But we need to do more to protect the Tasmanian brand.

This bill achieves greater protections by creating clarity around whether a product is entirely made, produced, grown or packaged in Australia or whether it is only partially 'made' in Australia. Under the new bill, the public is empowered to make their own decision and will not feel misled by claims such as 'Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients', when food is only minimally processed in Australia, as they have felt in the past.

This bill requires corporations to be transparent and upfront with the consumer and therefore it protects our farmers and our producers. The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association also supports strong country-of-origin labelling and says that this bill increases the information available to the consumer, allowing them to make more informed decisions.

Just before I finish, I have to say that I did not realise that the labelling in the supermarkets to let you know where the fish comes from is due to Senator Macdonald. I always pay credit where credit is due: kudos to you, Senator Macdonald. That is a great job, and I mean that. People need to know where their seafood is coming from. If we have got that far, maybe we can now get to the fish and chip shops and the restaurants so people know exactly where the seafood is coming from.