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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 268

Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (12:34): As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I rise to support the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016. Before speaking further, though, I want to make clear that I support Senator Macdonald's comments supporting freedom of choice because that is what is at the heart of this bill: informed freedom of choice. I also support his comments on the Great Barrier Reef.

This bill, though, seeks to clarify and improve consumer law by amending schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The bill is primarily intended to simplify the tests used to justify a country of origin 'made in' claim by clarifying what the phrase 'substantial transformation' really means and by removing the 50 per cent production cost test. This bill tightens the definition of what is really Australian made in the country-of-origin food labelling requirements. It makes 'country of origin' or 'Australian made' legitimate.

I understand that this bill forms part of the government's broader country-of-origin labelling package, previously agreed by the states, along with the Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016 which commenced last year. Currently, the definition of 'Australian made' is based on having at least 50 per cent Australian production cost, which leads to misleading labelling of foreign foods as 'made in Australia' when in fact they may have only been minimally processed in Australia. Under this bill, the country-of-origin labelling requirements for food will be strengthened and moved to an information standard under the Australian Consumer Law. The new labels for food will include a bar chart to indicate the proportion of Australian ingredients in the food. As part of this process, foods grown, produced or made in Australia will be identified by the traditional kangaroo-in-a-triangle Australian made symbol.

I congratulate the government for adopting this measure, as this is exactly the approach Pauline Hanson's One Nation Political Party has been advocating as policy for many years. As a One Nation senator for Queensland, I am strongly committed to supporting Australian grown, packaged and manufactured goods and products, and our party is strongly committed to identifying and promoting genuinely Australian made products and exposing bogus Australian-sounding imports as frauds. Of course, this bill is just the latest in a long line of excellent One Nation policies adopted by the government. There is another one and that is coal-fired power. What a remarkable change in just three months. Sadly, our own Queensland Premier says 'no more coal-fired power stations'. So I can only express my hope that this bill is but the next of many more One Nation policies that the government will choose to adopt in the future.

However, one pressing issue regarding food imports that this bill does not consider is the allowing of contaminated foodstuffs into Australia and the blending of imported foodstuffs with Australian produce in bonded warehouses prior to importation. This wholly inappropriate practice, which may only be revealed on the label of foodstuffs as 'contains mix of Australian and imported ingredients', needs to be prohibited. Perniciously, in the case of peanuts for example, I understand that this blending prior to import inspection is done because the much cheaper imported ingredients contain levels of contaminants that do not meet Australian health standards.

Peanuts are notorious for absorbing any available cadmium from the soil in which they grow. Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal that accumulates in the human body and is a major cause of adult kidney failure. Thanks to the clean unpolluted Australian environment, Australian grown peanuts contain no cadmium, while Chinese peanuts, as a result of their proximity to polluting Chinese heavy industries, may be heavily contaminated with this poison. Because of the serious health risk that they pose, contaminated Chinese peanuts should be considered a prohibited import. Reprehensibly, in order to maximize profits, unscrupulous importers have sought to subvert Australia's food health standards and import restrictions by importing these cheap, cadmium contaminated Chinese peanuts and, I understand, blending them with cadmium free Australian peanuts in bonded warehouses, prior to customs inspections. Food that is imported into Australia is regulated by the Imported Food Control Act 1992 and the Imported Food Control Regulations 1993. Together, these statutes provide for the Food Inspection Scheme. Currently all imported peanuts are classified as a risk food as a result of the danger of cadmium contamination.

Even though all food products ultimately offered for sale in Australia must meet our health standards, experts have argued that in some areas, such as heavy metal contamination, health regulations may reflect 1950s 'acceptable' contamination limits and are seriously out of date. Thus, while schedule 19 of the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code sets the maximum allowable level of cadmium that may be contained in peanuts as 0.5mg/kg, given that virtually any cadmium—any cadmium—consumed remains in the body for life, most medical experts today argue that there are no truly safe levels of cumulative toxins like cadmium, and therefore the safest course is to avoid any food exposure at all.

Accordingly, whilst it goes beyond the scope of the bill currently under consideration, I strongly urge the government to outlaw practices such as the blending of Australian and imported goods prior to food safety testing, and to declare peanuts containing cadmium a prohibited import. This will eliminate a very real and totally unnecessary threat to the health of Australians.

For the information of the Australian people, to my knowledge only Dick Smith brand peanut butter is made with exclusively Australian peanuts, which are of course cadmium free. Until such time as this issue is addressed and cadmium contaminated peanuts are declared a prohibited import, I urge all Australians who value their kidneys to read the country-of-origin label on peanuts and eat only safe Australian grown peanuts, and consider buying only Dick Smith brand peanut butter.

While supportive of this legislation, I believe we as a parliament need to address the core issue for bringing back Australian food production, both in quality and quantity, and bringing back manufacturing. After 42 years of de-industrialisation under Liberal/National coalitions and under Labor/Greens coalitions, we must re-industrialise our country. To re-industrialise we must face up to the core issue: comprehensive tax reform at the state and federal levels, instead of window-dressing.

Further, to continue with Senator Macdonald comments on the fishing industry, it is my understanding that this island on which we live is the largest in the world and yet we import almost three-quarters of the seafood we eat. All that Australian farmers, fishermen and manufacturers want is a fair go. Ultimately, this bill gives people an informed freedom of choice. Notwithstanding the issues of toxins and tax, I otherwise commend this legislation to the Senate.