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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 393

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (18:54): The Labor Party does not support Senator Xenophon's amendment to the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016. I indicated to the minister that we would facilitate passage of this bill, so I will not be speaking at length on this question. I do have a serious matter that I do want addressed, and I will just explain to Senator Xenophon: the proposal you have advanced is, I understand, based on a sincere commitment to the strengthening of the regulatory regime, and I appreciate the intent of your sentiments in that regard. However, the moves to make the country of origin labelling more flexible, more digitalised, are of course something that both industry and consumers have more options on, and I think this bill does provide us with an opportunity to genuinely improve the amount of information that is available. I am also highly conscious of the fact that the minister has indicated that in terms of this particular regulation there is a requirement for Commonwealth-state agreement.

We are supporting these reforms, but we do not believe that the arrangements this bill puts in place are perfect. Many further improvements are required. I have been spending more and more time in the food industry's processing plants in this country. Recently I visited the Australian smallgoods food manufacturer Bertocchi. Bertocchi is a major manufacturing employer in Melbourne's north and is making significant investments in plant and new equipment. When those investments are completed there will be something like 700 people on the payroll at Bertocchi. It is the third largest smallgoods manufacturer in the country. This is exactly the sort of investment we need, especially in Victoria, given what is happening with the automotive industry.

Food manufacturers like Bertocchi work in a highly regulated industry, and changes to labelling have very serious impacts on their costs of doing business. I have spoken to the company about their concerns and the need for greater flexibility. I have raised these concerns with the minister, and I want to thank the minister for facilitating access to the department at senior officer level and through AusIndustry. There are a range of issues that Bertocchi needs assistance on, which can best be provided by direct contact with serious people within the department.

The point here, though, is that the proposal Senator Xenophon has advanced to us today does not solve the problems for Bertocchi. Changes to the country of origin labelling which are already in place are the result of very extensive consultation with industry and consumers as well as state and federal governments, and I do not think we can step outside that process. The circumventing of this process with new reporting requirements, additional reporting requirements, introduced at the 11th hour is not an advisable way to be introducing regulations of this importance, particularly regulations that have such wide-ranging and potentially negative impacts on Australian food manufacturers—and, I might suggest, with limited benefit to consumers.

I note the minister's statements reflected in the explanatory memorandum in regard to the review process after two years. If the changes to the reporting requirement are needed, I think the review process provides us with an opportunity to secure further changes in a well thought out, coherent way. But my question really goes to this: Minister, you have made some assurances, which I appreciate, but I really think it is appropriate that you outline to the chamber what this review mechanism is—what do you have in mind? How will the process be managed? How will you be able to ensure through any such process that the regulatory system will be genuinely flexible and the best practice for Australian manufacturers such as Bertocchi? What precisely do you have in mind in regard to the review? How are you going to fund it, and what actually is the process of engagement with industry?