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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 3079


Ms KEAY (Braddon) (18:17): I thank the member for La Trobe for bringing this motion to the parliament today into this chamber to debate. The motion calls for a change, so that we have palm oil being labelled on products—noting that labelling is currently misleading; that palm oil contains 50 per cent of saturated fats which is dangerous to consumers with heart and other conditions; and the environmental damage and loss of habitat for threatened species. The United Nations Environment Program identified that palm plantations are a problem because of deforestation of rainforests and loss of habitats, which is the greatest threat to the orangutan. Such transformation of land has led to increases in greenhouse gas emissions and threats to biodiversity. Palm oil is the most produced and traded oil. It employs about six million people globally and has been a key factor in moving many communities out of poverty. We have seen a rapid rate of growth in South-East Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia, producing around 85 per cent of the world's palm oil.

Labelling that informs people of what they are eating and where food comes from is a policy that Labor supports. It is important for health reasons that people know what types of oils they are eating. As we know, palm oil has high levels of saturated fats, which is a cause of cardiovascular disease, and contains palmitic acid, which is a chief constituent of palm oil that affect insulin and leptin regulation of glucose and appetite. At the moment, consumers cannot identify what type of oil they are consuming, because the oils are genetically listed on labelling. To understand what is on a written label and, I guess, to support this motion, it is important for people to have a higher level of health literacy to make an informed choice, particularly if health is a key driver of consumer choice. I think it is very critical that, whilst we are looking at changing labelling, we need to place a bit more emphasis on preventative health to educate people on such matters.

The environmental issues are of a great concern to the industry. Through consumer choice and pressure placed on multinational manufacturers, they should be demanding a more sustainable source of palm oil. But what this motion does not highlight is that there are significant labour issues within this industry: child labour; low wages; abuse of migrant labour from countries such as Nepal, the Philippines and Bangladesh; debt bondage; labour trafficking; tens of thousands—if not more—stateless children of parents working in the plantations; and violations to human rights. Yet this industry provides significant economic support for communities in Malaysia and Indonesia, employing around 3½ million people, so much so that that has been a driver of people coming out of poverty.

Much has been done to address these issues. What has been mentioned is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certification system that assists in identifying palm oil that has been sustainably harvested, and also work in the area around labour, with Free and Fair Labor in Palm Oil Production: Principles and Implementation Guidance released to inform the minimum standards for plantations. What has previously been mentioned by other speakers is the Blewett report, and I think that highlighted the need for much broader labelling around oils and sugars. I think it is very prudent that recommendation 12 out of that review, which the ministerial forum will be looking at at the end of this month, is actually supported, and I do hope that is the case.

Previous attempts by private members' bills looking at changing labelling to address palm oil have failed. They have failed because they have looked outside the process, which is that the states and territories are the bodies that are responsible for the regulation and enforcement of food labelling. They have failed for a number of reasons around the cost to business. In fact, it is quite ironic that the Abbott opposition at the time actually supported the bill, which would have cost Australian businesses $150 million to implement the changes. Not only that; there are our obligations under the World Trade Organisation, so we need to be very mindful of what we do with that. The regulatory system in place with the states and territories is a way forward, and I do hope that those ministers meeting at the end of the month do support recommendation 12.

But will that change deforestation? Probably not. Will it lead to better health outcomes? Maybe so. I think the key message, though, is that this government has not put a lot of emphasis on prevention measures for health. If you do not have a high level of health literacy, it does not matter what labelling is there. We need to ensure that those programs are funded, that those that have poor health outcomes do have a higher level of health literacy and do gain out of— (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.