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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5326

Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats) (1.15 p.m.) —I wish to speak very briefly today—I will be much briefer than I had intended, because of our time constraints—on food labelling. Labelling laws in this country, when we come to food, are inadequate. Many honourable senators would not be aware of the fact that one really cannot tell where the contents of products come from—and yet those products are labelled `Product of Australia'. For example, tomatoes in tomato sauce are often imported but, because the processing is done here, they can at the moment, under existing laws, be legitimately labelled `Product of Australia'.

  We can go through item after item. I instance the peanuts in peanut butter. Through our work over the last nine months on this issue we can find only one brand of peanut butter that actually has Australian peanuts in it, but all brands are labelled on our shelves `Product of Australia'. More and more Australians are keen to buy Australian products. The problem is that they do not know when they really are buying Australian.

  The Australian Democrats have launched in South Australia, along with a major food retailing chain, Foodland, which is doing this as a public service, a new scheme which allows shoppers to very quickly identify when a product is Australian, when the contents of the product are Australian, when the product is actually put together and processed here and when the company doing all of that is an Australian company.

  The scheme divides products into three categories: category A, category B and category C. These products are identified on the shelves of supermarkets by stickers. Category A has a green sticker, which denotes products made in Australia from Australian materials by an Australian controlled company. Blue stickers show products made in Australia from Australian materials by a foreign controlled company. The red sticker identifies those products that have some significant Australian input, although nothing like A or B. Basically, what we have done is to rank products in order of their direct benefit to the Australian economy.

  This scheme has been up and running in Foodland stores now in South Australia for two months, and it took some four months of investigative work to get it going. We thank all those companies that have cooperated with us by giving us full details of what is actually in their products. To make sure that we do have some honesty and, indeed, that this system is not in any way subverted, I now seek leave to table for discussion purposes a draft Bill and amendments on food labelling. I seek leave to make a brief statement.

  Leave granted.

Senator LEES —This Bill is in draft form because a very large number of groups are now interested in this issue—consumer organisations, the companies themselves and people, such as Harry Wallis, who are at the moment working very hard on the issue of Australian ownership. We already have had suggestions—hence, amendments already. I wish this Bill to lie on the table, as we are obviously coming up to a Federal election. I give notice that after the election I will be formally introducing it and working very hard to see Australia's food labelling laws changed so that those Australians who want to buy a fully Australian product are actually able to identify that product on the shelves.