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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 4155

Senator XENOPHON (2:49 PM) —My question is to Senator Sherry, representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. It relates to the government’s financial support for Australian Made Campaign Ltd, a not-for-profit public company established by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and its network state and territory chambers, and the recent extensive advertising campaign they have been promoting. The campaign receives partial funding from the department. It is designed to assist consumers to identify Australian made and Australian grown produce as well as Australian owned companies. But the definitions of what constitutes an Australian product could arguably cause more confusion to consumers. For example, under the definitions endorsed—

The PRESIDENT —Is there a question, Senator Xenophon?

Senator XENOPHON —Yes, there is.

The PRESIDENT —You might come to the question.

Senator XENOPHON —Very well. Given that this campaign can easily create confusion amongst consumers, given that a product can be labelled ‘made in Australia’ even if 50 per cent of its production has occurred overseas, can the minister reveal what level of taxpayer funding is being provided to it?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —Thank you, Senator Xenophon. I think the questions are getting better as question time goes on. Senator Xenophon, you did give me some notice and I think you raise an important issue in the context of the Australian Made Campaign and food labelling laws in this country. Firstly, the department provided some $1.69 million in seed funding to 30 June for the start-up marketing and promotion of the Australian Grown campaign. In your question—your long and detailed question—you did pose a number of I think quite reasonable issues that—

Honourable senators interjecting—

Senator SHERRY —No, seriously—they were perfectly reasonable issues that the minister I represent, Mr Burke, has been giving some consideration to. I note the minister was recently interviewed by Leon Byner—I think he is familiar to you, Senator Xenophon—on 5AA in Adelaide. In fact he interviewed the minister I represent, Mr Burke, on the matters that you raise. That followed, of course, the publication in, I think, the Adelaide Advertiser, which I must confess I do read, even on the north-west coast of Tasmania. It is as impressive a paper as the Advocate. The minister went through a range of issues. To start with, the minister acknowledged that the bureaucratic and ministerial oversight in determining the food labelling laws in this country usually, as represented by the health minister, the agriculture minister— (Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that a product can be called ‘Australian grown’ even if some of the production processes have occurred overseas and that a company can call itself ‘Australian owned’ even if all of its products are manufactured overseas, and given the taxpayer support for this campaign, why hasn’t the government demanded stricter definitions for Australian made and Australian grown products in order to protect consumers and Australian producers?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —In going on—I am reading the interview—I note the minister did refer to this issue. In fact, he referred to the example of a cake that is labelled a fruitcake. It is not that famous GST cake—some of us remember that GST cake back in ’93—but a fruitcake labelled—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator SHERRY —There are very unparliamentary interjections about fruitcakes coming across the chamber.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Sherry, ignore interjections and answer the question that has been asked.

Senator SHERRY —The minister acknowledged, for example, that a fruitcake that is labelled ‘made in Australia’ can be made of imported fruit, and he rightly pointed out that, in the context of the ‘grown in Australia’ label, the cake perhaps should indicate where the food itself is grown. So there is certainly an issue here that the minister has acknowledged. He also acknowledged that the council— (Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the anomalies referred to by the minister, will the government withhold taxpayer funding for this campaign until the definitions of ‘Australian made’ and ‘Australian grown’ are changed to mean that labelled products are completely made in Australia and completely grown in Australia?

Senator Boswell —What are you going to do about Cadbury and Campbell?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —I do notice it is Senator Xenophon asking questions about this, not those doormats down there in the National Party. Senator Boswell is finally alive to something on this issue. Anyway, the Australian government and the minister recognise that consumers are confused by these food-labelling laws. The government is committed to simplifying and strengthening the food-labelling laws, and the minister indicated this during a radio interview. The department is investigating options to simplify and strengthen food-labelling laws in the Food Standards Code and the Trade Practices Act, and the government will do so through this ministerial council. In terms of the funding, as I have indicated in my first response, the moneys provided were seed funding. My assumption is that they— (Time expired)