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Monday, 24 February 2020
Page: 1133


Senator CICCONE (VictoriaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (13:47): I rise to add my remarks on this bill, the Wine Australia Amendment (Label Directory) Bill 2019, and to those other senators who have made their contributions I think it's fair to say we probably beg to differ here about which state is the best state in producing wines, but it's fair to say Australia produces the best wines in the world and I think we can all have a unity ticket on that point.

As a senator for the great state of Victoria and as someone with Italian heritage, I'm sure it won't come as any surprise that I'm very passionate about viticulture here in our country. My home state is the very proud producer of just over 17 per cent of Australia's total output of wines. No state has more individual wine regions, wineries and diversity of wine varieties than Victoria. Without trying to claim the best wines in the country—although I would hate not to make the point that I do believe that Victoria does offer the best wines in Australia, but my colleagues on my side and those opposite will probably beg to differ—I say it is just really good to see the number of varieties that Australia, since Federation, has been able to produce. We have some of the best wines in the world, and the viticulture industry is certainly one that we should be very proud of. It employs quite a number of people across our nation. Whether it be pinot noir from the Mornington Peninsula or chardonnay from the Yarra Valley—

Senator Dean Smith: Oh, that'd be right—chardonnay!

Senator CICCONE: These are some of Senator Smith's favourite wines, as he's interjecting, but there are a number of Italian varieties that you will find in the King Valley as well, Senator Smith. There can be no doubt that Victoria is the premier wine-making state in Australia.

Senator Hanson-Young: That is rubbish!

Senator CICCONE: Senator Hanson-Young, I say that not just to brag about it but to point out how serious the wine industry is to those I represent—and no doubt to those you represent as well. We are talking about an $8 billion industry which employs around 13,000 in my state of Victoria. Those 13,000 workers work hard every day to ensure that the product is of the highest possible standard in order to allow them to compete in the $460 billion global market.

Whilst we in this place may not be of much help in the vineyard—with the obvious exception of Senator Farrell, who is obviously from South Australia, Senator Hanson-Young; he knows a few things about turning grapes into something special and of great value—there are some things that we can do to help. One thing we can do to help our wine producers is to protect the integrity of their brands. That is the purpose of the bill that we are debating today. It will enable Wine Australia to establish and maintain a publicly accessible directory of all Australian wine labels that are subject to export. This is a rather straightforward proposal. The directory will feature digital images of wine labels and information about the wine and the producer.

It is unfortunate that these measures have become necessary. Owing to the high quality and high value of Australian wines, we've seen in recent years a growing number of counterfeit Australian wines. A number of my colleagues in this place have obviously touched on that point. I will give one example. In November 2017 it was reported that Chinese authorities had seized around 14,000 bottles of wine purporting to be Penfolds. These bottles are very popular amongst many of my colleagues. The wines that were found by Chinese authorities were cheap, readily accessible and looked just like the real thing. Whilst there may have been wine in those bottles, or at least a red liquid of some description, not a drop of it actually came from Penfolds.

I don't want to elaborate at length on the risks that exist to Australian wine brands in a market like China, which itself accounts for almost $1 billion of our export wine value, but when the standards to ensure integrity aren't stringent it does have an impact on the industry as a whole. As we can all imagine, if you had bought one of the bottles of Penfolds that I mentioned earlier, thinking it was the genuine thing, and naturally found the product to be lacking in body and character, you'd be unlikely to buy a second one. With this new directory, wine producers who seek to copy the branding of well-known Australian brands for their own commercial gain will be more easily identified and sanctioned by the regulator. This could also involve the suspension or cancellation of their licences to export.

But there are yet more things we can do to support our nation's wine producers. As has been foreshadowed, Labor will be moving a second reading amendment to this bill to highlight the importance of taking meaningful action to combat climate change and secure the sustainability of Australian viticulture. We know that our climate is changing and we hear from all those involved in agriculture about the impact that this is having on their produce. The recent fires across eastern Australia and in my home state of Victoria have had a profound effect on wine-producing regions.

Labor certainly welcome the Wine Australia Amendment (Label Directory) Bill 2019 and the creation of this new directory. We welcome the opportunity to assist our nation's wine producers to safeguard the integrity of the product. It is great this afternoon to see us talking about the significance of the wine industry in Australia, the importance that it has to our economy and the number of job opportunities that it provides for many regions across Australia as well.

I want to finish by thanking everyone who's made a contribution, and I also want to make the point that it certainly is important that senators in this place stand up for an industry that employs quite a number of people and that has a value outside of Australia, globally. It is something that we should all be very proud of. People do identify with a number of Australian wines, especially those from many parts of our regions, and I'm very pleased that Victoria offers some of the best wines in this country.