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Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Page: 9446


Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (16:48): I present the report of the Economics References Committee on Australian food certification schemes and certifiers together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator DASTYARI: Before I get to some of the content of the report, I want to begin by acknowledging the opportunity that I was afforded, as chair of this inquiry for almost all of its duration, to work with Senator Bernardi. Senator Bernardi and I worked, I think, quite well together. I want to acknowledge and thank Senator Bernardi's staff, who are an outstanding team. There is not much that Senator Bernardi and I necessarily agree on what it comes to policy but rarely do I find Senator Bernardi disagreeable. While people in this chamber can come to some very different views, it was an opportunity to be able to work well with someone from whom I have a very different world view.

I am going to say nice things about him to kind of ruin his reputation, which is a hard thing to do. We had the opportunity to travel around the country. We spent some time together. A couple of journalists pointed out that you and I together was a bit like that 1988 classic, Twins, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. I thought that was very mean to Senator Bernardi because while the physical resemblance between myself and Arnold Schwarzenegger is clear, I think it is also clear that Senator Bernardi looks nothing like Danny DeVito, and I think the references were misplaced.

There is a lot of agreement on some of the substance around how you can improve the domestic certification scheme. To put it quite simply, as the report says, firstly the government should consider taking a more active role in the monitoring and compliance of halal certification to ensure that goods in the domestic market comply with the same standard as the export market. Secondly, that the halal certification industry should consider establishing a single halal certification authority and a single national registered trademark. And thirdly, that all food products should be clearly labelled.

Obviously, there is a lot more detail in the report that I will not have the opportunity to go to now. Really what there is this great gap between what is a well regulated, well-run export market and a domestic market in which there has been the opportunity for a handful of scammers to take advantage of well-meaning businesses. There was a real disappointment for me that at the heart of this inquiry. there was an incredible amount of Islamophobic hate and race mongering that, I think, comes at the heart of some of the views that were presented here, barely disguised or concealed under the guise of freedom of choice and freedom of religion.

My staff and my team put up with all sorts of abuse during the inquiry. I am sure I speak for all senators and their staff when I reiterate that we do not appreciate being directly confronted by those types of extreme views. I note that the Food and Grocery Council also advised the inquiry that their members had been subjected to abusive mail and to abusive phone calls.

That being said, I want to extend my sincere thanks to the incredible staff who were co-opted onto the Senate Economics Committee for this work. Mark Fitt, who was the secretary, is an incredible man. He is incredibly talented and it was a pleasure to work with him. Not only have they done an excellent job drafting this report but also they waded through almost 1,500 different submissions. The committee would have preferred to publish all submissions but a regrettably large number were simply anti-Islamic and some will remain confidential largely as a result of that. The committee welcomed the input from all witnesses at its hearings but it is careful to dispel the assertion that the views expressed by any individuals necessarily represented the views held by the senators.

I briefly want to touch on the issue of terrorism. A significant number of submitters speculated that a link might exist between halal certification in Australia and terrorist activity. The committee considered the serious allegations very closely and sought the clarification of a number of government agencies with expertise in anti-money-laundering and in counter-terrorism financing. AUSTRAC stated that, despite these allegations, such a link does not exist. Representatives of the Australian Crime Commission confirmed that no direct link exists, in their opinion, between halal certification in Australia and the funding of terrorism. That being said, however, and while I strongly hold the view that the evidence provided made it clear that not only does that link no longer exist but it does not say that there are not simple, practical reforms that can be undertaken to improve the halal certification industry.

It is an inescapable fact that halal certification is poorly understood and, arguably, under regulated certainly in the domestic market. This compromises the integrity of the system and has allowed questionable conduct by certifiers of questionable expertise and questionable intent. They are certifiers out there, particularly in the domestic market, who are nothing more than scammers. This has undermined public confidence and, in the view of this report, amplified be perceived seriousness of any shortcomings which may exist. But, improvements can be made and there are reforms that can happen. For this to happen, Australian businesses, halal certifiers and government agencies should work together to design, implement and oversee an authoritative, consistent and transparent standard and an authoritative, consistent and transparent system of certification. The committee hopes and I certainly hope that this opportunity will not be missed. I commend this report to the Senate and move:

That the Senate take note of the Report.