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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4256

Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (19:44): Tasmanians breathe some of the worlds cleanest air and enjoy rainwater of extraordinary purity. We have pristine coastal seas and rich, fertile soils that enable us to produce the finest foods and products. Alongside our award-winning wine, gin, beef, dairy and stone fruits industries proudly stands our honey industry, particularly that form of honey known as manuka. That's right, I say ma-noo-ka, not ma-na-ka, as those of us familiar with Canberra would say. Apart from the delicious taste, manuka honey contains antibiotic resistant bacteria and other microbes that provide wound-healing and anti-inflammatory benefits. This quality has added to its success and unique sales appeal. High-value manuka honey is currently selling from between $120 and $150 per kilogram, with the global industry estimated to be worth billions.

In my home state of Tasmania, the manuka brand is an important component of our island's export market and a consistent contributor to our global reputation for fine food and produce. However, the manuka product and the future of the industry in Tasmania and, indeed, across Australia is currently under a real threat due to trademark action that has been initiated in the United Kingdom. This action seeks to prevent Australian producers from using the word 'manuka' to market and brand their product. This action has been brought by our cousins across the ditch and, if the action of the New Zealand honey growers should be successful, the consequences for our domestic honey industry would be dire.

Last year, this issue was brought to my attention by local Tasmanian producers Lindsay and Yeonsoon Bourke of Australian Honey Products. Since that initial approach, I—along with my Tasmanian Liberal Senate colleagues Senators Abetz, Colbeck and Duniam, as well as Senator the Hon. James McGrath—have been collaborating with honey producers across the nation, as well as with the federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the Hon. David Littleproud, to help support the defence of this unique and important domestic agricultural industry.

While the trademark action in the UK is yet to be finalised, the newly formed Australian Manuka Honey Association, led by Paul Callander, has been working tirelessly to raise the significant funds required to adequately resource the fight for Australian manuka honey producers to protect their right to continue to brand their product produced using a native Australian plant as manuka honey.

To appreciate the significance of the trademark action, it is important to understand the historical context of manuka honey production in our country. Manuka honey is produced from the Leptospermum scoparium species of plants. Australia is home to over 80 species of Leptospermum scoparium, while New Zealand only has one species, and even that is believed to have originated in Tasmania. Prior to the introduction of the European honey bee, manuka honey did not exist. The honey bee was first introduced to the Australian mainland in 1822, and to Tasmania in 1831. However, it took a further eight years, in 1839, for the European honey bees to make their way to the land of the long white cloud.

Australia has a long and proud association with the word 'manuka', stemming back to early European settlement when the word 'manuka' was used for naming places, property and, of course, the plant. It is, indeed, an Australian term, and not a New Zealand one. I was also pleased to learn that the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council recently committed $50,000 towards fighting the New Zealand trademark action. However, more money is still required, and the Manuka Honey Association is relentlessly working to raise funds. I wish them continued success in their endeavours.

As I and my colleagues work to identify possible means of assistance, I was delighted by the announcement from the agriculture minister that the federal coalition government has granted $165,000 to the Australian Manuka Honey Association to assist them in marketing manuka products, educating the public and building the manuka brand across Australia. Not only will this help build awareness of the manuka brand, to the good of the industry, but it will also be particularly important in highlighting to multiple stakeholder groups just how vital this multimillion-dollar industry is, especially to regional and rural Australia like in my home state of Tasmania, and help generate additional support.

The mere suggestion that a single nation should be able to use trademark law to claim a name in common use for a product long produced in other countries across the globe is, quite frankly, simply wrong. Common sense and some good old-fashioned fair play need to prevail in this matter. Tonight I want to reassure Australian manuka honey growers, particularly those in my home state of Tasmania, that I remain committed to continuing to work with both industry and government stakeholders to ensure that manuka honey producers remain able to export their first-class products under the label 'manuka honey' for many years to come.