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Transcript of interview with Mary Good: ABC Rural: 16 July 2009: [Russian suspension of meat imports]

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Tony Burke - interviewed by Mary Goode, ABC Rural

16 July 2009

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke Interviewed by with Mary Goode, ABC Rural


MARY GOODE: Well the Federal Government admits it doesn't know why the Russians have suspended meat imports from 24 Australian processors. They include beef, sheep meat and game. Federal Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke says the Russians have also banned meat imports from other countries.

TONY BURKE: The Russians have said that they believe these are minor technical issues. They have shown some level of optimism in us being able to work through them. There's a large number of countries which have had similar suspensions from Russia, and so we're now having our officials meet and work through with Russia precisely what this is. We continue to have a high level of confidence that all of our Australian standards are being met.

MARY GOODE: What exactly is the problem though?

TONY BURKE: On the precision of the problem, this is where the Russians are saying that they believe there are some problems with sanitary control systems. On the precise detail of exactly what they want changed, that's something that we're still having our officials work through with them. They'll consistently describe it as being minor technical matters, but getting the precise issues as to what Russia wants changed is something that is still a process of working through official to official.

MARY GOODE: It's understood that they had problems with an E coli contamination with kangaroo meat. Is that what you understand and is it the same through the beef, sheep meat and game meats as well?

TONY BURKE: These are issues that were raised originally prior to the auditing process. Following the auditing process, and following the suspension, they've been a bit more general in terms of what precisely it is they want changed.

MARY GOODE: The Russian Ambassador says the Australian Government has known about these problems since last year. Why have you let it get to this stage where trade has been suspended?

TONY BURKE: Well the - I had a meeting with the Russian Minister earlier in the year, and when I met, they were saying that they expected for Australia to meet their standards. We said that we were happy to meet the standards, and whatever issues that they wanted to raise following the auditing process, we'd be happy to be able to deal with. Russia has handled this issue with Australia in a way that they've handled it with a large number of other countries, which is, to conduct the audits, and then go to mass suspensions and then move fairly slowly on the detail as to precisely what it is that they want fixed.

MARY GOODE: So there's been a suspension of 24 processors, not an ideal situation. What's being done to fix the problem?

TONY BURKE: We have made contact through direct letter between myself and the Ambassador in Australia to get access for one of our senior AQIS officials to be able to meet with their officials. And so, that process and negotiation of time line - obviously we want it as soon as possible - and to get that time line is something that we're still waiting for a clear Russian response on.

Once we have those formal meetings, at that point there will, I imagine, have to be a higher level of precision on the table as to what it is that they believe needs to be changed.

MARY GOODE: It sounds like you've had quite a few meetings with the Russian Government and the Russians over this.

I think con... producers would be concerned though that the Australian Government still doesn't know what the problem is here.

TONY BURKE: And this is a position, as I say, we're not the only government in the situation. Ultimately there are answers that can only be given to us by the Russian Government and we're doing everything that's available to us to be able to get those answers.

MARY GOODE: Considering that some of the problem has been e-coli contamination, what agency in Australia is actually responsible for checking these sorts of problems at our end?

TONY BURKE: Well, at our end, everything in terms of quality for export and export certification is done by our quarantine services, by AQIS; they monitor the industry compliance on that. And, you know, the Government and the industry itself, has a, you know, has a very high commitment to ensuring the safety and the integrity of product exported. The Russians have formed a view that they don't believe we're meeting that; but precisely what they want changed is something that the Russian Government has not made clear to Australia.