May 2013

BILLS: Imported Food Warning Labels Bill 2013 First Reading

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Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (10:33): I present the Imported Food Warning Labels Bill 2013 and explanatory memorandum. I move:

That leave be given to introduce the bill.

Question agreed to.

Mr KATTER: We are introducing this bill so that consumers can make informed choices about the potential health risks of purchasing and consuming imported food products. Australia's stringent regulatory environment producing our own food and processing our own food ensures Australia retains its favourable health status and our products' health, clean and green images. However, our foreign competitors can use chemicals not approved for use in Australia and processes with the highest levels of health risks—streptomycin on apples from New Zealand to combat fire blight; a pesticide for citrus totally banned in Australia; sewage from waste water going into prawns from fish farms in Vietnam. Australia's industries are placed at risk by the importation of disease and infections that would have devastating social and economic impacts as well as environmental impacts.

Having said those things, contaminants such as poisonous pesticides and weedicides are in all of these products coming into Australia. The process is being used. In some cases in Vietnam, there is sewage going directly into rivers, but it is being indirectly dumped into rivers in both Thailand and China, and water is taken out of the rivers and then put into the ponds. One of the reasons that our seafood, fish-farming and prawn-farming industries are non-competitive is that we must have pristine pure water not only coming in but also going out, which means it has to be processed three or four times before it goes back into the river. This is in contrast to countries that dump raw sewage and waste water into the rivers, then take water out of the rivers and put it into the ponds, and then just dump the water straight back into the rivers. It is impossible for us to compete on such a precipitously unlevel playing field.

We pleaded with the government not to allow prawns in from overseas. The government persisted in introducing the prawns from overseas, so we got white spot. Twenty-three tonnes of poison had to be dumped in the Darwin harbour to try and destroy the white spot. Very sadly, IHHNV is rife on the Great Barrier Reef now. We said, 'If you bring the prawns in, we'll get IHHNV.' Well, now we have got it, devastating our Great Barrier Reef.

As far as the risk to human health goes, it is very real and very immediate. A little boy died at Mackay a few weeks ago from hendra virus. There was another outbreak of hendra virus last week or the week before. Lyssavirus for the first time ever was found in horses. It is generally assumed that, if it can get into horses, it can get into humans. If you get lyssavirus, you die. If you get hendra virus, you have a one in three chance of dying. There are mutations of those diseases which become almost identical to the Ebola strain of that particular disease. We have not got SARS in Australia yet, or avian influenza, but if we have no restrictions and no warnings then these things will be consumed and we will get the people strain as well as the animal and plant strains in our Australian community.

Papaya fruit fly, citrus canker and black sigatoka have already come in, at a cost of $300 million or $400 million, if you add all of the costs of eradication. If foot-and-mouth disease comes in, the losses will be $3,000 million or $4,000 million a year. It would be similar with bluetongue. Some have said this is backdoor protectionism. Well, I will not be apologising to anyone if it is. I have compared our regime for prawn and fish farming with the regimes used by our competitors. There is the delightful, quaint aspiration in this place that we will be a food supplier to Asia. In fact, if you extrapolate the prawn and fish production in China, which is almost a vertical graph at the present moment, for 40 or 50 years, almost all of the world's protein will be provided out of China—and it does not need landmass, of course; these things can be grown out in the sea in plastic containers.

To give you an idea how unlevel the playing field is at the present moment: our interest rates are 2.7 per cent and the rest of the world's are below 0.2 per cent, which is propping our dollar up to twice its value so all of our competitors are at a 50 per cent disadvantage. On top of that, total support levels—tariff subsidies, if you like—are 41 per cent in the OECD and 4.5 per cent in Australia. So there is a 100 per cent difference on just two items. Not only that: our sugar is not allowed into the United States or into Europe and our beef is not allowed into China or into Europe. It is under 20,000 tonnes; it is almost invisible, the amount that is allowed into those countries. None of our product is allowed into the European Union or the United States—1,000 million people. And with beef to China and Europe: 2,000 million people. A third of the world's population live in those two entities, if you like.

We are also up against people who work for a disgraceful $5.02 a day, for example, in the Philippines, whereas our agricultural wage costs—quite rightly, and proudly—are $19.80 an hour. So we say that there is an extremely un-level playing field out there, and we will not be apologising for that whatsoever.

But anyone who votes against the proposal by me and my honourable colleague from Hobart here believes that we should eat apples in this country with streptomycin on them. They believe that we should consume citrus product that has carbendazim, which is a poison that is used extensively in the citrus industry in Brazil. There are traces of it in all product coming in from Brazil. All product coming in from Brazil will contain trace elements of that, and it is banned in Australia.

With cadmium levels, then Minister Truss raised the amount of poison allowed in from other countries so that we could allow peanuts to come in from Texas and China. His reason for putting Australians' health at risk was to help other countries to export product into Australia. A most extraordinary statement! If you have more cadmium consumption then you will have a much greater risk of some terrible diseases, which I am not going to go into here—they are very unpleasant and even the use of the words is very unpleasant. So I will not go into those diseases, even though I am familiar with the dangers from cadmium.

We have a procedure by which Australian standards are at one level and the world's standards are at another level. Surely a consumer is entitled to know that that item coming into Australia is an import and has that risk attached to it? We put that on every packet of cigarettes; why should it not be put upon these articles coming in from overseas, where the risk may be less but very real indeed?

Bill read a first time.

Debate adjourned.


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