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Christine Milne: 'We can legislate for country-of-origin labeling right now'

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, speaks about the need for the Abbott Government to immediately implement Country of Origin food labeling legislation to protect public health and Australian farmers.

Senator MILNE: I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Abbott Government to immediately implement Country of Origin food labelling legislation to protect public health and Australian farmers.

I rise today to absolutely suggest that we get on with the issue of country-of-origin labelling. We do not need any more discussion; we do not need any more reports to cabinet. We can legislate for it right now. We all know that there have been 18 cases of hepatitis A across four states related to the contamination of berries. That has brought clearly into focus the need for having clear labelling of our food products in Australia.

This matter has a long history. It has not just been thought of in the last five minutes. Frankly, it was a joke to hear the agriculture minister suggesting that people have just got on the bandwagon at the last minute. In fact, in 1998 my former colleague, former senator Bob Brown, moved amendments to the 'Made in Australia' legislation and they were not supported by anyone in the Labor Party or the coalition at that time. He tried again in 2005 and, once again, the coalition and Labor opposed the Greens 'Truth in labelling' bill in the Senate. Come 2009-and this would be of interest to former Senator Joyce, now Minister Joyce-former senator Bob Brown, Senator Xenophon and Barnaby Joyce co-introduced a bill to require FSANZ to develop and approve food product labelling standards to be used by food producers, manufacturers and distributors.

Three times since then I have introduced this legislation. It has been through Senate inquiries. We have been through it endless times and, as a result of all those inquiries, it is now very clear what we need to do. We need to change it so that we get rid of that nonsense: 'Made from imported and local ingredients.' No-one knows what that means. No-one knows how much of what in any packet or product is imported or how much is local and, if so, which bits? Nothing. What now needs to be done is very clear: we need a table that stipulates that all significant ingredients are Australian and that, where all processing is undertaken in Australia, it must be labelled with either 'Product of Australia' or 'Produce of Australia.'

Where there has been a substantial transformation-that is, where manufacturing has gone into it-then it needs to be labelled 'Manufactured in Australia' or 'Australian Manufactured.' That clearly tells you that it was substantially transformed here to Australian health and safety standards. It makes no inference about where the product actually came from in the first place, but it tells you that it was actually manufactured here. We have also opted to do this in a positive way so that you can say 'manufactured here using Australian milk', or 'using' some other product. Cadbury, for example, could do chocolate 'manufactured in Australia from Australian milk'. We need to do that. The third category is when it just packaged in Australia. If it only says 'packaged in Australia' then you can make the assumption that it has been grown and brought here, and sliced up and put on to a tray with gladwrap or whatever on it.

We know what to do. We have been through this a thousand times. It is now the job of government to get on with it. But what we have seen is that the minute we get to this stage, the big food manufacturers move in, make big donations to the Liberal, Labor and National parties and suddenly there are a thousand technical reasons why this cannot go ahead. Do not do it again. Do not listen to the food and beverage council. We have had it time and time again-the multinational food corporations buy off the major parties and that is an end to it. We now need to fix this.

It is not just about labelling-this is, of course, about labelling, but you have to see the trade agreements in the same category. We cannot allow free trade agreements to make it harder for Australian farmers to be able to compete and sell their product in Australia. There are two issues here: let us get on with country of origin labelling. We know what to do. Do not put it off to endless more processes-let us get on with it. Please take the Greens bill. Let us discuss that. Let us get it through across this parliament. If you are serious about it, we can do it. If you are not then say that political donations are going to blow it up again. Let us have some honesty in this debate about where it needs to go. At the same time, with the discussion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other free trade agreements, do not sign up to agreements that put Australian farmers at a disadvantage, where they comply with health and safety and environment standards and their overseas competitors do not have to do it.

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