March 18, 2015
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland—Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (10:43): I seek leave to speak in relation to the report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industry's inquiry into country-of-origin food labelling, A clearer message for consumers.
Mr CHESTER: In seeking leave, I acknowledge that I have spoken previously in relation to the report. But I acknowledge also the contribution by the member for Hunter, and I also congratulate and commend the member for Grey for his outstanding work in chairing this committee.
I acknowledge from the outset that, since the release of this report, the issue has moved quite considerably in the public's eye. I acknowledge that the member for Hunter referred specifically to the issue of the imported berries and whether there has been a link to hepatitis A associated with that importation. He quite correctly indicated that, while that has caught the public's attention and has probably focused activity in relation to country-of-origin labelling, there was nothing in that outbreak and the link to the Australian company involved that would have been fixed, if you like, by country-of-origin labelling, because the berries were actually labelled quite clearly. As I have said in the past, and I say now for the record, the company involved in this issue, Patties Foods, are a fantastic Australian company doing a remarkably good job in a whole range of food manufacturing areas. They have taken their responsibilities very seriously in relation to this matter. They employ 500 people in my electorate of Gippsland and around 650 people around Australia, and I know they are working very diligently with the government to overcome any issues associated with the importation of berries and other products.
I want to speak very briefly, and I appreciate the member for Grey giving me this opportunity, in relation to one particular issue that was covered in the report. It was recommendation 7 where the committee recommended:
… that the Northern Territory’s country of origin labelling of seafood in the food service sector be referred to the Council of Australian Governments for consideration
As I said last year on this issue, this is a particularly important issue for the people of Gippsland as well as more particularly for the broader seafood-consuming public. What we have seen in the Northern Territory over the last several years is a regulatory environment where diners in restaurants, in clubs, in bistros and in pubs are fully informed when they purchase seafood. We do not have that luxury in any other state or territory in Australia, and that is a problem for Australian consumers.
My particular interest obviously relates to the fact that I have a large fishing fleet in my electorate of Gippsland that is based in Lakes Entrance, and the Lakes Entrance Fishermen's Co-op, under general manager, Dale Sumner, have been particularly active in this space. They are not anti imports by any stretch of the imagination, but they are pro information. I will quote the general manager, Dale Sumner, in an article from last week in my local newspaper, the Bairnsdale Advertiser of 13 March. He said:
I am not against imported seafood—seafood consumption exceeds the ability to produce in Australia—however consumers are being misled on occasions, and in being misled, are expecting to buy Australian or local species, when in some instances it will be an imported option.
Labelling changes is about having the ability, when looking at the menu, to easily make the decision to buy either an imported meal, or they might be able to choose an Australian option.
I commend the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industry for the work it has done in relation to this issue. The committee acknowledged that Australian consumers have a desire for quality Australian seafood, and I would simply say that consumers have a right to know. They have the right to know where their seafood has come from; they deserve to have confidence in a product. If they are choosing to pay a premium for the Australian grown or the Australian harvested wild catch, that is their decision to make as a fully-informed customer. I encourage the states and territories to work with the Commonwealth on this particular recommendation. I think it is the fair thing to do for consumers. The cost to the small business sector is minimal, and we have been fortunate in this case as the Northern Territory experience has actually given us a trial. We have seen it in action and it has been well received.
In closing, I would make one final point. I was at the Metung Hotel on Friday night, and on the board above the menu was a declaration from the Metung Hotel proprietors that all the seafood that was sold on their menu was from either Lakes Entrance or sourced from the Melbourne wholesale seafood markets, and consumers loved it. They loved knowing where their product was coming from.
Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting—
Mr CHESTER: It was good food, and the manager and owner of the Metung Hotel, David Strange, will be happy to—
Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting—
Mr CHESTER: The member for Hunter is incorrigible in encouraging me to talk about other issues relating to the Metung Hotel, one of the finest hotels in Gippsland. It is located on Bancroft Bay. The member for Hunter is most welcome at any stage in his efforts to unseat me in Gippsland. I know I am part of his marginal seat campaign; I am sure he is going to be down there at some stage. I will take great delight in taking the member for Hunter out to the Metung Hotel. He can enjoy the fresh local seafood. We may even consume some Hunter Valley wines.