Bill's Speeches

CRIMINAL CODE AMENDMENT (FOOD CONTAMINATION) BILL 2018 - CANBERRA - THURSDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER 2018

*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

Thank you.
 
I rise to support this legislation.
 
I just want to speak to the consumers and the growers and the people of Australia to explain why we support this legislation and our view about the current matters. 
 
We do fully support our growers and we fully support our farmers. 
 
We will support these laws. 
 
The Shadow Attorney General has gone through some of the issues and concerns, however we will support them.
 
Very briefly on the actual laws; they impose very strict penalties. 
 
They will act, we hope, as strong deterrents for anyone considering the stupid, cowardly and frankly bizarre act of tampering with the fruit and veggies that Australians eat.
 
Now, I acknowledge that there are already significant laws in the states and the Commonwealth.
 
We are proposing to amend these Commonwealth laws and on this occasion, we will support it. 
 
But in the broader-sense - and I'm keen to talk to the Prime Minister about this - as some of the immediate urgency around the contamination of some strawberries abates, I do think that we need to have a national discussion about what we could have done better in the last few days. 
 
Tampering with food, though rare, is not unprecedented but it seems that this matter has caught our authorities and experts off guard. 
 
So I believe that whilst you wouldn't want to assume that all matters are resolved, we should have a discussion about what can be done better.
 
And the first of those I want to suggest to improve people's confidence is that we need to review our inter-jurisdictional arrangements with regard to food sabotage incidents. 
 
I think the national crisis management protocol would be useful in situations like this and given there are international implications with our brand, of our quality of our exports, the Commonwealth Government should be the one to lead it.
 
So far, whilst everyone's tried to do the very best they can, it would appear that some of the process has been uncoordinated between the states, with different states and authorities taking different approaches. 
 
I think even now in the benefit of near-hindsight, it would appear that some of the approaches, talking to growers, may have caused significant damage to the industry, fed the media frenzy and indeed perhaps, incited and invited copycats. 
 
Labor wants to see us adopt a different approach to stop this kind of incident turning into a major crisis with long-term potentially harmful implications for the industry. 
 
So we need to have a better way of handling this nationally.
 
This issue, although rare, should not have caught our authorities off guard and I think some of the coverage and some of the debate and different responses has potentially caused more harm than some of the initial nasty acts of sabotage. 
 
Another suggestion I've heard in recent days can be to set up a procedure, similar to plant and animal emergency response, whereby a mechanism is used to address the issues in a coordinated way between all levels of government and industry. 
 
This means that you could possibly provide compensation to affected industries through a levy set at zero but activated in emergency response. 
 
These ideas we can work through over coming days and weeks and months but this does need to be on the COAG agenda.
 
And Labor notes that there are other horticultural issues which have been languishing which need addressing:
 

  • Be it contamination of our prawn industry of white spot
  • Be it the concern over the poisoning with the frozen berries
  • And indeed some debate and issues around rock melons. 

 
What we need is stronger action and coordination that we're not immediately responding to issues in the frame of a crisis but rather we have anticipated potential challenges and then we can react in a calm and cautious manner, a sensible way which doesn't cause greater damage than even some of the damage we're trying to remedy.
 
I would also like, at this point, to invite Australians to spare a thought for the fruit pickers, for the casual and itinerant workforce who rely upon this seasonal work for their sustenance. 
 
I hope the Government will not be inflexible at the Department of Social Security for people who perhaps might be forced back onto unemployment benefits because the work which they'd expected to be picking fruit has been snatched away from them as a result of this immediate situation.
 
But here and now, I say to the people of Australia, the most important thing this Parliament can do is to show our complete confidence in the quality and safety of the food that Australian farmers and growers produce. 
 
I think the most immediate important short term action isn't to thunder about all of the other issues but it is to rebuild confidence in the strawberry industry. 
 
Or put in other words, any of us who have the opportunity to speak publicly on this matter should not use our position to inflame fear but rather to rebuild confidence. 
 
So I would like to thank all of the Honourable Members who have shown strong support for growers in a host of innovative and entertaining ways. 
 
Doesn't matter if it's the Member for Longman, the Member for Hunter or the Member for Casey, our speaker, every member in this place who represents strawberry-growing communities.
 
We understand how important it is to buy and eat strawberries as usual - and maybe even a bit more than usual. 
 
So to all Australians, I simply say we have encountered food scares before and we've come through the other side with no worries whatsoever. 
 
So on the way home tonight, if you're in the supermarket on the weekend, we encourage people to grab a punnet for yourself and a punnet for the nation. 
 
We encourage you to have them fresh, to go to the favourite recipe, to put them to use. 
 
We would encourage the major supermarket chains, now is not the time to be hunting the best bargains you can off strawberry-growers but instead to recognise that we need to reassure people about the quality and confidence of our food chain. 
 
So we say to Australians, cut your strawberries up, don't cut your farmers out. Chop the strawberries up, don't throw them out.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.