Monday, 28 November 2016
Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016; Second Reading
The proposals before the House will have a negligible effect except to add to the cost of products on the shelves. Unfortunately, it will be a cost taken by Australian producers, the same as foreign producers. We introduced legislation, which did not get supported by either side of the House, where we wanted a label to go on all imported products—a cost that would only be imposed upon imported products. Australian-produced items would not have to be labelled. We wanted foreign products to have a warning label, saying: 'Warning, this product is imported. It has not been grown or processed under Australian health and hygiene standards and may be injurious to your health.'
One of my Independent small-party colleagues in the Senate said, 'Well, that's really going too far! You are really posing a burden and stopping stuff from coming in.' Shock horror that I would stop product from coming in! I represent a third of Australia's sugar industry. The great free-market country of the United States allows no sugar in. The great free-market countries of Europe allow no sugar in. The new Third World Asian tiger, Thailand, allows no sugar in. The great free-trading nation of Japan allows no rice into its country. My electorate produces rice. Shock horror that I would have a position upon product coming into Australia.
I will give you the dimensions of how sick the governments of Australia are. My flower growers came to me and said, 'They're charging us $300 an hour plus downtime for an official to come up from Cairns,' up onto the Atherton Tableland where all the flowers are grown, 'and they insist upon 100 per cent inspection of our exports'. The imported flowers have a five per cent inspection regime, which is borne by the government. So we have one set of laws for exporters and a completely different set of laws for importers. They get charged something like a 200 per cent tax, whereas the importers get no charge at all upon their product. This occurs again and again to a point where the average punter out there knows that the ALP and LNP will always be on the side of the importers. And they do not think they are.
Go and tell that to the people of Orange who just had their last whitegoods factory close down and see how pleased they were with the major parties at the last election. They have had enough of your lies and kangaroo droppings. They have had enough of listening to you. Look at the polls this morning. The others are on 32 per cent now, and you people are on 36 and 38 per cent and falling through the floor. When we get another four per cent you are out. Your days of running this country will be finished. They will be taken off you.
We are different from the United States. They have locally elected representatives and local primaries. They are a constituency based society. But even they have found a way out of the brutal two-party regime that has seen all their jobs go to Asia and across the border into Mexico or, alternatively, has seen Mexicans come across the border and take their jobs off them, legally and illegally. There are dangers, and people should know when a product is imported. They should also be told that others have different hygiene regimes from Australia.
I had the very great honour of being associated with establishing the prawn and fish-farming industry in Australia. We were doing about $750 million in exports. At one stage we were down to $25 million because the government decided, in its wisdom—both the ALP and the LNP—that they would bring the prawns in from overseas with no inspections. There is supposed to be a five per cent inspection, which is a joke. There is supposed to be a five per cent inspection on everything. I doubt whether there is a 0.5 per cent, and that comes from Customs officers. They said, 'We doubt whether there would be a 0.5 per cent inspection.'
Those prawns are coming in from countries like China, where they put raw sewage into the Yangtze River. They take the water out of the river and put it into the prawn farms. It is similar for all of the south-east Asian countries, like Thailand and Vietnam. In Vietnam they take untreated sewage water and put it into fish ponds. This has two effects. One is that the prawns and fish come in covered in bacteria, and two is that they have huge antibiotics inside their bodies to fight off the germs and disease. The result is that Australians now eat disease-ridden prawns and fish.
We do not know how many diseases are coming in and being contracted by Australians. It is very hard to track down where food poisoning comes from. It is very hard to track down diseases, such as hepatitis A from berries or the disease we got from imported tuna or just what product you ate that resulted in a disease. It is very hard to establish. What is not hard to establish is some of the other diseases.
We said, 'If you bring the prawns in we will get IHHNV on the reef and it will be disastrous for the Barrier Reef.' The prawns were brought in and within three years we had IHHNV endemic on the reef. We said, 'Stop the prawns from coming in, for heaven's sake stop.' They said, 'No, you have IHHNV now on the reef so we have no argument to stop them from coming in.' So they used the argument of having brought the prawns in to say that we cannot stop them.
White spot on prawns is such a deadly disease that when they found it in Darwin they dropped 23 tonnes of poison into Darwin Harbour to destroy the white spot there. God bless them for doing it, but how much damage was done to the Australian environment with 23 tonnes of poison being dropped into the harbour, I do not know. Our banana industry, worth maybe 7,000 jobs to North Queensland—if it goes it will take down a quarter of the tourism industry, and we will lose the backpacker industry as well—is under threat from Panama disease. Panama disease was brought into Australia by imported food product and the industry is now under threat. Bananas have previously been under threat from black sigatoka from products brought into Australia.
People in this place go around talking about Australia's clean, green image. We have a clean, green image because we were a hunter-gatherer society until 200 years ago, and we are an island, so we did not have any of these diseases. We did not farm and we did not husband animals, so we did not have any of these diseases. But every two or three years now we get another big disease. If you want free trade, then forget about your clean, green image because, clearly, you will have the same disease levels as all the other countries on earth. We have a valid reason for keeping products out.
It was the National Party that let most of this stuff in. Now, the great leader of the National Party in this place, , Mr Warren Truss—no-one would remember his name, but I will remind you that that was his name—said in defence of himself for allowing the grapes in that it would only affect Queensland. Right, well, we do not have to worry about it because it will only destroy the grape industry in Queensland! Ours was—'was', past tense—one of the biggest grape-growing areas in Australia. The Kennedy electorate in North Queensland has hardly any grapes left. The month that he decided to bring the grapes in from California was the same month that the Californian industry announced that 10 per cent of their entire industry had been destroyed by the glassy-winged sharpshooter. Only the Americans could think up that sort of a name, but that was the name of the disease. Ten per cent of their industry had been wiped out by the glassy-winged sharpshooter, but Mr Truss and the National Party had no difficulty in deciding that the grapes should come in. I was still in the National Party then, and 13 of the 15 members of the official LNP government committee reviewing the proposal said, 'You've got to be joking.' He said, 'We'll be taken to WTO.' All of us said, 'Let them take it to WTO. For once, we might be able to convince our own farmers that we are fighting for them.' So 13 of the 15 people at the meeting wanted us to be taken to WTO so we could be seen to be fighting for our farmers. But that was not to be.
The oranges and orange product coming in from Brazil has streptomycin in it. We are not allowed to use streptomycin in Australia, and yet we allow our people to eat streptomycin because it is an imported product. There is one set of rules for Australians and another set of rules for the importers.
We have a certain acceptable poison level that has been decided by the health department of Australia for cadmium in potatoes. Again, the National Party, in the portfolio, decided that it was all right to let in potatoes from the other countries. They could not come in because they have higher cadmium levels. 'Oh well,' he said, 'we'll just raise the allowable cadmium level.' I quote from the minister's press release:
To allow the potatoes in from Texas in America and from China, we will vary the cadmium levels.
So Australians will now eat more cadmium poison in their potatoes to look after the farmers of China and Texas. We can die in Australia. When I say 'die', this was a decision of the health department. The health department said that a safe cadmium level is that level. He raised that level and allowed us to eat much more cadmium. Did he know more than the health officials? No, he did not. What he was saying was, 'Our free trade principles are more important than whether people die in Australia.'
We had the papaya fruit fly, which cost the industry a couple of hundred million dollars. We had the citrus canker, which cost $200 million or $300 million to the Queensland economy. We had the black sigatoka outbreak, which cost us, maybe, $200 million. We have the Panama disease race 4. Individual farmers have each had to put in a million dollars worth of installation with Panama race 4. Every single one of them was brought in from food product coming from overseas. Nobody cares.
With hepatitis A in the berries there were two deaths, and nobody cares. With imported tuna that was carrying disease there were two deaths, and nobody cares.
The best we can do is to put it on a disk, which does not discriminate between Australian product and foreign product. I am sure every housewife brings along a magnifying glass, and she is really going to worry about that disk, which she actually will not be able to interpret the meaning of—and I have had a look at the proformas; I might not be very bright, but I am sure that I stand with most Australians in saying I am a bit confused by the disk—but she will not be worried about the disk; she will be worried about the price. Of course, our product costs infinitely more because our prawn farmers have to not only take in perfect water but allow perfect water to go out. (Time expired)