Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Wine Australia Amendment (Label Directory) Bill 2019; Second Reading
I should state at the outset that Labor supports the passage of the Wine Australia Amendment (Label Directory) Bill 2019. But, as is often the case, a lot of things get announced and they take a heck of a long time to actually make any progress. We had to wait over a year to debate this bill. The primary purpose of the bill, as the assistant minister has indicated, is to deter exports of copycat wine from Australia. It's intended that this will be achieved by empowering Wine Australia, as the statutory body responsible for controlling the export of grape products from Australia, to use the label directory to achieve the mandate. The label directory will include a publicly available database of digital colour images of grape product labels and information in relation to grape products and those exporting them. This will allow the brand owners to monitor the directory for any infringements of intellectual property rights and take civil action for breaches.
It might seem esoteric and exceptionally detailed and may not mean much to a lot of people, but, to the people who are involved in this industry, it means a great deal. That's because the reputation of the sector is one that has been built up over many years and it's come off the back of quality products. We cannot afford for that reputation to be undermined by copycat wines.
The wine sector—as you would know, Deputy Speaker Georganas, given the great state from which you hail—is valued at close to $3 billion. Nearly 40 per cent of our export value is generated in trade with just one country: China. The sector employs close to 165,000 workers across 65 winegrowing regions in the nation, contributing approximately $45 billion annually to the Australian economy. On behalf of many people from this side of the House and no doubt from the other side, I extend to the sector our deep gratitude for their contribution to the economy, for what they have been able to achieve here and also in terms of projecting the reputation of our nation internationally.
As I indicated earlier, Australian agricultural products are rightly viewed as world class. I referred earlier to our reputation as one that provides premium, high-quality production and this gives Australian products a competitive edge. Copycats shouldn't gain commercial benefit from the high-quality Australian brand our wine producers have developed. It's their hard work that created the brand and it has to be protected absolutely.
It is important for the House and the industry to note that this bill does not give Wine Australia the power to protect the intellectual property rights of wine brand owners. The bill simply creates a framework to better facilitate wine brand owners to protect their own interests by monitoring the publicly available database and taking civil action where they reckon it is appropriate to do so. The bill does, however, allow Wine Australia to consider the behaviour of wine exporters using the label directory in their administration to export grape products. This means that where exporters attempt to take advantage of the good name of Australian brands or are using non-compliant labels Wine Australia can suspend or cancel their licence to export. The wine industry absolutely and utterly deserves this support now more than ever. Many growers not only were affected by crippling drought over recent years but were then devastated by bushfires that ravaged Australia at the beginning of the year. Some lost their grapes and others lost the crop that could not be harvested because of smoke taint. According to the minister, some 60,000 tonnes of wine grapes were lost to smoke taint.
I witnessed this and heard about it firsthand when I visited with the member for Eden-Monaro in Tumbarumba, where we met with the Tumbarumba Vignerons Association and spoke with growers about the impact of smoke taint on all their hard work, on all those grapes, and the amount of grapes they lost, and heard from some of them about what they had to battle with the bushfires. They went through drought and then faced the severity, the ferociousness of those fires. When I spoke with those growers in Tumbarumba I learned of what they did to save everything that they had built up over many years. I was particularly impressed by Tumbarumba. This is a wine growing region that has grown since the 1980s. Many people moved there when there were a lot of doubters and knockers who didn't believe they'd be able to be successful. It's a cool-climate area and has now become a great wine producer of chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc and other varieties, grown at elevations of 500 to 850 metres on the western slopes of the Snowies. It was established specifically to produce these varieties because of the latitude and elevation that provides those cold nights and long sunny days that are perfectly suited to producing premium wines from these varieties.
Those growers, with all the grapes they had there, had been ready and looking forward to production. Having the bushfires go through, being affected by smoke taint and being unable to use those crops, some of them donated large batches of these smoke-tainted grapes to the CRC to see what could be done. But it was particularly hard for them, and I felt for them greatly. I was very appreciative of the chance to learn firsthand from them about the types of things they were doing and their hopes that they'd be able to recover from this in the years to come. The last thing they need—when we look at the focus of this bill—are copycat producers leveraging off the work of people like this.
The industry itself has been begging for help from this government, and it took the Liberal-Nationals government until October this year to deliver support for wine grape growers. As if that wasn't bad enough, those producers have been affected by the trade tensions we've had with China—which, as I previously mentioned, represents nearly 40 per cent of the value of Australian wine exports. When you look at the amount of wine that is exported to China and then think about how much goes to the US, the country that takes the next-highest amount of our wine, China takes almost three times as much. The suggestion that our producers, who were able to achieve premium prices for their wine, were somehow dumping that wine on the Chinese market cannot in any way, shape or form be sustained as an argument.
Our growers have been affected, the industry has been affected, and it's been subject to a 160 per cent tariff by China, and they just can't be expected to sustain that. But when we turn for answers from the minister for agriculture, frankly, he's nowhere to be seen. Worse still, when the industry is affected in the way that it has been, I was staggered to hear him refer to other producers or other companies or exporters—when they were affected by what was happening in China—and say: 'Well, we just open up the markets. We provide these trade agreements. We open up the markets. It's not our fault that all these exporters focus on one market.' And it is staggering that at a time when they require that assistance and they turned to the minister—at the National Rural Press Club, in October—they heard him try to deflect blame to exporters. This is not the way to go.
The key will be to work with exporters, identify new markets, work with them on the development of those new markets, have a solid diversification strategy—and I absolutely recognise that, of itself, diversification is not going to be easy. As I indicated earlier, if you're selling at premium prices to one market, and in a big volume of those sales, it's not easy to necessarily flick a switch and diversify, but it will need to be done, and it does need a minister who is not a blamer but a collaborator in working with exporters to ensure that they can find another pathway to export. We cannot have what we've had so far, because our primary producers expect and deserve better.
The government and the minister should be working hard with industry to build those relationships, secure those markets and support the jobs—in this case, nearly 164,000 of them—and this will have to happen through a very canny diversification strategy. It must include consideration not just on the quantity of exports but on the value of them too. In the case of the wine industry, this may involve exploring ways to expand Australian wine exports into the growing Indian market, for instance, working with the government to remove existing barriers. The work will have to be done swiftly to prevent losing our skilful producers, the jobs they create and the premium Australian brand this bill seeks to protect.
I also flag that I have a second reading amendment. I move:
That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
'whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for failing to prioritise the agriculture industry and secure new markets for our primary producers'.