House debates

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


Serana (WA) Pty Ltd

7:50 pm

Photo of Alannah MactiernanAlannah Mactiernan (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On 25 March 2014, the Prime Minister, in an address to the Asia Society in Canberra, reflected positively on a Western Australian company which was exporting to Asia. He spoke about the company:

… cell and tissue cultures manufactured by Serana, which are exported throughout Asia from the company's new production laboratory in Bunbury, Western Australia.

Little did the Prime Minister know that, at that very time, officers from the Department of Agriculture were setting about a course of action to comprehensively destroy this company and, on the basis of the evidence that I have available to me, were doing that in complicity with a large multinational company that was eager to get this small Western Australian company out of the field.

This is really quite a disgraceful saga. When the company approached me to do something, I was very concerned, so the first thing I did was to write to the Minister for Agriculture and seek his intervention. We did get a call some weeks ago saying, 'Yes, we're going to respond to it.' We have not had a response. In the meantime, this company is suffering at the hands of what I believe to be very unconscionable behaviour.

In essence, this company is a supplier of foetal bovine serum, which is used in many applications, including the application that the Prime Minister referred to, the preparation of skincare products. So this is used widely in a range of products. The company sources its material from Australia and New Zealand.

In December DAFF obtained a warrant to search the premises to allegedly pursue complaints that they were securing the product from a banned jurisdiction, because of understandable concerns about foot and mouth disease; there are various countries from which importation is banned for this product. In that process DAFF removed many of the company's documents, including a veritable uteload of its hard documents and also all its electronic documents. They also sealed off in the freezers virtually all of the company's production. They refused to in any way deal with the company to return any of this product.

The company no longer having any records or product, they took the matter to the Federal Court. Reading the Federal Court judgement, one has great concern. One sees in that judgement a finding that the officer that had been concerned in presenting this affidavit had consistently changed his story. The basis on which he made the affidavit, his claim that he had seen this material in emails—he subsequently was basically required to deny that. He had sworn evidence that the target company had written emails in which they described selling junk serum. In fact, he was subsequently forced to acknowledge that indeed this was the allegation of the competitor company, not anything that had in fact been contained within those emails. The judge in the Federal Court found that it was unsafe to allow this matter to stand. Finally, most of the material was returned—except all of the hard drives.

There is evidence that DAFF has been producing to their competitors and to their distributors confidential information that could only have come from these files to undermine their business. There is also the evidence of one employee. She arrived at eight o'clock one morning at her home. She was con— (Time expired)