Senate debates

Monday, 15 March 2010

Food Importation (Bovine Meat Standards) Bill 2010

Third Reading

3:53 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Finance and Debt Reduction) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a third time

In acknowledging the issues surrounding bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the concerns held by Australian consumers in regard to their health security and the concerns held by a large section of the cattle industry in the threat to the security of the Australian beef herd, it is very important that we enact a bill that enshrines the backflip of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mr Burke, the other day. The minister clearly pointed out, and has been held to account, that his initial position on BSE was wrong. The minister now acknowledges that we need to have an analysis process rather than an assessment. The minister acknowledges that the food labelling standards are insufficient. But the minister does not acknowledge that we need to have a traceability scheme. The question—and the Food Importation (Bovine Meat Standards) Bill 2010 deals with it—is to put in legislative form the minister’s decision and backflip. In putting in legislative form the minister’s backflip, we also bring into place quite naturally the matter of traceability. How can you have a proper risk analysis without traceability? Why would we have put our nation’s herd and the Australian consumer at threat by not initially dealing with this in the proper format? This bill takes the same form of labelling standard for the beef industry standard that is acknowledged in the pork industry.

There was a large outcry at the importation of beef from countries with BSE. This outcry was heard not only in regional Australia but also in metropolitan Australia. It came from consumers in Australia—the working mothers and housewives, the guys who go to the butcher shops—who wanted to know that they were eating a clean green Australian product, no questions asked. They did not want to have over their heads the effect of a product that could have come from a country that had bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Everybody rightly holds the concerns of what mad cow disease can do when it comes into human form as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.  Some people say it is only a minor concern, but it is not that minor when you are not able, for instance, to donate blood in Australia if you have lived in England. If you have lived in England for a period of time—I think it is for five years—you cannot donate blood in Australia. That is the sort of concern that is held across the board about the influence of this condition.

Australia has many attributes but one of our greatest attributes is our clean green image—the image of our food not only being abundant but also being some of the safest and cleanest in the world. It was the Labor government that decided to put this under threat. It was the Labor government that went forward and one night decided that we would have the importation of beef from countries with BSE. It was peculiar in the extreme. Even a week before Minister Burke’s backflip, he was announcing once more to the world that this was the proper decision and the right decision. A week later he told us it was the wrong decision and he was going to recant everything he had previously said and go down the path that is spelt out in this bill.

There was a lot of hard footwork done by quite a number of people within the coalition. I would like to acknowledge the hard work done by my colleagues Senator Nash, Senator Williams and Senator Heffernan most especially, the hard work done by Senator Chris Back—it was great to have a vet in the house—who clearly spelt out the issues pertaining to this, and obviously Senator Colbeck. This is an issue that really galvanised people. The Australian people asked us to go forward and try to resolve this issue. Once more, we will have success on this because from the position of opposition we will have the capacity to change the direction of the government and bring it back to a sense of sanity.

I say to the Australian Labor government: stop making these decisions which leave the Australian public behind. The decision to import beef from countries with mad cow disease was a bureaucratic decision straight from the minister’s office. It would have been inflicted on Australian consumers who formerly had got an Australian-grown clean green product that they had no questions about whatsoever. We would have had a situation where, if you had a meat pie, you would not have known whether it was Australian beef or beef from a country with BSE.

The Labor government has to stop making these decisions overnight that go contrary to the wishes of the Australian people. This is a clear indication of it. It is another example of how the Australian Labor government cannot be diligent in the process they follow. How was the Australian public going to have any confidence in a decision about food safety and about the diligence of the Australian Labor government to make sure that we did not have any cases of BSE-inflicted Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease coming into our nation when this was the same crowd that brought us the ceiling insulation debacle? Take the amount of diligence that was shown in the ceiling insulation debacle, which has killed four people, burnt down 106 houses and electrified over 1,000 roofs. If this was the management critique that was then going to be applied to the importation of beef from countries with mad cow disease, then the Australian people had every right to be concerned. And we had every responsibility, as a coalition, to draft a bill to protect the Australian people from this risk.

So it was the coalition that went forward and drafted this bill, and this bill states we must have an analysis process. It is not an assessment process; it is an analysis process. It is a diligent analysis process conducted to clearly dispel and to ventilate any risks that would obviously be present with the importation of beef from countries with BSE. It is the coalition that has said that we must have traceability. Australia has invested so much into the National Livestock Identification Scheme, and so we have every right to say if this is the prerequisite we put on our own beef producers then surely we should not expose our own beef producers to competition from other countries that do not intend to have this traceability. We go out of our way to protect Australian consumers from risks and to trace the product from birth—from the paddock to the plate. We do that in Australia. If we demand that sort of protection for Australian consumers in the western suburbs of Sydney, in the western suburbs of Brisbane and in our regional towns and country areas—so if we demand that sort of protection for Australian consumers in our own nation—then why would we not demand the same sort of protection for Australian consumers when the beef comes from somewhere else? It would stand to reason that we would not have one rule for beef that comes in and yet another rule for our own beef. That would make sense, but apparently, in the first instance, it did not make sense to the minister.

It would also make sense that we would tell the consumer quite clearly where their beef was coming from. That would seem to be a natural concern. We do it with pork. Why wouldn’t we do it with beef? It was self-evident. It seemed to be self-evident to us and it seemed to self-evident to the Australian consumer, but it was not self-evident to the minister in the first instance. It was also quite obvious that we needed forms—so we had traceability, we needed an analysis process and we needed labelling. It was not, in the first instance, evident to the minister, and he forthrightly went forward and stated his case not only in the first instance, but in multiple instances after that, that he was set in his ways, that this was the way that we were going and that he would boldly go where no other agricultural minister had been before, and that he would force on the Australian people the prospect of the consumption of beef from countries with mad cow disease without the proper traceability, an analysis process or anything else entailed in that.

He said that until about 8 March and then all of a sudden there was an epiphany, an epiphany for Minister Burke: he has now changed his mind! And what he has changed his mind to is virtually everything that we have in this bill. So wouldn’t it make sense since he has made that journey—since he has made that long march and since, stone by stone, he has crossed the river to find himself in the position of the coalition camp—that he would complete the journey by endorsing what is written in paper, which is manifestly what he is saying himself? It is nothing but a fit of pique and his own substantial ego that preclude him from making that final statement to finish his journey on his position to the coalition’s position by endorsing what, quite evidently, is in this bill. And now we are going to hear the ridiculous arguments from the Labor Party of how it was not really a backflip, it was something else—it was political gymnastics; it was Rudolf Nureyev, as orchestrated by Minister Burke—and they are not going to endorse what is written in the bill, which is emphatically and almost completely what he stated the other day. So we will go through this scenario. Those watching will understand this. We have put down on paper what the minister has said in an audible form the other day. We are now asking for the minister to confirm in an actual form what is stated in our bill. But the minister will find a reason not to go the full nine yards on this, and the only reason he will not is because he does not want to offend his ego. This is about Minister Burke’s ego, it has nothing to do with the proper process that is quite self-evident, which he even now acknowledges is the path we should be going back down.

The Australian consumer and the Australian cattle grower can be quite comfortable in the knowledge that the reason we are going to protect them from the consumption of beef from countries with mad cow disease is that we took up the fight and we put in legislation, this bill, to stop all this. The Labor Party, with the arrogance they have developed and their belief of omnipotent knowledge whereby they go forward with complete conceit, forced these decisions on the Australian people, and what more primary form of decision can you force on the Australian public than to say: ‘We will now import into your country’—into this clean, green country—‘beef from countries with mad cow disease, and we will not have a proper analysis process, and we will not have a traceability process and we will not have a labelling process. We will just bring this beef in.’

But the force of the Australian people has once more forced a turnaround on this, just like it did with the ETS. It is an incredible thing, democracy. It is an incredible thing, given the power of the public when they say, ‘No, it doesn’t matter what you say, Minister Burke; you will change.’ And Mr Burke has changed, but he has only changed in the audible form. What he now has to do to show his sincerity in this epiphany, to show his repentance over this issue, to show that he is genuine in his desire to keep beef from countries with mad cow disease out of Australia when it does not have the proper analysis, traceability or labelling process behind it, to show that he is genuine, is to have the Labor Party join as a supporter of this bill. If they do not, it is another one of the Labor Party’s two-bob each-way bets. It is like the moral issue of our time, the ETS, the thing that everything had to stop for. It became the lesser moral position of our time or a second-hand position and today we have that absolutely farcical approach of Minister Carr doing the speaking for Minister Wong. Why? Because Minister Wong has been completely and utterly sidelined.

It is good to put this to the Senate. I ask all those involved to make sure that we give the Australian people the protection that they demand, which will be enshrined in this bill rather than just talked about, as the Labor Party likes to do. It is all talk and no action. This is exactly what the Labor Party is about, all talk and no action. Here is a bill for action. Let us see which wins today. Do we have a bill for action or do we have to rely on Labor Party words?


No comments