Thursday, 9 February 2017
Questions without Notice
I thank the honourable senator for Victoria for her question and her interest in this issue generally. Last night the Senate passed the government's Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016. I want to thank my colleagues, including those opposite and from the crossbench, for their support for the bill and the reforms that the coalition government is introducing. I understand some of my colleagues would like to go further, as was expressed during the debate, but passing that bill represents another step in delivering sweeping reforms to our country-of-origin-labelling program and the largest changes to country-of-origin labelling in decades.
As Australians we want to know whether the food we buy is from the country we live in or elsewhere and if it was made or packaged here. We also want to know how much of it was grown by our farmers. The coalition government has responded to the growing demand by Australian consumers to know the origin of their food and has introduced reforms to the system to assist them in making informed choices about the products they purchase. Our reforms greatly enhance the effectiveness of the new information standard for country-of-origin labelling for food. Now that this bill has passed shoppers will see more food products with the new labels in stores over coming months. They will need to carry a label with a clearly defined box; a kangaroo in a triangle logo to indicate that the food is grown, produced or made in Australia; a bar chart to indicate the proportion of Australian ingredients in the food; and a text statement summarising the visual information.
These reforms will provide consumers with clearer, more meaningful and easier to find country-of-origin information so that they can make informed purchasing decisions in line with their personal preferences. Reforms such as these have been a long time coming. There is more to be done, but the coalition has got the bit between its teeth and is pleased to be delivering these reforms now to provide a more informed consumer market.
These country-of-origin-labelling reforms are not just about labelling. We are also going to be removing some of the regulatory burden on industry. The passage of the legislation will make it easier for businesses to determine the correct country-of-origin claim for their product. We are going to simplify and clarify the country-of-origin safe harbour defences. That means that, if a business claims a country-of-origin on a product and defence requirements are met, it will be safe from allegations that the claim is false or misleading.
The bill also removed the 50 per cent production cost test, which was impractical for business and confused consumers as it allowed the cost of packaging to alter the origin of the goods. The definition of 'substantial transformation' is often confusing for consumers and businesses. The bill amended this definition so that it better aligns with consumer expectations and international norms. We are also providing clear guidance material, including through the ACCC. (Time expired)
The government has launched an information and education campaign, which now that the bill has passed will recommence. This campaign will raise awareness with consumers and industry. Food manufacturers in Australia, importers and trading partners, food retailers and the packaging industry are all being targeted to ensure they are aware of the changes in country-of-origin labelling. We also recognise that there is more to be done.
The assistant minister, the Hon. Craig Laundy, is leading a working group looking at options around country-of-origin labelling for seafood. The assistant minister has written to key stakeholders seeking their views and further information on this issue. The working group will then review this information and consider next steps. The government is also working with food businesses to examine mechanisms for improving the digital infrastructure of the food industry over time. This cooperation recognises that improving those systems will help speed up the transition to the digital disclosure of ingredient information.