BILLS: Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016;Second Reading
I hope the member for Bendigo is not planning on leaving the chamber. When she first entered parliament in 2013, I reached over the great divide, I reached over to the other side of the chamber, to bring her into a conversation about the origin of the Chiko Roll. Colin Bettles from Farm Weekly was wanting to do a story as a promotion out the front of the chamber to talk up this wonderful product. I am glad the member for Calare is not in the chamber, because he would be claiming it. The fact is, in talking about the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016, we can all talk about the Chiko Roll, because it is currently manufactured by Simplot in Bathurst in the Calare electorate. It has been since Simplot took ownership of the Chiko Roll brand in 1995. As the member for Bendigo quite correctly pointed out just a moment ago, it first saw the light of day at the Wagga Wagga agricultural show in 1951. I agree with her, the McEncroe's originally came up with the idea—they invented it—in Bendigo. However, as I have always said, it is not where you were thought of, it is not where you end up, it is where you were born that makes such a difference. It saw the first light of day in Wagga Wagga.
The Chiko Roll's filling, even though the name might suggest it is chicken—and I am sure you have enjoyed a Chiko Roll from time to time, Deputy Speaker Kelly—is primarily cabbage and barley, as well as carrots, green beans, beef, beef tallow, wheat cereal, celery and, indeed, onion. This legislation is important for all of those items because they all need proper labelling. They are all items which need truth in labelling, irrespective of where we might think that the Chiko Roll was invented. I know Wagga Wagga has a claim, I know Bathurst has a claim and I appreciate that Bendigo has a claim. When the member for Bendigo came to that little bit of social media interaction out the front of Parliament House, I just wish that she had handed me a Chiko Roll that was cooked. She handed me a frozen one, and I took a great bite out of it and nearly broke my teeth.
Getting on to the important matters before the House today, this bill has a simple proposition: consumers should have the best possible information to rely on when they go to the supermarket to shop. In rising to speak on this very important bill, I do so noting that this bill presents something of an article of faith for country people, and especially for the Nationals. I am so glad that the member for Mallee and the member for Hinkler, the assistant minister, are beside me to support the passage of this important legislation through the House. For decades, the idea that consumers should be able to have an easy-to-use reference of whether the produce on supermarket shelves is Australian has dominated conferences, branch meetings and, indeed, discussions of the Nationals right across the country. So, too, the more than 5,000 farmers, many of whom are small businesses—in fact, I would say almost all of whom are small businesses—whom I represent in this place, have made the case that Australian producers want Australian consumers to buy Australian food and fibre. It almost goes without saying. This is exactly what this bill proposes and delivers upon. I am so glad that the minister, Mr Hunt, is here, because he also knows just how important this legislation is.
As a country member of parliament, I can say this is a matter which has dominated the conversations and interactions I have had with people right across the Riverina and the Central West for years. Many constituents of mine have written and called over the years. I know they are pleased that the government is listening to their feedback and enacting sensible and meaningful change through this particular legislation. Country-of-origin labelling should provide Australians with access to reliable information about where their food comes from so that they can make informed choices about the product they purchase. That is exactly, precisely and deliberately what this legislation does.
When this legislation was first proposed, the Nationals, as part of the coalition government, indicated we would reform the system for country-of-origin labelling. My electorate had the Snowy Mountains and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, so this is a matter of vital importance to many of my constituents and, indeed, many of my former constituents. A survey that I conducted of my electorate midway through last year demonstrated not only the widespread support for these changes but the opportunity they create for our primary producers.
As the minister responsible for consumer affairs—and I appreciate my shadow is opposite—I hear stories every day, and I am sure the member for Perth does, too, about how consumers want better access to information on supermarket shelves at a glance to make more informed decisions about purchases. It is why these changes have been top of mind since parliament resumed. State and territory and Commonwealth consumer affairs ministers agreed on 31 March this year to reform the country-of-origin labelling system for food to give consumers clearer and more meaningful information about the food they buy. They should expect nothing less. This is a critical reform. It is something on which the government has focused following extensive consultation with consumers and industry. And that word—'consultation'—keeps cropping up whenever we talk about legislation before this House, because that is what a responsible government does. That is what the Liberals and Nationals do. With every piece of legislation that comes before the House, we consult key stakeholders, industry groups, the various sectors affected and ordinary, everyday Australians—'Mr and Mrs Average', my mother-in-law often calls them. And she is right—as always.
Honourable members interjecting—
Mr McCORMACK: No—she is! I love my mother-in-law. She is—she is so right. She always talks about 'Mr and Mrs Average'. When it all boils down—and we can talk about all of the important things in this House—it does boil down to what the average man and woman, the average family, the average boy or girl need, want and expect from government. This is something which is so critical. For the mums and dads who are going shopping, and for the single people who are going shopping, they need to be able to go into those wonderful IGA supermarkets—I will give them a plug—and look at the labels on the shelves and know that what they are getting inside that can or bottle is in fact what they are paying for. This legislation is just another example of how the government is delivering on its promise to put small business at the forefront of decision-making and listening to consumers and producer demands—listening to what, as my mother-in-law says, 'Mr and Mrs Average' would want.
I just want to talk quickly about some of the aspects of this bill. These reforms give Australian consumers, as I have said before, clear and more meaningful information about the food they buy. It does not impose excessive burden on business. That is so important. I have heard you, Mr Deputy Speaker Kelly, a number of times in this House—almost on a daily basis—talk about lifting the load from business, particularly small business. You understand, we on this side of the House understand, that it is important to not overload small businesses, in particular, with burdensome regulation. Cutting through the red tape! We just heard an earlier speaker—the member for Page—talk about ensuring that we did not overload small business with more regulatory burden. This is the most significant change in this contentious area—and it has been a very controversial area for decades.
Many foods found on Australian retail shelves will be required to include a kangaroo in a triangle logo if they have been made, produced or grown in Australia, and a bar chart to indicate the percentage of Australian ingredients in the food. This reform will also make it clearer that 'made in' means more than just packaging or performing minor processes on imported food. That is so important.
I know a farmer at Rankins Springs, Ian Munro—better known as 'Jock'—who is often texting me very early in the morning—
Mr Broad: Go Jock!
Mr McCORMACK: The member for Mallee says, 'Go Jock!' Don't give him your mobile number; he will text you every morning at 5 o'clock. But we has got it, member for Mallee, because he is always talking about making these changes not just because they sound good or because they are funky but to make sure that we make them so that they are meaningful.
The country-of-origin labelling reforms will be implemented by the new country-of-origin food labelling information standard under Australian consumer law—an area that I am responsible for as the Minister for Small Business. This legislation amends the existing safe harbour defences for country-of-origin claims. The amended legislation will apply to country-of-origin claims on all products, not just food. The reforms started on 1 July. The first labels are expected to appear in stores—and some already have. Businesses have two years to transition to the new labels. All stock in trade at the end of the period can see out its shelf life. To complement the reforms the government is also working with industry to digitise food product information to better position business and consumers for the future. That is so important. As I said, there has been stakeholder consultation. That is something that we as a coalition government always does.
The government understands that this bill needs to get through. It needs to get through because it is so important. It is important for farmers, it is so important for 'Mr and Mrs Average', it is so important for consumers going to supermarkets to know what they are buying is in fact what it says on the label. Truth in labelling is so important.