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Second Reading Speech on the Introduction of the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016

Parliament House Canberra

1 September 2016

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The Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016 seeks to simplify and clarify the safe harbour provisions within the Australian Consumer Law.

This Bill forms part of the Government’s country of origin labelling reform package that was agreed by the states and territories in March this year. A key element of this reform package, the Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016, commenced in July this year.

Before I detail the specific amendments this Bill seeks to make, please allow me to briefly elaborate the objectives of the Government’s country of origin labelling reform package.

The reforms aim to provide consumers with clearer, more meaningful and easier to find, country of origin information so they can make informed purchasing decisions in line with their personal preferences.

Inquiries and research conducted in recent years show that the current labelling framework is largely ineffective in meeting its objectives, especially when it comes to food. Some origin labels were unclear or unhelpful, and the rules tended to confuse both consumers and business.

We have bipartisan support for reforming country of origin labelling, because this is an issue that has vexed parliamentarians of all political persuasions for many years – and it is worth noting that these reforms meet a key commitment of the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, released last year.

The Government’s reform package has benefitted from extensive consultations and discussions with businesses, the community, and their representatives – as well as state and territory governments, and our overseas trading partners. It is particularly important to note that, we secured broad state and territory support for these reforms through this process.

We take this opportunity to thank the thousands of people who took the time and trouble to contribute their views and to work with us during the development of these reforms. Your participation has helped us achieve our goal of providing Australian consumers with the country of origin labelling information they value most, without imposing excessive costs on business. This is a major breakthrough that Australians have long been waiting for.

As part of the reforms, the mandatory country of origin labelling requirements for food will be enhanced and moved from the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to an Information Standard under the Australian Consumer Law.

As Australians, we want to know whether the food we buy is from the country we live in, or somewhere else – and if it was made or packaged here, we really want to know how much of it was grown here by our farmers.

Under the new Information Standard, the well-known kangaroo in a triangle symbol will be required on many foods found on Australian retail shelves, identifying those which were grown, produced or made in Australia.

The new labels for food will also include a bar chart and words to indicate the proportion of Australian ingredients in the food. Research has shown that this is the most important piece of country of origin information for consumers when it comes to food.

Through this package of reforms, consumers will be able to trust that claims such as ‘Made in’ and ‘Product of’ are applied consistently. Businesses will be able to use these terms with greater certainty, and will be less inclined to make meaningless origin claims like ‘Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients’.

These changes will give consumers a clearer understanding about where their food comes from, while ensuring Australian businesses receive the information and support they need as they transition to the new rules.

I am delighted to announce to the House that many Australian companies have already adopted these reforms. Many of us have started noticing these new labels in our local supermarkets already. Companies such as Maggie Beer Products have recently launched the labels for their range of products and are fully supportive of the reforms that clearly indicate the country of origin of the food we eat – something Australian consumers have told this government is very close to their hearts.

To support the effective implementation of the reforms, the Government has provided the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission with additional funding of $4.2 million over five years to undertake compliance and enforcement activities in relation to the new requirements. The Government is also funding a $15.2 million information campaign to ensure consumers and businesses understand the revised framework.

Please allow me to now describe some of the detailed amendments that the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016 aims to achieve.

The Australian Consumer Law prohibits false or misleading representations about the origin of goods.

To provide certainty for businesses, the Australian Consumer Law provides ‘safe harbour’ defences for country of origin claims where goods meet certain criteria. If goods satisfy the relevant criteria, the business has not engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct, or made a false or misleading representation.

The proposed changes to the Australian Consumer Law will:

  • Make it clearer that minor processes such as packaging, slicing or canning are not sufficient to justify origin claims like ‘made in’, consistent with consumer expectations and international norms;
  • Remove unnecessarily burdensome or redundant provisions; and
  • Amend and align remaining provisions with the new Information Standard.

Inclusion of changes to these safe harbour defences in the package of reforms is broadly supported by all industry sectors. Businesses will find it easier to make reliable country of origin representations through a clarified substantial transformation test and the removal of the burdensome and capricious production cost test.

In fact, even a couple of weeks ago, Tindo Solar, a well-known South Australian manufacturer of solar panels, wrote to my colleague, Minister Hunt, seeking the removal of the exceedingly onerous production cost test so that the company could supply panels certified as Australian-made into the market. Tindo Solar and many other small and innovative businesses will benefit from these amendments.

Consumers will also welcome the changes that make it clear goods cannot be claimed to be made here just because their form or appearance has changed.

Before I conclude, please allow me to acknowledge the detailed and exhaustive consultations undertaken by my department and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources during the various stages of this reform development process. I congratulate them for their hard work and effort. I also wish to thank once more the many businesses, peak industry groups and individuals who invested precious resources and time in responding to questionnaires and participating in detailed discussions during the consultation phase.

I would also like to acknowledge leadership of the former Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Christopher Pyne, in seeking to ensure these reforms were implemented as quickly as possible. Finally, I wish to commend my colleague, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, on the commitment he has shown throughout this process, and over many years, to reform in this important area of public policy.

I commend this Bill to the Chamber.