Speech - House of Representatives - Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018 - Thursday, 20 September 2018

The strawberry contamination scandal has had, and will continue to have, a devastating impact on the sector, its growers and all those along the supply chain.

Understandably, it's caused very real concern in our local communities. The spectre of pins in strawberries paints a particularly graphic picture in our minds, because healthy strawberries are the first choice for parents feeding young children. It's issues like these that bring us together as a parliament, and they should. It's the role of the opposition, so far as it is able, to support the response measures of the government. It is in that spirit that we support the Criminal Code Amendment (Food Contamination) Bill 2018.

The penalty increases contained in this bill may act as a deterrent. They can certainly do no harm. But, unlike the previous speaker, I stand by the concerns expressed by the shadow Attorney-General. They are very, very real, and it is questionable whether moving the penalties from 10 years to 15 years is going to be any form of deterrent for people so intent on these reckless acts. But, acts taken in response are no replacement for acts taken to avoid these crises in the first place. That's the real work of this parliament. Let us not think that our work begins and ends with the bill we're debating and considering today.
 
Our key objectives going forward must be threefold. We must do all we can to assist the state policing authorities. Second, we must both strengthen food security frameworks and improve Commonwealth-state cooperation and coordination. We must also do all we can to rebuild consumer confidence, both here and in our export markets. There has been no shortage of evidence in recent days to suggest that Commonwealth-state cooperation, coordination and harmonisation is not what it could be or should be. We saw that with the white spot outbreak in our prawn sector when, clearly, the Commonwealth was slow to advise the state of its concerns. We saw it with fruit fly in Tasmania, when we saw a blame game open up between Commonwealth and state governments, and we saw that sheeted home with the abolition of the Standing Council on Primary Industries, the key COAG committee for the agriculture sector—a committee this government abolished.
 
There's a fine line between acting decisively, as the government says it's doing today, and putting unnecessary fear into the community. I'm not convinced that the government has walked that line sufficiently carefully over the course of the last couple of days. I don't believe it was helpful that the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Minister Littleproud, when asked about growing concerns about an overreaction and its impact on consumers, said this on Radio National this morning:
 
… that's totally fair. I've had representation to me that the state government in Queensland jumped the gun in publicising this when they were asked not to …
 
My first point is this: the minister for agriculture should authenticate that comment in the interest of a working relationship with the Queensland government. I thought that was a most unfortunate remark. Think about this, what he was saying the Queensland government should have been doing is not warning people at the first possible opportunity of the risks involved in the contamination of fruit.
 
I began by talking about the bipartisanship necessary, the way these issues bring the parliament together but unfortunately it hasn't been all about that at all. We heard that again from the previous speaker. What the shadow Attorney-General said was perfectly reasonable, responsible and something that needed to be said.
 
In closing, I will say this: rockmelon producers who suffered the impacts of a listeria outbreak would have loved to have seen the same sort of attention from the government that the strawberry industry has had. I know the situation was slightly different but the impacts on the sector were the same but the media opportunities weren't as great. We all stand by the strawberry sector and all those within it. We need to keep working together to rebuild that community confidence.


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