31 March 2016
Transcript - #2016040, 2016

In the role of: Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer [21 September 2015 - 18 July 2016]

Joint press conference, Canberra

Joint press conference with
The Hon Barnaby Joyce MP
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources
and
Senator The Hon Fiona Nash
Minister for Regional Development
Minister for Regional Communications
Minister for Rural Health

SUBJECTS: Country of Origin labelling and free range eggs

BARNABY JOYCE:

So we might jump straight into this straight away. Thank you very much for being here today. It’s great whilst you are a member of this parliament to fight for something, and we have all been fighting for this for a long period of time, to get to the point of delivery.

The Australian people for so long have wanted to know where their product comes from and the proportion of where it comes from. In the past we have had the vagaries of things being notated as made in Australia, made in Australia from imported ingredients, possibly passed over Australian airspace, could have seen Australia on telly at some point of time in its life, but it didn’t actually tell us where the product came from.

What we have now is a labelling system that is being introduced and I want to commend the work that has been done by Kelly and by Fiona, over such a long period of time to make sure that we deliver back to the Australian people honesty, honesty in labelling.

Our labelling system will allow people to see two incredibly important components. The component of how much this involves Australian workers, and Australian jobs, because we believe in the right of the Australian people to know where their product is manufactured and of course {indistinct} exists by the green triangle and tells you where the product is actually put together. In the bottom we have how much of this product actually comes from Australian farms. This is vitally important. People want to know when they are buying their tomato paste for their pasta whether these are Australian tomatoes or tomatoes from somewhere else.

People want to know when they buy a can of product, if it’s a home brand can of product, is it actually from our home or is it from somewhere else. People have a right to know this because it is their money. This is something that we can now roll out over the next two years - some people are already starting with it now. It will tell you the proportion of the product and how much comes from Australia and whether this is an issue that has meant that your fellow Australians have been employed in producing it.

This is something I think that clearly shows the Australian people that we’ve listened to them, we’ve acted, and we have delivered. It is now another extension - with my colleagues - of things that we have fought for and delivered through the Agricultural White Paper as well as all the other requirements that is noted in the past.

I’m going to hand over to Kelly and then also to Fiona. Kelly.

KELLY O’DWYER:  

Thanks very much Barnaby. Today I chaired the Consumer Affairs Ministers meeting. It’s a meeting of all of the Consumer Affairs Ministers right across the country and also includes New Zealand. Today I can announce that we have three very big wins for consumers.

First as Barnaby just mentioned, is the new labelling for country of origin. This will allow consumers to know exactly what it is that they have paid for and where the ingredients come from and where the product has been made. You have another big win for consumers because consumers know when they go to the supermarket and when they pick out different eggs and work out that they want to purchase free range eggs, they will have confidence that from today they are going to be getting exactly what they paid for.

And the third big win for consumers today is a full review of the consumer laws which will make our consumer laws fit for purpose so that consumers are put first - first and foremost every single time - to make sure that the laws apply to them and that they can be confident that the laws work for them.

Just on free range eggs, let me say this; we know it is important that consumers have confidence in getting what they pay for and that’s why we have announced for the first time an information standard that will allow consumers to be confident that chooks that are free range chooks have meaningful and regular access to the range. They will also be able to compare products. We have today announced a minimum standard for stocking density - 10,000 chooks per hectare which is one chook every square metre. That is a minimum standard but of course those people who want to label their product with less chooks per hectare can make that very clear to the consumer and the consumer will be able to choose.

Giving consumers choice is very much at the heart of this government. Giving them the information to be able to make those choices is also at the heart of this government.

I would like to hand over to Fiona.

FIONA NASH:

The Nationals have been pushing for clearer labelling for a very long time and I am delighted to be part of the Coalition Government that has delivered in this area. There has never been a more exciting time to be a regional Australian.

What we have seen in this announcement is for the first time - people to be able to see in supermarkets at a glance the product that is grown and produced in Australia. Whether you are from Gundagai, Gympie or Gippsland, for the first time you will be able to go into your supermarket and see very clearly how much of that product is Australian.

This is terrific news for people out in our communities, for our regional workers, for regional jobs and for our farmers. As a farmer myself it is tremendous news. It’s about getting a fair go for our farmers, for our food producers, and making sure that we do what people want to be able to do and that is buy Australian.

BARNABY JOYCE:

... In Tamworth, and Toorak – and all those other places. So if we just quickly have a look through this, we’ve got here, this is just what you want.   What we have here is Australian workers and all Australian product - great outcome. Here, a lot of Australian product but still put together in Australia. Here, almost all Australian. There is the right for more information be put on the labels. If people want to put more information they can, it’s going down in gradations of 10%. So really it is going to be quite precise. All in all this is something we have fought for, we’ve delivered on, this is a Government that delivers.

Now I’m happy to take a couple of questions.

QUESTION:  

The one on the left, was that grown and made in Australia as well?

BARNABY JOYCE:

Well what we’ve seen there it has been put together in Australia. So let’s say it’s canned tomatoes, say SPC, and they are put together in Australia and all of the product in it has come from Australia.

QUESTION:

Is that grown and made?

BARNABY JOYCE:

Well that’s grown in Australia and that means it’s made in Australia.

QUESTION:

And the 10% increments, it sounds pretty red tape heavy – is that (inaudible)

BARNABY JOYCE:

We are allowing seasonal variations that will actually say seasonal variations. It is going to be implemented over the next two years. You’ve got to remember right now there is already a high regulatory requirement because people have to determine whether something is made in Australia, grown in Australia, or made of Australian and imported ingredients or product of Australia. And to be quite frank, the mums and dads, when you said product of Australia, made in Australia, when we tested them; they don’t really know what the difference was.

QUESTION:

Minister when you say it will allow for seasonal variations, does that mean people will be able to label for the best case scenario - that is 70% of this in a best case is made in Australia, but sometimes it might only be 10.

BARNABY JOYCE:

What it will allow is seasonal variations that will actually state that and if you want further information, if you want to dive a bit deeper for further information, you can. You can go on the website and get it. So what it will say is over a period of time this is the average of what is in it, if it says seasonal variation. If the consumer says well I want to know more about that, they have the capacity to also go on the website and find out.

QUESTION:

Why doesn’t it tell the people where the food has come from?

BARNABY JOYCE:

Because if you might have some product that has gone through a range of countries before it arrived here and we have to keep the registry burden low. How far back are we going to follow a can of tomatoes from overseas? If it went from Italy to China and from South America, because sometimes we find that these products have multiple, have multiple venues which they came from or they have come from, when they have actually canned, multiple places. Now we can’t be responsible for things that are beyond our shores and beyond our powers to assess.

QUESTION:

Assistant Minister can I ask you Tasmania has done some modelling saying under this income tax proposal each tax payer is going to have to pay another $4500 to get them up to their funding they would have otherwise - is that something the Federal Government could compensate?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I think firstly we are very keen just to take questions on the consumer country of origin labelling, free range eggs. So if we can extinguish those questions first I will be very happy to take those questions.

QUESTION:

In regards to the free range egg new definition, minpull and regular access - what exactly does that mean and how can that be policed? Does it not still leave a little bit of a grey area for one farmer thinking minpull is this and what not.

KELLY O’DWYER:

So there will be a very clear understanding to what that means and it means that the chook is able to get out of the barn,  it is able to scratch around in the pasture and it’s able to range. And being not impeded in that range is exactly what we mean by free range eggs. At the moment there is a lot of confusion that forcing chooks out into the range on most days in all sorts of weather conditions wasn’t necessarily going to be in the best interests of the chooks. So you need to have a sensible commonsense definition of free range which is what we are delivering on today. You also need to be able to provide consumers with certainty that when they go to the supermarket they are getting what they pay for and you also need to deliver certainty for farmers to know that they are doing the right thing and that they can invest in their industry, that they can innovate, so that consumers get what it is that they expect and demand from those producers as well.

QUESTION:

Minister O’Dwyer there was an argument between 1500 and 10,000 which landed on 10,000 in the end - which of those two arguments was supported by actual science?

KELLY O’DWYER:

So the argument has been about creating a minimum standard here and I think that is important to note that this is a minimum standard that we have set in place for the very first time which is why it is such an important announcement. We say there is going to be a cap of no more than 10,000 chooks per hectare - that is the maximum cap. Of course those people who have different methods of farming free range eggs may choose to only have 1500 chooks. They will be able to again for the first time put that on the label of their product so that when a consumer walks into the supermarket and wants to compare they will be able to see the stocking density of one particular product which may be 1500 chooks versus another which might have 10,000. If they want to choose to pay for that product, which is a 1500 chook stocking density they will be able to make that choice now because of the information standard that we have put in place.

QUESTION:

How hard was it for you to finally land on this decision?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well we have worked incredibly hard with a whole range of interested stakeholders on this from farmers to consumers. There were more than 149 submissions. We received around about 7000 emails as part of this process and I have worked very very hard with all of the State and Territory Ministers to get to the point today where we are able to have for the first time an information standard for free range eggs. That can give people confidence when they go to the supermarket they are going to get what they pay for.

QUESTION:

Minister Joyce will you lobby the Federal Treasurer to make the agricultural land register public?

BARNABY JOYCE:

Look I think it is very important that we understand that the ATO collect information that is confidential and I can completely, being an accountant, completely understand why our clients say ‘well we want to give you the information but we don’t particularly want all our private details for the public display’. Nonetheless I’m sure we can work to a mechanism of filtering out those that are pertinent to their private details and those that the public have a right to know.

This will be coming back on 2 July, it will be tabled on 2 July. At that point in time the Treasurer will have the capacity to be part of that determination of what is in the public’s interest and what is actually private. The ATO have stated no more than what the law is - that is that information that is given to them is private and in confidence and we have to now make sure that what we deliver is information that people want to know, either who owns what and how much of our land mass is owned by people from overseas. That’s what we have been fighting for, that’s what we will deliver on, that’s what the Australian people ask for. But the Australian people also ask for privacy in their taxation matters and we will be making sure that we deliver that.

QUESTION:

But in Parliament you said it would look like a map over properties so people could see who owns what - that’s not what we are getting so is that what you want to see change after 2 July?

BARNABY JOYCE:

Well you can see through the Torrens Title system and through some of the other avenues who actually owns what and most real estate agents will be able to you who owns what. Now I want to make sure that with that information and with the further information that we have received and working with the Treasurer on and taking into account the privacy concerns of people’s taxation affairs, that we deliver back to the Australian people something that is vastly more transparent than they are getting at the moment. We will do that. This will be with the Treasurer by 2 July then we have the capacity to balance these competing interests which is precisely what we will do.

QUESTION:

Minister Joyce new polling has come out regarding your electorate showing that the majority of voters would support a more compassionate approach to the resettlement and processing of asylum seekers, more compassionate than the one that is currently offered by both major parties - do you think that you are in step with your voters when it comes to the issue of asylum seekers?

BARNABY JOYCE:

Well you should ask Mr Eddie Whitham in my electorate who I worked with in a refugee advocacy group.

QUESTION:

But on the issue of processing and resettlement it seems that more people would prefer (inaudible)

BARNABY JOYCE:

We are doing our part in Tamworth and I have been part of those meetings to help the resettlement of refugees from the Syrian crisis. I don’t think, to be quite frank, it is something (inaudible) are passionate about.

QUESTION:

Assistant Minister can I take you to the Tasmanian comments. They won’t support this change, they say the taxpayer up for $4500 to make (inaudible) tax per taxpayer – how will the Federal Government win them over?

KELLY O’DWYER:

So tomorrow there is going to be a COAG meeting where the Ministers come together to talk through these really important issues. I’m not going to pre-empt those discussions. A lot is said both outside of the discussions and also in the room and I think it’s important that we see what comes out of the meetings tomorrow before making any (inaudible).

QUESTION:

(inaudible)

BARNABY JOYCE:

Can I just say something briefly there. I’d like to also acknowledge Tony Maher out the back - yes you thought you’d got away - Tony Maher from the NFF and also acknowledge the work that Tony Maher has done with the country of origin labelling.

QUESTION:

Sorry but would you acknowledge that it appears there needs to be some sort of compensation when you look at the tax impact of Tasmania compared to us here in Canberra – it’s a massive difference.

KELLY O’DWYER:

So the Prime Minister has actually made some comments in relation to these matters on early morning radio today and I think his comments stand and I refer you back to those comments.

QUESTION:

Minister Joyce {inaudible}.. has put his hand up to run in Murray, will the National Party (inaudible). How do you see his potential to win that seat and how important is that seat to the National Party?

BARNABY JOYCE:

I’ll tell you one thing, the last thing I ever do is start getting in front of the pre-selectors. In my view (inaudible) that would be the kiss of death so I’m sure that both the National Party and the Liberal Party will be putting forward excellent candidates and then it will be the right of the people of Murray to determine who they want. Now to prove to you that if you can be in a confined space and get free and open access to the outside, me and my free range chooks will now make an exit.