LEON BYNER: . . . because of a likely New Zealand decision to accept pork from countries that might have the PRRS [porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome] disease, which is the equivalent of HIV in humans, we will be obliged to accept, no questions asked, this product, and we don’t even have labelling laws to alert you to the fact that this might be suspect, except knowing that it’s from New Zealand. That is a less than perfect situation and I am expecting members of major parties to have an opinion on this, because the population are rightly saying ‘who is protecting us?’ Simon Birmingham is a Liberal Senator for South Australia. He has called in. Hi Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: G’day, Leon, and good afternoon to your listeners. Leon, I obviously didn’t hear all of your debate this morning and commentary I’m up in Canberra and have been in Senate Estimates hearings but your listeners have brought it to my attention and it’s an issue that I’ve become aware of over the last couple of days. I gather you’ve spoken to [Liberal Senator] Bill Heffernan and others and [Independent Senator] Nick Xenophon and there are very clear concerns about this and I understand the urgency of the problem. We do need to get some decent answers on it and some quick answers. Frankly, the Government should probably be calling in the New Zealand High Commissioner and having a straight chat about this and working out how we can resolve it. Obviously putting our pork industry at threat is not acceptable. My sister-in-law and her husband are pig farmers in South Australia so I often hear about the issues of the pork industry. I’m very conscious of that and I do want to hear the answers that I know my colleagues are asking of Biosecurity Australia in Senate Estimates today. I’ve asked them to let me know as soon as that comes on in their committee and if I can escape my committee, where we’re talking about a raft of other issues, I will dash over there and make sure that I engage in that discussion as well so that we can get the firsthand evidence of what the problem is, what the risk is and most importantly what we can do to fix this issue with the back door importation from New Zealand. It’s just not good enough if Australia has standards that don’t allow certain products directly into this country for us to see them potentially come in through secondary avenues like New Zealand.
LEON BYNER: Well, let me tell you, Simon, this is not new. Neal Blewett [Chair, Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council’s Independent Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy] admitted to me on the air months ago that this was an anomaly where China, for example, could export raw materials into New Zealand, New Zealand could package it and it would get into Australia as a product of New Zealand, so this anomaly has existed for a while and nobody up to now has bothered to do anything about it. Now, what’s happened here is of course you’ve got now a critical incident, potentially, thanks to 4 o’clock this afternoon that’s how quick it’s going to happen.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right, Leon. You’ve got this urgent issue around this PRRS disease related to pigs and obviously we need to deal with the urgent issue promptly, but I don’t disagree that we need to have far more clarity in our labelling laws in this country. It’s disappointing that the Government made a lot of noise about it, appointed Neal Blewett to do his review and in the end, of course, that review squibbed making decisions that would give some clarity to consumers. I came from working in the wine industry before going into the Senate. There are a lot of laws around wine labelling to make sure consumers know exactly which region it came from and that you can’t have any doubt or dodginess in that regard. We should be able to achieve the thing for the country of origin.
LEON BYNER: I’m expecting that tomorrow you will call into our show and have some answers for us. It’s that urgent.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Leon, I will find out exactly what’s happened with Biosecurity Australia and will be very happy to chat tomorrow.
LEON BYNER: Alright. Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator, and as I said, you need to be alarmed at this. I do not have to beat up a story like this but we are facing a major border protection fiasco. As I said, all of the discussion on border protection has centred around people coming here in boats but the biggest border protection issue of this country is to be able to guarantee that we keep our food safe because it helps on two fronts you, the consumer, and when we export they know they’re getting good stuff and if we allow these trade agreements to undermine all these things that we’ve fought long and hard for then more fool us.