LEON BYNER: Now that New Zealand has agreed to allow fresh pork meat into their country, that will set a precedent that an applicant who wants to bring the same pork into Australia would use against us at the World Trade Organisation. Now, Joe Ludwig [Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry] has scoffed at suggestions that we will import suspect meat into Australia automatically but he must be aware of the court decision of the World Trade Organisation that forced Australia to import New Zealand apples sprayed with streptomycin irrespective of any quarantine scientific concerns which were provable. It’s been admitted in the Senate Estimates in the last day or so that some of these apples will come from trees infected with fire blight. For the Minister to write off the concern regards meat with the PRRS disease [porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus] is highly naïve because he must know that our country needs to maintain its status as the world’s cleanest, greenest produce and it was admitted that no country that’s had an outbreak of fire blight in a commercial orchard has ever eradicated it. Now, I understand that a negotiator who is employed by the Federal Government is now in Canada and the US trying to facilitate trade which would include BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopathy] meat, potentially with mad cow disease, entering Australia. This free trade fiasco is being tried on at every level and all the Feds can do is give glib comments about our so called stringent regulations. Mr Ludwig, do you remember Today Tonight who tested fresh and frozen produce and found that 25 per cent had bad chemicals which were withdrawn immediately? Please don’t patronise the public with your hollow assurances when you’ve got a facilitator away helping to negotiate with exporters who want to access our market with product that may be infected with mad cow disease. You couldn’t even give the public clear ‘country of origin’ labelling, just a sideshow with no result. Blind adherence to free trade imperatives places this country in danger of decimating industries and robs the public that’s you and me of the right to choose. Now, any politician… this should be above politics and as far as I’m concerned it is, but the Government have an obligation to do something straight away. Bill Heffernan, you were in the Senate [Rural Affairs and Transport Committee Senate Estimates hearing] yesterday. What did you find out?
LEON BYNER: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator, what can you add to this?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: G’day, Leon and listeners. Look, this issue is very serious and you’re right to highlight that, firstly, the direct threat may not be as first feared but the indirect threat is still there, so the direct threat that we will see this pig meat come from New Zealand does not appear to be the case and that’s something we can breathe a little easier over in the short term…
LEON BYNER: It’s only the case because nobody’s taken to court yet. Now, we lost on the fire blight and yet there were very good quarantine sciences given but you know what? They discounted those on the basis of trade.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And Leon, if you can let me finish… as I said, the indirect threat is certainly as to what precedent this establishes for WTO cases World Trade Organisation cases or otherwise and just what the New Zealanders’ decision on this may be used by other countries who want to get access to Australia. I’ve written to the Prime Minister asking her on three key issues to provide evidence and details of what action the Government’s taking. It’s clear by Minister Ludwig’s refusal to speak to you this morning he’s not taking it seriously and so I want the Prime Minister to. I’ve asked her to outline what the threat of this decision is in terms of imports to Australia, what the impact of it is in terms of World Trade Organisation negotiations and what she’s doing on acting to ensure Australia’s interests in those negotiations are heard and lastly on issues of labelling and ensuring that whether it’s at the supermarket, deli or the butcher’s or wherever, you know where the product’s coming from.
LEON BYNER: Well, the Coalition has to come out through the Prime Minister, or her opposite, and say ‘this is what we will do if we get into government’. You can write to Julia Gillard but Julia and Mr Emerson [Craig Emerson, Minister for Trade] are avowed free trade fundamentalists. They have already said that they will pursue unilateral free trade. That is, ‘we will pursue it irrespective of what other countries do’ so what the Coalition’s got to do is decide its position and enunciate that to the public. When will that happen?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Leon, the only people aside from Nick Xenophon the only people asking questions on these matters in the Estimates committee, that Bill Heffernan was talking about, yesterday were Liberals like Bill Heffernan or Richard Colbeck or Chris Back or Nationals like John Williams or Fiona Nash. It is the Coalition leading the cause in this regard and I can tell you that our Shadow Minister is well aware of it and that we will be working to develop policies that I’m sure you will find far more compelling than those of the Government but the threat is real and in the short term, and it may come to a head before the next election, so what’s important is to get this Government acting and what’s important is that it’s not just Bill or I or other Liberals that you talk to, what’s important is the public gets on the phone to those leaders of the Labor Government in South Australia Penny Wong, Mark Butler, Don Farrell. Where are they on these issues? What are they doing?
LEON BYNER: Alright. Simon Birmingham, thank you.