Alcohol Labelling

18 June 2020

Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (14:23): My question is to Senator Colbeck, in his capacity as health portfolio minister and the chair of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation. I ask these questions on behalf of Senator Griff. I refer to the documents provided by Ministers Colbeck and Littleproud in response to Senator Griff's order for the production of documents on FSANZ's proposals for mandatory pregnancy warnings on packaged alcohol. The OPD shows Minister Littleproud received advice from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment that discusses industry concerns but still concludes: 'The department is of the view that there is a lack of evidence to support concerns raised by portfolio alcohol industries.' Why did the federal government use its vote in the forum on food regulation to ask FSANZ to review its proposal, because of concerns raised by industry, when even the department concludes that the industry concerns are exaggerated?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:24): I thank the senator for his question. He raises a very important issue. My colleagues sitting around the table with me—food ministers—had, as senators are aware, a very serious conversation with respect to this issue. We listened closely to all perspectives and came to the view that the one thing we wanted to do, as a result of our considerations with respect to alcohol labelling, was move from a situation where we had voluntary labelling on alcohol containers to a compulsory one. That was one of the decisions we made. But we also did consider some of the representations that had been made to us by a range of stakeholders, and we asked FSANZ to do some additional work, which it's currently doing. FSANZ will report back to us next week. There's another meeting of the food ministers council next month, which will, I hope, make a final decision to form compulsory labelling for pregnancy warnings on alcohol receptacles. I sincerely hope that that's the case, and that's the conversation that I have. I understand that FSANZ, off the back of the meeting in March, has been back talking to all sides of this discussion—the medical professionals, those who are lobbying in respect of better management of alcohol labelling around FASD—because we all want to see the incidence of FASD stamped out completely. It's something I think we can do and we should do. That's why we are so firm in our view that there should be compulsory labelling—moving away from the circumstance of the voluntary system that's in place right now. We will consider the report provided to us by FSANZ, when we come to that meeting, and hopefully make a final decision.

Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (14:26): You've talked about meeting with stakeholders and so forth, and you've suggested that you're going in a particular direction, but the OPD suggests that the cost proposals were deemed 'an unreasonable cost burden'. The federal government represented only one of the votes, yet the forum has come to that conclusion. How did it come to that conclusion, and why did you vote that way?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:26): Senator Patrick is correct. The Commonwealth government has only one vote on that forum, and that forum voted, by majority, to ask FSANZ to do some additional work. So, in other words, the Commonwealth and enough states and territories made a decision to do some further work. I know that FSANZ has been back to industry to check some of the figures that they provided with respect to the potential cost impact on them. I'm certain that that evidence will be provided in the reporting that FSANZ brings back to food ministers when it reports back to us formally later this month. That will be considered as a part of the overall discussion at that food ministers meeting. I think it's on about 21 July. My sincere hope is that once we get through the report that comes back from FSANZ to food ministers, which is due next week, we'll be in a position to move to— (Time expired)

Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (14:27): Minister, you talk about engagement with a whole range of stakeholders, yet the OPD suggests that there were only two meetings with the alcohol industry: one on 27 February and another on 3 March. Perhaps that doesn't contain all the information. Could you provide the chamber, perhaps on notice, with all of the stakeholders with whom you've met, including health officials and others apart from industry?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:28): I'm more than happy to provide on notice any further information I can to the chamber. On the comment that I made with respect to FSANZ going back to industry and other stakeholders, I know that has been occurring, because I've been talking to FSANZ over recent weeks to understand where those negotiations and those discussions have been, to understand some of the costs that have been supplied, particularly by industry to FSANZ, and the justification of those costs. I think that's an important thing for us, as ministers, to understand when we consider these matters. I do acknowledge the comments that you've made, Senator Patrick, with respect to the cost of FASD to the broader community. Clearly, without even justification of the costs that industry is putting up, the cost to society from FASD is way more than the cost to industry, and so that is something that seriously needs to be considered as part of our discussions. As I said, I sincerely hope that we have permanent labels— (Time expired)

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