FSANZ - Order for the Production of Documents

30 November 2021

I thank the Senate for supporting my OPD request last week. That order sought documents relating to proposed health warnings on alcohol. And what a revealing batch of documents they were! We have the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management Australia, Mr David Littleproud, writing to each industry stakeholder, giving them a heads-up about what he referred to as an ambitious reform proposal for the regulator, FSANZ, and making sure that they are fully included in the process. Who needs a public affairs team to stay across reviews and inquiries when federal ministers will do it for you? Mr Littleproud also put up an alternative proposal, one which reflected all of the alcohol industry's concerns and absolutely none of the public health concerns. That's right: none of the public health concerns whatsoever.

After the minister's proposal was defeated by a clear majority of state and territory ministers, the minister and his industry mates all agreed how disappointing it was. A number of them specifically targeted their criticisms at the regulator, FSANZ. One particular letter was sent by the leaders of Alcohol Beverages Australia, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, the National Farmers Federation and Beverages Australia. Curiously, the identity of Beverages Australia was redacted by Mr Littleproud's office, but the same unredacted document was shared by Senator Colbeck's office—and I thank the senator for that. This letter called for FSANZ to be stripped of its powers and for its board make-up to change and responsibility for food regulation to be taken away from the Department of Health and moved to Mr Littleproud's agricultural portfolio. Conversely, the Department of Health wanted to expand the scope, authority and responsibilities of FSANZ, and stakeholder Brewers Australia said FSANZ had served Australia's interests well. This was 30 July this year. The very next week, the CEO of FSANZ was gone and later that month even the acting chair was gone too. How long until the government announces that FSANZ will be stripped of its powers and the alcohol industry will have achieved everything it wanted? This totally smells of interference.

It is the Senate's responsibility, our special role in our parliamentary system, to hold the government to account. That means reviewing their policies, their expenditure and their decisions. There needs to be a Senate inquiry into the conduct of ministers with regards to FSANZ; an inquiry to determine if the Minister for Agriculture removed statutory officers at the behest of the alcohol industry; an inquiry to determine if a line was crossed.

Cosy relationships between governments and lobby groups are a cancer on our democracy. We need transparency to know what deals are being done and how this may affect Australians. We need transparency to hold politicians and lobbyists to account and to create incentives for them to act in the public interest instead of their personal interests. Once again, I thank the Senate for supporting my OPD. I encourage all senators to read the documents for themselves, to see just how cosy the relationships are between the government and the alcohol industry.

Question agreed to.

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