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Transcript - 24210

Interview with Steve Austin, 612 ABC

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 18/02/2015

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 24210

Subject(s): Food labelling laws

STEVE AUSTIN:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is in Queensland at the moment. I saw him on ABC TV News 24 with the representative of Bravehearts down on the Gold Coast. Prime Minister, good morning to you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Steve, it’s lovely to be with you and your listeners.

STEVE AUSTIN:

You’ve just heard Richard Mulcahy from Ausveg ask for improved testing from the Federal Government for the full range of chemicals on imported food products and microbial bacteria and improved labelling standards. Would you do it now that there are 12 cases of Hepatitis A from imported food in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Steve, the bottom line is that companies shouldn’t poison their customers. That is the bottom line: companies should not poison their customers. Businesses have an obligation to do the right thing by their customers, they have an obligation to ensure that the product they sell is safe and, obviously, in some cases that hasn’t been the case.

So look, we’re certainly looking at what we can do to toughen up screening, but we also need to look to business to lift its game here.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Richard Mulcahy told me that some of the supermarket chains have been working with suppliers from overseas to improve their standards but they have major issues of poverty and water quality. The only response that an Australian government could do that wants to protect its people is actually test for the full range of chemicals on those products and microbial bacteria.

PRIME MINISTER:

This isn’t just a matter for government, Steve. It is also a matter for the businesses that are dealing with the public, because if I’m a reputable business, the last thing I want to do is to sell something that makes people sick. I want to sell something that is good for people and I’m sure that 99.99 per cent of businesses are trying to do that but, plainly, in this particular case it didn’t quite work.

Now, yes, government has a role, but business has a role too, because the last thing we would want to do is load on so much more regulation, so many more criteria that the price goes through the roof. We don’t want that. We want safe products but we want safe products at a fair price, too.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Richard Mulcahy pointed out you’ve been talking about improving labelling for nine years. Many Australians apparently want you to just do it. Why don’t you just do it and improve the labelling so Australians, when they buy something in the supermarket, can know whether it meets Australian health standards?

PRIME MINISTER:

You know, I went through my own fridge a few months back when I got a letter in my letterbox hand-delivered on this very subject, and I went through my own fridge and it was amazing how many of the cans and packets in the pantry and in the fridge said ‘made in Australia from local and imported products’.

STEVE AUSTIN:

And no one knows what that means.

PRIME MINISTER:

That they don’t and what happens is that from week to week, the composition can change because at different times of the year things are available in Australia and other times they’re only available from overseas. So, if we’re going to have constant supply of the kinds of things we need, the composition of the product might change on a batch by batch basis.

STEVE AUSTIN:

So, Tony Abbott, you’re the Prime Minister, you’re the top man in Australia. You have the power to improve the labelling laws. You can go into Parliament at the next sitting of Parliament and make sure your side puts a Bill in the Parliament and you’ll have the support of the minor candidates in the Senate and more. You can do it.

PRIME MINISTER:

But it’s very important that government makes things better, not worse, and the last thing I want to do is put a whole lot of additional requirements on business that will make their life very, very difficult and which will raise unreasonably prices to consumers, because everything that we do in this area has a cost. Now, some price is worth paying – I absolutely accept that – but it’s got to be a careful balancing act. Careful judgement has to be applied here. Now, I know there’s a parliamentary…

STEVE AUSTIN:

Are you prepared to allow more Australians to get sick in this issue under the banner of not putting imposts on business?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we will do our jobs, and at the moment there’s a body called FSANZ – Food Standards Australia New Zealand. It’s a joint Commonwealth, state, New Zealand body. It decides whether a product is high-risk and if it’s high-risk there’s 100 per cent screening, if it’s low-risk there’s surveillance which is five per cent screening. So, I’m certainly very happy to see FSANZ have another look at things like the screening of berries from overseas – very happy for that to happen – but, in the end, it’s always got to be a question of judgement, Steve. It’s always got to be a question of getting the balance right, because every time we demand more regulation, every time we demand different kinds of labelling, we add the costs and the consumer has to pay. Now, I’ve got to respect consumers’ pockets; I’ve got to respect their financial health as well as other aspects of their health.

STEVE AUSTIN:

I’m speaking with the Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott. In the couple of minutes I’ve got left, Prime Minister, I’d like to ask you about the outcome of the Queensland state election. Many on the LNP side of politics blamed you and your public statements for damaging the brand of the LNP, if you like, in the lead up to the state election and I don’t believe you had a chance to respond to that. Particularly, former deputy premier, Jeff Seeney, very clearly pointed the finger at you and, to a lesser extent, Bruce McIver. Were you responsible in any way for the loss of the LNP in the last state election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously, the Liberal and National parties are a family right around Australia and if we go badly in one area, it has an impact on other areas; conversely, if we go well in one area, it has an impact in other areas. And look, I spoke regularly with Campbell Newman throughout the campaign. Campbell is a friend of mine. I deeply regret the outcome and his considered opinion to me in the days after the election was that it was overwhelmingly fought on state issues.

Now, as far as the Commonwealth is concerned, obviously, we are always trying to learn the right lessons from what’s happening around our country, but in terms of Queensland, this Commonwealth Government – this Coalition Government in Canberra – we’ve scrapped the carbon tax, we’ve scrapped the mining tax. They were both anti-Queensland taxes. We’ve committed almost $7 billion to the Bruce Highway and we’ve committed $1 billion to the Gateway Motorway upgrade. We’ve committed $700 million to the Toowoomba Range crossing and now, my anxiety is that a new government – a new government that didn’t have access to the resources that the Newman Government did – won’t be able to go ahead with some of these things.

STEVE AUSTIN:

Prime Minister, good to speak with you. Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much.

[ends]

Transcript - 24210