Doorstop, Sydney Fish Market

media conference
County of Origin Labelling for Seafood

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: First of all, I just want to thank Greg [Dyer] and the team here at Sydney Fish Market for hosting us this morning. I’m delighted to announce today that the Albanese Government is opening consultations on a new framework that’s going to deliver fair dinkum choices for Australian consumers and deliver big time for the Australian seafood industry. Right now, 62 per cent of seafood that’s consumed in Australia is from overseas and most Australian consumers believe that if the seafood isn’t labelled, it is, in fact, from Australia. Well, we are going to make sure that there is a mandatory framework where country of origin labelling is applied to Australian seafood in restaurants, in fish and chip shops right across the board in the Australian market. That’s going to deliver fair dinkum choice for Australian consumers and it’s going to deliver some fairness and equity for the Australian seafood industry. We’re going to set out on this set of reforms over the course of this year, work hard with the States and Territories to deliver it. I hope that Christmas 2023, that that framework is in place so that Australian consumers get a fair dinkum choice when it comes to Australian seafood. Let’s rotate, Greg.

Greg Dyer, CEO of Sydney Fish Market: Good morning. I’m Greg Dyer. I’m the chief executive here at the Sydney Fish Market. This is just a wonderful initiative and we’re very pleased to hear the Minister’s words in relation to it. This is something that we’ve been talking about for several years now and it’s great to see that the Albanese Government is supporting this initiative in support of our wonderful Australian seafood producers. The industry is going to be very thankful for this initiative. So, it’s a great initiative from their perspective. But Australian consumers are demanding more information about where their food comes from. We have the best seafood in the world, and I think Australian consumers need to have the right to know where it comes from and to understand the providence of the seafood they’re eating every day. So, a wonderful initiative, obviously very supportive and happy to host the event this morning.

Veronica Papacosta, CEO of Seafood Industry Australia: Thank you. Good morning, everyone, and welcome down to the Sydney Fish Markets on such an iconic couple of days. It’s a really timely announcement for us in the industry given everyone’s thinking about seafood. Seafood’s become quite the Australian tradition with Christmas, so we very much welcome this announcement at this time down here on this beautiful sunny day. So, we would love to thank the Albanese Government very much for what for us has been probably a 10- to 15-year advocacy piece to make sure that Australian consumers know where their seafood is coming from in the foodservice sector. It’s really important to us that through this process, through discussion and consultation and implementation, that we work with the foodservice industry. We understand they’ve had some challenges recently, as we all have across the industry, through the COVID‑19 pandemic. It’s very important to us that we do this right, and we do it together so we keep the supply chain strong and get that beautiful seafood through to the Australian consumer. That’s very important to us in developing and designing how we move forward from here. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Australian seafood industry for their absolute resilience in battling through the last few years in terms of the issues that we’ve had through the supply chain and make sure that we reassure the Australian community that seafood is very much on the menu this year and we hope you enjoy that for Christmas.

And, finally, I think that it is an important time to really look back at the challenges we’ve had as a whole economy, understand the pressures for the Australian community and make sure that we put transparency and that understanding of where their food is coming from - we don’t let that slip even though we’ve got some challenges across the industry. So, thank you again, Minister Ayres and to the Albanese Government; we very much welcome this announcement and say thank you.

Journalist: Minister, why just seafood? Why not beef, chicken, everything else as well?

Assistant Minister: There is a clear requirement and demand from consumers in this area. It’s one of the things that we promised that we would do during the election. We’re a government that does what it says it was going to do. We’re going to follow through on this reform. It does mean that consumers will get a real choice. At the moment, we know that most consumers believe that the seafood that they buy is from Australia if it’s not labelled. We’re going to give them a fair dinkum choice. And we’re really standing in the corner for the Australian seafood industry. It’s mums and dads like Paul Bagnato who runs this fishing trawler here, mums and dads up and down the coast who work so hard delivering high‑quality seafood for Australian markets, and we’re in their corner. We’re backing consumers and we’re going to work really hard with the hospitality industry to make sure that these reforms are delivered in a way that’s clear, that’s really easy to comply with and is in the benefit of their customers.

Journalist: Would you be able to open to expand this, though, to different types of industries, poultry, beef, other areas?

Assistant Minister: We have got no plans to extend beyond seafood. Seafood is where the demand is. Seafood is where consumers and customers have been raising this issue. And the seafood industry has been fighting for these reforms now for more than 15 years. We’re going to back them. We’re going to back this reform. It’s a sensible reform and it’s going to mean that consumers have a real choice. And this is an industry that produces jobs in country towns, that produces some of the highest quality seafood in the world, and we want to be in their corner.

Journalist: Has there been any pushback from industry or from suppliers regarding these reforms?

Assistant Minister: Well, the hospitality industry is naturally apprehensive about what these reforms mean for them - for fish and chip shops, for restaurants, for pubs. We’ve made these reforms really simple, really basic, in order to make the compliance barrier as low as possible. But we’ll continue to work through this consultation process with the industry, with the hospitality sector and, of course, with the States and Territories to make sure these reforms really deliver for the seafood sector, really deliver for Australian consumers and that it’s really simple and straightforward for the hospitality industry to comply with.

Journalist: [Indistinct] Australia can negotiate the relaxing of trade bans with China in the new year. What’s your message to producers on this topic? 

Assistant Minister: I’ve got two messages, really, on the China trade bans, particularly those bans that have had a big impact in the seafood sector on Australian lobsters. They’ve really hurt the Australian seafood industry and they’ve really hurt Chinese consumers as well. These bans should never have been applied. It’s a matter for the Chinese Government when these bans are lifted. But my second message is to Australian consumers there’s no better time to get out there and buy Australian lobsters than there is this Christmas. Australian consumers ought to get behind the seafood industry and make sure that there’s plenty of Australian seafood on Christmas tables on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Journalist: There’s suggestions to move to cap gas prices - another intervention will impact on the future viability of gas projects. Are Australians in for even more [indistinct] if these gas projects fail to - fall over? 

Assistant Minister: Well, the reforms that we put through the Parliament last week and that the State and Territory Governments have been putting through their Parliaments mean downward pressure on electricity prices, downward pressure on gas prices for Australian consumers and businesses. It’s a result of Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine that these prices have spiked so sharply. Now, for the gas sector and for the coal sector, [more than 96 per cent of Australian gas is exported overseas]*. The coal sector - most Australian coal is exported overseas. These reforms are targeted. They are temporary and they are going to be effective on putting downward pressures on prices over the course of 2023 for Australian consumers and businesses. And I know in my manufacturing role just how important these reforms are. Big east coast manufacturers who use gas as a feedstock in their supply processes were on the brink of collapsing. These reforms are going to mean affordable gas for those businesses, and that’s going to save thousands of jobs in manufacturing, particularly on Australia’s east coast. They’re sensible reforms, they’re well targeted and they’re temporary.

Journalist: Is there any discussion within the Government about whether Anthony Albanese will meet President Xi in the future?

Assistant Minister: I’m not aware of any discussion. Any dialogue, including high-level dialogue, Ministerial dialogue, is a good thing. It was a good thing that Prime Minister Albanese met President Xi in Indonesia just a month ago. The more dialogue the better and, as you can see, the Government has been working through in a careful and consistent way, advocating Australia’s interests across the region, including China.

*CORRECTION: Approximately 71 per cent of gas produced in Australia was exported in financial year 2021-22.