Food Amendment (Kilojoule Labelling Scheme and Other Matters) Bill 2016

Mr Hibbins (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the Food Amendment (Kilojoule Labelling Scheme and Other Matters) Bill 2016, which is amending the Food Act 1984 by introducing, as has been described by previous speakers, a labelling scheme at large Victorian chain food businesses and large supermarkets. We strongly support this preventative health measure to address what I would call a public health crisis in obesity that is affecting our state and our country and probably most of the Western world as well, with rising levels of obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other weight gain conditions and diseases. These laws will bring Victoria in line with food labelling laws in the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, New South Wales and, we believe, with new laws in Queensland.

We will be supporting this bill, but in going along with this bill we would like to see a public advertising campaign to inform Victorian consumers about these new laws and how they can use them to assist themselves. We know, as has been described by previous speakers, that two-thirds of Victorians are overweight or obese and that this is the major factor in those diseases outlined — in cardiovascular disease, in type 2 diabetes and even in some cancers — and that the cost to Victoria is $14.4 billion per annum. There are many causes of obesity, and excessive consumption of unhealthy food is a major factor. Kilojoule labelling is practical and cost-effective and will put information into the hands of consumers. We understand from the New South Wales example that the average number of kilojoules consumed by individuals after this scheme was introduced dropped 15 per cent.

Whilst we do support this bill, I will just flag one area where we think it could be strengthened — that is, in the exemptions that are provided for certain outlets. These laws apply to large chain food businesses with 20 or more outlets in Victoria, or 50 nationally with at least 1 in Victoria, and to supermarket chains with at least 20 outlets in Victoria, or 50 nationally with at least 1 in Victoria, in relation to food and drinks that are standardised for portion and content, are ready to eat, are unpackaged and are sold at more than one outlet. These laws do not apply to small supermarkets, convenience stores, cinemas, catering services, temporary or mobile food premises, vending machines or service stations. We feel that the exemption for cinemas, service stations, small supermarkets and convenience stores undermines the effectiveness of this bill. It is at these places that people often make those unhealthy food choices, and it is at these locations where there is often a high proportion of unhealthy foods available.

We note that one of the reasons being put forward in terms of this bill is consistency with other states, and we think that consistency should also apply to where these laws actually apply. To maximise the effects of the scheme we should look to cover as many outlets and as many chains as possible. If a significant part of the market is not covered by the scheme, that undermines its effectiveness and undermines the benefits it will have for Victorians — for consumers — and also all those added benefits of having a healthy population and what that brings to our state.

The second area we would like to see changes in is having penalties similar to those in other states. I understand that in this particular bill we have penalties that equate to $3109.20 for an individual and $15 546 for a corporation. That contrasts with New South Wales, which has penalties of $55 000 for an individual and $275 000 for a corporation for an intentional contravention of the act and $11 000 for an individual and $55 000 for a corporation for an unintended contravention.

The reason for supporting higher penalties is to prevent and deter corporations in particular from engaging in tactics that would undermine the objectives of the proposed scheme.

I am just reminded of something that occurred I believe in New South Wales, where the introduction of a new electronic menu system at McDonald's did not comply with the laws because it did not show the kilojoules at all times. That is just a small example of how an outlet might engage in practices that could undermine the act and what it is trying to do. We think strong penalties would guard against that occurring.

The third aspect that we would like to see accompanying this bill is a strong consumer education campaign that runs alongside the introduction of this scheme. Rather than just implementing the scheme with this act, the evidence shows that it would be far more effective to implement it with some funding to let people know what is occurring, as in New South Wales, where the state government provided $1.18 million for a campaign targeted towards 18 to 24-year-olds, a demographic that probably goes to fast-food outlets most, and who would most benefit from such a scheme.

Letting people know what the daily kilojoule average is, what their particular kilojoule needs are, what foods have what kilojoule ratings as well as the fact that this scheme is available would strengthen this bill immeasurably, and we would then see a much better outcome for Victorian consumers and the Victorian population.

We will be supporting this bill, but I will just raise a couple of other issues in regard to preventative health, in particular food. At a federal level there is the issue of the sugar tax that the Greens put forward at the last federal election. I believe this has been implemented in Britain. I certainly think that is a public policy debate we need in Australia. We know all levels of government are interested in revenue and taxation, and such a law would have benefits for consumers in Victoria. The research shows that if you put a 20 per cent tax on sugary beverages, you see a 12 per cent drop in consumption while also raising about $400 million in general revenue, so I think that is certainly an issue that we need to address. We also need to look at restricting junk-food advertising. That is another reason that something is being done in the UK.

The final action to take to tackle obesity is to support active transport, including cycling and walking. We see in some European countries where there are very high percentages of people who ride or cycle to work a comparable drop in the sorts of diseases that accompany obesity. There are a few other policy ideas that I think we need to address in this state and this country.

As I said, we will be supporting this bill. As I have outlined, there are three areas where some improvements can be made. We would particularly like to see a consumer education campaign being implemented as part of this legislation.