FOOD AMENDMENT (FOOD SAFETY SUPERVISORS) BILL 2009
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 30 October 2009.
Mr GEORGE SOURIS
(Upper Hunter) [6.22 p.m.]: I have pleasure in leading for the Liberal-Nationals Coalition on the Food Amendment (Food Safety Supervisors) Bill 2009 and also in representing my colleague the Hon. Duncan Gay in another place, who is the shadow Minister in relation to this bill. This bill will be dealt with more fully in another place. Although the Opposition opposes the bill it will not divide in this place but reserves the right to either move amendments or to seek Government amendments to clarify a number of issues in this bill, or to divide in the other place.
The New South Wales Opposition understands the importance of food safety within our restaurants, cafes, takeaway food shops, catering establishments, clubs and hotels. Food handling errors that occur within the New South Wales hospitality industry account for a large proportion of food-borne illnesses in New South Wales, with a direct cost of around $150 million and an unnecessary burden on health services. The Food Amendment (Food Safety Supervisors) Bill 2009 amends the Food Act 2003 to require the proprietors of certain food businesses to appoint a food safety supervisor who must hold a food safety supervisor certificate as evidence of the food handler training qualifications required to have the authority to supervise food handling and ensure the handling is done safely.
We understand that this initiative to require businesses to appoint trained food safety supervisors aims to reduce the incidence of such illness. We also understand that this initiative, including alignment with national competencies, brings New South Wales into line with similar requirements in Queensland and Victoria. However, we have serious concerns about the extra costs this will place on small businesses and the extra burden this will place on an already struggling industry. Total costs are estimated at around $250 per person, which is a big amount for a small, struggling business to fork out. We cannot support this move unless the Government puts in place measures to financially support businesses. In a small business the training may have to be repeated as employees come and go. Also, there is the issue of employees who suddenly call in sick or who resign, leaving the business without a certificated trained person. We also have concerns about how remote regional businesses will cope and how their employees will be trained.
While the industry has spoken out against the impact of this extra regulatory burden, it recognises that there are models in other States that New South Wales is following. What industry is looking for is some commitment to manage the compliance through a web-based process of managing that is registered, trained, and so on. Industry maintains that the failure of the bill to allow businesses to register the food safety supervisor's statutory information through a web-based page will increase costs for government and industry, as well as limit the compliance by small to medium enterprises, including franchises. While a paper-based system will be needed for equity of access by people without internet resources, that form should be standardised. Launching such a scheme concerning the personal identification of thousands of food safety supervisors without web-based access is certain to create unfavourable industry and general media comment, and may limit compliance rates.
Further, retailers are presently experiencing greater administration costs of registering food premises through two levels of government due to local government agencies demanding that food businesses register the same information that is required on the Notification and Food Safety Information System [NAFSIS] database. Industry does not need more red tape and we call on the Government to at the very least make a commitment to this web-based compliance process. I conclude my remarks by reminding the House that whilst the Opposition is opposed to this legislation we will not be dividing in this place but reserve the right to do so in another place.
Mr ROBERT FUROLO
(Lakemba) [6.27 p.m.]: I rise to support the Food Amendment (Food Safety Supervisors) Bill 2009. In supporting this bill I commend the NSW Food Authority for its proactive approach to reducing food-borne illnesses in New South Wales by improving food handler skills and knowledge. Food handlers are the critical link between food and consumers. Food handlers have a responsibility to ensure that food served to consumers is safe by following proper food safety practices. Yet food-borne illness statistics consistently show that poor food handling practices, such as improper time and temperature control, poor personal hygiene and cross-contamination, cause a large proportion of food-borne illnesses, especially in hospitality businesses. I am not surprised that in New South Wales alone this typically results in more than 2,000 confirmed cases of salmonella poisonings each year.
Food contaminated with bacteria and viruses is a serious public health problem. New South Wales bears $416 million of the total cost of food-borne illnesses in Australia, estimated at $1.2 billion per year. This figure includes the costs of food-borne illness outbreaks as well as individual cases of disease. Currently the data collected on food-borne illness in Australia is based on reported outbreaks only. OzFoodNet, the national food-borne disease surveillance system established by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, publishes this information,. In 2004 OzFoodNet reported that restaurants and cafes alone cause 36 per cent of food-borne illness outbreaks. This bill will cover more than this segment of the hospitality industry. It will include the places where consumers in New South Wales purchase food on a daily basis—takeaway shops, caterers, bakeries, clubs, hotels and certain retail activities such as supermarket hot food sales. OzFoodNet does not report outbreak data in relation to this group as a whole but rather reports on each hospitality business type separately.
In reality, if the data for all businesses covered by this bill were combined, the percentage of outbreaks attributed to this industry would increase to 61 per cent. The New South Wales Government has taken a conservative, responsible approach to this information. It has used the figure of 36 per cent, directly attributable to outbreak data for restaurants and cafes only, in all its estimates of the cost of food-borne illness to the State. The true cost is undoubtedly much higher. This conservative estimate still puts the cost of food-borne illness caused by hospitality food businesses at an unacceptably high $150 million. This is an unnecessary burden on the State's economy and health system, including for the treatment of patients and hospital beds being occupied.
The Food Standards Code requires food handlers to have the necessary skills and knowledge to handle food safely. However, the code does not require training and provides no method to assess skills and knowledge. Furthermore, many code requirements are outcome based rather than prescriptive. While there is clearly great variation in the skills and knowledge possessed by food handlers, objective assessment during food business inspection is not possible so the skills and knowledge requirement, in particular, is unenforceable. The knowledge gap is currently demonstrated by the high number of food-borne outbreaks caused by poor food handling in hospitality businesses. Industry agrees that now is the time to lift the game of food handlers in New South Wales, and with its support that is now possible. I believe this bill can only bring benefits to the State and I support it because it provides an effective, low-cost approach to target the issue of food-borne illness and to improve food safety outcomes in New South Wales. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE
(Lismore) [6.31 p.m.]: The Food Amendment (Food Safety Supervisors) Bill 2009 seeks to amend the Food Act 2003—the principal Act—to require the proprietors of certain food businesses to appoint food safety supervisors who hold certain qualifications and who have the authority to supervise food handling, to require that those appointments be notified to the relevant enforcement agencies, to allow the Food Authority to approve registered training organisations to issue food safety supervisor certificates to persons who have the prescribed qualifications, and to make other amendments to facilitate the administration of the Act. All members understand the importance of food safety. It is a priority regardless of where we eat—at home, at a hotel or anywhere else. Yet here we go again, creating more red tape. Undertaking a food safety supervisor course will cost $250.
I was a hotel licensee. Hotels serve food and alcohol and offer gaming activities. Of course, they must have employees who have completed a responsible service of alcohol course, which costs $100. If they offer gaming, the staff involved in that activity must complete another course costing $100. No hotel can survive without serving food and the course required by this legislation will cost another $250. That is a total of $450. What happens if a licensee has paid for a young person to complete all those courses and three weeks later that young person falls in love and decides to move away? The licensee must then train someone else. Employers are being burdened with red tape and additional expenses. Will the Government recognise the money and time that businesses have spent putting people through courses? Larger businesses must also have staff who have occupational health and safety qualifications. How many more qualifications will be required? I am not complaining, but we should remember that small businesses in country and regional areas cannot continue to train employees only to have them move on.
Industry is looking for a commitment to manage compliance through a web-based system that details who is registered, trained and so on. How will remote regional businesses cope and how will their employees get the required training? Who will travel to remote areas to train these people? That is a major problem in country and regional areas. Trainers travel thousands of kilometres to provide responsible service of alcohol and responsible service of gaming training. Those courses should be coordinated; there should be a one-stop shop for training. I hope that the people advising the Minister realise that it would be unreasonable to have one person travelling to Moree to conduct a responsible service of alcohol course, another person travelling there the next day to conduct a food safety supervisor course, another person travelling there the next day to conduct an occupational health and safety course and so on.
Those courses should be coordinated so that people are not absent from their workplaces for extended periods. It is all right to add another course to the list, but they should be coordinated. The Government should work with business to deliver the required training. We must not further burden the employers of this State. I ask that some mechanism be put in place to deliver these courses properly so that employees are not unnecessarily absent from their workplace. Three or four of these courses might be amalgamated into one course. As I said, all members appreciate the importance of food safety, but the Opposition is concerned about the burdens being imposed on small businesses in regional and remote areas. They do not have the access to training that is available in major centres. The Opposition reserves the right to move amendments to the bill in the other place.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN
(Camden) [6.39 p.m.]: I support the Food Amendment (Food Safety Supervisors) Bill 2009. The New South Wales Government and the hospitality industry share a common vision: to reduce food-borne illness by improving the skills and knowledge of food handlers within the hospitality industry. The Government should be commended for developing this initiative in such close partnership with industry.
Mr Andrew Fraser:
Who wrote this?
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN:
Me. The popularity of the name-and-shame campaign shows that the people of New South Wales care about the safety of the food they eat, as does the member for Coffs Harbour. This bill provides an assurance to all consumers that their food is being handled properly, under the guidance of a trained and qualified person, whether it be in their local pub or club, restaurant or takeaway. A boost to consumer confidence in the New South Wales hospitality industry can only bring benefits to individual food businesses, the New South Wales economy and the industry as a whole. Industry recognises the need to raise food safety standards and supports mandatory food handler training as an effectively targeted, low-cost approach. The Food Authority has consulted extensively with industry to develop this initiative. It has worked in partnership with the Hospitality Sector Co-regulatory Working Group.
An example of the joint efforts was the overwhelming success of the food handler training pilot. I am sure the member for Coffs Harbour supports that. The purpose of the pilot was to ensure the proposed training is practical and relevant to food businesses. In June this year the authority conducted the pilot in conjunction with Restaurant and Catering New South Wales and Auburn council. Participants from local restaurants, takeaway shops, clubs and bakeries took part in a one-day training course. The course was based on the same national units of competency required in Queensland and Victoria for a food safety supervisor. Feedback by participants was very positive: 91 per cent of participants felt more confident about their food safety knowledge; participants also reported that they found the course helpful and relevant to their business; and 96 per cent of participants agreed that all food handlers in a business need food safety training.
The New South Wales Government is committed to achieving minimum effective regulation at the lowest cost to food businesses. Just one person per premises must be trained as a food safety supervisor or, in the case of mobile catering businesses, just one person per business. The food safety supervisor may be any person within the business, provided they do the training. The nature of the role may mean that the most common approach will be for businesses to use existing management or supervisory staff in meeting the requirement. The food safety supervisor will take a lead role in promoting good food hygiene and safe food handling in the business. This may be done by direct supervision or by developing systems, such as simple work instructions and signage, that support a culture of safe food handling. Through the working group a number of concerns were identified. These included issues such as fees—also raised by the member for Lismore—on-site availability of the food safety supervisor and recognition of existing qualifications and those obtained in other States. The bill contains provisions dealing with all those concerns in a practical, effective manner. I am sure the member for Lismore is happy to hear that.
Mr Andrew Fraser:
Someone else wrote this.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN:
No, it is all my own work. If this bill is enacted, the Food Authority will continue to work with the industry working group, local government and registered training organisations to plan the implementation, commencing around April 2010. This bill provides the foundation for building a stronger food safety culture in New South Wales. It achieves the right balance between managing food safety risks and minimising costs to business. I commend the bill to the House
Mr ANDREW FRASER
(Coffs Harbour) [6.43 p.m.]: Small businesses are the backbone of the Australian nation. The Legislation Review Committee quoted the following from the Minister's agreement in principle speech:
Mr ANDREW FRASER:
The hospitality industry is one of the cornerstones of the New South Wales economy. The industry is keen to target food-borne illness and continue to build its reputation. This bill is the next step in realising the New South Wales Government's twin visions of a safe and secure food supply coupled with a strong, profitable hospitality industry.
Mr Geoff Corrigan: Who wrote that speech?
That is what I would like to know. As the member for Lismore stated earlier, many small businesses, such as Mum's Snacks, where I get a hamburger every now and then to keep my local economy going—they are good, old-fashioned hamburgers, not like the ones from Maccas or any of the other fast food outlets—have two employees. On more than one occasion one of the ladies at Mum's Snacks has been ill—probably because she ate food from another outlet—and someone else has come in to help. If the person who is ill holds the food handling qualification, what happens when the food inspector—who happens to be a bit of a nark and who knows she is ill—walks into the shop? I notice the legislation provides for 30 days grace and so on, but I suggest that that is nothing more than window-dressing.
The bill is nothing more than a Government reaction to stories in the Daily Telegraph
that draw attention to filthy kitchens in many Sydney restaurants. We have legislation in place now to sort out those people; we do not need to place another impost of $250 on small businesses. Farmers in my electorate who might be using a bit of Roundup have to do a chemical handling course. They have to go back every two or three years and renew their certificate. I suggest that they are more competent than others who use that chemical but people who use it in their backyard do not have to have a certificate. They can buy and use the chemical but, unlike the farmers, they do not have to pay $250 or $300. This is a similar situation. I was a member of Apex for 19 years, and we cooked lots of steaks during that time.
Mr Russell Turner:
Mr ANDREW FRASER:
The member for Orange was a member of Apex as well. We catered for many functions and on many occasions we did so on a barbecue and out of a tent—at the Orana Valley Fair, the Coffs Harbour show, you name it, it has been done. I suggest that someone running a business in town would not be able to operate under the conditions that service clubs operate under. I am not saying that those conditions are unhealthy but they probably would not comply with any certificate offered under this legislation. I am led to believe—I cannot find it in the bill—that service clubs and others are exempt.
Mr Geoff Corrigan:
No, they comply.
Mr ANDREW FRASER:
They are deemed to comply, are they? Why are they deemed to comply and Mum's Snacks in Coffs Harbour is not deemed to comply when it abides by all current regulations? This bill is about the Government trying to save face with the Daily Telegraph
. I do not care how much regulation there is or how many inspectors there are, unless those inspectors do their jobs we will continue to see in the Daily Telegraph
photographs similar to those that appeared recently. Restaurants that do not comply with the regulations now will continue to ignore them. Unless someone is knocking on their door and visiting the full force of the law upon them, we will not have the surety that this legislation claims to give us.
Those restaurants will send someone to the course and then say they comply. That person—it is probably the smartest person in the shop—will sit in the corner and tell the inspector that they have their certificate. Will the inspector accept the certificate and then walk out of the restaurant and disappear into thin air? Probably. Will the inspector look at the kitchen and see the rats and the cockroaches, the dirt and the filth? I do not know whether he will. If those problems exist now they will continue to exist until councils and other food authorities inspect restaurants on a regular basis. I have been a member of a Government and I have received speeches from the Minister and read them onto the Hansard
, as many members have. But I do not think I could read a speech that places such an impost on small businesses, including those in the electorate of the member for Camden.
I have been informed by the shadow Minister in another place that if someone is only selling the food and not preparing it on the premises, they will not need a certificate. How many small businesses sell pre-made sandwiches, sausage rolls and other products? They may be made elsewhere in the cleanest and most hygienic conditions, but if they are not stored and served properly at the place of distribution I suggest that the risk of salmonella or any other food-borne disease is as high as it would be if the food were prepared there. If businesses buy in sausage rolls and do not chill them or do not put them into the oven immediately, there is a risk of contamination. If they bring in seafood and do not chill it before selling it, there is a risk of contamination. However, as they are not preparing the food, they do not need a certificate. If they bring in sandwiches that become flyblown and then sell them, they will not be affected by this legislation. The Government is either serious or it is not. The Government is introducing legislation late in the parliamentary year either for the sake of it or because it is serious about addressing the issues at hand, which have been brought to our attention by the Daily Telegraph
and other newspapers.
When I was shadow Minister for Primary Industries I studied the Food Act. I know that it provides for the policing of food safety. Parliament has the opportunity to ensure that this State has the highest possible food safety standards. However, it is obvious that that is not happening. It is obvious that there has been a concerted effort by the Daily Telegraph
to name and shame businesses. When I was shadow Minister the name-and-shame legislation was introduced. Businesses that were named and shamed under that legislation changed their name and operated under a different one, or operated from different premises and thus beat the legislation. If this issue is to be resolved, the loopholes in the existing legislation must be closed. The existing legislation must be policed. That is a fairly simple exercise.
The Government should put its efforts into policing the existing legislation and not create an impost on small businesses, especially those in regional New South Wales, which may backfire and result in many being unable to operate or being forced out of business. I am sure the member for Bathurst would agree that there are quite a number of one-man or two-men operations in country towns, especially the small whistle-stop towns. How can those operators take time off from their businesses to undertake the course? How will they have the opportunity to do that? They will need to pay a fee of $250, attend the course and then sit for the examination, resulting in a loss of income. If they do not pass the examination, their business will be closed down. Their little whistle-stop store, which people rely on to buy a cut lunch or a pie, will be out of business.
I believe we need to police the legislation we already have. We need to adopt the attitude—which the Opposition has, which it will continue to have, and which it will take into government after 26 March 2011—of getting government off people's backs, out of their tills and out of their wallets. This bill puts the Government on people's backs and its hand in their tills. It is taking the profits out of their businesses. Small business operators have enough imposts without having this extra condition thrown at them. The industry and its operators are supportive of improving food standards in New South Wales and getting rid of rogue operators. This bill, which has been brought before the House in a fairly short time frame, will not do that. The bill will not improve the quality of food in shops and it will not stop rogue operators. The bill will not force those smallgoods operators who do not meet the regulatory criteria to do so. The bill will not prevent cases similar to that of the Chinese restaurant that was reported in the Daily Telegraph
a month or two ago, and it will not stop the rogue operators. I suggest that the Government pull the bill, put it out for discussion by small businesses and let them come back with their opinions regarding the dangers they believe it will do to their operations.
Mr Geoff Provest: We have had that, with the HACCP.
Mr ANDREW FRASER: As the member for Tweed said, we have food handling regulations, such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point [HACCP] approach to food safety. The member for Tweed was the manager of a club before he came to this place. The cost to that club of the existing regulation was huge, yet this bill will add to that expense. The existing legislation is not policed; it is not managed. Yet the Government wants to add another cost to the club industry that it has penalised already. The Government should rethink this bill. It should tell the Daily Telegraph that it will ensure that existing food standards legislation under HACCP are enforced, and it will make sure that when anyone who buys a pie from Harry's Café de Wheels, a sandwich shop or a kebab shop can be absolutely certain that the food is produced according to existing regulations.
Why put another impost on businesses? Why do we need to put another tax on small businesses? As the member for Lismore said, why must businesses train someone and pay for their qualifications only to lose them to the fish and chip shop around the corner that picks up the certification at no cost? It is not good enough. Legislation should not be a detriment to small business in regional New South Wales. Those businesses are doing it tough enough. The Government should withdraw the bill, talk to the industry to make sure we get it right, and enforce the existing legislation.
Mr RUSSELL TURNER (Orange) [6.48 p.m.]: The Food Amendment (Food Safety Supervisors) Bill 2009 amends the Food Act 2003 to require the proprietors of certain food businesses to appoint food safety supervisors who hold certain qualifications and have the authority to supervise food handling, and to require that those appointments be notified to relevant enforcement agencies, and to allow the Food Authority to approve registered training organisations to issue food safety supervisor certificates to persons who have the prescribed qualifications, and to make other amendments to facilitate the administration of the Act. The Legislation Review Committee digest states:
Accordingly, the Bill intends to protect consumers from food-borne illness by ensuring that food handlers have the skills and knowledge to handle food. The Bill will require mandatory food handler training to formalise skills and knowledge by requiring the completion of accredited training within the national, vocational and education and training system
That sounds very good. As other members have said, the Coalition has nothing against having clean premises and safe food so that people can go to a business confident in the knowledge that they are virtually guaranteed not to fall ill from eating the food it sells. The Government has claimed from time to time that it will reduce red tape and costs to small business. But this bill goes against that ideal. Other members have spoken tonight about the bill's impact on small business. The bill will certainly have an effect on small businesses in my electorate of Orange. I interpret the bill to mean that someone with the appropriate supervisor certificate must be on the premises of food businesses at all times. The situation may be different for big operators such as McDonald's, but the bill will create enormous problems for small businesses.
The owners of one-man businesses in the small villages that I travel through at certain times must leave their businesses to go to the bank or the post office, or to travel to the next town to do some shopping, whether that is for their own personal needs or to get supplies for their business. They might only have a junior on hand at that moment. I see no problem at all with a junior cooking the fish and chips or hamburgers. As other speakers have said, they call into those small businesses on their way through to another town, grab some fish and chips or a real Aussie hamburger from that small business, and say hello, and they are served by a junior.
As I said, I see no problem with that at all, provided that the junior has been told that everything has to be kept clean and that it is important that the customers are happy and they are encouraged to come back. That is the main thrust of any small business: the small business owner wants that customer to come back and spend again on another occasion, whether that is the next day, the next week, or the next year. Small business owners want to have confidence that their customers will come back again.
Pursuant to standing orders business interrupted and set down as an order of the day for a future day.