Bills Digest 147 1996-97 Australia New Zealand Food Authority Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1997


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WARNING:
This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

CONTENTS

Passage History

Australia New Zealand Food Authority Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1997

Date Introduced: 28 May 1997
House: Senate
Portfolio: Health and Family Services
Commencement: Royal Assent

Purpose

This Bill is a companion Bill to the Australia New Zealand Food Authority Amendment Bill 1996 now before the Parliament.

The purpose of this Bill (Australian New Zealand Food Authority Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1997) is to amend the Australia New Zealand Food Authority Act 1991 to streamline the assessment process for variations to the Food Standards Code, to expand the powers and functions of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA), and to expand the regulations making power to allow discounts, imposition of penalties and refunds for fee for services payments to ANZFA.

Background

Background

The following Background is drawn from the companion Bills Digest No. 71 1996-97, for the Australia New Zealand Food Authority Amendment Bill 1996.As noted above, the companion Bill was introduced on 4 December 1996 in the House of Representatives and is currently before the Senate.Both Bills were referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee on 29 May 1997.The Committee is due to report back to the Senate on 16 June 1997.

The Principal Act amended by this Bill was originally the National Food Authority Act 1991.The main goal of the Authority is to provide a national focus within Australia for cooperation between governments, industry and the community in developing a safe and wholesome food supply.The Authority operates as a specialist agency to ensure that there is uniformity in food standards across Australia.Under an Agreement entered into by the Commonwealth, the States and the Territories (in 1991), the States and Territories accept without variation, food standards recommended by the Authority and which the National Foods Standards Council has adopted.(1)

In late 1995, Parliament passed amending legislation to transform the National Food Authority into the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANSFA). (2)The legislation enabled New Zealand to be represented on the Board of the Authority as well as membership of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council.This initiative introduced a joint food standards setting system for Australia and New Zealand.It also advances the closer cooperation and harmonisation of food standards and consumer information on the ingredients in food between the two countries. Source: Bills Digest No. 71 1996-97, Australia New Zealand Food Authority Amendment Bill 1996.

This Bill makes further minor amendments to the Australia New Zealand Food Authority Act 1991 (Principal Act) to:

  • streamline the assessment process for variations to the Food Standards Code
  • expand the powers and functions of ANZFA
  • expand the regulations making power to enable discounts, penalties and refunds to be made for fee for services provided by the ANZFA to industry.

Main Provisions

Reader's Note:The proposed amendments are included in Schedule 1 to the Bill.The terminology to be used therefore is 'Item' in the Schedule in lieu of 'Clause' in the Bill.

Item 1 in the Schedule expands the function of ANZFA to engage in the development of food safety education initiatives to food education matters generally (but still in conjunction with the States and Territories).

Items 2, 3 and 4 expand ANZFA's functions and powers by providing ANZFA with authority to engage in commercial activities to the extent of using its expertise, equipment and facilities, provided that ANZFA's main public functions are not impeded.ANZFA will be able to form companies, invest in companies and form partnerships.

Items 5 to 8 deal with applications by industry to ANZFA for the development and variation of food standards.The proposed new provisions reduce the existing emphasis of the form of applications as specified by ANZFA, to a requirement that the application simply contain, or be accompanied by, information in support of the application.Fees are charged for applications and a proposed new section 12A will allow withdrawal of an application at any time before ANZFA makes a recommendation to its Council of Commonwealth, State, Territory and New Zealand Ministers i.e. the Australia New Zealand Foods Standards Council (the Council).

Items 9, 10, 13 and 14 lessen the burden under the existing legislation on ANZFA to gazette a full statement of reasons for the rejection or abandonment of an application for development or variation of a food standard.These statements are technical and lengthy and the proposed amendments streamline the process to a provision on how a copy of the statement of reasons may be obtained.

Digest Comment:The removal of a public gazettal may mean that, while any person may seek information on how to obtain a copy of the statement of reasons, the legal standing to actually apply for a statement may, however, be confined to those who can demonstrate that they are aggrieved by the rejection or abandonment of the application.There is also the issue of what costs might be applicable to obtaining a statement of reasons.

Items 11, 12, 15 and 16 tighten the time period in which the Council must make its decision on a recommendation from ANZFA.The proposed new time limit is 6 months from the date that the recommendation was made by ANZFA to the Council, unless it is not practicable to act within the time limit.Requests by the Council to ANZFA for more information concerning its recommendation are not included within the time limit.

Item 21 introduces proposed new subsections (6) and (7) to section 35 of the existing Principal Act to exclude from the general 12 months time limit on ANZFA to process applications, any extension of time caused by an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Items 23 and 29 authorise ANZFA to utilise assessments, technical information or, where applicable, the evidence obtained from public inquiries which is supplied by a government agency at the Commonwealth, New Zealand, State or Territory level.This enables ANZFA to fast-track applications where a suitable resource of reliable information has already been prepared.This avoids unnecessary duplication by ANZFA in processing of applications.

Digest Comment:It is worth considering whether there is scope to further extend this flexibility to include material compiled by overseas governments (i.e. other than New Zealand), or specified research organisations in the private sector.

Items 25 and 26 enable ANZFA to recruit and employ persons other than by appointment under the Public Service Act 1922.

Digest Comment: This provision could mean that those employed by ANZFA who perform essentially the same duties may be on different terms and conditions of employment.

Items 30 and 31 are key provisions in the Bill.They must be read in conjunction with Item 8 in the companion Bill,the Australia New Zealand Food Authority Amendment Bill 1996.The companion Bill repealed and inserted a new section 66 into the Principal Act.The proposed new section 66 broadens the power for regulations to impose charges for services and facilities provided by ANZFA.The companion Bill proposed that remissions and refunds (proposed subsections 66(5) and 66(6)) would be dealt with by Regulations.This Bill expands the types of fees to include late payment penalties (generally at a rate of 20% per year) and provides more precision as to what the Regulations are intended to cover by way of discounts for early payment of fees, as well as remissions and refunds.This Bill introduces those charges by way of proposed new sections 66A to 66C, and, consequently, this Bill repeals proposed subsections 66(5) and 66(6) in the companion Bill.

Concluding Comments

This Bill follows relatively soon after the companion Bill which is still before the Senate.In doing so, it makes minor repeals to a proposed new section 66 in the companion Bill.On one view, this could indicate hurried policy formulation when the first Bill was approved for introduction.

In fairness, it may also indicate a consensus that ANZFA should have scope for greater involvement in food matters, given some unfortunate food contamination incidents in the summer period 1996-97.If this is the case, there may be a need to review the basic policy which underpins a push for any increased fee recovery from the industry.In short, (and acknowledging that responsibility for safe food extends over other tiers of Government) it may be timely to consider whether the greater public benefit is an enhanced by ensuring that there is a strong publicly-funded national body which is better resourced to carry out such important functions. In other words, problems with food may also put heavy burdens on victims and the health sector.The health sector is unable to recover costs from the food industry.Increased costs on the food industry for improved food standards may fall disproportionately on selected sections in the industry and, in any event, are usually passed on to the consumer.

Such considerations must, of course, also have regard to the Constitutional limitations on the Commonwealth in terms of legislatively trying to 'cover the field'.

Endnotes

  1. See Annual Report 1995-96, National Food Authority, Australian Government Publishin
  2. Service, Canberra, 1996.
  3. National Food Authority Amendment Act 1995.

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Brendan Bailey
11 June 1997
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services

This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine whether the Bill has been enacted and, if so, whether the subsequent Act reflects further amendments.

IRS staff are available to discuss the paper's contents with Senators and Members and their staff but not with members of the public.

ISSN 1328-8091
© Commonwealth of Australia 1997

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the Parliamentary Library, other than by Members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1997.

This page was prepared by the Parliamentary Library, Commonwealth of Australia
Last updated: 12 June 1997


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