The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:09:11): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Minister for Employment on the topic of employment in the free-range egg industry.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The South Australian food and wine industry is of course worth more than $14 billion to our economy and accounts for 36 per cent of South Australia's total merchandise exports. We have a fine reputation for offering premium food and wine thanks to our clean water, clean air and clean soil, and free-range eggs are an important part of that premium food offering and building this reputation.
Currently, our state has close to 100 free-range egg producers registered with PIRSA. It is estimated that more than half of those in South Australia are true free-range egg producers. They include the 13 producers that last year formed FREPOSA 1500, the free-range egg producers of SA group; that is, they meet the standards such as the 1,500 hens or less per hectare, amongst other criteria.
At present, these true free-range egg producers are having to compete to use that 'free range' label against what I would term—and, indeed, the Jay for SA election campaign termed—'fake range', that is, those producers stocking 10,000 hens per hectare but labelling their cartons 'free range'. In fact, Labor, Liberal and the Greens all took a policy position at the last state election with that 1,500 stocking density figure, enjoying rare cross-party support.
However, sadly, in Queensland, without that cross-party consensus, the move away from the 1,500 figure and the adoption of 10,000—the fake range figure under the Newman LNP government—saw the true free-range egg producers and that part of the sector go to the wall as consumers bought cheaper fake range masquerading as free-range eggs. True free range was unable to compete and was squeezed out by these fake range phonies, and I fear we are about to see the same here in South Australia unless we act urgently.
Despite promises of a voluntary labelling scheme for true free-range stocking density in our state by the Weatherill government, we have yet to see a single state labelled true free-range egg out on a supermarket or shop shelf. Despite true free-range egg production generating three to four times the number of jobs than producers with larger stocking densities, imagine the surprise of those in the true free-range sector to see the Weatherill government provide a half a million dollar grant to Days Eggs, which to date has been trading as free range but producing fake range, to expand their production and, indeed, enter the true free-range market.
The members of FREPOSA 1500 have received no such financial assistance and, over three years on from the original announcement, are still waiting for that South Australian voluntary scheme, a scheme I note that they will be required to fund themselves. With a national decision soon to be made, it looks unlikely that this sector will be given the protection that they need to compete in the market and to give consumers of South Australia and across the country the confidence that, when they purchase free range, if it says it on the carton it will be free range inside the carton. It is all true, minister. My questions to the minister are:
1.Will he or a delegate from his office meet urgently with FREPOSA 1500 to get an understanding of the very difficult situation that this industry is currently in and formulate a way forward to ensure we retain and indeed strengthen this very important sector?
2.Will he investigate urgently other measures to support those in the true free-range sector in our state to survive?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Employment, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation, Minister for Automotive Transformation, Minister for Science and Information Economy) (15:12:55): I thank the honourable member for her question. As always with any area that has the potential to provide and retain jobs, I am happy to discuss issues with any group that wants to discuss them. I know the groups that I have talked to the Hon. Tammy Franks previously about who have ideas for a hemp industry, I have been happy to discuss it and see what I can do to progress it.
Of course, if there is anything I can do to talk to people about ideas that have the potential to provide jobs, I will do so, but I think the first step for me will be to talk to my ministerial colleagues. I think, with free-range eggs, the minister for consumer affairs is probably the most appropriate one in the first instance for me to talk to, and I certainly will do that.
This is not something that affects my everyday life. I know my own three chooks would certainly come under whatever definition of free range, so I do not buy eggs myself. I do know that on Sunday the chooks got stuck into the strawberries though, which disappointed me, so I am tempted to eat some KFC in front of them the next time they jump into my strawberries.
In terms of the issues raised, I am happy to take the first step to talk to my colleagues who have carriage of labelling for free-range eggs, and I will talk to the honourable member. If there are others she would suggest I talk to, I am happy to do so.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:14:15): Supplementary: while I welcome the minister discussing with his colleague the labelling issue, the labelling issue isn't the only issue here; it is an employment industry issue. The true free-range egg producers went under in Queensland when this change happened: they will go under here unless they are assisted urgently. There is a range of other things, other than the voluntary label, that can be done. You have said that you will speak to your colleague, but will you also urgently meet with this industry?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Employment, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Minister for Manufacturing and Innovation, Minister for Automotive Transformation, Minister for Science and Information Economy) (15:14:40): I am happy to receive representations from anyone who wants to make representations to me about their industry.