Infant Formula

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (14:51:33): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Minister for Business Services and Consumers on the topic of the onselling of infant formula in this state.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: As members are no doubt aware (and I hope the minister is), I asked a question in this place three weeks ago about what action the minister might consider in terms of prohibiting the onselling online of infant baby formula. I did so because there is a baby formula crisis in this country and in this state. I note at the moment that a seller based in North Adelaide is offering on eBay a single tin of Nestle Nan Pro Gold 1 for a starting bid price of $74.95 or a 'buy it now' price of $100.95. You can buy this retail at Chemist Warehouse for $20.99. Clearly, there is a profit to be made, and people are making a profit.

Reports from interstate have footage of groups of people buying the total amounts they can possibly buy from retailers because retailers have imposed restrictions on the number of tins that may be purchased in a single transaction. I have also since been contacted by parents who have had multiple births, who were worried about these restrictions on their ability to feed their twins, triplets, and so on.

I note that the Australian consumer group, Choice, has set up a website and are taking reports from concerned parents about the shortages across our country. I also note that New Zealand has stopped any export shipments without appropriate accreditation from their country, and Hong Kong has imposed a two-tin limit on travellers, relieving its region. My question to the minister is: what action has she considered with regard to the South Australian government stepping up and stopping the online onselling of baby infant formula?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, Minister for Science and Information Economy, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Business Services and Consumers) (14:53:45): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. I have also shared the Hon. Tammy Franks concern about the shortages being created in baby formula due to particularly the online selling of baby formula. I have no doubt read the same media reports that the Hon. Tammy Frank has read in relation to customers stripping supermarket shelves of premium baby formula and selling it online, I understand particularly to Chinese customers at very inflated prices.

We know that there is a big market there for us because of the Chinese general public's lack of confidence in the integrity of their own made baby formula. We all remember that horrendous, catastrophic incident where a couple of babies actually lost their life due to contaminated formula in China. This has made it very difficult for some South Australians to obtain their usual formula.

This is obviously a national issue. Demand for our high-quality formula which, as I have indicated, is seen as safe and of really high-quality, particularly by Chinese customers but not just by them, has grown rapidly in recent years following that incident I talked about in 2008. Baby formula is not a prohibited export, and it's not illegal for people to buy formula and resell it overseas. However, it is an essential item for many families, and the government is obviously concerned that South Australian parents have access to sufficient supplies to feed their babies.

Particularly, I think there is a significant problem around lactose intolerance as well, and there are particular types of baby formula that have become even more scarce than others, so the alternatives for those babies are quite limited. I have seen reports of really panicked mothers in particular, but no doubt dads as well, having to get in their cars and search and search for a particular baby formula.

Major supermarkets and some pharmacies have voluntarily introduced limits on the amount of formula that is sold to each customer, and I certainly encourage individual retail outlets to do that. The commonwealth assistant trade minister has also advised that he is looking into a solution. Export and trade arrangements are clearly a commonwealth government responsibility, but I am pleased to see that they have been responsive. I have certainly encouraged all suppliers to ensure that there are sufficient supplies available for their loyal Australian customers.

I have also suggested that consumers should think about purchasing formula online. I have asked them to consider whether that's the appropriate thing to do, in terms of an online form of private selling. I have also asked the CBS to explore, particularly with the commonwealth government, other responses that we might be able to implement nationally.

There is the issue of putting bans on the onsale advertising of baby formula. Currently, South Australia doesn't have the provision or the capacity to do that because baby formula is considered safe. We would need new provisions there, but I have asked the CBS to go away and have a look at that. I think the most sensible way to go is through a national response or a mechanism that can be nationally applied, and I have certainly asked officers to work with commonwealth officers to outline the possible mechanisms that we could put in place to manage this shortage.

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