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Australian Food and Grocery Council Dinner

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28 October 2009

  • Geoff Starr, Chair, Australian Food and Grocery Council;
  • Kate Carnell, CEO, AFGC;
  • Enzo Allara, Chair, FoodBank;
  • Ernie Dingo, Patron, Foodbank;
  • Ladies and gentlemen.

Good evening and thank you for inviting me here to your annual dinner.

I must admit, when I got the invitation to dinner with the Food and Grocery Council, it seemed good odds the food would be good, so it was not a hard invitation to accept!

But seriously, I wanted the opportunity to talk with the leaders of the Australian food industry, as it has been an interesting few months in the health portfolio, and I wanted to convey to you our current thinking on where the reform agenda is up to.

Reform overview

We have a range of work on the table now, with a suite of recommendations for the root-and-branch reform of the health system.

We’ve got the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report, the National Preventative Health Strategy – the first ever – and the draft National Primary Health Care Strategy – another first for the country.

What you’ll find as a common theme through all this work is the importance of reshaping our health system so that we can keep people healthy as long as possible, and treat and manage disease in the community and as close as possible to the home.

In short, reform requires a fundamental shift so that the system is built properly around the needs of the patient.


We know that chronic, potentially preventable conditions such as some cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes consume about 70 per cent of the nation’s health care budget, yet less than two per cent of health expenditure is directed towards preventing illness.

The Government wants to redress this imbalance. We all know prevention is better – and cheaper – than cure, but we are not doing enough to put this into action.

Unless we are prepared to have an increased focus on keeping people well and out of hospital, our health system will not be able to cope in the years to come.

The projections are scary. If we carry on delivering health services ‘business as usual’, the health minister in 2033 will be grappling with a $246 billion bill, compared to $84 billion in 2003. I am fairly confident that won’t be me knocking on the Treasurer’s door in 2033! But it is a stark illustration of how important it is that we take prevention seriously.

Preventative Health Taskforce

That’s why we went to the election with a commitment to implementing Australia’s first National Preventative Health Strategy, and once in office acted quickly to appoint the National Preventative Health Taskforce to prepare the strategy.

I launched the Taskforce’s report on 1st September with the Taskforce Chair, Professor Rob Moodie.

I must also take this opportunity to acknowledge the role that Kate Carnell has played as a member of the Taskforce, and thank her and all Taskforce members for their hard work. In this room, you will know there was some criticism about Kate remaining on the Taskforce when she took this new role. But I have a high regard for Kate’s ability, and I saw no reason for people to fear industry engagement – quite the opposite.

The Taskforce reviewed national and international evidence and set a number of what it describes as ‘ambitious’ targets, with the overriding objective of making Australia the healthiest nation by 2020.

Of course, the Taskforce recommendations range from tailored social marketing campaigns through to targeted community programs that promote healthy lifestyles, partnerships with industry to meet targets for reducing consumption of alcohol and unhealthy food, as well as consideration of whether economic and taxation policies currently provide sufficient incentives for healthy living.

The strategy contains a number of recommendations relevant to the food industry. These relate to tackling obesity with the goal of driving change within the food supply to increase the availability and demand for healthier food products, and decrease the availability and demand for unhealthy food products.

Key recommendations of the strategy particularly relevant to food manufacturers are to:
  • develop and implement a comprehensive National Food and Nutrition Framework;
  • commission a review of economic policies and taxation systems, and develop methods for using taxation, grants, pricing, and subsidies to promote production, access to and consumption of healthier foods;
  • establish a Healthy Food Compact between governments, industry and non-government to drive change within food supply;
  • work with industry, health and consumer groups to introduce labelling on front-of-pack and menus to support healthier food choices with information on energy, sugar, fat, saturated fats, salt and trans fats;
  • reduce exposure of children to marketing, advertising, promotion and sponsorship of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages.
The Government is currently considering these recommendations in conjunction with those of the Health and Hospitals Reform Commission.

Through the existing initiatives, as well as the consultation activities of the reform process, the food industry is being consulted to ensure that all relevant perspectives are considered and included in the Government’s deliberations.

An important aspect of the report is that it recommends the need for action on a number of levels: action by the individual, the family, the community, the workplace, by industry and all three levels of government.

National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health

The Rudd Government has already delivered a down payment on preventative health with the massive $872 million commitment made at COAG last year.

There has never been an investment in preventative health and health promotion of this scale in Australia, and this shows just how serious the Government is.

The National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health will address the rising prevalence of lifestyle-related chronic diseases.

The Agreement provides funding for:
  • settings-based interventions in pre´┐Żschools, schools, workplaces and communities to support behavioural changes in the social context of everyday lives, and focussing on poor nutrition, physical inactivity, smoking and the excessive alcohol consumption;
  • social marketing aimed at obesity and tobacco; and
  • the enabling infrastructure to monitor and evaluate progress made by these interventions, and to establish a national preventive health agency.
Last month I introduced legislation to establish Australia’s first National Preventative Health Agency, which passed the House of Representatives unopposed. However, on Monday this week we saw the Opposition take the extraordinary step of opposing the legislation in the Senate. I’ll leave the politics on the Hill tonight, but I will make the point this is a move which simply defies logic and community, stakeholder and expert expectations, almost 12 months after we announced the creation of the Agency.

Those of you who share our desire to get this Agency off the ground, and progress the preventative health agenda in this country, are welcome to contact your local Liberal Senator and ask for a ‘please explain’.

You all have a stake in the work of the Agency. Amongst other things, a broader role of the Agency will include opportunities to develop partnerships with industries such as yours.

One of the key initiatives under the Agreement that will support the food industry is the Industry Partnership. This seeks to facilitate collaborative, voluntary engagement with the food, fitness and weight management sectors to reduce the burden of chronic disease by making healthier choices easy, affordable and sustainable.

The industry partnership will initially focus on the food industry, building on the work of the Food and Health Dialogue announced this morning by Parliamentary Secretary for Health Mark Butler, and similar non-regulatory collaborations such as the Trans Fats Collaboration and the Go for 2&5 campaign.

AFGC involvement

The Government’s agenda in prevention is therefore clear – we want to encourage, advise, and provide opportunities for Australians to lead more healthy lives. With more information and expert advice, and strategic investments and programs, we believe we can help promote healthier lifestyles, and improve Australian’s quality of life.

I would like industry be a part of this agenda, and help us find solutions. Food is the nation’s largest manufacturing sector, employing more than 200,000 Australians, so it is in a unique position to make a difference and show national leadership on this issue.

I’m pleased to say that the AFGC has been a willing partner, and are taking a proactive approach in looking for solutions.

Some examples:
  • The industry partnered with the Government and the CSIRO on a landmark survey of children’s nutrition and physical activity;
  • It helped establish the Food and Health Dialogue, which is a forum between industry, government, academics, scientists and consumers that aims to improve our nation’s nutrition through education;
  • Industry is backing the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative, which encourages companies not to advertise products to under-12s that aren’t healthy dietary choices; and
  • It has introduced a front-of-pack labelling system, geared towards giving consumers information about the nutrients in products;
I congratulate you on your enthusiasm, responsibility and commitment in this area, and I hope it continues and goes further. The move to front of food labelling was certainly a welcome step which I congratulate you on. But perhaps it is time for the industry to consider whether the code should become mandatory for members. This would be a positive move I believe, another step forward in providing consumers with more information, and to make well-informed personal choices.

You will all be taking a keen interest no doubt in the announcement last Friday by Mark Butler that Dr Neal Blewett will be chairing a Food Labelling Review for the Food Regulation Ministerial Council. Mark tells me the industry will be represented on Dr Blewett’s panel. The first round of submissions is open now, and I encourage you all to provide constructive submissions.


There are other responsible initiatives underway in the industry. One of the more altruistic and socially conscious things the food industry does is its contribution to Foodbank.

Foodbank is the charity sector’s pantry. Without it, many thousands of people in Australia would go hungry.

My colleague Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families, last month announced a two-year, $2 million Rudd Government funding program to help Foodbank Australia address the growing problem of hunger in this country.

$2 million is a sizeable injection of funds that I know will have a positive impact on the organisation. But your contributions are critical in helping Foodbank help others.

Kate tells me that last year, 450 food industry companies donated more than 17 tonnes of food – free of charge. That’s enough for 60,000 meals a day. That is an incredible effort.

I’m pleased to say that I will be joining Ernie later this evening to present the Foodbank award for 2009.

The three Reports and consultation

I hope I’ve made it clear how important prevention is for us. It is a key focus, but it one part of our reform agenda. The three reports we have on the table provide us with a road map for change, and offer the biggest reform to the health system seen since the introduction of Medicare.

They fit together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle – not a bad analogy as often the Australian health system resembles a jigsaw.

The report provides the Government with 123 recommendations for reform, covering access and equity issues, governance, and the need to create an agile and self improving health system that can meet emerging challenges.

That’s why the Government has embarked on a phase of public consultation. We want to know from doctors, nurses, allied health workers, industry, families and individuals on what they think is important, and what they think will work. We have established a website – www.yourhealth.gov.au – for all Australians to have their say.

Following our consultations, in December there will be a special meeting of COAG to present the results of the feedback and consider the Commission’s Report. In early 2010, we will present the Commonwealth’s plan for comprehensive reform to the states and territories.

Our preference is to work co-operatively with the states in implementing the reform agenda, but if there is no agreement, the Government will seek a mandate from the people at the next election to deliver on that reform.


The Government is putting in place the policy framework and resources to strengthen and build a comprehensive approach to prevention in Australia.

If we succeed, future generations of Australians will benefit from the reforms we put in place over the coming months and years.

The Government alone cannot do it – we need the support of the community, of families and individuals, of industry and the non-government sector. I believe that by working together we can get there.

Please enjoy the rest of the evening.

Thank you.



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