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Estimates: Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee: Agriculture and Water Resources Portfolio: Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 17 Mar 2017

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Senator RHIANNON: I had a question on notice from October 2015, question 155. The answer from those estimates advised that the Australian government had not made any formal representations to Californian law makers about kangaroo market access to California. But I understand that the government—

Mr Quinlivan: Sorry, this is a different area and we will just get the right officers to the table.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. It is also on the record that the Australian government briefed officials from the United States trade representative during the AUSFTA joint coordination meeting on 4 May 2016. Can you detail all formal and informal representations made by Australian representatives about kangaroo market access to California since the ban was reinstated at the end of 2015?

Ms van Meurs: I would have to take that on notice because that would require quite a detailed answer.

Senator RHIANNON: It is not that detailed. Since this is your area of work, I am asking about the representations that have been made by Australian representatives about the market.

Ms van Meurs: Since December 2015?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. That is really one year.

Ms van Meurs: Sorry, I misunderstood; I thought from when the ban was—

Senator RHIANNON: No, I said when the ban was reinstated at the end of 2015. So since the ban has been reinstated, what have we been doing?

Ms van Meurs: Again, since 2015 there have been no formal representations to the California law-makers.

Senator RHIANNON: No formal representations, no ambassadors continuing to make representations? No trade officials speaking about it—sending information, sending briefs?

Ms van Meurs: We did participate, as you pointed out with the question on notice, in a telephone hook-up with our US counterparts just to raise the issue. I do not have the date here.

Senator RHIANNON: Is that the one on 4 May last year?

Ms van Meurs: Yes, 2016.

Senator RHIANNON: We now have that one on the record.

Ms van Meurs: That was part of the answer to your question on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Other representations that were made?

Ms van Meurs: Not that I am aware of, no.

Senator RHIANNON: Informal representations?

Ms van Meurs: No, not that I am aware of.

Senator RHIANNON: Nothing with KIAA?

Ms van Meurs: We have had a number of conversations with KIAA. Those have involved looking at what their strategy is to get a bill into the California parliament. We did not have a lot of interaction during 2016. But in November we had a telephone hook-up with the KIAA. That involved the KIAA and us looking at various markets, including California. That is a normal process we have. Quite often we have telephone hook-ups with our various commodity groups to work out what market access they want and what we can do in various markets. That was part of the conversation, but there would have been a variety of discussions.

Senator RHIANNON: That included how to lift the ban in California?

Ms van Meurs: We did not talk about it in detail other than them telling us that they needed, if they wanted to do that, to look at a strategy for doing it.

Senator RHIANNON: On notice, can you provide the briefing papers for those discussions—prepared either before or afterwards?

Ms van Meurs: It is unlikely there were briefing papers, but I can take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: The Californian Fair Political Practices Commission found that the Australian government violated Californian lobbying laws with undeclared payments of some $143,000 to subvert Californian law-making to permanently lift its ban on the importation of kangaroo products. Please detail all funding or other support the government has given over the past 12 months, or is planning to give, to the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia to participate in any trade associations in Australia. When I say 'trade associations', I am mean that term quite broadly: anything from the pet food industry across to animal products—any of the associations that might cross that path.

Ms van Meurs: I can talk about what we have given the KIAA. If you want a broader answer than that, I will have to take it on notice. On the Californian Fair Political Practices Commission investigation into the complaint: the complaint resulted in the Australian government being issued with a warning letter without administrative or prosecutional fine. The Australian government, as you are aware, cooperated fully with the FPPC throughout the investigation, and we are pleased that the matter is now closed. On the issue of funding provided to the KIAA for market access negotiations: we have in the past provided a grant of $143,000, GST-inclusive. That was in 2014. The final payment under that grant was finalised in June 2015.

Senator RHIANNON: Were any of those grants linked with KIAA working with specific industries? What were the requirements on those grants?

Ms van Meurs: I would have to go back and look at the actual specifications of those grants, but they relate to market access issues, so they could be broad—relating to getting into markets in various countries.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take that on notice. With the grants that you have read out, what is the proviso on what they are and the basis that they were given?

Ms van Meurs: Yes, I will take that on notice.

Mr Quinlivan: Can you confirm or check that the finding that you read out, or the way you characterised it, was a quote?

Senator RHIANNON: No, I am not quoting. I am just summarising what happened.

Ms van Meurs: That is why I made sure that I made clear what the actual outcome of the California Fair Political Practices Commission was.

Senator RHIANNON: I do not think you are disputing that the Australian government violated Californian lobbying laws. You are not disputing that are you?

Ms van Meurs: What we are saying is that it was a genuine mistake and it was acknowledged by the Californians.

Senator RHIANNON: So a genuine mistake—'genuine mistake' means a mistake was made. As you are the Australian government, and you have thousands of staff, you should know what the law is. Surely your job is to find out what the laws of the country or state are so you do not break the law.

Ms van Meurs: First of all, I do not have thousands of staff and they are very complex regulations. It was understood, as we went through that process, that it was a genuine mistake. Again, of course, we respect the sovereign laws of the USA, and California in this particular instance.

Senator RHIANNON: Staying with this situation, the Californian daily newspaper The Sacramento Bee labelled the world of kangaroo lobbying as 'swampy'. The events were described as 'unsavoury foreign government interference and industry money to influence with local government decision-making.' Maybe you would like to respond to that comment?

Ms van Meurs: The only comment I would make is that we have deep respect for the sovereign laws of the USA, including the Californian state.

Senator RHIANNON: What happened was you convinced a new Californian legislator to gut his own gambling bill and replace its contents with the Australian drafted bill to allow kangaroo imports. That is what they are describing as swampy, underhand behaviour. It was not like something inadvertent was done. You have an understanding of the tactics of how that institution works, and you came up with that plan to change it in that way—

Senator Ruston: I will just clarify something with you, Senator Rhiannon. The swampy and underhand behaviour comment that you have just made, did you attribute that to a newspaper or to an official?

Senator RHIANNON: That was The Sacramento Bee. That was the one that I read. I think it warrants comment, because to say that it is a genuine mistake when you have convinced a rookie Californian legislator to gut his own gambling bill and replace its content with the Australian drafted bill about kangaroo imports shows a high level of understanding about how you can get around the process. We all know that process is everything in parliament in terms of being able to advance your agenda.

CHAIR: It is impossible for this official to respond to—

Senator Ruston: a newspaper article—

CHAIR: to two lines of a rag in—

Senator RHIANNON: It is not a newspaper article. It is what happened. I have given the version that has been widely reported by Californian legislators, not just the media. It is what Californian legislators have spoken about. You are saying it is a genuine mistake. I think it warrants that you now explain how you call that a genuine mistake, or is that what you are calling a genuine mistake?

Ms van Meurs: I am not calling that genuine mistake. They are your words. What I am saying is—

Senator RHIANNON: No. They were your words. I did not use the term.

Senator Ruston: Ms van Meurs did not say that what you have just said was a genuine mistake. What she said was the actions of the Australian government, in relation to this matter, were a genuine mistake, and that was accepted by the Californian government to be the case. You are referring to something else.

Senator RHIANNON: No. I am actually referring to the tactics that were used. I think a comment on that is warranted. Were your tactics different?

CHAIR: I have had this out with people on our committee before. I do not dispute your right to have the department comment, but we need to create a foundation here. Do you have some documents or something of credit, apart from newspaper articles, that lay down the issues that you would like the department to respond to? We have been down this path before.

Senator RHIANNON: I am well recorded in the equivalent of Hansard in the Californian legislature.

CHAIR: That is a really good starting point. You would have seen the Hansard, I imagine; otherwise you could not have formed this view. Do you have a copy of it with you?

Senator RHIANNON: No, I do not have a copy. I am not the one being questioned here. And you defending the industry is not actually helping the situation; it is highlighting the problem.

CHAIR: That is an unfair reference.

Senator RHIANNON: No, you are highlighting the problem about how much this support this industry gets from the government. As I have got limited time, it would be best to move on.

CHAIR: You have got a couple of minutes left so I will let you run your two minutes out, and we will go from there.

Senator RHIANNON: The California Fair Political Practices Commission's report mentions that the KIAA promotes themselves as 'representing wildlife management services in coordination with the Australian government'. Is that an accurate representation?

Ms van Meurs: My understanding, when we are working with the KIAA on this issue, is that we can provide scientific information on how the kangaroos are harvested commercially for export. That would be the information that the Australian government would provide or an expert along those lines.

CHAIR: Senator, this will have to be your last question.

Senator RHIANNON: Again, do you think that is an accurate representation that the KIAA 'represents wildlife management services in coordination with the Australian government'? Is that how you describe the KIAA?

Ms van Meurs: Again, I can just say what the Australian government does. We can provide scientific information that says how the four kangaroo species are harvested for commercial exports.

 

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