The Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, Y.B. Tan Sri Bernard Dompok expressed Malaysia’s deep disappointment by the actions of Senator Nick Xenophon, the Australian Greens Party and the Liberal/National Coalition. Their action in supporting legislation requiring the labelling of palm oil in food products deliberately threatens the palm oil industry in Malaysia, an important pillar in the country.
2. Minster Dompok stated that support for the “Truth in Labelling – Palm Oil Bill” is based on a series of clearly false and misleading statements proposed by environmental non-governmental organisations. This was further supported by Members of the Australian Parliament and Australian State Government Authorities without any substantiation or evidence.
3. Minister Dompok stated Australia and Malaysia have a long history of cordial and mutually advantageous relationship. However, the legislation has not accorded the due attention contributed by the oil palm industry in Malaysia and the sustainable practices adopted. The oil palm industry is currently an important pillar in Malaysia’s economy and has contributed substantively towards addressing rural poverty and generating employment ion the agriculture sector. In addition, this industry has contributed immensely towards meeting global demand for food products and a source of renewable and environmentally friendly energy.
4. The legislation impacts genuine food labelling, a universally accepted scheme designed to improve consumers’ health. It has never been used, until this misguided piece of legislation, to impose questionable social and environmental concepts alien to the philosophy of food labelling. Politics and pandering to the green ‘feel good’ view of the world, along with more than a little condescending and a ‘we know better’ view, shines through in this legislation.
5. Minister Dompok stated it was highly disappointing that, despite the Australian Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee finding that there was no evidence to support the Bill, these parties maintain support despite the extreme ramifications the legislation will have for the future trade relationship between Australia and Malaysia.
6. The Australian New Zealand Food Standards Authority was established to protect the health and safety of the consumer. The Bill is aimed at furthering the global campaigns of environmental non-government organisations, not protecting the Australian consumer. There are no grounds for the mandatory labelling of palm oil given that all saturated fats levels are already listed on Australian goods. Indeed, using food labelling to further the anti-palm oil campaign may actually harm consumers’ health. The scope of the Bill was further amended and to cover labelling requirement for all products containing palm oil and its by-products. This demonstrates that the effort was never intended to protect the health of consumers. Palm oil is trans-fat free and trans-fats have been identified as a greater health threat than other fats and have been banned by many jurisdictions.
7. Minister Dompok emphatically denied the claims that the palm oil industry in Malaysia has contributed to high levels of deforestation or threatened the Orang-utan. Malaysia retains more than 50 percent of its land area under forest cover.
8. Minister Dompok reiterated his disappointment that despite all the evidence provided, the Australian Parliament is continuing to discriminate against a developing nation for their political purposes. He urged the Australian Parliament to reject Senator Xenophon and the Australian Greens wholly political campaign taking into account the important role this industry provides to hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who rely on palm oil for employment and income.
9. Minister Dompok stated that he hopes to be able to have a conversation with Senator Xenophon during his visit to Australia so he can explain directly to me, as an elected representative of the people of Malaysia, why he thinks he must interfere in our national sovereignty and path to high-income status that is rooted in sustainable development. Senator Xenophon should have an opportunity to tell me, directly and simply, how he knows what’s best for my nation than my nation itself.
10. Minister Dompok stated that Malaysia places importance in bilateral trade relations with Australia where bilateral trade in 2010 was valued at USD10.63 billion. Australia is Malaysia’s eleventh largest trading partner. Australia is also Malaysia’s eighth largest export destination and twelfth largest import source. In addition, Australia is also host to 20,493 Malaysian students studying in various institutions of higher learning.
11. Minister Dompok sought to remind the Australian Parliament of the good relationship between the two nations and urged the Government, the Liberal/National Party and the Independent Members of Parliament to place this relationship and the welfare of developing world producers above their own domestic politics.\n
12. The Minister is of view that there are ample opportunities for both countries to strengthen bilateral relationship. This legislation undermines the spirit of our cooperation as neighbours. The Australian Government should demonstrate its commitment to bilateral relations, including ensuring that legislations are supported by facts and figures.
Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities Malaysia
26 July 2011