Call to overhaul fishy seafood labelling

Label My Fish: Frank Camorra, executive chef of the hatted MoVida restaurants, is calling for better labelling on seafood products. Photo: Eddie Jim

Label My Fish: Frank Camorra, executive chef of the hatted MoVida restaurants, is calling for better labelling on seafood products. Photo: Eddie Jim

Label My Fish: Frank Camorra, executive chef of the hatted MoVida restaurants, is calling for better labelling on seafood products. Photo: Eddie Jim

Label My Fish: Frank Camorra, executive chef of the hatted MoVida restaurants, is calling for better labelling on seafood products. Photo: Eddie Jim

‘Deception’: Seafood industry wants country of origin labels

Enjoy the flathead fillets dished up last night? Chances are the “flathead” was an unrelated species, bottom-trawled in Argentinian waters.

Australia’s lax labelling laws for seafood mean restaurants and retailers can withhold information on the origins and species of popular seafood, depriving consumers of the ability to make informed choices.

On Thursday, Greenpeace and the Australian Marine Conservation Society launched the Label My Fish campaign, demanding Australian laws match the European Union standards that require the origin, species and method used to catch or farm be declared on seafood labels.

“The Aussie ‘flathead’ we think we are eating may well be an imported, cheaper South American fish, of a completely different family,” said David Ritter, chief executive of Greenpeace Australia. “But there is often no labelling on your pub or fast food menu, or packet of frozen ‘flathead’, to reveal the truth.”

The Label My Fish alliance, backed by celebrity chefs, academics, and Taronga Zoo and Zoos Victoria, says clearer labelling will encourage the use of sustainable fishing methods, boost the local fishing industry and lift public health protections.

Greenpeace research shows basa, native to the Mekong Delta and not a member of the dory family, is often marketed as “pacific dory”. Two-thirds of barramundi is imported from Asia.

Pregnant women and children under six are warned by health experts to limit their consumption of certain species, such as shark (sold as flake), catfish and orange roughy, because of mercury content.

“But the labelling laws make it impossible for pregnant women to follow the warnings and that’s a big shock,” said Mr Ritter.

Restaurant and Catering Australia opposes the calls, saying the industry will lose $300 million a year to comply with such laws. The “onerous” task will require updating menus, reconfiguring back-end systems and maintaining compliance.

Its chief executive John Hart said with 70 per cent of seafood coming from overseas through “fragmented”, “irregular”, and regularly disrupted supply chains, even suppliers will struggle to offer detailed information about the product.

“There’s a long way to go before we’re even half way close to being able to meet such labelling requirements at the back door of restaurants,” he said. “Most of the suppliers don’t have anywhere near that level of information. If we don’t know, we can’t put it on the menu.”

Frank Camorra, executive chef of the hatted MoVida restaurants, changes his nuevo-Spanish menus daily and has thrown his support behind the campaign.

He says his suppliers, Joto in Sydney and Clamms Seafood in Melbourne, “know exactly who’s caught the seafood, how it’s been caught and where”, allowing him to share information readily with patrons via menus and wait staff.

“It seems common sense to me. People want to know not only which state it comes from, but almost which regions,” he said, referring to items such as surf clams, prawns and scallops.

Greenpeace says new labelling laws will also benefit local and overseas fishermen who have invested in fishing sustainably but struggle to compete with cheaper imports.

Louis Hatzimihalis, a fisherman from Port Phillip Bay in Victoria, has stopped catching arrow squid and scallops because of imports from South America and China. “We can’t afford to catch it at that price. But you just can’t compare the quality.”

Consumer advocate Matthew Evans interviewed chefs, retailers, suppliers and fishermen here and abroad to examine the impact of weak labelling laws for a three-part series called What’s the Catch?, to be screened on SBS from October 30.

“Some [fishing methods of] seafood we eat damage our marine environment, are produced by people under unfair conditions and may carry risks to our health,” he said. “What we really need is to know just what’s on our plates.”

Chefs Peter Gilmore of three-hated Quay and Tom Kime of Fish & Co have also joined the demand for labelling reforms. Academics from the Australian National University, Sydney University and the University of NSW have also given their support.

A Senate inquiry into seafood labelling is underway and will deliver a report on December 4.

EDITORIAL: Reforming electoral donations

Mike Baird in Newcastle last month. TRUE to his word, NSW Premier Mike Baird is ensuring the state’s voters go to the polls next year with an improved electoral donations system.

Mr Baird was under pressure to make changes, following the catastrophic impact of the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s Operation Spicer on the Coalition’s parliamentary standing.

Revelations about abuses of the donations laws sent 10 Liberals MPs to the cross-benches and prompted the members for Newcastle and Charlestown to quit Parliament.

No doubt the reforms as announced won’t go as far as many would like. They stop short, for example, of a fully publicly funded model.

But some aspects will be universally welcomed. The requirement that all donations be published for voters to scrutinise before they cast their ballots is a case in point.

It has been a galling feature of the system to date that details of who bankrolled whom haven’t been available until months after it really mattered.

Under the new scheme, at least voters will have a chance to change their minds about voting for a particular candidate or party if they believe certain donations might adversely influence outcomes in important areas of policy.

Spending caps on donations and on electoral communications will also be imposed, ideally cooling the ‘‘arms race’’ between parties for the costliest and most pervasive campaigns.

Donations to political parties will be capped at $5000 and the cap for individual candidates will be $2000.

Spending caps for electoral communications will also be fixed at $100,000 per party for every seat contested.

Unions will be covered by third party spending caps, which will fall from more than $1million to $250,000.

Politicians caught using slush funds and scams similar to those uncovered by ICAC could face up to 10 years in jail.

It is not entirely clear whether it will still be possible for parties to encourage donors to direct funds to federal offices, from whence they may be able to distribute the money at ostensible ‘‘arm’s length’’. Since donations at the federal level are relatively unregulated and since both major parties have demonstrated a powerful determination to prevent the creation of a federal corruption watchdog, this might still be a tempting option for those wanting to avoid problems with the new NSW law.

Mr Baird has acknowledged that more needs to be done to repair a system that has become badly corrupted.

He has promised that the measures now announced are only a first instalment, with more to follow once the independent panel, chaired by former public servant Dr Kerry Schott, reports back to Parliament later this year.

For now, the first steps are welcome.

GREG RAY:’A great day for the world’

Image from Getup杭州龙凤论坛‘‘A GREAT day for the world’’, happened this week, thanks to an event in Australia.

So our Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, said.

Wow, what does it take to be a ‘‘great day for the world’’ in the eyes of Australia’s paramount leader?

World peace? Hahahaha. Pull the other one.

A vaccine for Ebola. Sighhhh. Not really.

Advance in clean energy? Sit down you twit.

Something that saves lives? Nope.

Something that saves jobs? Awww, sort of looks like that a bit, but not really.

Well what then?

A new coalmine.

Seriously, a new coalmine sent our PM into such a state of rapture that he felt moved to describe it as ‘‘a great day for the world.’’

Yes indeed, a new coalmine jointly owned by BHP Billiton and Japanese giant Mitsubishi. It’s in Queensland, it’s called Caval Ridge, and it will produce 5.5 million tonnes of high-quality hard coking coal a year for however long it lasts.

It will be operated by a fly-in, fly-out workforce whose members will stay in a purpose-built village, and BHP said more than 30,000 people applied for 950 jobs in the mine and its sister operation, Daunia.

Clearly, the announcement is good news for people who want jobs in the mine.

Only last month BHP/Mitsubishi cut 700 jobs from its Queensland mines and a couple of months before that it cut back operations at its Goonyella mine to keep that one in the black.

BHP/Mitsubishi, along with Rio Tinto and the rest of the transglobal mining crowd, have been desperately trying to cut their production costs.

That’s because the world, which only a couple of years ago was so hungry for coking coal that it was prepared to pay more than $US300 a tonne for the stuff, is now practically swimming in oversupply and the price has dropped to about $US113.

Ummm, so how come – you want to know – BHP/Mitsubishi is opening a new mine that will add millions more tonnes to an already oversupplied market?

It’s a signal to its smaller, weaker competitors in coal that BHP/Mitsubishi plans to be the last man standing.

The low prices will send some competitors broke, force mines to close and put hundreds of miners out of work. Those who can’t get their production costs down are doomed, unless prices suddenly surge again, which doesn’t seem likely in the near future.

That’s how it goes, in the cruel marketplace. When margins get squeezed, those with the deepest pockets survive the longest and stand the best chance of still being around when things get better. Ideally, from their point of view, those survivors can them ramp their prices right back up and, with fewer competitors to worry about, keep prices higher for longer.

It’s a bit like airline ticket price wars. A dominant airline creams off the profits for years, until a competitor sniffs the fat margins and tries to muscle in with cheaper fares to steal some market share.

The big player responds with deep discounts until the newcomer falls down dead and then prices go right back up again, probably even higher than before.

So, you might wonder, how does the opening of this new coalmine represent ‘‘a great day for the world’’?

I think we all know the answer to that. It doesn’t. It’s neither good nor bad, really. It’s just a giant mining company marking out its territory to ensure that, when the tide turns and the coking coal price starts ticking up again, it will dominate.

Why would the leader of a supposedly middle-ranking power fall over himself in a display of fawning over this piece of news?

Maybe because Labor leader Bill Shorten, having revealed that his party will go to the next election with a carbon price back on its campaign platform, has effectively painted a big target in the middle of his forehead for the mining industry to aim at, perhaps with a re-run of the expensive advertising campaign it used to stub out Kevin Rudd.

A great day for the world?

Maybe not. But maybe a great opportunity for the Coalition to cement an important ally.

If BHP/Mitsubishi wants to be the last man standing in Australian coal exports, Tony Abbott probably wants something similar for himself in the electoral stakes.

Probe into killing of diggers Robert Poate, Stjepan Milosevic and James Martin ‘not objective’, inquest hears

The fallen soldiers are farewelled. Photo: Harrison SaragossiSoldiers at a remote Afghan  patrol base where three Australian soldiers were murdered, had been asked “leading questions” during an official army probe into the killings, an inquest was told.

The uncommon civilian inquest into the 2012 combat deaths has also heard that, despite 32 diggers dying in Afghanistan, the Defence department had only held  one high-level Commission of Inquiry into such fatalities.

Private Robert Poate, Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic and Sapper James Martin were gunned down by a rogue Afghan soldier at Patrol Base Wahab on August 28, 2012.

A Queensland coroner is inquiring into the deaths which had previously been investigated by a Defence process known as an Inquiry Officers Inquiry.

The families of the dead soldiers successfully lobbied for the inquest after being dissatisfied with the Defence Force’s inquiry.

First to give evidence on Tuesday was former chief legal officer for all Australian operations, Colonel Jim Waddell, who was quizzed by lawyers for the families and counsel assisting the coroner about the army’s official investigation process.

Col Waddell confirmed under questioning that of the 32 soldier deaths in Afghanistan, only one, which had involved a helicopter crash, had been subjected to a full Commission of Inquiry.

He said commission of inquiries into such deaths, were not often held because they were expensive costing up to $1.7 million and soldiers’ deaths in a warzone were “expected”.

Col Waddell said a commission of inquiry was only normally undertaken if there was a systemic issue, as had been the case in the helicopter crash.

The inquest was also told that the families of the three dead soldiers had been unhappy the subsequent official defence report into the deaths which was heavily redacted.

Barrister Peter Bodor QC, representing the family of Private Poate, described the level of redaction in the inquiry report released to the families as “totally unjustifiable”.

But Col Waddell disagreed, saying he “didn’t accept” the statement.

Mr Bodor also put to Col Waddell that the army was “very possessive of information that is not forced out of it” and that some of the redacted information was available in the public domain.

Col Waddell replied he  “could see how people would have that view”.

Mr Bodor also asked Col Waddell about the investigation process undertaken during the inquiry at Patrol Base Wahab.

He queried whether Col Waddell had been made aware that many of the critical questions asked of soldiers at the base had been of a “leading nature”.

Col Waddell said such information had not been brought to his attention.

He also rejected Mr Bodor’s suggestion that a commission of inquiry should have occurred into the deaths given they occurred at a time when there was a heightened threat around relating to local religious customs and while soldiers were in a relaxed disposition.

He also rejected that the officers inquiry had been of a “low level” nature.

Col Waddell said that for a commission of inquiry to be go ahead, “we would need to have a reason for needing it to have some substantial value or .. learning lessons that have not already been learned”.

“We don’t believe the inquiry officer found systemic deficiencies,” he said.

The inquest continues.

Property makes Australians the world’s richest, says Credit Suisse

‘Remarkable figures’: Property is at the heart of Australia’s wealth, Credit Suisse reports. ‘Remarkable figures’: Property is at the heart of Australia’s wealth, Credit Suisse reports.

‘Remarkable figures’: Property is at the heart of Australia’s wealth, Credit Suisse reports.

‘Remarkable figures’: Property is at the heart of Australia’s wealth, Credit Suisse reports.

Thanks to their houses, Australians are the richest people in the world, according to the investment bank Credit Suisse.

The fifth annual study by the Swiss bank of global wealth trends found the median Australian adult was worth more than $US225,000 ($258,000) in June, well ahead of the second wealthiest population on this measure, the ­Belgians, at $US173,000.

They were followed by the Italians, French and British, all at around $US110,000.

Only 6 per cent of Australians have wealth below $US10,000, compared with 29 per cent in the United States and 70 per cent for the world as a whole.

Household wealth in Australia is heavily skewed to “real assets” – essentially property – which average $US319,700 per household, or 60 per cent of gross assets. This is the second highest in the world after Norway.

The 2014 Global Wealth Report shows global wealth is 20 per cent above its pre-crisis peak and almost 40 per cent higher than the low recorded in 2008.

Australians have grabbed more than their fair share of the growing pie. The section of the report on Australia is titled “No worries”, a headline that some economists may take issue with but which is deserved based on the rapid and almost uninterrupted accumulation of wealth over the past 14 years, as detailed in the report.

Since 2000, the net wealth of the average, or mean (as opposed to median), adult Australian has more than quadrupled, from $US103,151 to $US431,000. That makes us the second richest population on this measure, behind the Swiss at $US581,000.

Over the past 12 months, average adult wealth has grown 5 per cent.

“These are obviously remarkable figures for Australia,” Credit Suisse Private Bank chief investment strategist David McDonald said.

“We are well positioned globally in terms of wealth, as well as the spread of wealth.”

Dollar driven

The appreciation of the currency has been a considerable tailwind over the period but even in constant currency terms, average wealth has grown 145 per cent over the past 13 years to $US369,000 from $US151,000.

While global wealth has increased, the gains have not been spread evenly, with the report finding that the trend since 2008 has been one of increasing inequality, particularly in developing economies.

“The financial crisis has acted as a breakpoint in inequality, as most countries were showing a flat or declining trend before 2007,” said Markus Stierli from the Credit Suisse Research Institute, which published the report.

Australia is classified a “medium ­inequality” country by the Credit Suisse researchers, a group that includes New Zealand and is defined by the richest 10 per cent controlling between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of the country’s net wealth.

Among developed economies, Hong Kong, Switzerland and the United States are deemed to have “very high inequality”, where the top 10 per cent control more than 70 per cent of the wealth.

This is borne out by the average wealth figures of the US. Median adult wealth in the world’s largest economy stood at only $US54,000 – well out of the top 10 richest populations.

But when measured on an average – or mean – basis, the US ranked fourth in terms of household wealth at $US348,000.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch chief economist Saul Eslake attributed ­Australia’s relatively even spread of wealth in part to its love of property.

“Rising house prices tend to reduce inequality, as they make up part a greater part of middle class wealth,” he said.

But with growth in house prices and sharemarkets expected to be more muted over coming years, and with the currency weakening, growth in net wealth can be expected to slow, Mr McDonald said.

Globally, the mean average per adult reached an all-time high of $US56,000, an increase of $US3450 over the previous 12 months, driven by higher share prices.

Follow us on Twitter @BusinessDay