Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (13:07): I am pleased to rise to speak to the Food Amendment Bill 2020. As previous speakers have said, this does aim to support a more consistent and transparent regulatory process for the regulation of our food businesses, our cafes and all of those businesses that we are so pleased to be back visiting and eating in. It does this by providing an online portal for councils. I have to say this intention to provide this portal will help improve councils’ reporting processes, compliance, monitoring and operational decision-making. This is very important.
Again, I will also make mention of the Legal and Social Issues Committee’s inquiry into I Cook Foods. What we found was that there were big problems in these areas. We really found that, particularly in Greater Dandenong City Council, a lot of those areas were lacking, that information was lacking and that those processes were lacking. This bill actually goes some way to improving and addressing a lot of the issues that the committee found in what was a whirlwind inquiry. In less than a month we produced a 200-page report that really did highlight a lot of the shortcomings in the Food Act 1984 but also in the ways that councils reported and regulated food businesses. This bill does go to a number of those areas that the committee found. We certainly made recommendations that the Food Act be amended. This goes to some of those areas that we found were lacking in the Food Act. I am really pleased to be supporting this bill because I think it does modernise the Food Act in many ways.
I think there are still more ways that we could go in modernising the Food Act 1984 and in streamlining it to make it easier for small businesses but also for councils to regulate those small businesses. That was certainly what we found with I Cook Foods. I probably will not say too much about it because there are still court proceedings being undertaken, but we found that the communication processes just were not adequate. The communication processes were outdated and they were severely lacking, and this led to some of the problems that led to the closure of I Cook Foods. In fact had those problems been fixed—who knows—it may actually have meant that that business would not have closed down.
We saw that the City of Greater Dandenong just could not manage the processes, and I certainly think that a number of the amendments in this bill do go a long way to addressing that. I guess it is just another note to say why parliamentary committees are important and why, particularly as an Independent member, I really gain so much from the inquiry process and from the parliamentary committee process. You get to do a very significant deep dive into legislation and into the issues that you might not have the opportunity to do otherwise. I certainly found this with I Cook Foods. I learned a lot about the Food Act that I probably never thought I would need to know. I learned a lot about unseasonal slugs and the mating and sleeping patterns of slugs—things I never thought that I would learn about in my life. But I am much wiser on the goings-on of slugs in February in Melbourne.
This bill does make some really good and I think really sensible amendments, including that when a business changes hands the business needs to be re-registered. It is not that the business under completely new management stays registered; it actually now requires a re-registration process. I think these are all very sensible amendments that will lead to greater transparency.
When you look at the recommendations that the inquiry into I Cook Foods made, we found that the Food Act really was lacking and that it needed amendments to enable the management of conflicts of interest where a local council is a shareholder in that business and is authorised to regulate and determine. There was this conflict of interest where you had a local council that ran a food business and regulated food businesses in their area, and this did highlight some conflicts there. Now, this bill does not go towards remedying that, but I think that certainly is something that we would recommend the government does consider going forward in what I imagine will be a series of amendments to the Food Act 1984.
It does go towards consolidating reporting requirements. It goes to a way of providing online transmission for publication of orders and for publication of reporting. I think these are all very much needed and will be welcome modernisations of our processes for regulating our food businesses in Victoria. It is part of the way, and I think the online portal will be something that will be appreciated by businesses and councils alike. I will listen with interest to some of the questions that Ms Crozier will raise during the committee process, but on that note I commend the bill.