Food Amendment Bill | Bill

Ms VAGHELA: I am pleased to be making a contribution on the Food Amendment Bill 2020. The bill will amend the Food Act 1984 to improve its operation by facilitating better administration and supporting current administrative practice. This bill will also amend the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008. Food standards are critical. These standards affect how our farmers grow food, how it is manufactured, how it is transported, what we buy and what we eat. They affect every aspect. While it may seem autocratic, these standards are there to protect people’s health and wellbeing. These standards also dictate how food is advertised and how it is reported.

I want to emphasise the importance of these food regulations because if one thing goes wrong, everyone will have to pay the price. That is why this bill makes very important changes to support our business community. The first amendment in this bill relates to the introduction of a statewide online combined business application portal. All 79 councils have signed up to and gotten involved in this program. This shows that the government is on the right track. These changes in this bill will allow for cost recovery by way of a user charge for local councils to support the implementation and ongoing maintenance of a statewide online combined business application portal and council reporting and compliance management database.

The online portal introduced by this bill is a key component of a series of food safety regulation reforms endorsed by the small business regulation review—retail, which identified food safety regulation as carrying the highest level of regulatory costs to both businesses and local councils. This portal aids the councils in cutting down the bureaucracy and reducing the stress on small businesses. This portal will also aid the councils in understanding the regulations better.

The small business regulation reform review also found that local government in 79 councils had different interpretations of the Food Act 1984. These different interpretations are problematic at many levels. Businesses have to apply different regulations depending on their locations. A budding franchise might struggle because of that. These inconsistencies across councils add to the cost of establishing food premises in Victoria and make the processes more complicated, uncertain and tiresome for small businesses. This portal reduces this regulatory burden on both small businesses and councils and makes it easier to do business at a time when it is of utmost importance that our small businesses have access to streamlined processes and are not facing unnecessary costs.

Our small business community has gone through immense hardship during the COVID-19 period, and we are doing everything in our power to help them bounce back stronger. We have supported the small business community and will continue to do so. We think that business owners not only in Western Metropolitan Region, my constituency, but across Victoria deserve a simpler system. The councils can provide this through the online portal without complexity and complications. As mentioned before, this is another step the Victorian government is taking to reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses. We have made it easier for people to do business in Victoria through streamlined, enhanced and consistent regulatory practices.

These reforms will cut costs. As the restrictions are easing, many people are rushing to book their favourite restaurants and cafes. Our local restaurants and cafes bring so much joy into our lives. These are places that bring immense comfort to us, and I know that this bill will bring immeasurable comfort to the businesses too. This bill will improve ease of engagement with food regulators, simplifying processes for small businesses and resulting in reduced costs. This improved consistency will also make it easier for new businesses when they register, as the online portal will include full transparency regarding requirements in the application process rather than a number of different requirements and processes across various council areas.

The small business regulation review program is part of the Victorian government’s commitment to making it easier to establish and grow a small business in Victoria. The reforms recommended by the review are intended to cut compliance costs and free up small business owners’ time. This bill in particular removes unjustifiable red tape, making it easier for small businesses to identify their obligations, making regulatory services more efficient and simplifying regulatory approval processes. During the review a survey was conducted. Regulatory costs in running a small business was identified as one of the issues by over 50 per cent of respondents. Half of all respondents to the survey also wanted the government to improve the quality and consistency of regulatory information. By providing consistent, quality regulatory information to businesses, the Victorian government is simplifying their business struggles. We have an opportunity to support Victorian businesses here. The user charge proposed by the bill will allow the Department of Health and Human Services to recover the cost of the implementation and ongoing operation and maintenance of the portal.

This bill also includes a number of miscellaneous changes that will support improved administration of the Food Act by local councils. These proposed changes respond to the concerns raised by local councils in the small business regulation review relating to the interpretations of the Food Act and subsequently the ability to provide businesses with greater regulatory certainty. These miscellaneous changes include clarifying various administrative processes governing the registration of food businesses, such as removing the concept of transfer of registration and providing additional enforcement powers to close enforcement gaps.

Years ago I stood on the Parliament’s steps to bring the plight of business traders to the attention of the then Liberal government, and today in this chamber I again speak to support our small businesses and traders. Many businesses have struggled to understand the information on the regulatory steps required to get their business started. The west is host to many entrepreneurs from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Language is a barrier for many people, especially when it comes to bureaucratic language. Business owners can spend long hours trying to figure out the regulations and requirements. So I am very happy that we have these amendments in front of us. These amendments will support our business community so that they do not have to spend hours dealing with red tape. The time spent on red tape can instead be spent on providing great service to the local community.

This has been a tough year for everyone. I think we can make it easier for our business community through these amendments. Small businesses are encumbered with stress and anxiety, and as I said before, the online portal will ease that quite a bit. This online portal will also play a critical role in bettering public health outcomes with live and recent data readily available regarding outbreaks and investigations. Food retailers in Victoria will have an easier time running their businesses. Victoria has an amazing food scene. Our food culture in Victoria is the best, and now that restrictions have eased we all cannot wait to get out and about. Let us remove barriers, let us remove the unnecessary red tape and let us streamline the regulations. It is an opportunity for us to improve the regulations to support the businesses. I commend the bill to the house.