Wine Australia Amendment (Label Directory) Bill 201924 February 2020
I rise this afternoon to speak briefly in support of the Wine Australia Amendment (Label Directory) Bill 2019, and I do so as a proud South Australian. I would argue that my home state of South Australia produces not only the best wine in the country but also, arguably, the best wine in the world, in the spirit of bipartisanship with my colleague Senator Marielle Smith.
During the recent bushfires, the world watched as some of our best wine regions in the country were ravaged. They devastated some of our communities; however, it also brought out some of the best parts of our country and our communities, such as the spirit of mateship and a sense of community. The fires saw something in the order of 30 per cent, or around a third, of Adelaide Hills’ production destroyed and more than 60 growers and producers in the Adelaide Hills impacted. The region lost something in the order of $20 million worth of wine, which in broad terms translates to approximately 794,000 cases. It will take years for these grapegrowers and winemakers to recover, and that’s why it’s important that we continue to support these local economies and communities upon which those businesses rely.
However, it’s pleasing to say that despite all of this adversity, South Australia is back open for business. We need to help these winemakers and grapegrowers in every way possible. I’m a passionate advocate for supporting South Australian produce and, of course, Australian produce as well.
The Morrison Coalition Government is backing business and continuing to assist our wine regions with this bill, which is designed to stop copycat wine producers from taking advantage. The bill will go some way to combating that very immediate and very present threat.
Australia is, of course, a world leader in the production of premium agriculture products generally. We’re renowned for producing premium-level food and wine in this country, which is highly sought after by consumers the world over. The Australian wine sector contributes something in the order of $40 billion annually to the Australian economy itself. There are 65 wine regions in Australia and approximately 2,500 wineries with around 6,000 grapegrowers making up those numbers. The Australian wine growing areas broadly stretch from southern Queensland to Tasmania and from the Margaret River in the west to my home state of South Australia, with, as I have just described, the Adelaide Hills and the wonderful McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley growing regions as well.
Worldwide demand for Australian wine created a boom in vineyard plantings in the 1990s and that boom just continued. The short-term outlook, at least, for the wine sector is positive. However, there is competition from larger wine producing countries all over the globe, and that will continue to place pressure on domestic producers in this country. The success of Australian wine exports depends partly, at least, on the maintenance of our internationally-recognised reputation for quality and integrity, and that is supported by Wine Australia’s regulatory activities. The good name of our wine brands is particularly important for showcasing the range of wines we have on offer and that secondary process of building trust with the consumer. It’s true to say that although we often equate the issues of piracy and forgery with other industries, such as the movie industry and sometimes the pharmaceutical industry, unfortunately the incidence of counterfeit Australian wine being sold around the world is a very real issue and it is seemingly on the rise. In fact, the discovery of 14,000 bottles of fake Penfolds wine, a great South Australian winery, for sale in China in November 2018 highlighted the extent and the trajectory of that problem. These items, apparently, were discovered online at severely reduced prices, and that seemingly triggered the awakening to this issue, partly.
So the existence of the counterfeit trade reduces confidence in the genuine Australian article, and that confidence translates into the industry itself. The industry has approached government and asked for stronger regulatory controls to attempt to deter the export of copycat wine from Australia. Those copycat wines, of course, are products which are exported from this country with labels that seek to mimic elements of the brands that they represent for their commercial gain. Therefore, they unfairly benefit from the reputation of those brands and the good reputation of the Australian wine producers who produce them.
So a label directory was proposed by the industry as a useful way to assist brand owners to protect their intellectual property rights and, by extension, the reputation of the wine itself. The bill will establish a label directory as part of Wine Australia’s export controls as a deterrent to exporters of wine and other grape products who seek to unfairly benefit from the reputation of Australian brands. It will provide brand owners with the use of a searchable database of images of labels that can be used to find labels potentially infringing on the intellectual property rights of the grapegrowers and the wineries who rely upon them. It will also enable them to undertake civil action against copycat exporters through the Australian legal system. The amendments to this act will enable Wine Australia to impose additional requirements on wine exporters as a condition of approval to export grape products from Australia, and the requirements will be part of Wine Australia’s grape product registration process. Failure to comply with that process will mean that grape products, including wine, can’t be exported, but there will be no impacts for importers of wine into Australia, who are not in that orbit.
With the framing of the recent bushfires and the issues affecting some of the wineries in this country, this bill is another important step and is of tremendous importance to the integrity of, and continuing confidence in, the wine industry in this country, including in my home state. It adds one more string to Wine Australia’s export bow, if you like, representing yet another mechanism which the industry can use to properly control the trade of counterfeit and copycat wines.
As a Senator for South Australia, the home of the finest wines in the country, I commend this bill to the Senate.