As a long time reader of RiotACT and given recent comments about food safety in the ACT, I thought it was time to join. RiotACT is a Canberra institution and is a tremendous forum for debate which is usually of a higher standard than what our politicians serve up from time to time.
I’m setting up this account in the name of ClubsACT – no psuedonyms – and anyone who is interested in my posts will know they come from me.
In relation to food safety, I wanted to say a couple of things. Recently, I convened a meeting of the four relevant industry groups (AHA, Chamber of Commerce, Canberra Business Council and ClubsACT) to discuss the issue. All of us support the temporary closure of food businesses that pose a risk to public health. None of us support the mistreatment of Health Protection Service Inspectors and we all want consistency and transparency in how the regulator does their job.
All four organisations signed a letter to the Chief Minister asking for a roundtable to discuss the issues. In the meantime, Chris Peters from the Chamber of Commerce, Gwyn Rees (ClubsACT Policy Manager) and myself met with ACT Health (Peggy Brown, Director General) and Health Protection Service. This was a very productive meeting and we got agreement to a range of measures which will go a long way to improving the levels of information in industry and the community.
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There’s obviously more to come on food safety with the debate on Scores on Doors to come. All four industry groups restated their opposition to the introduction of any new regulation until ACT Health and HPS respond to the Auditor-General’s report into food safety which found serious shortcomings in how HPS do their job. We agree with the Auditor-General that HPS should take a more proactive role in educating the industry and working with venues to improve and enhance food safety as opposed to simply focussing on enforcement when standards do slip.
It is important to remember that everyone agrees only a very small proportion of Canberra’s food businesses aren’t making the grade. Compliance levels in the ACT are very very high (at least 87%) and the reputation of Canberra’s restaurant scene is a good one. None of us want that reputation damaged due to an unfortunate tabloid, crusade-like approach to covering food safety related stories.
Hopefully we are now at a point where industry can freely raise legitimate concerns whilst recognising that HPS have a very important job to do on behalf of the entire community and that the relationship between those who regulate and those who are regulated is a positive and constructive one.