We’ve been hitting the pavement recently in our key Australian cities recently as part of a ten-day Unmask Palm Oil tour. Ben and myself have been meeting with policymakers, NGOs and business leaders to build connections on the Australian side of the Tasman. 

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Here’s a brief recap of the tour:

Ben kicked off the itinerary in Melbourne with a discussion with the Chief of Staff to the Victorian Minister for Health and policy officials from the department where we presented our argument of the health and ethical issues surrounding palm oil. This was followed by a meeting with Zoos Victoria who have been a key player in the Australian palm oil debate with their ‘Don’t Palm Us Off’ campaign. Ben discussed how we can collaborate with them in the coming months.

I joined Ben in Melbourne on Monday and we had the opportunity to attend a RSPO auditing seminar run by the auditing body, BM TRADA. We sat alongside industry representatives for an inside-look at the auditing process. Given our commitment to understanding and working with businesses it was useful to hear from different companies about the supply chain certification process and their take on it. It is a rigorous process which requires a resource and cost commitment but it was promising to hear that more and more businesses are making commitments to the sourcing and producing of certified sustainable palm oil. Ben wrapped up the event with a presentation on Unmask Palm Oil which was well received. 

We moved on to Canberra for an eventful day on Tuesday. Things began at the Canberra branch of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). We met with Jenny Hazelton, who was able to clarify questions we had about the review process, including the timeframe and the key stakeholders. From there we met with the Australian Food and Grocery Council, which represents 80% of the food and grocery industry in Australia, currently valued at $108 billion. They have enormous pulling power in the industry and it was good to start a dialogue with them.

We then headed for parliament house for a meeting with Tahlia Robertson, who advises Fiona Nash, the Associate Minister for Health. We presented our case and she was very interested in the amount of support the issue has already received, evidenced by the petitions on either side of the Tasman. We ended the day with a meeting with Greg Hunt, the Australian Minister for the Environment, who was supportive of the cause and offered advice on how to take things forward.

Wednesday brought a meeting with Trent Russell, who directs Canberra’s National Zoo. This was followed by another meeting at parliament, this time with Emily English of the Greens, who heads policy for Christine Milne, the party leader.

By Thursday we had arrived in Sydney for our final leg of the trip. We began our meetings with Darian McBain, who directs WWF’s sustainable palm oil program and discussed a range of areas we would like to better work together. This was followed by a meeting with Paul Maguire and Kira Husher of Taronga Zoo. The team at Taronga Zoo have been incredibly supportive and we look forward to working closely with them on various projects in the months to follow.

On Friday morning we met with Armineh Mardirossian, who is the Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Woolworths. Like the RSPO seminar on Monday, it was interesting and useful to get an industry perspective on the issue and hear their view on the matter directly. On Saturday we returned to Taronga Zoo where we held a public workshop, which was the final item on the itinerary. Ben opened the morning with a presentation and he was followed by Darian from WWF and Lou Grossfeldt, a Taronga keeper and the resident primate expert.

By Dan Adolph
Unmask Palm Oil Communications Manager