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Source: Australia Government Ministerial Statements

Minister Sukkar:

Good morning.  Thanks for coming down. 

Button batteries can be incredibly dangerous, especially for children, predominately for those under the age of five years.  If swallowed, a button battery can get stuck in a child’s throat and cause a chemical reaction that burns through causing catastrophic bleeding.  Serious injury can occur in as little as two hours and sadly death or lifelong injury and impairment can result.  In Australia, one child a month is seriously injured after swallowing a button battery. 

The Government has recognised the need to improve button battery safety which is why the Government, and myself as Minister, requested the ACCC to expedite work on this important issue.

Following the conclusion of the ACCCs work, today I can announce that I’ve accepted the advice of the ACCC to introduce safety and information standards for button batteries and products that contain them.

The new mandatory standards will require:

  • secure battery compartments for goods that contain button batteries to prevent children from gaining access to the batteries;
  • compliance testing of goods that contain button batteries to demonstrate the battery is secure and cannot be easily released;
  • child resistant packaging for button batteries to prevent children from gaining access to those batteries; and finally
  • warnings and information to alert consumers that a button battery is included with the product.

The standards also provide a number of non-mandatory recommendations that will provide additional protections. This includes alerting consumers to the danger of button batteries when buying the goods online. In addition, the ACCC has recommended that warnings contain the Poisons Information Centre’s contact number, 13 11 26.

These new standards are world-leading – the strictest worldwide – and will allow consumers to buy button batteries and products that contain them, with much greater confidence.  Button batteries are used in a wide range of products found in all of our homes and it is critical that we introduce measures that are well considered and ensure a high level of safety for our children.

Today’s announcement is also a timely reminder in the days before Christmas of the dangers that button batteries represent and to ensure that parents are alert to the whole range of products that can contain button batteries.

I personally, and the Government, want to thank the ACCC for their work.  The have shared the Morrison Government’s concern surrounding the use of button batteries.  We have moved swiftly to reach today’s outcome. 

Relevantly, a transition period of 18 months from tomorrow has been provided to allow industry to implement any manufacturing and design changes to products and packaging and undertake any other testing necessary to ensure compliance with these new mandatory safety and information standards.

I have also written to the state and territory consumer affairs ministers informing them of my decision to make new safety and information standards under the Australian Consumer Law.  For more information for anybody watching this, further details of the standards can be found at productsafety.gov.au. 

Personally, I’d like to thank a couple of champions in the Morrison Government who have really been pushing this cause with me and certainly in the community.  The first is my colleague, Katy Allen, the Member for Higgins, who obviously brings extraordinary expertise and experience to this area and I want to thank her for her advocacy.  Also Julian Simmonds, the Member for Ryan, for his outstanding work, and Trevor Evans, the Member for Brisbane, who I know Susan – who I will introduce now – has been working with, so I want to thank those colleagues for their advocacy. 

I also want to thank Susan Teerds who is the CEO of Kidsafe Queensland, who is with me, and I’ll ask her in a moment to say some words.  Susan and her organisation have led the charge to improve button battery safety.  They undertake outstanding work on behalf of all of the people that they represent.  As a parent of a three and a half year old and a one and a half year old, I must say that the work of Susan and her organisation in helping parents like Anna and myself in understanding the risks is something that I am very grateful for and I hope that today’s announcement and the work of the ACCC and the Morrison Government, is a good culmination of a combined effort from so many people.  So Susan, can I thank you for being here today, can I thank you for your tireless work and I’ll ask you to say a few words. 

Susan Teerds (Kidsafe Queensland):

Thank you, Minister.  Kidsafe has been running button battery awareness campaigns for several years and it’s a bit like those dreams where you run fast and you don’t seem to be getting anywhere and you wake up really frustrated.  We knew that we needed help, we needed more and we needed government intervention. 

We have consulted very closely with key stakeholders and the ACCC on proposed legislation, what it could look like.  Kidsafe sincerely congratulates this Morrison Government and the Minister for having the courage and the conviction to progress this mandatory button battery safety standard.  I’m really proud that my country is leading the world in keeping children safe from the tsunami of button batteries that permeate every facet of our lives.  But don’t be complacent – stay vigilant – this change will take time.  Do you know where all the batteries are in your house?  Check all the containers of the products that contain button batteries and make sure that they’re secure.  Keep button batteries away from children.  We know that fully-charged lithium batteries can kill children and cause catastrophic injuries within just a few hours.  But those flat button batteries can also kill children, it just takes sometimes days longer. 

So call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 if you think that your child has swallowed or inserted a button battery of any size, new or used, for fast, expert advice.  Thank you. 

Minister Sukkar:

Well thank you, Susan.  It is, I think, a credit to everybody with this campaign.  The fact that Australia now has the world’s strictest rules as they relate to button batteries, should be of some comfort to all parents but of course, as Susan said, we do have to remain vigilant.  So with that, I’m happy to take questions. 

Journalist:

Hi Minister, it’s Mayeta Clark from Australian Story.  Thanks for taking my questions. 

Just three very quick, short things.  First, would you be willing to sit for an interview with us in January?

Minister Sukkar:

Let’s take that offline.  

Journalist:

Okay.  Second, I’m just wondering if hearing aids are included in the products that will require secure compartments?

Minister Sukkar:

No, my understanding is that hearing aids are not included in this information and mandatory standard.  The ACCC, as you know I’m sure, undertook some very serious engagement with industry and others – in fact, Susan, you were a part of many of those round-table discussions – and in the end they landed on hearing aids not being included. 

Journalist:

Okay, and lastly I suppose you know that the first death in Australia was in 2013 and we’ve known about this issue, I think that it’s appeared in medical literature since the 1970s.  These standards are fantastic although it’s been a long and painful wait I think for the mothers who have lost children or the families who have lost children or had children seriously injured.  I just wondered if you had a few words for those people who have been waiting for some time for action?

Minister Sukkar:

Obviously no one, particularly a parent of young children like me, can fully grasp and understand the grief and the lifelong trauma associated with their children’s deaths and for many of the parents who have got children who have had lifelong injuries.  I would just thank them for their persistence and advocacy in the face of what must be just extraordinary grief.  I’m sure that for many of us whilst it’s been a relatively quick process since the ACCC has been working on it, as you rightly point out, as these products have become more ubiquitous, I think the urgency around it obviously accelerated in recent years.  But I would just want to thank those parents – in the face of their grief – for continuing their campaign to have these new rules put in place which I suppose we all hope will mean far fewer parents have to suffer the extraordinary trauma and grief that they are and in that sense, that grief and that trauma at least will result in other parents not suffering the same fate and I would just want to thank them for continuing their advocacy in the face of this.  Susan, I don’t know if you wanted to say a few words?  I think that it might be appropriate for you as well in that context. 

Susan Teerds:

It’s really hard if you lose a child and it’s really hard if that death is caused from you just not knowing that something is really dangerous and if you don’t know where they got this battery in this case, from.  I think these parents are very courageous and they’ve helped us fight the fight.  They’ve certainly knocked on doors with Kidsafe around the country to try and get the standard rolling and now it’s happened.  It can’t ever take away their pain or their loss but it will certainly prevent some serious, catastrophic injuries in more children. 

Minister Sukkar:

Well said.  Thanks Susan. 

Journalist:

Thank you.  No more questions. 

Minister Sukkar:

Great.  Thanks everyone. 

MIL OSI News