20 Jul 2020

Australia reviewing kava import restrictions

8:24 pm on 20 July 2020

Australia is reviewing regulations that block the commercial importation of kava into the country.

It is classified as a drug under Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations, and since 2007 only kava for medicinal purposes has been allowed.

Travellers to Australia had been allowed to bring in up to 4 kilogrammes in their luggage, but this has ceased with Covid-19 restrictions.

A kava bowl

A kava bowl Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana

A paper compiled by the Office of Drug Control said Pacific Islands kava growers, processors and exporters were expected to benefit from the ability to export kava to Australia as the market for kava expands.

The paper notes that market behaviour and kava consumption trends resulting from the commercial importation pilot may influence government decisions concerning future requirements for regulating the importation of kava into Australia.

The Office is now inviting submissions from interested parties before it makes a decision that will allow the commercial importation of unlimited amounts of kava into Australia for non-medicinal purposes.

Meanwhile, restrictions are having a significant impact on Australia's Pacific community who say the case for allowing kava importation by mail is strong.

A Tongan-Maori student at the University of Canberra, Faonetapu Takiari, said there were no legal restrictions on kava in the Capital Territory as it's classed as a food and beverage.

"However, importing it is a different story. We can't legally import it at all. Because it was classed as a hazardous substance before the change here in ACT, it's still under the therapeutic goods administration as a hazardous substance.

"So that's why the custom laws mean that effectively you can't bring in more than 4 kilogrammes at the moment," Takiari said.

He said kava should be classed as a food and beverage by all government agencies.

Kava plays an important role in social cohesion, and Pacific communities rely on this during times of stress such as the current pandemic.

Takiari said Australians were becoming more aware of kava and its merits as an alternative to alcohol, as the Pacific community shared the experience of consuming and learning about kava with others.

"I know here in Canberra a lot of other community leaders and church leaders who know the situation about kava as well as some of our Pacific people do, they're flabbergasted about the situation and they're not sure why it's held up the way it has been, and why is it not like in New Zealand," he said.

A petition to the Australian government to temporarily lift the kava import ban has been launched here.

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