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Tuesday, 13 September 1983
Page: 674


Mr SNOW(4.46) —One would not know from the speech of the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) that this legislation will go some of the way to countering the sorry history of the primary industry policies of Liberal-National Party governments over the past six or seven years. In 18 months during that coalition's administration 30 abattoirs either closed or forfeited their export licences, 10,000 meat workers lost their jobs and the economic bases of towns were entirely disrupted. The Opposition now quotes the Woodward Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry when that Commission said that the then Government's own Minister did not deal effectively with the allegations that had been made against it, when the result from that Royal Commission was nothing, and when that coalition defended the indefensible, ignored even the vaguest concepts of ministerial responsibility and even went as far as bucketing the Royal Commissioner himself. Yet the Opposition parties tell us that they are the parties representing the meat producers of this country. This legislation is part of the Government's reversal of this sorry history.

The cognate Bills we are considering, the Live-stock Slaughter (Export Inspection Charge) Amendment Bill and three other inspection charge Bills relating to eggs, grain and edible oils, are an attempt by the Government to avoid the sorts of crises which existed in the meat industry until we came to government. The slaughter charge imposed, 50 per cent of the cost, is the same as the charge imposed by the previous Government in 1979, although one would not know that from listening to the honourable members on the other side of the House. It is true that the previous Government, perhaps justifiably, did not increase that cost during the drought, but there is no doubt in my mind that that charge would have risen simply because costs have gone up for a number of reasons. For instance, three years ago 11 million cattle equivalents were slaughtered. I understand that one cattle equivalent is ten times its number in sheep. This year 7.3 million cattle equivalents were slaughtered, a drop of 3.7 million cattle equivalents. This means that inevitably the costs of inspection will go up, and the Government has shown that it is ready to improve standards and procedures in the industry, particularly with respect to inspection.

The previous inspection system failed, partly because there was a lack of consultation with all the people involved-the producers, the meat workers, the inspectors and the consumers. I am sure that both producers and industry will agree with the measures outlined in these Bills as long as the Government is prepared to work with them to change the image of the industry in Australia. The coalition parties were very slow to tackle all these crises. In fact, they had all the decisiveness of Humphrey B. Bear. They failed to act on the report of the Woodward Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry. They failed to act on the report of the Kelly Committee of Inquiry to examine Commonwealth and State Meat Inspection Systems in January 1980. They did nothing about the bribery and blackmail information which was conveyed by the Hon. Bert Kelly, formerly from their own side, in February 1980. During their administration malpractices were rife. Local meat was labelled as export meat. Pet meat was sold as meat for human consumption, meat which did not meet health requirements for humans. Meat was wrongly described, both in age and quality. Export certificates were forged, or perhaps bribery was used, in some cases, to obtain them. Slaughter dates were changed and transfer certificates were forged. Export documents were not obtained in some cases. Naturally, charges have to be made if these practices are to be overcome.

The previous Government could have acted seven years ago when malpractices were first publicly reported to it. No wonder farmers are saying now: 'Give us efficiency, give us sound administration, give us a corruption-free export industry, give us good controls on what goes out of the country, and we will be with you'. They are willing to met 50 per cent of the costs if that gives confidence and security to the meat export industry. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) is doing just that. The Department has already set up compliance programs. It has set up an investigation unit to eliminate malpractice in the industry. It is vigorously pursuing the recommendations of an adviser from the United States Department of Agriculture. The Government is also showing its good faith to the industries involved. In fact, in two of the Bills shell eggs and bagged grain are mentioned, and there has been a reduction of charges for them.

The Government is not out to make money for Consolidated Revenue. It is out to improve standards. It is reverting to the policy of the previous Government, that is, to share and gradually increase producer involvement in the industry. The Hawke Labor Government has reduced producer charges and it will reduce producer charges where inspection costs are less. We intend to take decisive action in the meat industry, and the Minister has introduced a single meat inspection proposal. In New South Wales this proposal is being adopted and should be in operation next year. It could well be in operation in Queensland if , and I guess only if, there is a change in government to a government which will co-operate with the Federal Government--


Mr Ian Cameron —There won't be; no hope. The National Party will govern.


Mr SNOW —If the Queensland producers want to pay $2.20 more for their meat inspection perhaps they will vote for a National Party or Liberal Party government, or whatever it may turn out to be, but if they want a single meat inspection service at less cost they will return a Labor Government in Queensland. For three years the present Opposition did nothing. For three years all it did was talk about it, and the legacy it has given primary industry policy is nothing but soothing words and few actions. In fact, only when an election seemed imminent, and three years after a drought had appeared in the Snowy Mountains and a whole lot of other areas in Australia, did the previous Government decide belatedly and within a few days on a fodder subsidy. That is the legacy of that Government-soothing words and panic moves.


Mr McVeigh —I rise on a point of order. I have listened with a great deal of interest to the honourable member's speech. I know that you will be tolerant, Mr Deputy Speaker, and we would want you to be tolerant of him. But I have some difficulty in understanding how a fodder subsidy has anything whatsoever to do with an inspection fee for livestock, eggs, grains or edible oilseeds. Whilst I realise that the honourable member knows he is being broadcast and would like to push the parish pump issues, I mention that the business of this House is very serious, and new members should be educated right from the start to talk about the Bill, not about something that they believe is of importance to their electorate. I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to ask the honourable member to return to the subject of the Bill.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mountford) —The honourable member will confine his remarks to the Bills before the House.


Mr SNOW —I am trying to point out to the House that the Government is taking these measures simply to strengthen the position of primary industry, particularly of meat exporters. For that reason this legislation is associated with the initiatives being taken by the Government in quality control programs and in increasing productivity. I point out to the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) that inspection costs are involved in increasing productivity . I believe that, through these Bills and other measures being introduced by the Minister, productivity will improve in the next year by perhaps 10 per cent.

The Bills are also designed to avoid duplication. Already we have seen how in the production of edible tallow two inspectors have been replaced by one. Formerly there was a dairy inspector for margarine and a meat inspector for tallow, but we are now working with one inspector. It is certainly relevant that this Government is prepared to take action to reduce the costs of inspection and to increase efficiency, in conjunction and consultation with the people involved . The National Economic Summit Conference earlier this year involved that sort of consultation. Employees, whether they are meat workers or inspectors, must be consulted if we are to progress. The fault of the previous Government was that this level of consultation did not take place. We have to remember that the people who produce meat, the people who market meat, the people who process meat , the people who inspect meat, the people who buy and consume meat in Australia and the people who buy and consume meat overseas all have to be considered in the process. Just because this Government is taking a few months to take the actions it took the previous Government years to think about does not mean that we are being tardy. This Government needs to work with all of the people involved to develop a cost effective, acceptable line of supply without hurting any of the people in the industry.