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Thursday, 19 September 2002
Page: 6785

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (10:24 AM) —in reply—I thank the honourable members for Paterson and Corio for their contributions and support for this legislation, the Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002 and the Egg Industry Service Provision (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2002. As the honourable member for Corio has just stated, the egg industry is an important Australian industry. It is generally pretty much out of the limelight but it does make a significant contribution to the economy. Sometimes it does come to public attention because of local planning requirements, as suggested by the member for Corio.

One of the things I have noticed is the significant movement of the egg industry away from urban environments to distant country towns. In fact, I recently attended the opening at West Wyalong of a significant new egg production facility for Pace Farms. That is an example of these facilities being moved into a country community where the environment is more conducive to this kind of operation and where the farmers are able to obtain the automatic quarantine benefits of being distant from other poultry operations. There has been a conscious choice to locate these facilities as far away from urban environments as possible, and I think there are obvious merits associated with that practice. And of course it is good news for small country towns; it makes a huge difference to a country town to have a very large-scale operation of this nature located in their environment.

As the honourable member for Paterson has indicated, the use of levies to fund these sorts of operations is a very constructive element. It is particularly valuable in ensuring that all of those associated with the industry contribute towards its development. The government does require there to be a clear demonstration of industry support before it is prepared to use its taxing powers to deliver a levy of this nature. The egg industry has clearly demonstrated that this is the route it wants to take, and it is appropriate therefore for the parliament to back it in that initiative.

The honourable member for Corio raised the importance of accountability, and the legislation makes appropriate recognition of that priority. Firstly, there is an accountability to the levy payers as shareholders of the company and, secondly, there is accountability through the deed of agreement to the parliament so that taxpayers can be assured that the contributions they make by way of matching funding for the levies are well spent.

As has been mentioned, the legislation is designed to create an egg industry company, to be called Australian Egg Corporation Ltd, or AECL, to provide generic promotion, research and development, and other industry services to the egg industry. The new company will be limited by guarantee under the Corporations Act and will assume the R&D functions that are currently provided to the egg industry under a subprogram of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. The accompanying transition bill allows for the one-off transfer of assets and liabilities from the egg R&D subprogram to the new company. The legislation also provides for the transfer of the assets and liabilities to be exempt from stamp duty.

Integration of R&D, promotion and other industry services will enable the egg industry to be more responsive to the challenges it faces. The new company will also improve communication with the industry, with consumers, and with government, and this will especially be the case on issues such as food safety, animal welfare and disease management. In addition, the new structure and associated new proposed levy will enable the egg industry to address the market failure which currently hinders egg promotion. By improving communication with consumers and boosting egg consumption, the company will promote the development and profitability of the egg industry.

The new company will be accountable to the Commonwealth. It will be bound by a number of measures outlined in the funding contract with the Commonwealth and in the company's constitution. Should the company change its constitution in an unacceptable way, become insolvent, or fail to comply with the legislation or the funding contract, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry will have the ability to temporarily suspend or to terminate the payment of the statutory levies. Alternatively, the minister will have the option to rescind the declaration of AECL as the industry services body.

The Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002 and the accompanying transition bill pave the way for the industry to look to the future with a more commercially driven and consumer responsive approach. With this new company, the industry will have the capacity to respond more effectively and efficiently to current and emerging industry challenges. Ultimately this will mean increased egg consumption and improved industry profitability. I commend the bill to the House and thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 10.31 a.m. to 10.40 a.m.