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Thursday, 24 February 1977
Page: 434

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) -This matter is indeed of public importance not just for the cattle producer, not just for the thousands of small businessmen- the stockmen and all the other little people throughout the nation- who, ever since Australia as such existed, have been a part of this rugged scenario, the truly Australian world of the cattle industry, not just the exporters, and not just the stock and station agents. No indeed. This Government and this nation cannot disregard and will not disregard the disaster which is closing in on an industry worth one billion dollars to this nation.

The Australian Labor Party stimulated by the philosophy of the Coombs report, could not at any stage disguise its venom towards country people or, more specifically, towards nonmetropolitan residents, hence the utter neglect of industries such as the beef industry. Let us look for a moment at just what has been done in the short time our Government has been in office. There is provision in the Budget for a further $ 15m to be made available as carry-on loan assistance to be jointly financed with the States after joint Commonwealth-State consideration. The conditions on the granting of these loans were liberalised to enable producers who had already obtained finance to apply once again. Earlyin 1976 the meat export inspection service provided by the Department of Agriculture was suspended. This is estimated to have saved the industry about $25m for the year 1976-77. There was a contribution to the beef industry of $ 18.5m. I admit that $1 lm approximately is the net amount involved because of the $1 per head cattle slaughter levy for the tuberculosis and brucellosis eradication campaign. There was a grant to the Australian Meat Board of $ 1.2m to cover the cost of the export charges on the sale of meat to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1975. Finally, speaking in a general sense, it might be confidently anticipated that the recent devaluation will permit exporters to take advantage of many more inquiries from nontraditional markets.

Regrettably these measures gave little, if any, benefit to the desperate financial plight of the cattle producer. There must be an end to the recurring cycles of booms and recessions and the only machinery to achieve this is Government legislation. To me the industry is crying out, not for Government dollars, but for the reconstruction of the industry based on a cornerstone policy of stabilisation. The argument that supply and demand will determine a price structure and will stabilise market conditions for the producer is no longer acceptable to the cattlemen. It is interesting to note that since 1974 the demand for beef has increased by 50 per cent while prices have fallen lamentably and over the last few weeks, at least in Queensland, prices have dropped to such an extent that my colleague the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) purchased just the other day a 433-lb vealer carcass hot for $20. It is calculated that this would be about one-third of the production costs of that beast.

The cold facts are that the cattle producer does not have direct access to a true market and the price he receives bears little or no relationship to the price his product brings on an overseas market. So much for the supply and demand argument. It cannot be effective in a market place where, say, 25 000 producers are subject to the prices paid by half a dozen buyers. Every cattle producer in Australia is affected by these circumstances but I would point out that the State perhaps most affected by the collapse of the beef industry is Queensland. I do not think any other State has more individual cattle producers who are unable to diversify, so it is not surprising that some rather dramatic and certainly determined initiatives have emerged in that State. The State Government formed a beef industry committee which has submitted a proposed beef stabilisation plan which, it has been suggested, should have an initial trial period of 5 years with provision for extension at 5-year intervals. Without going into the details of this scheme I think it would be an advantage to explain one or two features which I think are interesting. For instance, the plan refers to a 'livable price' concept and this is explained as intending that the minimum price fixed should provide a return sufficient to enable the generally efficient grazier to survive in the industry until market prices improve.

The committee claimed that a price of around 66c to 70c per kilogram, dressed weight basis, for first and second quality would be about the level required. I do not want to go into further details regarding this or any other stabilisation plan. I have only 15 minutes to deal with a subject that is of momentous importance and the major objective of this debate is to argue the general concept of stabilisation and to plead the cause for the utmost urgency in the matter of reconstructing the cattle producing industry. It is apparent that no marketing plan can be put into action until 2 matters are finalised. First, a uniform national classification scheme must be introduced. It is encouraging to note that the Agricultural Council, at its meeting at Launceston earlier this month, announced that Australia's carcass classification scheme will be based on measurements of weight, fat depth and age of carcasses and will apply to cattle, sheep and pigs. Much more important was the announcement that chains would be operating in all States by June 1977. The industry is understandably urging the Government to pull out all stops and give this matter full priority, and I am confident that this is what is being done. The second matter essential to any plan is the organisation that will administer it, hence the insistence that the personnel of the newly organised Meat and Livestock Corporation be announced without delay. Let me say with complete conviction that throughout the land the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) is being urged to bring the Corporation under producer control. I believe that no Minister for Primary Industry in history has ever had such difficulties to contend with.

He has received hundreds of representations in relation to the new Corporation and, in accordance with the way in which this Government acts, each of these has been respected and evaluated. However, I must say to the Minister, if I am to project truthfully the unanimity of opinion I have received from the producers, that if the composition of the Corporation was announced before lunchtime today, it would not be too soon. One matter to which I must refer is the necessity for the sub-committee of the Agricultural Council to have its recommendations examined and processed with all urgency so that this will not be an inhibiting factor to delay the Government's attention to the marketing requirements of the producer. There was much disappointment, if not considerable anger, when it was learnt that the matter of stabilisation was not effectively discussed at the Launceston meeting. I regret that I have not had an opportunity to discuss the matter with Queensland's Minister for Primary Industries, Mr Vic Sullivan, to learn why the required recommendations were not ready for the Launceston meeting.

I must return again to the main theme of this debate, that is, to stress again what can only be described as victimisation of the cattle producer by a system which coldly denies him a fair share of export returns. I think at this stage that I would do well to quote some comments made by the leader of the National Country Party, the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) in the House only last week. He gave figures which indicated record meat sales during 1977 due, I might mention, to the tremendous activity by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Minister for Primary Industry and, of course, the Deputy Prime Minister himself. He said:

Our Japanese quotas are being continually pushed up since the ban on imports in 1974 was lifted. The European Economic Community has eased some of its restrictions and is offering a market of about 12S 000 tonnes of imports of which we will have a part. One aspect that is very pleasing is the sales that have been made to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and to the Eastern Soviet bloc countries. I am pleased to say that it is after my visit to the Soviet Union and the invitation of the head of the Soviet States Trading Agency that we look like making sales to the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc countries of about 100 000 tonnes which is additional -

This is interesting- to last year's sales. The higher prices and the greater sales mean that the industry should be doing better.

I ask honourable members to note what he then had to say:

I believe it is true that the non-growing sector of the industry has had a prosperous year- that is the exporters, the processors and the people who work in the meatworks. But the prices have not been reflected back to the cattle producers.

He went on to say:

I think it is a bad situation for the whole of the industry if everybody does not share in the benefits. The cattle producing side of the industry has gone through 3 agonising years. Unless there is a sharing of the returns then I think great harm will be done to the industry. There should be an opportunity for higher returns going to cattle owners this year but that will depend on whether the buyers are prepared to pass the returns back . . .

The latter part of what he states eloquently and sincerely supports my case for our cattle men. I merely add that the cattlemen of Australia and all who work with them- from the ringer, the stockman, the tank sinker to the vet, the professional man-are a determined bunch and they are looking for an alternative if a scheme is not urgently put into operation which will give them a fair snare of our export earnings. Their threat, which most certainly will materialise into action, is that they will go it alone. They will kill, process and export in their own right. Could they be blamed for this if one read, as I did the day before yesterday, in a New Zealand newspaper dated 9 February 1977 a report of sales which had been held the previous day? It said: Prices paid for prime cattle: top oxen $254, heavy $240 to $250, medium $205 to $235-now we are getting back to the plonk and away from the champagne' Angus steers $ 1 1 5 to $ 1 1 8 '. Let us look at some figures that were given to one of my producers in relation to prices in Australia. The cost on board ship was 68c per lb and- this is interesting- the maximum price to producer was 1 7c per lb. I conclude by saying that if we look at the existing prospects for 1977 we must admit that the beef producer has never had it better and the cattle producer has never had it worse.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.

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