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Tuesday, 13 September 1983
Page: 681


Mr BRUMBY(5.31) —I will keep my remarks on the Live-stock Slaughter ( Export Inspection Charge) Amendment Bill reasonably brief as I am aware of the fairly tight legislative program of the Government. In debating the amendment of the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh), I think it is instructive to recall some of the statements on this matter that were made by the Opposition when it was in government. I refer in particular to the statement by the then Treasurer in the 1978-79 Budget Speech in which he said:

Consideration has been given to levying producers to recover a greater share of the costs of providing export inspection services.

Later, in a ministerial statement on 24 May 1979 the then Treasurer said:

Steps will also be taken to recover a greater proportion of the costs incurred by the Commonwealth Government in providing cattle disease eradication and export inspection services.

He continued:

To this end the disease eradication component of the livestock slaughter levy will be increased from $1 per head to $3 per head from 1 July; and arrangements, effective from 1 July, will be made to recover, in respect of meat, wool and grains, approximately 50 per cent in total of the costs incurred by the Commonwealth in providing export inspection services for those commodities. These measures are estimated to yield additional revenue of over $30m in 1979-80 .

That was the attitude and the policy of the present Opposition when it was in government. I note that despite having that policy in regard to this matter since 1979, the Opposition now suggests, for somewhat spurious reasons, that the implementation of 50 per cent cost recovery be delayed. I think that Opposition speakers on this Bill ought to be aware when they put up their arguments that times are indeed difficult for all Australians. Times are difficult not just for primary producers or for meat processors; they are very difficult for more than three-quarters of a million Australians who are without any jobs at all and for more than two million Australians living below the poverty line. Times are also very difficult for all involved in secondary industry.

When looking at the proposed changes the Opposition ought to view them and their implementation in terms of the Budget context. When this Government came to office it faced the enormous task of restoring some balance and growth to the economy. For the first time in more than 30 years the economy was not growing; inflation was running at almost 12 per cent; unemployment was running at 10 per cent; the exchange rate was considerably overvalued and the deficit was mounting . This financial year the Government expects the economy to grow by some 3 to 4 per cent. Up to half of that growth will come from the farm sector.

I emphasise that the Government recognises that the recovery of the economy and the recovery of the rural sector are quite interdependent. We recognise that if the rural sector is to achieve its full potential for growth, that potential must not be stifled by general economic policies. It is for that reason that the Government took the view that a deficit booming out to the area of $10 billion or more would have stifled the farm sector's capacity and ability to achieve real growth. The consequences would have been higher interest rates, higher rates of inflation and an unstable exchange rate. Of course, that would have further reduced the competitiveness of our rural industries. Restraint is imperative if that balance and growth are to be restored and if oportunities are to be expanded for our export industries. That is very much the question to which this Bill relates.

I argue that the Opposition cannot have it both ways in regard to this Bill. It cannot on the one hand argue for a much smaller Budget deficit and on the other hand when this Bill, which would have certain revenue effects for the Government , is introduced then argue that we should not implement it because primary industry cannot afford to pay at this time. I think it is typical of the attitude that the Opposition has taken in relation to every area of economic decision-making since 5 March. The debate today on the matter of public importance in relation to superannuation, means testing of pensions and tax avoidance was an example of the hypocritical attitude which is taken by the Opposition.

If we look briefly at the Opposition's attitude, we see that its claims that our policies in some way have imposed a greater burden on the primary sector than on any other sector of the economy are without substance and without foundation. Indeed, if one compares the record of the previous government in regard to primary industry and particularly some of the industries covered in this Bill, its record is quite unsatisfactory. I point out briefly that under the previous Government severe imposts were made against the primary sector. I think the most notable of those was that on fuel, which rose in price under the Fraser Government from 14c per litre to 42c per litre earlier this year. That is a 300 per cent increase. Significantly also, under previous Liberal-National Party Governments, high inflation and high interest rates took their toll on the farm sector. I quote from a speech made by the honourable member for O'Connor ( Mr Tuckey) in this House on 25 May. In referring to a gentleman in his electorate, he said:

One gentleman who had farmed a property for 30 years, has seen his debt gearing grow from practically nil to 70 per cent of the deemed value of his property over the last four years.

I point out that that rapid rise in interest rates occurred under the previous Government. It is an issue to which our Government has addressed itself already. I think honourable members opposite would be pleased to know that in the area of interest rates housing interest rates have already dropped by half a per cent.

In concluding my remarks in support of this Bill and in opposition to the amendment I say that the Government's decision to recover 50 per cent of the export inspection charges certainly does take into account the views of the Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry, which very firmly laid responsibility for quality control on the industry. It also noted that cost sharing should continue. Export inspection charges for meat have not been increased since their introduction in 1979 and inflation has eroded that cost recovery rate so that it has now fallen to almost 20 per cent. The same argument that is applied to the recovery of 50 per cent of export inspection charges for meat applies to commodities throughout the community; that is, there is a need for an industry contribution to ensure that industry does take some responsibility for quality control. I think honourable members would also recognise that 50 per cent-a 50-50 basis-is the usual level at which government and industry share costs for many similar endeavours. Many of the research programs that are operated through secondary industry operate on that 50-50 basis.

The decision by the Government to recover from industry 50 per cent of the cost of export inspection services must be seen as part of a number of government decisions to be taken which will significantly improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of export inspection services. The Government has already announced the necessary legislation-that is, the Meat Inspection Bill of 1983-which will provide for the Commonwealth to undertake domestic meat inspections in New South Wales and other States and Territories which refer those responsibilities to the Commonwealth. It is of particular interest to me, representing the electorate of Bendigo in Victoria, that the Victorian Government has indicated its willingness to enter into negotiations with the Commonwealth on this matter.

I think the most significant aspect of this legislation is that it provides, in combination with further meat inspection reforms, for a better, more efficient and effective service which should guarantee our export markets for many years to come. These primary products play a very vital consideration in our export field and in their contribution to Australia's overall economic capacity. It is for that reason that I reject what I consider to be the very opportunist amendments moved by the Opposition and commend the four amending Bills to the House.