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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 884

Mr TUCKEY(12.12) —The Meat Inspection Bill 1983 is principally designed to achieve the desires, in one respect at least, of all people in the meat industry-that is to arrange a single inspection fee. I differentiate between a single inspection service and a single inspection fee. It is the money that has been the problem. Quite naturally, processors and producers have complained bitterly where charges have been tacked one on top of the other time and again and where fees have had to be paid as many as four times when goods and meats cross State borders. Quite obviously that has been unacceptable. It was recognised by the previous Government as it apparently is recognised by this Government.

The other day, when we referred to the increased charges, I raised the difficulty I have with this legislation, that is, that in accepting a single fee , we seem to have accepted the most expensive fee in Australia, namely, the one that is levied by the Commonwealth in its inspection services. This fee is carried not only by producers and manufacturers but also by the Australian taxpayer. At least certain other fees levied for the inspection of meat did not affect the Australian taxpayer, and that must have been of some benefit. It could be argued that in time the user-pay concept, taken to its logical conclusion, could exclude the taxpayer, but it is still the most expensive means of doing the job. Surely we have a responsibility, when we view an expansion of a service which is what this Bill is all about, to look at the cost of that service.

In the House just the other day I drew attention to the fact that in an abattoir where there has been no hint in years and years of any malpractice, any meat substitution, where a local authority has no choice in the price it charges because its charges are set by the West Australian State Government, the total fee for the inspection of a bullock over 90 kilograms in weight is $2.80. Yet we are to introduce in New South Wales, via this Bill, an inspection charge of $10. 80, $5.40 of which will be met by the Australian taxpayer. To my mind that situation alone raises the question of whether this action should be taken before the service that the people of New South Wales are to receive is provided at a reasonable price.

There are all sorts of reasons why this cost is as high as it is. Probably 50 per cent of the cost is caused by blatant inefficiency and attempts to administer a massive organisation by professionals, namely the veterinarians. The other reason is, of course, that export inspection has had built into its costs certain hidden tariff barriers. Overseas countries would prefer not to have our meat. The political lobbies of their own agricultural producers demand constantly that they impose barriers upon exporting countries, making it just that much more expensive and that much more difficult. Anybody who has any knowledge of the export meat trade will know that there is a vast difference between what importing countries require by way of inspection of a product being exported to them and what they apply to their own products.

I once had given to me the example of a chap who received an order from a European country. He was extremely thrilled about this, but by the time he had finished doing the work, because it was an inaugural order from that country, the Department of Primary Industry had so worried him with its concern to make sure that the goods arrived in proper condition that he wished he had never got the order. When the order got to Europe-our inspectors quite properly had met every conceivable condition that they thought the importing country would impose -he had somebody attend at the wharf to see his product unloaded. It was brought out of the ship in a rope sling and dumped on the wharf prior to being picked up by a front end loader. All that protected it from the wharf was a bit of stockinette.

Part of the inspection requirement of importing countries is a tariff barrier, but this legislation imposes that barrier on the consumers of New South Wales. I just wonder whether the consumers and the producers of New South Wales wish to pay that price. They are the two groups at the ends of this chain. I wonder whether it is a price they would like to pay for this one charge service. Perhaps we should give the job to the shire of Northam, which provides a very adequate service for $2.80. In a reasonable comparison I made here the other day , if it was prepared even to accept this hidden tariff cost and increase its charges by 50 per cent, the fee to residents of New South Wales would be something like $4.20. So there is a very real question in our establishing this monopoly of centralistic meat inspection services and removing from this House the opportunity to make such comparisons as I have just made. Quite clearly, when this type of legislation is universal to Australia it will not be my right to say in this Parliament that a large abattoir in Western Australia can provide this service for approximately one third of the cost, because that comparison will not exist. We will see what happens to the cost then.

I am not objecting to the direction the Government is taking. I honestly believe that it was the ambition of the previous Government to do the same thing . My objection is that the decision is a lousy one, whether we took it or whether the present Government takes it. There are other factors that I think the House must consider in making this type of decision. The meat inspection problems have been around for a long time. In 1980 a one-time member of this House, Mr Kelly, was called upon to make some inquiries. He did so and submitted the report from the Committee of Inquiry to examine Commonwealth and State Meat Inspection Systems. In his resume of what was happening at that time he gave us the picture State by State. He pointed out:

South Australia negotiated with the Commonwealth in 1965 for the replacement where possible, of the local inspection service by the service provided by the DPI. The object of the South Australian Government is to have a single meat inspection service provided by DPI. This objective has not yet been fully achieved.

I will tell the House the extent to which it had been achieved in terms of protecting the community. On the same page Mr Kelly, under the heading 'Staffing and Establishments', went on to say:

Full-time inspection is provided at 13 abattoirs. Some 150 slaughterhouses exist in this State and there is no meat inspection in these.

There is none whatsoever. Admittedly, he then pointed out that 85 per cent of all meat consumed in South Australia is inspected. So the 150 slaughterhouses would provide only 15 per cent of the product. That is exactly why no Commonwealth inspection was provided. Of course, once we have a total Commonwealth system there is no room for anyone else to provide a service.

There is some suggestion in the second reading speech of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) of a delegation of powers. I do not know exactly how that will work; but it does not work too well in South Australia. South Australian people go without inspection because of the pure, basic economic fact that we cannot afford to provide one of our highly paid inspectors with his travelling allowances, allowances for living away from home, and so on and so forth, and with separate ablution facilities-he is an Australian, but he will not shower with other Australians. In view of all the requirements of the Meat Inspectors Association, we cannot provide someone to those particular places, so they get nothing. As to whether that is progress, I have my doubts.

There are problems in what we are doing. As with many other things that are being rushed into this Parliament on a suck it and see basis-it is rushed in, it is produced, it is looked at, and suddenly the Government gets everyone else to tell it about all the mistakes it has made-I should like the Government to think about some of the mistakes which could arise through these decisions. All that I am trying to tell the Government now are the obvious mistakes that have been made in States that have already taken, as the honourable member for Grey (Mr O' Neil) has said, this 'highly enlightened' view. I was interested that the honourable member was also greatly concerned with demarcation issues; in other words, as we know very well with the Meat Inspectors Association, that Association's views, as put forward to this Government, are very clear. It wants control of the industry. It can then improve considerably the position of its members, at further cost to the producer and the consumer.

I should like to add to some comments of the honourable member for Grey about our new Minister for Primary Industry, with which I totally concur. The Minister has been referred to by the primary industry sector as approachable and concerned. The honourable member referred to the Minister's diligence, candour and honesty.

Mr Robert Brown —A great assessment.

Mr TUCKEY —I completely concur. Furthermore, I would say that John Kerin is a delightful fellow. I just want to know how all those words relate to delivering the goods to the primary sector. They are lovely words, but they do not deliver the goods. I wish to goodness that the honourable member had said that the Minister is tough, nasty and has total control of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and, more importantly, Senator Peter Walsh, and that he screws Senator Walsh's ear consistently and that Senator Walsh is terrified of him. If that were so, it might be possible for this sector, the biggest sector of the Australian economy in terms of what it provides in original dollars, to get somewhere. In that regard, if the honourable member can find us a toughie, someone who can stand over the Prime Minister and the people he has put at the top of this thing, I would be a lot happier about it. It is nice to have Mr Nice Guy. The Super Salesman knows that. He has sent out that man to do all the selling. As I have said time and again, after sales service is not part of the Government's platform.

All in all, there are a lot of problems associated with this matter. I believe that they are all basic to the fact that we are not addressing ourselves to the real problems of meat inspection. Consequently, it is a great pity that we are imposing upon the people of New South Wales this inefficient system prior to fixing up the system. We are saying to everyone: 'What a wonderful job we are doing for you. We are giving you a single fee'. But unfortunately, it is the most expensive fee and, as we achieve this result of a single service and a single fee, it is my great concern that the cost will escalate very rapidly. I hope that the Government will take note of these matters and will, therefore, try to protect the people of New South Wales. The Premier of Queensland has already seen fit to protect his people. He will not allow his people to be dragged into this situation in which , first, they will get a more expensive service, and, secondly, they may have to go without a service altogether.