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Tuesday, 11 October 1983
Page: 1577


Mr KERIN (Minister for Primary Industry)(8.40) —I shall sum up this part of the Estimates debate. I praise the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Brumby) for his erudition in regard to the problem of pesticides-I will address some comments to that matter in a moment-and also the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Cunningham), whose perspicacity is exceeded only by his perspicuity. He rasied some very profound points in regard to productivity. The Opposition has accused my colleagues of being academic. I must say that the comments by honourable members from the other side seem to be very political. That is very regrettable in a place such as this. I do not suppose we can accuse the shadow Minister for Primary Industry, the honourable member for Darling Downs, (Mr McVeigh) of being academic at all. I can understand why people put forward these criticisms. I was worried he might raise his question on notice No. 555 about the root feeding cockchafer, but he did not.

The Estimates and the Budget present a chance to focus on the way in which primary industry is progressing. We cannot separate primary industry from the rest of the budgetary considerations. What is most important and what the Opposition fails to see is that this Government is trying to do something about the rate of inflation. The prices and incomes accord is in place, and we will not have the tearaway explosion of wages that we had with the previous Government. We are trying to have a more sensible exchange rate regime and we are trying to bring down interest rates. What counts more than anything else to farmers is whether a Federal government can get on top of the daunting economic problems we face. I have made no secret of the fact that there are elements of the Budget in which I was disappointed. I do that in all honesty. The only matter I could not win on-I used that phrase-was with respect to the recoupment inspection fees. I could not win on that point. People understand that. I make no apology for it. It was the policy of the previous Government since 1979. The Opposition does not disagree with that matter because, after all, when it was in government it brought in the 50 per cent recoupment on 1 January this year for a range of products, and it had every intention of bringing it in on 1 July for another range of products, particularly the export of livestock. We proceeded with that intention. That is why I could not win; it was the policy of the past Government. The Opposition cannot have it both ways. It cannot say on the one hand that it was all right for it to have a policy but say that it would not implement it, and on the other hand say that we have a policy and are to be criticised because we do not implement it.

The honourable member for Darling Downs said that I should not say these things and that I should not be honest with the farmers. I do not care; I am honest with the farmers. I will be frank. After all, the honourable member for Darling Downs was a Minister. He could not win on the Franklin issue and he could not win in respect of the record downturn in housing and contruction over which he presided. He understands that the economic constraints we face in government are exactly the same as he faced as a Minister in the past Government. The points that honourable gentlemen raised have been raised on other occasions and I could retort in like vein just as politically. But rather than have a slanging match about how many dollars are attached to wool promotion we should try to find ways and means whereby wool promotion can be funded on a more sensible, rational basis. Again, members of the Opposition should be reminded and should remember that their Government chopped down wool promotion from $20m to $14m on one occasion and that their Government brought down this absurd three-year freeze principle. What we should be talking about is the principle of wool promotion and a rational, sensible system of funding.

I have also admitted that I was disappointed with the amount of $1m for soil conservation. Far from the words the honourable member for Darling Downs used, I have not said that the level of funding means that $1m is enough. I said that when we look at a problem for which something like $1.6 billion is calculated as needed to solve some of the problems in land degradation and soil erosion-that is, to apply enough funds to fix the land needing attention at present rates of erosion-it becomes rather academic whether we get $1m of $4m in the first year of a program. The important point is that the Commonwealth is back into soil conservation. The most important matter for the States is that we give the assurance that the Commonwealth will remain in soil conservation, whereas the previous Government pulled the Commonwealth out of soil conservation.

The wine excise question has been done to death. I thank the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) for his comments with respect to his producers of dried fruits, because the excise will have an impact in that area also. The honourable member for Darling Downs said that the Queensland Government somehow embarrassed the Commonwealth Government into putting in, or forced the Commonwealth Government to put in, $10m for rural adjustment assistance for the sugar industry. This is complete nonsense. I have explained on numerous occasions in this chamber and elsewhere that a submission did go to Cabinet to try to help the industry with either a loan or a grant. Regarding the amount that was specified by the industry-if one works it out in terms of the way in which the industry wanted the grant or loan to be applied-it really meant that we would have been giving slightly over $2,000 to those producers, particularly in northern Queensland, who needed the most help. Giving $2,000 to farms which have a turnover of $60,000 to $80,000, even the very small farms, simply would not keep them viable.

We proposed-Cabinet's submission was approved-that the best way to assist the sugar industry was to put forward rural adjustment scheme money under part B of the rural adjustment scheme involving a State matching grant so that we could keep 600 to 700 producers in the sugar industry. Those are the people we feel form the backbone of the industry. We cannot simply categorise the industry in terms of small producers and big producers, in terms of the small producers being badly off and the big producers being okay. It is not as simple as that. The rural adjustment scheme gives the States a chance to evaluate the particular economic condition of each sugar producer.

The constant nonsense is run-I will not use the word 'lie'-that we promised underwriting. What we did was promise that we would examine underwriting. We have been waiting for the final report of the Industries Assistance Commission. The draft report of the IAC did not really address itself properly to the question of underwriting. Once we receive the final report we will be able to commence negotiations and discussions with industry on the range of matters that face it. There is no sense in kidding the sugar industry that we will get an international sugar agreement when we honestly do not think that we will. We are negotiating as hard as we can to get one. For the Queensland Minister to tell the producers that we would get one in May, then in September, which has just passed, and now in February is really a bit irresponsible. There is a long row to hoe on that question. We are very earnest in our endeavours. The Commonwealth Government negotiates international trade agreements. We are negotiating as hard as we can. I am not going to indulge in that supposition because in government we have to be more responsible than to make a few silly political points. Sugar research does not come within my area. It comes within the area of the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones).

Some of the provisions that were of real advantage to the rural sector in the Budget included an overall increase of 21 per cent in funds. If one takes out some of the one-off items, the amount of assistance to industry-that is, primary and secondary industry-was down by 0.5 per cent. That largely represented the estimate based on the fact that there was not going to be as much drought assistance in the coming year as there was in the first. The Government doubled the rural adjustment scheme money. We increased to $5.7m the allocation for the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign. We have allocated funds for the appointment of four specialist agricultural marketing attaches. We have transferred the screw worm fly facility across to the Department of Primary Industry.

There are many other means whereby we are assisting people in country areas. An amount of $300m has been provided for rural roads. I will not go through the list of the subsidies for rural airlines-the extra money for communications, the $46m for the national water resources program, which remains, plus the additional amount of $30m under the community employment program for town water supplies. There is a lot more money for country areas in the Budget than honourable members opposite will give any credit for.

Rather than indulging in a political slanging match on some of the matters raised by honourable members opposite, I address myself to the comments of two of the speakers, the honourable member for Bendigo and the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann). The honourable member for Bendigo raised the question of pesticides. He pointed to the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation on this question and referred to the Australian Consumers Association. Maybe I should outline to him and the Committee the involvement of the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry in pesticide control. It was after 1967, on the recommendation of a meeting of Commonwealth and State authorities concerned with pesticides, that the Department established a special section to co-ordinate an approach which had been fragmented within governments and between governments. This section acts as a central authority to co-ordinate Australian activities associated with pesticide usage in agricultural production. The section's main function relates to the regulatory control of agricultural chemicals, veterinary drugs and feed additives. This is achieved through Commonwealth-State co-operation by technical committees under the auspices of the Australian Agricultural Council.

In recent years the co-ordination of residue surveillance in Australian agricultural commodities has become an extremely important function. The pesticides section acts as a focal point for liaison with State authorities responsible for trace-back and remedial action at the farm level. The pesticides section acts as the Australian voice in international meetings where standards are set and risk profiles reviewed. The Department's role in pesticides has been well accepted by the State authorities and by the chemical industry. For the future, the report referred to by the honourable member made several suggestions for the improvement of regulatory procedures. The report is being considered by an inter-departmental committee which, of course, reports to Cabinet. I would like to agree with the honourable member for Bendigo when he says that there needs to be more uniformity between the Commonwealth and States on some of these questions, but I am now of a mind, having examined quite a bit of evidence, that there is a need to set agricultural chemicals and pesticides to one side from the additional scrutiny applied to chemicals and drugs used in the treatment of disease in humans. As I said, this is before the Cabinet.

I would like to conclude with a reference to the honourable member for Fisher. He made some comments about sugar which I will not go into because they reflect the same tired, old stuff we are getting from the tired, old and flabby Queensland Government which, after all, could not run a peanut board. He made reference to the fishing industry. One of his constituents reported on 6 September to us, or to someone, that he had sighted Taiwanese vessels on 31 August and 1 September off Thursday Island, but unfortunately the reports were received too late for any meaningful investigation to be carried out. The gentleman was interviewed and briefed on reporting procedures. He advised his local member, the honourable member for Fisher, and the incident attracted some interest in local Queensland newspapers. There have been only two confirmed sightings of illegal vessels off the Queensland coast during 1983. Both were clam boats operating on the Great Barrier Reef north of Cairns. Both were apprehended and the masters were successfully prosecuted.

Since the implementation of the Australian fishing zone, nine unlicensed fishing vessels have been apprehended off the Queensland coast. However, three of these were operating 250 to 300 miles off the mainland. That represents a dramatic decrease in illegal fishing activities off the Queensland coast because , prior to the implementation of the Australian fishing zone, 10 vessels were apprehended in the first six months of 1979. Surveillance of the AFZ, including waters off the coast of Queensland, is carried out on a regular year-round basis . The primary vehicles for surveillance are Royal Australian Navy patrol boats, Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion aircraft and civil aircraft under contract to the Australian Government. In the Queensland area P3 Orion aircraft are programmed to carry out a comprehensive aerial surveillance in the AFZ, whilst a Nomad aircraft is dedicated to surveillance on the Great Barrier Reef.

In addition to primary surveillance by dedicated vehicles, secondary surveillance is carred out by merchant ships, civil aircraft, Department of Transport navigation aid vessels and vessels and aircraft chartered by the Government to undertake other tasks, for example, quarantine and immigration patrols. Reports are also received by the Australian coastal surveillance organisation from fishermen and members of the public, and an intensive program has been initiated in the north and west of Australia to increase public awareness as to how they can assist the overall surveillance effort by reporting matters of interest in a timely manner. The Department of Transport, which is the co-ordinating authority for coastal surveillance, has outposted officers to Cairns, Darwin and Broome to oversight surveillance in those areas. My Department also has a unit based in Cairns, the Northern Fisheries Unit, which has responsibility to assist, when required, in surveillance and enforcement action in respect of foreign fishing vessels. I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate on Primary Industry estimates.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Progress reported.