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Wednesday, 30 November 1983
Page: 3086


Mr PORTER(5.43) —The Live-stock Slaughter (Export Inspection Charge) Validation Bill to validate the export meat inspection charge comes at a time of enormous discontent in the cattle industry over the size of the increase in export charges. That discontent has erupted by way of a refusal to pay the increased charges and by way of a proposed High Court challenge to the validity of the charges. I cannot recall any other such concerted action against a government move by cattlemen and by the Australian Meat Exporters Federal Council. They are prepared to stand firm, and I believe they are prepared to withhold stock from the market if the Government does not reconsider the insane 200 per cent increase in export inspection charges. I cannot understand how a government can impose such an outrageous increase in fees at a time when cattlemen around Australia are endeavouring to get back on their financial feet after one of the worst droughts this country has ever seen.


Mr Hodgman —It is callous.


Mr PORTER —It is callous, as the honourable member for Denison states. He well knows the effect of the charges as some 200 people in his electorate have been put out of work by this measure. The 200 per cent increase in fees raises them from $1.80 to $5.40, but in fact that is only part of the story. In 1978-79 the livestock slaughter levy was $1.56. That levy is made up of an Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation administration levy, and Australian Meat Research Council levy, a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation levy, and a disease eradication levy, together with this export inpection charge . The total livestock slaughter levy was $1.56 in 1978-79. At Budget time last year it was $6.88. Now it is $10.98. The largest proportion of that 60 per cent jump this year in the slaughter levy was the 200 per cent leap in export inspection charges from $1.80 to $5.40. So the cattle industry has had to carry a very large burden. That burden has been imposed on it after all the problems it has been confronted with, be they the fall in prices on export markets or natural disasters such as the drought. The last thing it needs is a government trying to wring the last drop of blood out of it.

I have no doubt that the Government will argue that the Opposition is applying double standards in opposing the latest increase. It will say that it was our intention to lift charges to recover 50 per cent of the cost of the inspection service. That was our policy, but the argument put forward by the Government totally fails to recognise that the previous Liberal-National Party coalition was sympathetic to and understanding of the problems of rural Australia. The point is that the timing of any increase in fees would clearly have taken account of the health of the industry, the progress towards a single meat inspection service, and the industry's capacity to pay. This was exactly the course which the coalition Government adopted. I suggest that honourable members cast their minds back to the 1978-79 Budget Speech. In that Speech the then Treasurer on page 12 said:

Consideration has been given to levying producers to recover a greater share of the costs of providing export inspection services and cattle disease eradication campaigns.

The Government has decided not to increase charges at this stage but will review the situation later in the year in the light of the economic situation of the cattle industry at that time.

The Government would be well advised to note those words because it is ignoring the current situation for cattlemen around Australia. The previous coalition Government, being sensitive to the problems confronting rural Australia, did not move to increase the charges at that time. That is the difference between this socialist Government and the previous Government. This Government appears to have absolutely no idea or a total lack of concern about the fate of our farmers .

Let us look for a moment at why this is not an appropriate time at which to increase the livestock meat inspection charges. Firstly, farmers generally and cattlemen in particular are going through a rebuilding period after the drought. Some are rebuilding their herds. There are debts to pay, mortgages to reduce, delayed maintenance to catch up with, and so on. I cannot emphasise to the Government enough that the fact that it has rained does not mean that suddenly farmers are well off. One of the reasons this enormous increase in charges has been imposed is that most Cabinet members just do not understand the time it takes for farmers to recover from such a severe drought. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin), who is interjecting, publicly says: 'I am battling for you but I keep getting knocked off by Cabinet'. That is no wonder. He took about six points of order earlier today in this place and got knocked off. Until the Minister learns what is going on he ought to be quiet.

The Government's insensitivity to rural problems, as exemplified in this case, reminds me of a boxer. It may well be the current Minister. Cannot honourable members just imagine a boxer down and out, on the mat; he is about to be counted out but the bell goes, it is the end of the round; he stumbles back to his corner, he is doused with a bucket of water and he revives. That is just like the cattle industry. At long last the drought has broken. But as the boxer struggles back into the ring for the next round the last thing he expects is a devastating blow beneath the belt from the referee. That is just what this Government has done to the cattle industry. It has dealt the cattle industry a devastating blow beneath the belt.

Secondly, as a result of a number of inquiries into the efficiency of the inspection service and the problems of the dual inspection service in place in a number of States, the inspection service is in the process of change. Until the advantages of these changes are clear it is unfair to impose this new charge on what could be inflated costs of the inefficient service. Thirdly, since March there has been a significant decline in United States of America prices-the United States of America being one of our major export markets. I refer briefly to the United States of America weekly manufacturing cow prices which, according to the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation, have fallen from around 245c a kilogram to around 200c a kilogram. Our farmers are facing a difficult international market with cost increases at home under this Government's wages deal, a higher rate of inflation than that which exists overseas and a managed exchange rate revaluation which is disadvantaging our farm exporters.

Finally, and more importantly, if we look at the real net value of rural production, that is, returns to farmers or the purchasing power of farmers after deducting costs and allowing for inflation, we can see that the real net value of rural production in 1983-84 is expected to be slightly below the 1981-82 level and also slightly below the level at the beginning of the 1970s. So let us keep this rural recovery in perspective. In fact, it is a recovery from a very low base. In real terms farmers are not expected to be as well off this year as they were in 1981-82 or at the beginning of the 1970s. So it is hardly the time, I would have thought, to increase the charges on our farming community. The result of these new export charges has meant that export abattoirs are being avoided. Those abattoirs are reducing their kill or closing. Men are being put out of work. If this continues inevitably cattle prices on the domestic market will fall, thus aborting the much talked about rural recovery. The blame for that will lie solely at the feet of this Minister and this Government.

The increase in export inspection fees is just one more of the horrendous burdens this Government has loaded on to the rural sector. The Government has broken promises not to tax rural industries such as the wine industry. It has broken promises to support rural industry schemes such as the wool promotion scheme, the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign and the national soil conservation program. The list of broken promises goes on. We on this side of the House are sensitive to the problems confronting rural Australia. Therefore, we will vote to delay this Bill in the hope that the Government will come to its senses, reduce these horrendous charges which it has levied since October and allow our great rural industries to recover.