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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 2202

Mr ANDREW(4.48) —Prior to lunch, I was referring to the Egg Industry Research (Hen Quota) Levy Bill and the Egg Industry Research (Hen Quota) Levy Collection Bill and explaining that it was a matter of some concern to the Opposition that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) had shown such scant regard for the industry and that in fact the member for Perth (Dr Charlesworth) had had the audacity to indicate that these two Bills scarcely warranted debate in the House. I went on to point out that what has been a characteristic of the egg industry, and extraordinarily so, is the measure of rationalisation that it has undergone. I pick up the threads of my speech by pointing out that in 1978 in fact 809 people in South Australia were involved in the process of keeping hens for the purpose of producing eggs but that by 1986 that number had fallen to 335 participants-representing a fall of 60 per cent. However, over the same period the flock size-the term that egg producers use-had grown from 1,080 to 1,567 birds, indicating that, in fact, while the number of producers had fallen--

Mr Barry Jones —Did you say the average size?

Mr ANDREW —The average flock size-thank you, Minister. This indicated that, while the number of producers-those who own the birds-had fallen, the number of birds, the size of the flock, had increased quite dramatically. This rationalisation is also reflected by the fact that in 1970 the industry produced some 19.4 million dozen eggs in South Australia, while by 1987 the figure had fallen from 19.4 million to 12.6 million dozen eggs. The other characteristic of the egg industry that is worth placing in Hansard is that the producers, by reason of better feeding techniques, better caging techniques and generally improved husbandry, are now producing more eggs per bird.

On the introduction of this legislation it is worth reflecting that, while many of us would regret the degree of regulation that currently binds the egg industry, we have to acknowledge that egg producers have themselves been quite efficient in the way in which they have gone about egg production. In fact, in 1979 egg producers in Australia received 73.1c for every dozen eggs they produced. But by 1987 this figure had gone up to $1.06 per dozen, an increase of 45 per cent over that period.

I raised that figure because it makes an interesting comparison when one looks at what the retailer was receiving for his efforts in the egg industry in making the eggs available to the consumer. In 1979 eggs retailed in South Australia for $1.01 per dozen; but in 1987 this had gone up 60 per cent to $1.62 per dozen. Compare that with the 45 per cent increase to the egg producer. That seems particularly significant because the honourable member for Canberra (Mrs Kelly) was in the chamber earlier today saying that she had noted an increase in the price of eggs in Canberra. She said that she hoped that the Price Watch Committee-over which the Minister for Science and Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices (Mr Barry Jones), who is at the table, has some surveillance-would exercise some sort of control over the price of eggs in Canberra.

I have to point out to the honourable member for Canberra that in fact, while the rise in the retailers' price may be significant enough, the particularly significant thing in the debate is that the producer has had a far smaller increase in his return than the retailer has had. It is a matter of real concern to members on this side of the House that, while the Government has been so concerned about retailers' levels of price increases, there has not been the same measure of concern about the falling returns that are currently going to primary producers whether they are producing eggs or other essential primary products.

The legislation before the House provides the mechanism whereby egg producers can contribute towards research. For the information of the House, I point out that presently when the Commonwealth hen levy is collected a small proportion of it is used for research. But most of the Commonwealth hen levy is in fact used for an equalisation scheme which was designed to spread equitably among all egg producers the losses incurred through egg surpluses. The significant thing is that, given the level of rationalisation that has occurred in the hen industry, we now have a situation where the Commonwealth hen levy is no longer applicable and no longer necessary. In order to ensure that there is still some research into egg production the Commonwealth is introducing this legislation so that there is a means of collecting money from producers for research purposes. The Opposition wholeheartedly supports that step.

I have alluded to the fact that the Opposition has some reservations about the measure of control currently exercised over the hen industry. We recognise that because of various quarantine provisions there is in fact no import of fresh eggs into Australia; so there is a measure of protection in that respect alone. I am sorry to say that the honourable member for Rankin (Mr Beddall) suggested in this debate that the Opposition was less than consistent in supporting this legislation while claiming to advocate deregulating industry generally. I want to say that that was scarcely fair of the honourable member for Rankin and that in fact the Opposition recognises the egg industry as it is and supports this legislation as a means of addressing problems currently facing the egg industry as it is.

One of the encouraging things about this legislation is that, whereas the existing Commonwealth hen levy has to be calculated by each egg producer on a fortnightly basis depending on the number of hens he has been holding over that fortnight, the new levy, the research levy currently being debated in the House, will need to be paid only twice yearly. Those two payments are estimated to collect a total of about 3.25c to 3.5c per hen. In fact, the legislation currently being debated provides for a maximum collection of 10c per hen, and that cannot be exceeded. In those areas where the existing Commonwealth hen levy has been collected there has, of course, always been a quota system in place controlling the number of hens that individual people can hold. The honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) and the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) have both alluded to the fact that in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, where the quota system is not rigidly in place, notional quotas will in fact be made available.

I point out that the Opposition is not seeking to amend this legislation; as the honourable members for O'Connor and Gwydir have already said, we are happy to co-operate with the Government in giving it speedy passage. What we long for is the opportunity to be equally co-operative with the Government in giving speedy passage to the sort of legislation that will relieve the economic dilemma facing the nation, and we long for reasonable policies that we could also support. The Australian egg industry produces 178 million dozen eggs, with a value of $200m. I commend the Minister for Primary Industry for the fact that the permit system currently existing in the wheat industry has allowed feed wheat to be made available to egg producers at even more realistic prices. This has been of real benefit to them.

I want to conclude by relaying three particular requests that came to my office from representatives of the Australian Council of Egg Producers. I point out first that the Council has also commended the Minister for the fact that he has shown that he is prepared to be flexible in the method that he will use for the selection of the research panel-more flexible, I must say, than was originally planned. The representatives from the ACEP have also indicated that they want the Minister to know that they are willing to accept some of the secretarial and administrative responsibility for supervising egg research in South Australia. Additionally, and finally, the ACEP hopes that should existing provisions fail and the optional levy on chickens be invoked this will happen only at the request of the Australian Council of Egg Producers. The success of the Australian egg industry largely depends on successful research. Successful research leads to more eggs per bird. In its enthusiasm for a more efficient industry the Opposition is pleased to give passage to these Bills.