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- Start of Business
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Pyne, Chris, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
(Crosio, Janice, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Marek, Paul, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Baldwin, Bob, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Draper, Trish, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Goods and Sales Tax
(Evans, Gareth, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Slipper, Peter, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Redundancy and Termination Entitlements
(Andren, Peter, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
(Evans, Richard, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Hollis, Colin, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Skase, Mr C.
(Wakelin, Barry, MP, Williams, Daryl, MP)
(O'Connor, Gavan, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
(Lloyd, Jim, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
(Crean, Simon, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Gash, Joanna, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Smith, Warwick, MP)
(Hardgrave, Gary, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
- Small Business
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL RESPONSES
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- PARLIAMENTARY SERVICE BILL 1997 [No. 2]
- MATTERS REFERRED TO MAIN COMMITTEE
- AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY (PLANNING AND LAND MANAGEMENT) AMENDMENT BILL 1997
- LAW OFFICERS AMENDMENT BILL 1997
- PRIMARY INDUSTRIES AND ENERGY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 3) 1997
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
(Thomson, Kelvin, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Social Security Payments
(Thomson, Kelvin, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
(Jones, Barry, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
Sirway Asia Pacific Contract
(Bevis, Arch, MP, McLachlan, Ian, MP)
Department of Industry, Science and Tourism: Consultants
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Moore, John, MP)
- Japanese Economy
Tuesday, 10 March 1998
Mr O'KEEFE (8:35 PM) —The Primary Industries and Energy Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1997 contains a number of amendments to primary industry and energy legislation, most of which are supported by the opposition. I would like to make a few comments on those amendments before going to the sections on which we seek to disagree with the government. In respect of those, I foreshadow that I intend to move some amendments to give effect to our views when we move to the consideration in detail stage.
I would like to comment briefly on the areas that we do not have any difficulty with. There is a provision in the act relating to the Australian Horticultural Corporation. That provision seeks to remove the export trading powers of the AHC, which are the powers that gave the Australian Horticultural Corporation the ability to act on behalf of the industry in export negotiations. In reviews of these activities during the time of the former government, it came to our attention that people in the industry were not happy with the AHC having these export trading powers. They were quite determined to do the trading and marketing on their own behalf, even though the AHC had never activated those powers and put them into effect. This bill thus gives effect to the views of the industry.
The agricultural policy adopted at the ALP's National Conference in Hobart earlier this year made the specific point that our belief is that there is a lot to be desired in the way Australia's agricultural value-adders go about marketing their products. Serious national problems stem from the fact that, quite often, our people are on the same jumbo jet arriving at the same marketplace where they proceed to undercut each other and they call that good business.
I make no apology for the fact that a future Labor government will be revisiting some of these areas because I believe there is a case for more consolidated and coordinated marketing. While I have no problems with this particular amendment—which removes from the AHC the option to have a view about these things—I do foreshadow that the matter could well be revisited.
Another section of the bill simply provides the Wine and Brandy Corporation with powers to ensure that the description of Australian export products in the wine industry are not false or misleading under the terms of agreements reached with other countries to allow our products to be exported to them. That is not to say that anyone in our industry has been falsely labelling or falsely presenting the product; it is just that it has come to the government's attention that, through an early drafting error, this particular provision is not as tight as it should be.
I reiterate my earlier comments about the marketing and presentation of Australian products. We believe that these provisions must be tighter and more specific as we move to more value added products, as we must and wish to do. At the same time, our trading partners will demand more and more reassurances about food safety and food quality. This is an area of some considerable policy difference between me and my opposite number, the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Anderson).
We acknowledge the fact that these labelling requirements will be quite significant, and the presentation of Australian products will have a lot to do with the way they are labelled and presented. This might seem a relatively insignificant component of the bill, but I think it foreshadows greater national stringency and forethought about labelling requirements.
Of course, that leads to the contra position about products coming into this country. Again, our national conference policy statement makes no distinction between presentation of a product to a domestic and an export customer. It begs the question why the same requirements do not apply in a number of marketplaces—generally those administered by state governments—for the presentation of food products as might be required for an export product going out of Australia. That is up to us. If we, as internal domestic consumers, do not care, then we do not care, but the fact is that consumers everywhere are beginning to want more reassurance, whether they are locals or whether they are overseas customers. We will have to insist that imported products meet the same requirements that we have of our export products. That is not to say that we do not do that now. I know it is often claimed by people who are not that well informed that our manufacturers are required to meet standards for products going out that we do not require of products coming in. No-one has yet presented to me any real evidence that that is so. I think it is part of the rhetoric of trade protests. But, if it is so, it is something that will inevitably have to be given considerable attention.
We also have an interesting section of the bill which repeals the provision in the Dairy Produce Act limiting membership of the board of the Australian Dairy Corporation to people under the age of 65. That provision has been put in for obvious reasons, with changes in thinking and legislative environments around about equal opportunity and other provisions. I thought it was interesting that people over 65 can now be on the corporation board.
Another provision which we wholeheartedly support gives effect to a practice which had become established under the former government regarding loan payments to families given assistance under what is now called the farm household support scheme. We found that a number of farm families given assistance on a loan basis were unable to make repayments or to repay the loans. In the end, the loans were either left sitting on the books and not enforced or were waived. This provision waives those debts and takes them off the books. We do not have any problems with that.
Then we go to the bits of the bill that we do have problems with. There are a number of sections which remove from the minister's responsibility the oversight of the appointment of the senior officers of a number of statutory corporations or authorities that exist under the primary industries portfolio. For people who are not familiar with this portfolio, it has a myriad of corporations—often R&D corporations and, in some parts, marketing corporations—which have been set up by legislation, which the government has responsibility for and for which payments are made and policies are carried through. To some, it may seem quite painful for the minister of the day to have to continually oversee the appointment of the chief executives or board members of these various bodies. This bill seeks to remove that ministerial responsibility to allow the boards to appoint their own chief executives, but it ensures that they do not delegate that to anybody else.
We are not in favour of that. We believe that, in the end, the government of the day will be held accountable by the constituency, whether it is the producers who pay the levies into these various corporations, the marketing people with whom they deal or the scientific community with whom they deal. In the end, people hold these organisations accountable and they hold the minister accountable for their performance.
Certainly, I take the view that, if I am going to be the minister in this field and be responsible for the performance of these bodies, I want to have some say in who is appointed chief executive of them. So there are a number of amendments I will be moving. There is a long list of them because they relate to a long list of organisations, but they all mean the same thing—that is, they will omit from the bill this attempt by the government to delegate away from the minister responsibility for the oversight of the appointment of these people. We do not believe the minister should be removing himself from oversight.
I know this is a problem within the government. I hear at the moment that, at the office of the Prime Minister (Mr Howard), there is this great wheelbarrow full of appointments that ministers are seeking to make because the Prime Minister, for whatever reason, insists on having deep and personal knowledge of every appointment of every senior executive. Given the number of former Labor appointees who were sent on their way as quickly as they could be, I can understand why the Prime Minister seems to be obsessed with this and I can understand why there is probably a long queue. Maybe this is the reason; maybe it is as innocuous as making sure all these appointments do not have to sit in the wheelbarrow outside the Prime Minister's office. Maybe that is what this is really about. For whatever reason, we do not believe it is good enough, so we will be moving these amendments to retain that power in the minister.
Then we come to what is the most significant action of the government in this legislation. It is outrageous for its audacity, and the attempt the government has made to explain what it is doing is outrageous. This is in fact one of the great rip-offs we have seen from this government in the last two years. What I am talking about is a little subclause in the bill which removes $3.6 million from the budget of the Fisheries Research and Devel opment Corporation—which is the main body that is funded by the government and the fishing industry to research the future and management of our fisheries, oceans, fishing stock and all the rest of it—and uses it to fund a shortfall in the funding provided in the general budget for managing the South East Fishery buy out. I will explain the difference between the two in just a minute.
Mr Deputy Speaker Forrest, you should understand the significance of this. You represent an inland agricultural electorate. A bit of fishing goes on in the Murray River. There is not much ocean in your territory, nor mine, but we understand the significance of what we are on about here.
We have a national problem which is now acknowledged by people across the nation—a national problem of managing what is happening in our oceans and within Australia's 200-mile limit. We have the government sending the navy down to capture boats from other nations that are trying to poach and overfish our fishing stock. We have just about every one of the two million recreational fisherpeople, whatever we call them, in Australia lamenting the fact that there used to be fish there and now there are not. Right at the time when the government is saying, `We have to do more research in this,' and right at the time when the House of Representatives standing committee is saying, `We need more research. We need to get our facts right,' the government is ripping money out of the FRDC.
Just to make sure nobody is in any doubt about what the government says on the one hand and does on the other, I will quote from the speech by the Minister for the Environment, Senator Robert Hill, to the 1997 oceans policy forum on 2 December last year, only a couple of months ago. His exact words were:
. . . I would hope that we can ensure that our nation's important fishing sector is operating on a truly sustainable basis. This means, for example, examining the resources we provide to vital research such as stock assessments.
When a minister of the Crown gets up at a forum like that and makes a speech like this to those people and says, `This means exam ining the resources we provide to vital research,' not a soul in the audience would have suspected that what he really meant was `examining it to pinch some money off it'.
They all thought he meant he was going to expand the funding for fish research. No reasonable person anywhere would have construed that little statement to actually mean, `Yes, we're going to examine it and we're going to pinch $3.6 million out of the budget of the FRDC.' But that is in fact what has happened. We need to understand that it is not just about the government misleading the environment sector and the fishing industry in this way; it is also about what the participants think about this.
The way funding works for the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation is that a levy is paid by the government based on the gross volume of production of the industry and a voluntary contribution tops that up, which is made by both the government and, in some cases, as I understand, some of the states who are involved in these projects. There is a further matching grant of that extra contribution by the government.
The people who thought they were contributing to the FRDC's ongoing program suddenly think that they are contributing to a fund from which the government is pinching dollars to fund something else. There is already on the record a letter dated 25 June to the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Parer) from the Western Australian Minister for Primary Industry and Fisheries. He is not a Labor minister—it is a coalition government over there. They got wind that this was likely to happen, and the letter says:
The industry has to date supported this plan—
and here are the key words—
but have now signalled reservations in light of the possible implications of Commonwealth's current Budget decisions.
So you now have the states saying, `Hang on! I'm not sure whether we're going to contribute to fisheries research in Australia if you're going to be pilfering the money like this.'
I said earlier that I would make a point about the South East Fishery. On the surface of things, it sort of sounds reasonable enough to pinch some money from the FRDC if you are spending it over there on fishing, and that is what the minister hoped to get away with. But, as a result of research and understanding that the South East Fishery is being overfished and that there are severe management problems, we—this is a government decision which we support, so I say `we'—have actually commenced a buy-out of quotas and operators to scale down the amount of fishing in the South East Fishery. These are people who were granted quotas and who built businesses on that, so the process is that you buy it out and buy it back as a way of reducing the amount of fishing.
That is what we call `structural adjustment'. It does not matter whether it is structural adjustment in the wheat industry, the forest industry, the wool industry, the steel industry or the car industry—when we have a structural adjustment plan, we fund it off the general budget; we do not go and pinch it out of the funding of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you know very well that, if this government went off to Wool International, to the Wheat Board or to the dairy industry, and attempted to pinch some money out of their R&D funds to top up the structural adjustment programs, they would be out of their tree. It would not get past your caucus room or government members' room. So how did a raid on the fisheries budget get through without a question? Is it that your members who represent coastal areas and the fishing industry do not care?
I find this an astounding little stunt. I do not understand how it got through when you have a room full of people who claim to represent primary producers. Those who represent the other primary industries ought to understand that, if the Treasurer (Mr Costello) has pulled this one off, he is not going to finish there. So we may well be looking at an attempt to pilfer the R&D contributions from other primary industries in order to pay for structural adjustment, whether it is the farm household support scheme or whatever.
Also, the minister will attempt to argue that these are all reserves, that it is not as though we are actually taking the money away from anything. Let me refer the House to an extract from the FRDC's annual report which outlines the full allocation of the $33 million worth of forward research and development commitments from year one to year five. It is not as though we are poaching from a hollow log here. Even if we were to accept it, we would not be poaching from a hollow log; we would be poaching funds from what is forward committed R&D. That simply means that, unless the industry or the government puts it back, or unless I am successful in my amendments that stop it from going altogether, rather than see an increase in research and development, which is what the minister said he wanted to see happen, we will actually see a decrease.
Members in this House ought to take some note of this too because the House of Representatives standing committee which brought down its report late last year on this issue of the management of Australian fisheries was quite specific in its recommendations to the government. The report states:
Many submissions highlighted the need for increased funding for research.
At section 12.12, they state that the Executive Director of the FRDC pointed out:
. . . the FRDC is forced to rely on the States providing their levies on a voluntary basis.
This is the key point: if the states or the people in the industry get the slightest sniff of the fact that the voluntary contributions that they thought were going to expand research and development in the management of Australian fisheries is in fact money to be poached for general budget purposes, albeit given a fishing label, and is really for structural adjustment, then those voluntary levies dry up—and with it dries up the funding for the R&D that everybody concedes is absolutely necessary.
In the few minutes left to me, I would also like to refer to a recent hearing of the Senate estimates committee on 26 February, only a couple of weeks ago, where there was specific questioning of Minister Parer about this very issue. He was asked specifically about raiding the money from the FRDC to fund the buy-out in the fishery, and that is what he said they were doing. He said that this money was FRDC money; it was put together with some additional money they brought from somewhere else to fund the buy-out in the South East Fishery. He also conceded, in his contribution here at the Senate estimates committee, that there was a need for additional research funding.
These words ought to be carefully listened to in the context of the speech by Senator Hill. You will remember that in Senator Hill's speech, when he said to that oceans policy forum in December last year, `This means examining the resources we provide to vital research such as stock assessments,' and everybody thought he meant examining it and accepting the need to increase it, what he really meant was `examining it to find some money we can pinch out of it'. I wonder what Senator Parer's words mean. I am quoting from the Hansard of the estimates hearing where he is asked by Senator O'Brien, a Labor senator from Tasmania:
But Senator Hill identified on 2 December a need for additional research funding.
Senator O'Brien was wrong, of course. He only thought Senator Hill identified a need for additional research funding. But Senator Parer's answer is:
Yes, that is right and this will be considered in the whole budget context. As you are probably aware, Senator Hill and I and a few others are heavily involved in developing a complete oceans policy.
I suspect they are next going to the bottom of the harbour. I think that is where the missing dollars are. If, in fact, Senator Parer's words mean exactly the same as Senator Hill's words did—that is, yes, there is a need for additional funding but in fact it is going to be a funding cutback—then we are looking at an outright revolt across the nation, not only from the commercial fishing industry but also from the recreational fishing industry and a lot of people who are now concerned about management of the fisheries, the rivers and the whole thing.
This little stunt—of trying to say that, if we pinch $3.6 million out of FRDC but spend it on the South East Fishery, then really it is just money being spent on fishing so it is all okay—has not gone unnoticed and in fact has been widely brought to attention, to the point where state ministers are questioning whether or not they should continue to invest in this fisheries research. We have state ministers raising that question now.
I am raising the question: what about when the other industries where people pay into R&D get the slightest sniff of the fact that those funds are going to be poached for structural adjustment? Where are the government members who should be defending these things? All gone quiet. It is not a pretty picture. As I signalled at the start of my contribution, we intend to oppose those two sections of this legislation and I will, in the detailed consideration of the bill, be moving a number of amendments which give effect to both of the reservations that I have foreshadowed about the bill. (Time expired)