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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'CONNOR (9:59 PM) —The Primary Industries and Energy Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1997 now before the House is an omnibus bill that seeks to make amendments to legislation governing several areas of the primary industry portfolio. Many amendments to legislation are proposed in this bill. One has already been canvassed here, and that is the amendment that seeks to remove the requirement for the minister to approve the terms and conditions of the employment of principal employees in statutory authorities and research and development corporations, placing the responsibility entirely with individual organisations for the appointment of those personnel, the conditions under which they will work and the remuneration that they will receive. As the shadow minister has indicated, we intend to oppose this measure. He has foreshadowed amendments to that effect.
One amendment being proposed in this legislation relates to the Australian Horticultural Corporation Act 1987. The proposed government amendment seeks to remove the export trading powers of the Australian Horticultural Corporation. An amendment is also proposed to the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980. That amendment seeks to insert regulation making powers into sections 40D and 40F of that act. There is also an amendment to section 33 of the Dairy Produce Act which prohibits a person who turns 65 from being appointed as the government member of the Australian Dairy Corporation.
There are some consequential amendments to the tax assessment acts relating to the farm household support scheme. The amendments that have excited the interest of the honourable member for Lyons (Mr Adams), who preceded me in this debate, relate to the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989 and to the fisheries industry. That is an issue which the shadow minister has taken a keen interest in, and he has already foreshadowed the opposition's amendments to what the government is proposing in this bill.
We are particularly concerned about two areas of this legislation. The first relates to the amendment which seeks to remove the requirement for the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy to approve the terms and conditions of employment of principal employees in statutory corporations. The effect of this amendment is to remove ministerial responsibility for these appointments. It removes the ministerial oversight of appointments to these organisations.
Nobody should be under any illusions: the present Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Anderson) is not considered a heavyweight as far as cabinet discussions are concerned. I will certainly take that point up in further discussion on what is being proposed in the fisheries research area. The minister also seeks to shovel out his responsibilities in his portfolio whenever he can. I think this is a fairly good example of this minister in action. He is seeking to handpass—to use Australian Rules parlance—his responsibilities to oversee and to have some input in the appointment of chief executive officers of these public and industry bodies.
There is significant public investment in many of the research and development corpo rations particularly. That investment is undertaken either by the Commonwealth or by the states in concert with the industry, which pays levies to research and development corporations. We need to understand that public moneys are at stake in these organisations—although perhaps not in the statutory authorities these days, as most of them are funded by industry levies—but particularly the research and development corporations, where the Commonwealth makes a sizeable contribution to the financial viability of those corporations.
On this side of the House, we are of the view that where substantial public moneys are involved the buck stops at the minister. The best way that the minister can effect an oversight of the expenditures of these public moneys is to have oversight of the appointment of the people to whom we entrust these public moneys to carry out their appointed tasks. At the end of the day, the government is accountable for the performance of these bodies.
One element of that accountability is effected through the ministerial oversight of the key appointments of chief executive officers. Alas, this minister, lacking in leadership and any real sense of responsibility to the portfolio he administers, seeks to handpass that responsibility through an amendment to the legislation we are debating tonight.
Other members of the opposition who have preceded me in this debate have spoken very strongly on the second matter which will be the subject of the shadow minister's foreshadowed amendments. That relates to the government's intention to take $3.6 million out of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation in 1997-98, using some of that money for structural adjustment purposes elsewhere in the fishing industry. However, as we know, some of that $3.6 million will be returned to general revenue. That is an extraordinary situation. Here we are in 1998 with many government members representing provincial, rural and regional coastal constituencies, yet this sort of measure is being proposed. I will speak more about why that is so.
The previous speaker in this debate, the member for Lyons, was a member of the House of Representatives inquiry into the management of Commonwealth fisheries. He indicated that that inquiry found that an increased research effort was needed in Australian fisheries. Why? Because many of our ocean and inland fisheries are in a parlous state due to bad management practices in the past. There is an urgent need to increase our knowledge of our national fisheries so that we can effectively plan their sustainable development in the future.
As I have stated, past exploitation of our fisheries and those resources has left many of them in a parlous state. The simple reality is that, if the fisheries are not managed in a sustainable way, we will not have an industry and we will not have all that goes with it—the investment to drive new value adding opportunities, the employment opportunities in regional and coastal towns and cities that depend on this industry and will into the future, and the development and application of new technologies and skills in those regional communities.
Let us be in no doubt whatsoever as to the importance of this industry to regional coastal communities. Around 80 per cent of Australians live in urban environments and most of our population is concentrated in cities and towns situated in coastal environments. The fishing industry is an important source of food for the citizens of those towns and cities. The effective management of our coastal fisheries is vitally important in securing the long-term food supply for those people. Research and development is essential to increase our knowledge of our fisheries and to guarantee in the long term that important food supply.
The industry is an important source of employment for people in those regional communities. There is employment generated not only in the catch itself but also downstream in value adding and processing opportunities. All of these communities seek to develop these opportunities further in the hope of expanding employment. This industry is also an important source of export income. There are huge overseas markets which are opening up for the products of this industry. The member for Lyons, who preceded me in this debate, has been one of the strongest supporters of the fishing industry. He appreciates the importance of this industry to his state as an important generator of employment for Tasmania. The member for Lyons is a very generous man and every year he holds several functions. I do not know whether you have ever been to them—
Mr Bruce Scott —No.
Mr O'CONNOR —The honourable member for Maranoa should take himself along to them; they are really gastronomical experiences. They are based around the fine seafood that is produced in the state of Tasmania—the smoked salmon and the tuna. I commend the honourable member for Lyons: he really leaves no stone unturned and lets no opportunity pass to promote the fishing industry of Tasmania.
Mr Latham —He practises what he preaches.
Mr O'CONNOR —He practises what he preaches. Therefore, when he comes into this House and he expresses concern about what the government is doing to fisheries research in this country, I think we ought to take him seriously. The member for Lyons knows the importance of this industry not only to Tasmania but to this nation and he knows its capacity to generate export income from smoked salmon and tuna. I understand that soon there will be mackerel exports—a whole range of seafood. It is an industry that is dependent on the effective management of the resource. You do not have an industry if you do not effectively manage the resource. You cannot effectively manage the resource without a knowledge of the fisheries and you do not increase your knowledge of the fisheries if you do not have an extensive investment in research and development.
Even the member for Maranoa can understand the logic of what I am saying. Yet here, as a National Party member, he is going along with the Liberal majority in the cabinet to take $3.6 million out of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation's budget. I do not like using the word `steal', and I will not use it here tonight in this debate, but it is an extraordinary situation when the government says, `Oh, well, this is a corporation that is flush with dough. We'll just rip out $3.6 million of that. We'll shunt some sideways this way into a structural adjustment package and then we'll shunt this bit the other way into general revenue for the sake of the budget deficit.' I am at a loss to understand why the minister has taken this action. I have reflected very hard on why he has done so and why so many Liberal and National Party members who represent coastal constituencies have gone along for the ride. It really constitutes another betrayal of rural and regional communities.
I can only speculate and suggest some of the reasons. The first is that the government has research and development very low on its list of priorities. We all know that that is the case because, in its successive budgets, it has reduced the research and development effort in this country not only in the fisheries area but across a broad range of areas in our economy. It has slashed the 150 per cent R&D concession. Manufacturing and rural industries are still smarting over that stupid measure by the government. It has a history of broken promises in the research and development area. You do not have to be a young Einstein to know that Australia's competitive edge can be sustained only by a massive research and development effort. That effort applies not only to the smaller industries but to the larger industries.
This is a government with no industry policy. It has run down Australia's education system, it is laying waste the skills of the nation through its failure on the unemployment front and it has withdrawn basic government support for industry services to assist many of these industries to survive in very harsh global environments that Australian industry encounters at this time.
There is a second reason the minister has taken this action. This is not an industry that is very powerful within the primary industries portfolio. It is not as powerful as wheat or wool, so the minister really does not want to stick up for the fishing industry in his portfolio.
The third reason—and this is a really important one because it reflects on the minister and his contribution to primary industry and this portfolio since he has had control of it—relates to the minister's weakness when the Treasurer (Mr Costello) attempts to steal funds from various other portfolio areas. I would have hoped that the minister would have stood up to the Treasurer and said, `No. This is one very important industry. We are not going to raid its reserves. We are not going to raid its budget. I'm going to stick up for this industry.'
We know the spurious reasons why this measure has been taken. It is here in a letter by Senator Warwick Parer, the Minister for Resources and Energy, to Dr Russell Reichelt, the chairman of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. Senator Parer said:
We had to reduce our contribution to the FRDC to help offset high priority measures such as the adjustment program, and to help pull back the Budget deficit.
We all know what a spurious argument that is—pulling back the budget deficit!
There was a very simple solution to Australia's budget deficit when the government came to power in 1996. All it had to do was emulate the average growth rate that Labor engineered in the four years before Labor went out of office. If it were able to engineer that particular level of growth—four per cent, 4.25 per cent, 4.5 per cent—there would have been an automatic adjustment on the budget that would have, in the main, wiped out any apparent deficit that was there.
But the logic of that proposition did not dawn on the Treasurer and it certainly was beyond his capabilities. This overrated, urbane lawyer could not even match Labor's performance over the previous four years. What a sad indictment on an arrogant Treasurer who parades himself here as the paragon of virtue as far as tax reform and budget deficits are concerned. He could not even achieve in two years a level of growth that Labor left him with from the previous four years. Yet this is the reason that has been given by government ministers for this unseemly raid on the resources of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.
There are threats and dangers to the survival of this industry—overfishing of the resource, disease within our fisheries and poaching by international fishers. We can now add another threat to the industry's survival—the Howard government. (Time expired)