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Wednesday, 7 March 2001
Page: 25244

Mr CAUSLEY (12:00 PM) —I will not go over the detail that the member for Barker has put into Hansard about levies, et cetera, in the industry; rather, I will try to look at some of the other aspects of the Pig Industry Bill 2000 and relate them to some of the other agricultural industries in Australia. As the member for Barker said, in 1998 the pig industry was in disarray and there is no doubt that, in my area in the seat of Page on the north coast of New South Wales, the effects were even more dramatic than in other areas of Australia. It is probably correct to say that some of the producers in that area are not as big as some of the other producers in Australia. In fact, it was doom and gloom. The industry had been focused on domestic markets and, at that particular time, the importation of Canadian pork—and they were prime cuts that were being imported from Canada by our great supermarket chain Woolworths—was having a dramatic effect on the domestic market, and it was doom and gloom. In fact, I had representations from pig producers and abattoirs in the local area who were saying that they were going to go out of business unless we put some protection in place to help them. Of course, under the terms of the World Trade Agreement that was not possible.

I think the members opposite forget—and I notice there is not even an opposition member here at the present time—that they signed the World Trade Agreement before we came into government and we are bound by that. We may not like some of the terms and conditions, and I do not believe that the Labor Party fought hard enough in some of the areas where countries such as the US and those in the EU get their great protection. I do not think the negotiators on behalf of the Australian government did fight hard enough in some of those areas. Nevertheless, what happened in the pig industry is an example for industries across Australia. They had to focus on export. They had some luck; you always have to have luck. But they grabbed their opportunities and they went out there with the help of government and aggressively attacked the world markets.

When I say they had the help of government, a package was put in place which allowed their abattoirs to be upgraded to international standard so they could be competitive. I know that, in my area, the abattoirs did exactly that. The abattoir on the north coast of New South Wales is at Booyong, near Lismore, but, of course, we are not far from the Darling Downs and there are some fairly big abattoirs on the Darling Downs that kill pigs. Those abattoirs took the opportunity and they aggressively marketed their product into the world market. With some luck, as I said, they have been extremely successful. I have not had one complaint from the pig industry in the last two years. Although the pig industry is a very competitive industry, it has been doing very well.

It does not matter whether research and development is in agriculture or in business; it is a very important part of any industry. You must spend the money on research and development if you are going to be world competitive and keep ahead of those who inevitably are going to try to take your market. In this particular area, as has just been mentioned, pork is competing in all the other meat areas. If you have beef or lamb or fish that is cheaper, the consumer will buy those particular products. So it is not just a matter of competing with overseas countries or competitors within your country; you are competing with other products. Therefore, your research and development, the presentation of your product and the fact that you are servicing the market are all very important.

Many agricultural industries in Australia, and it probably goes right back to our history, have not really focused on the fact that they have to provide a product that the market wants. As I said, it goes back to our history because in the past we belonged to the British Empire and we produced a bulk product—and I can remember that; it is not that long ago. We produced agricultural product in bulk, England took that product and in return we took their manufactured goods. It was only when England joined the EEC, as it was in those days, that the umbilical cord with Australia, and New Zealand for that matter, was cut and we had to adjust. New Zealand, in many ways, adjusted better than we did in agriculture because they had to—they were forced to. Australia tended to rely on some of its other industries and its wealth—I dare say to cushion the blow. Many of our industries, and perhaps industries that the member for Wannon represents, did not adjust. The reason they did not adjust was that they did not do market research into what the market wanted and needed. You do not just produce a product and put it on the market expecting the buyer to buy it. You have to go out there and do the market research and you have to understand exactly what the consumer is looking for and what the market wants. That is why research and development is so important.

What I see here is that the pig industry have got their act together. They have agreed that this is the best way to go, the best way to expend the money—mind you, there is industry money involved here and that is very important. They want to have a say in how that money is to be expended and, because they are closest to the industry, they know how that money should be spent. If they are getting the feedback from their market, they will know what they should be spending that money on in order to supply and satisfy that market. It is a very important point. It has been said by the member for Barker that, unfortunately, those opposite—and I include the member for Corio—do not often know much about this. It seems to me they are a little like some of the other political parties at the present time—they listen to talkback radio and they hear a few people sprouting policies and they think, `That must be a good policy, so that is our policy.' It is a very difficult area; I do not pretend it is not. The world market is a difficult market. It is a very aggressive market. There are people in that market who have corrupted systems of their own by dumping product on the market. I know this government has tried, very aggressively, to overcome some of those corruptions in the marketplace and we have to keep niggling away at that.

If we can just get a foot in the door in many of these markets, it will mean a lot to our agricultural industries. We have to continue to do that but we also have to have the best product in the world—and in many industries we do. Our agricultural industries are very efficient, measured on world terms, and they produce a very good quality product. We can do better. In the meat industry, for instance, a lot of research and development could go into looking at labelling and the quality of product, which is important on the world market and domestically. We could do a lot better there. The meat industry, the red meat industry in particular, could take a lesson from what the pork industry is doing. They could get their act together, cooperate and use some of the funding they can generate from these schemes to get their product into a better position.

I have listened with interest over the last few weeks at some of the utterances coming from the other side of politics and, quite frankly, it seems to me there is a tendency over there to go back to the old days or at least give an impression, travelling around the countryside in the boondoggle bus, that they understand and that they are going to do everything. But I do not see the policy. These people will be caught out when they are asked what their policies are, because they do not have any policies in this area. People are not silly. They might have a bit of a disagreement at the present time with the way things are going but, at the end of the day, they are very smart people. They will sit down and say, `If we did not go in this direction, where would we go?' I am sure they will make those judgments when it comes to the time.

Let us have a look at what happened in New South Wales. One of the important things in these industries is that when you have research and evidence of where you need to go in these industries you then need extension. One of the great assets we had in Australia in the past was the great bureaucracies that we had in the states. I am talking here about agriculture, soil conservation, water conservation and forestry—those sorts of bureaucracies. The people in those bureaucracies were very qualified: they could go out and talk to producers, and they had the trust of the producers, about what was needed to change direction. But what have we seen? As soon as the coalition government was defeated in New South Wales, those bureaucracies were wiped out. As a former minister for agriculture in New South Wales in the coalition government, I was appalled at what happened under the Labor Party, where these very valuable bureaucracies for agricultural industries were just wiped out. Now, when we have some problems in the environmental area, where undoubtedly there will need to be some changes in management and, again, where we will need some research done as to where we go—probably there will be some cause for industries to put the money in as well—we have no extension at all. We have no-one we can send out to talk to the people on the ground, no-one who is trusted by these people, about how some of these things might be changed to make our industries more competitive. There is no doubt in my mind that this type of legislation and the agreement behind this legislation is pivotal to the future of industries in Australia.

Mr Deputy Speaker, on the same vein, you might recall that one of the problems we had in the sugar industry in North Queensland was the fact that they had a decline in production in the wet tropics, a particularly different area from many of the other sugar producing areas of Australia. One of the things the government did in the sugar package was give money for research—to research why we had the decline, to look at varieties and at farm practices to see how we could overcome that situation. Look at the development of agriculture in Australia, the development of production, and the fact that these days we get 100 per cent more production from our wheat varieties and from our sugar varieties. And look at the standard of our herds—whether they be flocks of sheep or herds of cattle. The development that has taken place over decades is quite extraordinary. That is why Australia is so well placed as an agricultural country. It is absolutely important we continue to do that.

The member for Barker mentioned the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak at the present time in Europe. I noted the other day when the question was asked that not one member on the opposition side knew what the question was about. This is one of the world's greatest diseases.

Mr Fitzgibbon —That was stupid; you should withdraw that.

Mr CAUSLEY —Even the member for Hunter was sitting here laughing his head off; he had no idea what foot and mouth was about.

Mr Fitzgibbon —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would, in good faith, ask the member to withdraw that comment. That is a total misrepresentation of what was taking place on the opposition benches on that occasion. I find it offensive.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—The member for Hunter does not have a point of order.

Mr CAUSLEY —The fact is this is the world's most feared disease and it can have a big effect on the pork industry. This is the industry that can be most affected by foot and mouth. One of the things we have to take heed of is that the minister yesterday talked about the upgrading of quarantine into Australia. I know it is a nuisance to people who are going into another country that they have to go through these quarantine procedures, but I do believe that before this outbreak we may have been a bit lax. We have to keep our guard up all the time on these diseases because Australia is disease free and we want to keep it disease free. We want to maintain that status because it does give us great opportunities. It might sound a bit ghoulish, but while Europe is having a huge problem with foot-and-mouth disease it gives our industries an opportunity to get into a market which we have a legitimate right to be in and which in the past we have been kept out of. It does give us a legitimate reason to ask to have access to that market. The reason we can do that is that we have had the research and development, we have had the science, we have protected our flocks and our herds over the years and we can freely say that we have disease free status in these areas. That is a very important selling point.

I know that Australia tries very hard to sell into the marketplace as a clean, green agricultural producer, and we have every right to claim that. But I am a little bit cynical because I think sometimes you can go down that track as far as you like and at the end of the day some of these countries will find another non-tariff trade barrier to try and lock you out of their markets. Nevertheless, we will win eventually. If you look at some of the subsidies that have been used in these countries, 12 months ago when I was in Europe the subsidy on agricultural product was $US52 billion a year. Eventually taxpayers will revolt against that, particularly with the expansion of the EU into some Eastern European countries which are big agricultural producers. We have to understand that that will make it very difficult in the long term for the EU to continue the level of subsidy that they have at the present time. We need to continue to highlight that so that we can get our product into these markets, because we can produce product cleanly and we can produce it at a cost that is very competitive to those markets. It is just a matter of slowly and surely getting our way into it. It is important, of course, that we maintain the quality of our industries. I am pleased to say that this bill, and I am sure there are many other bills that can follow, is showing the government's commitment to agricultural industries and the government's understanding of agricultural industries. There are many on this side who have a very deep and thorough understanding of agricultural industries.

The sad part of some of the debate at the present time, when people are putting forward some simplistic answers to some very complicated problems, is that we run the real risk of reducing Australia's standard of living. If we go down the simple track and if we are lazy like the Labor Party in policy development, if we just sit back and listen, as the Labor Party does, to public opinion and if we are not prepared to stand by some industries in the necessary development of product, then we could have problems. We still depend very substantially on agricultural exports. The member for Hunter should well know that, coming from a great agricultural area in the Hunter Valley. The fact is that, if we do not do this, if we have not got the will to help these industries, if we have not got the will to ensure that we are up there and that we are world competitive, at the end of the day the Australian people will suffer. The standard of living that we enjoy in this country has been built on the great agricultural industries of this country. It was not that long ago that children were taught at school that Australia lived off the sheep's back. Maybe that was not a good thing because, as I said earlier, we sat back and probably believed that the world would always need that product. The world does not need our product; we have to go out there and earn that market.

We have to do the research and development, we have to do the work on markets, we have to satisfy the markets and we have to satisfy the customers. The only way you do that, the only way you can be competitive, the only way you can get more production from the energy that animals take in, is to do the research. Undoubtedly the pig industry has bitten the bullet on that. Many others do, but I urge all agricultural industries to take the same stand. One thing the Labor Party could learn is that it is important to have organised marketing. That is one thing that I stand for, organised marketing, because obviously when you are in a corrupted world market you need that very strongly.

It does give me a great deal of pleasure to contribute to the debate today. I do not often get excited by issues that are raised by the other side, but I think it is about time some facts were put on the table. It is about time that people understood that there are very few people on the other side that understand agricultural industries and very few people doing any work to develop sensible policy. Therefore they should understand that we are the ones who are prepared to fight for it. (Time expired)