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Wednesday, 7 March 2001
Page: 25260

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (1:27 PM) —in reply—I thank all of those members who have contributed to this debate on pig industry legislation. I particularly thank the member for Hinkler, who has just concluded his remarks, for the way in which he referred to the remarkable transformation that has occurred in this industry over the last couple of years. From an atmosphere of doom and gloom, it now has a very positive approach, with market opportunities around the world beyond our capacity to produce and a real optimism about the future of the industry. That has been brought about in part by the government's response to the crisis by providing well-directed financial support to enable the industry to upgrade its killing capacity and its ability to supply markets, particularly in places such as Singapore and Japan. It has also been brought about by fortuitous market circumstances around the world and by the initiative and drive of many of the people associated with the industry.

This legislation is landmark legislation for the industry. It puts in place a new services body that will provide for the integrated delivery of industry marketing and promotion, and research and development functions, as well as strategic planning and industry policy development functions. The pig industry is a rapidly growing and changing industry. The gross value of production is estimated to reach $850 million this financial year. As the honourable member for Hinkler mentioned, around 2,500 people are pig producers, with a further 9,000 employed in the pork processing and manufacturing of small goods industries. The pig industry is an important one to rural and regional Australia. Its change over recent times has been mirrored in the impact on the communities in which it is located. The change is largely as a consequence of the export development opportunities and pressures on the domestic market from imported product. Australian pork producers and supply chain participants have been required to adjust to effectively compete with overseas producers. Consequently, the Australian pork industry has both created and seized on its own opportunities to target high value export markets. One result has been to build up exports of high quality chilled pork to Singapore from next to nothing two years ago to over $90 million today.

Late last year I had the opportunity to see some of the work of the Australian industry and its penetration into the Singaporean market. It certainly cheers the heart of an Australian to see Australian pork in the leading supermarkets of Singapore whilst at the same time making a significant impact on the market. I also had the opportunity to officially open in grand Chinese style a new boning facility jointly developed by Australian and Singaporean interests. We have been able to establish a new market and one that is very important to our producers in a situation where we have a strategic advantage because we are able to air freight pork to Singapore and get it there quickly, because freshness is the key element in the successful marketing of pork in that country. Another example has been the growth in high quality pork exports to Japan from $22 million two years ago to $43 million today.

However, these pressures and opportunities have caused the industry to re-evaluate its priorities and assess its approach to the management of industry issues and delivery of services. The formation of the new industry services body to be known as Australian Pork Ltd is a result of recognising the new industry environment. While the Pork Corporation and the Pig Research and Development Corporation have been performing their designated functions to a high standard, the industry has recognised that industry services must be provided in a different way to more efficiently and effectively meet the future opportunities and pressures to be faced by the industry.

The Pork Corporation and the Pig Research and Development Corporation will be wound up as a consequence of this legislation. It is appropriate at this point to say how well those two organisations have served the industry and recognise that the good work they have put in place is a credit to the boards and staff of those organisations. It is also reassuring to know that most of the staff will continue with the new industry services body. The restructuring provided by this legislation and the formation of the new company has widespread industry support. Indeed, I do not recall any agricultural legislation to come to the parliament that has enjoyed such unanimity of support from the industry. There was a unanimous vote of support for these changes by the industry body. Certainly, it is great to see that quite radical reform of this nature enjoys widespread support when it seeks parliamentary endorsement.

The creation of this new company, Australian Pork Ltd, is the culmination of extensive consultation and more than 12 months of planning. Under the arrangements, levy payers will be eligible to become registered members of APL and therefore will be able to have direct input into the management of the industry services body. For the first time industry levy payers will have direct influence and involvement in their industry service provider. The proposed approach has three strong levels of accountability built into it to ensure that the new body is responsible in its use of both industry and Commonwealth funds. It will be accountable to the members. It will be accountable to the government. It will also, of course, have responsibilities under Corporations Law.

There were a number of issues raised by opposition speakers during the debate. In particular, there were some suggestions that there could be dangers in combining research and development, marketing and promotion and strategic policy development into one organisation. Let me make it clear that this is the industry's wish. It is its desire to move in this direction. For the first time the arrangement will allow the industry to manage its own affairs and take responsibility for the actions and the future of the industry. The industry believes it is driven in this regard by commercial imperatives, but it does allow synergies to develop in the decision making arrangements in relation to research and development, promotions and overall development of industry issues. It will certainly eliminate the confusion that exists internationally and often domestically about the myriad organisations that existed previously, but it does not muzzle the industry. Industry is still free to arrange its own lobbying activities; it just will not be doing that through Australian Pork Ltd.

The shadow minister indicated that the opposition were going to oppose the legislation because they had not had the opportunity to scrutinise certain supporting documents. I guess that the spirit of those documents has been well identified in previous legislation to reform industry bodies of this nature. I have given an undertaking that documents will be available for the opposition to scrutinise prior to the debate in the Senate. However, it is perhaps significant to note that the opposition asked for a briefing on this legislation only yesterday and that was provided by 4.30 on the same day. We have responded to the industry's requests. They have had access to all of the data and the information papers that have been prepared and, of course, they have had regular briefings from the industry itself. I have been to see the shadow minister and others on the opposition side on many occasions. There has been plenty of opportunity for consultation and the documents that are required will certainly be available to the opposition as soon as they are completed.

Again I emphasise that these arrangements have the full support of the industry. It is disappointing that the opposition would choose to oppose legislation that has the unanimous support of the industry. It is sad news for farmers when the alternative government in Australia want to oppose what the industry unanimously wants. What hope do farmers have of getting any cooperation from an alternative government if, in fact, the Labor Party is going to oppose everything that the farmers want? They are adopting quite an extraordinary attitude to this legislation. We have the unanimous desire of the industry to progress in a particular direction and yet the opposition will oppose it. If there was ever opposition for opposition's sake, this is classically it. If they wanted information, it could have been provided had they asked for it. Now they turn up today and say that they are going to oppose the industry's wishes, that they are going to try to put back the progress and development of a really outstanding Australian industry. Certainly, that does not seem to me to be the kind of approach that an opposition would take if it wanted to support Australian industry and see its strategic development.

I strongly support the legislation because I believe that it will deliver a new, more integrated and commercial approach to the delivery of marketing and research and development services in the pig industry. The strategic policy and management of pork industry issues will certainly be able to be dealt with in a more efficient way. The integrated and commercial approach will be driven and controlled by levy payers—the industry itself—more directly than ever before. At the same time, there is strong accountability and performance built into the accountability to both levy payers and the government.

I compliment the industry for the innovative way in which it has approached its future structural needs. I particularly commend the former chairman, Ron Pollard, and the members of his organisation, including the new executive that picked this up in the last week or two since Ron Pollard's retirement. I compliment them on the way in which they have so professionally dealt with this issue. They have been prepared not only to address the issues but also to bring the entire industry with them. That is a commendable sort of leadership that will provide a very good start for the new industry structures that this legislation will put in place. I thank honourable members who have contributed to the debate. I commend the bill to the House.

Amendment negatived.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.