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Thursday, 19 September 2002
Page: 6779


Mr FITZGIBBON (9:59 AM) —I was quite excited because I thought the member for Parramatta came in here to join us for this very important legislation, the Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002 and the Egg Industry Service Provision (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2002, but alas he has gone again. He must have been called out. I was pleased to see the member for Parramatta here because in the past he has displayed a total lack of understanding of the issues that face people in rural and regional Australia—a total lack of understanding—and suggested that too much is being done in the bush and not enough done in the city.

You would think that the member for Parramatta's colleagues, like his good friend the member for Paterson, would provide him with a better understanding of the issues that affect rural and regional Australia. Indeed, you would think his Prime Minister would bring him into line on issues that are affecting people in rural and regional Australia. Although, it is becoming quite clear that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are themselves failing to grasp the very real and very difficult circumstances currently facing the bush—a drought and a crisis in the sugar industry.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—It would help the chair if the member for Hunter tied his comments to the bill. I have not heard anything about the bill.


Mr FITZGIBBON —Their responses are all too insufficient. I will return to the bill in a moment. I hope the member for Paterson does get an opportunity to respond to some of the issues I have raised here this morning in respect of both rural and regional Australia and his failure to properly represent his electorate. He talks about state issues all the time and does not get to the meaty issues that are really important to his constituents. I hope he will bring the member for Parramatta into his office and try to at least explain to him the importance of some of these issues—for example, LPG. The Treasurer was given two opportunities yesterday to rule out—


Mr Baldwin —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The comments by the member for Hunter are way off line, totally outrageous and without substance. I ask you to bring him back to this bill. Obviously he has no understanding of the egg industry, which is a major player in his electorate.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I reminded the member for Hunter that he was not speaking to the bill. I asked him to speak to the bill currently before the House.


Mr FITZGIBBON —The Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002 and the Egg Industry Service Provision (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2002, are very important bills for rural and regional Australia. People living in rural and regional Australia are big consumers of LPG. They paid big money to convert their cars from petrol to LPG, then they were whacked with a GST on LPG—a tax on that fuel for the first time ever. In the House yesterday, I gave the Treasurer not one but two opportunities to rule out placing an excise on LPG and he declined to take up that invitation.


Mr Baldwin —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: this bill—and clearly the member for Hunter has not read the bill—is about the introduction of a levy on chickens for the establishment of a marketing grant. Obviously he has not read the brief and that is why he is talking away from the subject.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Hunter will speak to the bill or I will have to ask him to resume his seat.


Mr FITZGIBBON —Mr Deputy Speaker, I do propose to deal with the Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002 together with the Egg Industry Service Provision (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2002 in this place. As it is the member for Paterson who has raised the issue of chickens, I remind the House again of his failure to represent his chicken growers when he was last elected to this place. He totally failed to represent his chicken growers. I recall him putting a motion on the Notice Paper calling for the rejection of cooked chicken meat, but when the opposition put a motion to the House to have his motion brought on for debate he scurried out of the place, thus underlining his genuine approach to these issues.

The bills provide for a new Australian egg industry structure, including the declaration of a new industry services body. The industry services body will provide promotion, research and development, and other services to the egg industry. The Egg Industry Service Provision Bill provides for the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to declare a new industry services body and then enter into a funding agreement with that body for the receipt of levies collected by the Commonwealth for industry promotion and research and development, and for the Commonwealth's matching funding for R&D expenditure.

The second bill provides for the transfer of assets from the existing egg subprogram of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation to the new body. Egg industry services are currently provided by the Australian Egg Industry Association and the egg subprogram under the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. A levy of 7.87c per laying chicken is imposed under the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act of 1999. Levy funds are largely devoted to R&D through the RIRDC egg subprogram with some funds directed to residues and animal health matters.

In 2001, the Australian Egg Industry Association presented a proposal to the Commonwealth for a new industry structure including a Corporations Act company to undertake generic egg promotion, research and development and to provide other industry services. Under the proposal, the existing RIRDC egg subprogram would transfer to the new company. The AEIA also sought a new statutory promotional levy of 32.5c on each laying chick purchased from the hatchery. The levy would be imposed on egg producers but would be collected by the hatcheries. All egg producers who pay the statutory promotional levy will be eligible to become members of the new industry body. The AEIA engaged in extensive consultation on the industry reform, including the new levy, between April and September 2001. The results of an industry ballot suggest significant support for the AEIA proposal from producers and hatchery operators. The bill provides for the new industry structure sought by the AEIA, and new regulations will implement the proposed levy regime. The existing levy for research and development, residues testing and animal health will remain in place.

The Australian egg industry has suffered from declining fortunes over the past decade. In the period 1989 to 1999 Australia's annual egg consumption declined by six per cent, from 146 to 137 eggs per person. Per capita egg consumption is much higher in comparable countries. In New Zealand, for example, average annual consumption is 208 eggs per person. The industry attributes the difficulties to outbreaks of Newcastle disease—which returns me to the point I was making earlier. This is what the campaign in two parliaments was all about: the eradication of Newcastle disease and preventing Newcastle disease from entering our island continent—the issue on which the member for Paterson failed to adequately support his constituents. Previous attempts by the industry to introduce and manage voluntary promotional levies have failed.

The industry believes a new industry services body will have the capacity to engage in effective generic marketing to boost egg consumption and better capitalise on links between product promotion and R&D. The Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002 will provide authority to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to declare a company limited by guarantee as the industry services body. Before the declaration is made, the minister will be required to enter into a funding contract with the company. The contract between the Commonwealth and the company will establish obligations in respect of the use of levies and matching research and development funding and the company's accountability to its members and the Commonwealth. Further accountability measures will be contained in the company's constitution. Once the declaration is made, the Commonwealth can make payments to the company. Agripolitical activities will continue to be undertaken by AEIA as the peak industry body.

The effective use of statutory levies can assist producers to pool resources and work collectively on R&D, promotion and other priority industry tasks. Most traditional industry sectors have a levy system, and a number of key primary industries have recently amalgamated their R&D and marketing functions. Australian Pork Ltd replaced three other industry organisations: the Pig Research Development Corporation, the Australian Pork Corporation and the Pork Council of Australia. It is a not-for-profit company funded by statutory levy funds and a matching government R&D contribution, and it undertakes policy, research and development, marketing and export work. Horticulture Australia was formed from the merger of the Australian Horticultural Corporation and the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation, with the objective of achieving greater integration between marketing and industry research and development.

The opposition supports the implementation of the new industry structure and congratulates the egg industry for seeking to build a better future for members of the industry and for Australian egg consumers. I hope the member for Paterson takes the opportunity to speak on the bill and to share with us his views. I will undertake to check that pecuniary interest register again to see whether the member for Paterson has declared his position on the Port Stephens Council and the allowance he derives from that position. I make the point that while the office of profit under the Crown issue has not been tested by the High Court—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Hunter is again straying from the bill.


Mr FITZGIBBON —the largest body of opinion is that a member of council is likely to be in conflict with or offend that provision of the Constitution. I ask the member for Paterson to give that some thought.


Mrs Gash —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask that the member for Hunter withdraw. This is legislation on the egg industry and has nothing to do with the personality of the member for Paterson.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I do not think it is a matter for withdrawal, but if the member for Hunter does not resume the debate on the bill before the chamber, I will sit him down. As the member for Hunter has concluded, I now call the honourable member for Paterson.