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Thursday, 19 September 2002
Page: 6784


Mr GAVAN O'CONNOR (10:16 AM) —The Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002 and the Egg Industry Service Provision (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2002 provide for the creation of a new industry services body in the egg industry. The new structure will provide services for the industry in the areas of promotion, research and development, and others. I note that the new structure is strongly supported by the Australian Egg Industry Association. I note also that a period of extensive consultation took place within the industry last year, which gave rise to the proposal enshrined in these particular pieces of legislation.

When we come to the issue of statutory levies, it is important that there is widespread interindustry consultation on what is being proposed in the parliament so that all are aware of the proposal and support it. It gives the industry a sense of ownership over the structures that are going to be very important to its long-term survival. I note that a ballot was held within the industry, and there is widespread support from producers and hatchery operators for the proposal. The sources of revenue for the new structure will come from levies and from the Commonwealth contribution. It is very important in the proposed new structures that the Commonwealth achieves appropriate accountability mechanisms to ensure that the taxpayer's interest is protected where public moneys are forwarded to an industry. The bills also provide for the transfer of assets and liabilities associated with the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation's egg subprogram.

Previous members have commented on the industry's economic position and the fact that, over the 10-year period from 1989 to 1999, we have seen a decline in annual egg consumption per head of the Australian population from 146 to 137. Comparisons have been made with New Zealand, for example, where egg consumption is considerably higher. There is a need for greater promotion, and one lives in great hope that this new structure will provide the marketing and promotional impetus that can lift per capita egg consumption to a point where profitability is secured in this industry.

The industry faces significant threats, and some have been mentioned in this debate already. The industry is prone to decimation through Newcastle disease. We have had limited outbreaks of that disease in parts of Australia, and that has put enormous pressure on regional communities and on our quarantine services. That is one of the threats, but there are also significant environmental concerns about the industry's performance. I hope that, in the new structures that will emerge, the industry will be cognisant of its environmental responsibilities and its responsibilities in the animal welfare area.

I am surprised at that decline in egg consumption. Eggs are a relatively cheap and very good food for Australian families. But it is, if I can say this, a chicken and egg situation because, although eggs have great nutritional value, there are those who point to the high cholesterol content of the product. The health debate that has swirled around that particular aspect rolls into particular products—for example, dairy and eggs—and suggests that, if you have those as centrepieces of your diet, you have a long-term health risk, and that is just not so. It is about everything in moderation. The body needs a balance of nutrients, and this particular food is extremely good and relatively cheap for Australian households. I know the minister is a great supporter of the egg industry, the fishing industry and all rural industries—and he is in the chamber today. The message out there to the Australian community is simply: eat more eggs.

The industry is important to regions of Australia. It is a regionally based industry, but it is coming under increasing pressure from urban sprawl. When an industry that has been for a long time supposedly removed from the outskirts of a town suddenly comes within the ambit of the urban sprawl it creates a lot of problems. I do not think egg farmers, along with other farmers in the same position, have been represented very well in local government forums on planning issues. It is a small industry but in the electorate of Corio, in the Geelong area, it is a very important one in terms of investment. It is a major employer, and the service businesses that support the egg industry in my community are important also.

On many occasions I have sounded warnings on these particular marketing and promotional structures. The industry needs to understand that, by itself, this initiative or this reform will not be the panacea for its long-term growth and future. The Commonwealth does have some rights in these matters, although these structures are being set up beyond the immediate reach of the Commonwealth in terms of its traditional accountability mechanisms. We have to make sure—and I hope the minister is making sure—that the accountability mechanisms that are being put in place in these structures are there to protect the interests of the taxpayers, who after all are putting a lot of money into these industries and these structures.

It is interesting to note the support by the member for Paterson for statutory levies. That was not always a position in coalition ranks. Usually you have had the arguments out in the field manipulated by some conservative politicians from time to time who say that such statutory levies are all a socialist plot and `a curse on all our houses'. But history has proven that this statutory levy mechanism can be made to work where it has widespread support within an industry. We will not be opposing this legislation, as I understand it. The egg industry is one of the smaller industries that does not get the big-time airplay that other rural industries do, and its future is going to rest on increased demand for the product. So the simple message to members of parliament and the community is: eat more eggs.