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Monday, 4 June 1984
Page: 2413

Senator ARCHER(3.22) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The 118th meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council did not provide great amounts of good news for the rural community. The agenda comprised 38 different items, 12 related to marketing and seven related to disease and conservation measures. There are enormous stresses on the traditional agricultural pursuits of Australia at present. Now, more than ever, we have a situation in which the prices that we obtain are determined on the world markets while the costs are determined by Australian social conditions, and the two things just do not match .

Australia has an enormous food production capacity. However, it is the distribution that is the problem. More than half of the total time taken at the Agricultural Council was spent in discussing that matter. It is not that there are not people who need food, but that the food needers of the world do not have the money to pay for it. That is an appalling situation at a time like this. Australia has a tremendous cost disadavantage. Not only are our social conditions necessitating payment of higher wages, but also the hours we work, the systems that we use, the transport costs and so on are absolutely exorbitant by world standards, to say nothing of the fact that we have regrettably developed a reputation overseas as being pretty unrealiable in our deliveries.

The problems we suffer are not only with the European Economic Community or because of our closer economic relations with New Zealand. As I look down the agenda items I see that the discussions centres around dried vine fruits, canned deciduous fruits, horticultural crops, livestock, meat, dairying, eggs, tobacco and cotton-and the Council did not get on to subjects such as sugar, apples and so on. Australia has a capacity to produce considerably more food than it is now producing. However, that capacity is being stifled by the unrealistic costs of production which are totally outside the jurisdiction and capacity of the production sector to deal with.

I have come to the conclusion that the Australian agricultural industry is certainly not healthy in the long term. There is considerably more choice in the market place now than there has been previously. More countries are producing agricultural surpluses and more political actions are being taken to see that these surpluses get on the market at prices which are more competitive than Australia's, because we do not support the export prices of our products. All our products are subject to domestic cost pressure. That has to be overcome before we will be able to do better. Present and future Australian governments will have to determine what their attitude is to the position of the exporting industries in relation to domestic industries. While I am satisfied that produce that is grown, bred or made in Australia for the Australian market is able to contend with Australian costs, what goes on to the world market certainly is not .

One has only to consider that in industries such as the building industry, in health, education or government operation, there is no international competition and cost does not matter. They are all free of competition and that fact goes a long way towards seeing that they eliminate those industries that do have to face competition. I trust that this will be one of the matters that will be dealt with at the next meeting of the Agricultural Council. I wish that Council the best of luck, but I cannot see the 119th meeting producing more good news than did the 118th meeting.

Question resolved in the affirmative.