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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2956


Senator MACKLIN(8.16) —We are discussing in a cognate debate eight Bills concerned with primary industry. I will make a brief comment on each of these Bills. I hope that comment will suffice for the Committee stage as well. The first Bill is the Chicken Meat Research Amendment Bill. The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills has raised a problem with regard to clause 2 of this Bill. That clause specifies the date on which the Bill will take effect. It shall be deemed to take effect on 1 July 1969, which must be the most retrospective Bill we have had before us. However, there seem to be no problems with retrospectivity in that area. The penalties which were collected-I believe they were of the order of $4,000 to $5,000-were collected legally. The problem seems to be that they were paid into a research account and there has been no statutory support for that payment. This Bill seeks to provide that support. This clause provides an interesting illustration of the view that some of us have tried to get across that distinctions must be drawn in relation to retrospectivity. In this instance, no material penalties are imposed on any individual and nobody suffers any detriment. It is one area in which there seems to be no problem with retrospectivity.

The Pig Meat Legislation Amendment Bill deals with an industry and seeks to suggest some reorganisation within that industry. At the current time the industry is going through some fairly severe problems. By way of illustration I will outline the cost structure of what could be considered an average family farm. If the producer had an 80-sow unit farm and sold 16 pigs a year, which would be fairly average for a small operation, the gross margin over feed would be about $25,000. I have done some costings on that, which I think are reasonable. For example, a farmer with living expenses of $8,000, repayment of interest on a modest debt of $8,000, general production expenses of roughly $10, 000 and incidentals of $2,500 over a 12-month period would have a negative return of some $3,500. In other words, without any charge at all for labour, an efficient family farm-and producing that number of units per year, it would have to be efficient-is in a loss situation, even if the expenditure, as I have suggested, is cut to the absolute minimum. There is a difficulty that has to be faced.

On top of that particular problem, we have the problem of export inspection charges. Currently in Australia about 99 per cent of domestic pig production is consumed domestically. In other words, we are looking only at one per cent of meat produced in this area for export. Yet in almost every case pigs are slaughtered in export abattoirs and the producers are charged the export levy. The Australian Meat Exporters Federal Council, I understand, is preparing a High Court challenge in regard to this matter. If that Council does not take the matter up, the Australian Pork Producers Federation will certainly do so.

Basically, the problem is that they are being charged for 99 per cent of their production that goes into the domestic market and ought not to bear those inspection charges. This matter has been bouncing backwards and forwards between the producers and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) for quite some considerable time. Indeed, it goes back to the previous Government. No action has been taken to alleviate that particular cost on an industry which is currently suffering some fairly difficult cost squeezes.

I can illustrate the point by referring to the pig price-feed ratio, which is the ratio which expresses most clearly the difficulty that producers would be having. At present, this is 6.36, and this compares with an average over the last 10 years of 8.8. It has risen as high as 11.3 on some occasions and it has fallen to 6.7; but we have dropped below that. In other words, the industry is in severe difficulties.

I believe that the Government could very simply exclude pork from the export inspection charges. I do not conceive that there would be any problem in that regard. The administration of it would be relatively simple. Governments have been constantly unwilling to cut back such charges because that would mean a loss of revenue. But if the impositions on this particular industry are maintained, there may not be an industry around worth noting from which to get any income.

Another concern of the industry is the Interim Inspection Policy Council. In his second reading speech on a later Bill in this package, the Minister indicated that the Government is looking at moving it to a statutory level. It seems to have contained within it an as yet unpublished report about export inspection charges. The Australian Pork Producers Federation is particularly concerned that its industry may again suffer at the hands of policy changes. I hope that the Minister will inform the Senate as to when the Government will finalise its consideration of that Interim Inspection Policy Council's report and when it will be made public. It would have been very useful indeed for this debate if we had had that in our hands now. In regard to the Opposition's amendment on the Pig Meat Legislation Amendment Bill, we shall be supporting the Opposition's amendment to the second reading motion.

I turn to the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation Amendment Bill 1984. I raise an item that I think is of some concern and there ought to be a simple way of satisfying concerns in this regard. I refer to requests from the Cattle Council of Australia and the Sheepmeat Council of Australia for consultation between themselves and the newly constituted Meat and Live-stock Corporation. One way of doing this would have been for us to move an amendment to make that a requirement but the councils feel that the top priority must be to get the Corporation in place by the beginning of next month and to enable that to take place we have not moved any amendment to this Bill. I believe it would be simple for the Minister for Industry and Commerce to give us an assurance that the Minister for Primary Industry would instruct the new Chairman of the restructured Corporation, Mr Richard Austin, to consult with the Cattle Council and the Sheepmeat Council with a view to coming out with a mutually agreeable set of arrangements for future consultation between those bodies.

I realise that the Corporation is now much more likely to be concerned with technical matters and that the policy matters will be contained within the new Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Policy Council; nevertheless, there are many items that the councils will want to discuss with the newly structured Corporation and an assurance from the Minister to the Senate would go a long way towards satisfying the concerns that the Cattle Council and the Sheepmeat Council have that they may be excluded from arrangements which will affect them very closely. I indicate also that the Australian Democrats will be supporting the amendment that the Opposition proposes to move to the motion for the second reading of this Bill.

I turn now to the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Policy Council Bill. Again the industry itself has some concerns in this area but I am heartened by the fact that it intends to work effectively with the new Council, to test it out for a year or so to see whether or not it is the type of body that the industry has been looking for and whether or not the Council will fulfil the types of functions that the industry has been requesting. The industry's major concern has been that it was looking for a somewhat more flexible arrangement and a statutory organisation was not quite the type of organisation it felt was needed at this time. However, the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, when discussing this matter in the House of Representatives, in response to a number of amendments moved there by the Opposition, I felt gave a reasonable answer-it certainly satisfied me-that the statutory organisation, the Corporation, will assist that body, the Council, or give it status with regard to other statutory bodies. Such a move will enable the Council to deal effectively with various industry experts and will enable the establishment of specialised groups. I think that everybody connected with the industry hopes that the Industry Policy Council will be an effective statutory body.

One concern I have is that the Cattle Council and the Sheepmeat Council-that is , the industry sector representative organisations-will be pushed out by the Policy Council and will not have the type of direct discussions with the Government that they have had in the past. While I understand that the Policy Council certainly has an important role, I think there will still be a role for the Cattle Council and the Sheepmeat Council to have discussions with the Government over a number of matters that will be of mutual benefit. I hope that the Minister will continue to allow mutual benefit. I hope that the Minister will continue to allow that direct access to government and will not seek to diminish or take away the role that those sector representative organisations have fulfilled in the past. Of course, they are included on the policy body and hence would have an input through the Policy Council. However, I still believe that over and above that, access to government is necessary in this area, particularly in response to rapidly occurring changes in markets, particularly within our export markets.

The Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Selection Committee Bill is merely a consequential Bill required because of the changes to the Corporation, as is the Live-stock Export Charge Amendment Bill and the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Amendment Bill. The only other item I wish to raise is in regard to the last Bill in the package of eight, the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Collection Amendment Bill which again has a retrospective element to 1 July 1978. Here again it is an attempt on behalf of the Government to regularise what may have been an irregular situation in terms of payments to the Northern Territory post-1978 because the Bill itself states that payments can be made only to States. Whether the Northern Territory is indeed a State is of some consequence. I am quite sure that no honourable senator would be willing to disallow that Bill on the basis that it is retrospective. The retrospectivity confers a significant benefit, as it has done, since 1978, on the Northern Territory.

I believe that this package of Bills will assist these areas-particularly the meat and livestock area-to re-organise themselves. I hope, as I believe everybody does, that the newly constituted Policy Council will be given a fair run and will be an effective organisation in the promotion of that industry both here and overseas.