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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 2017

Senator PETER RAE(9.01) — The question of inspection charges on exports has interested me in particular since we had a look at the question of the honey export inspection charges. I have been curious about this subject ever since. I remind honourable senators that when we looked at the question of the honey export inspection charges we found that the people who were purchasing the honey did not require all of the vast array of complicated procedures which kept many bureaucrats engaged in their heavy regulatory activities. In fact, it was possible for Australia to export honey without needing all of those procedures.

Senator Macklin —Which government introduced that Bill?

Senator PETER RAE —That is an interesting question. I think one could say that it was the same bureaucracy. I wish to add that the problem of meat export inspection charges has been in existence for a long time. Some specific highlights have hopped around the scene kangaroo-like, as it were, which took attention away for a little while from some of the real problems that were investigated by Bert Kelly and his Committee of Inquiry to Examine the Commonwealth and State Meat Inspection Systems. It is unfortunate that we have not got back to the detail of the Kelly report rather than indulging in the aberrant behaviour related to the kangaroo meat substitution problems.

The fact is that we have duplication between Commonwealth and State and we have an over-supply of inspectors. We have an over-supply of bureaucrats to deal with the question of inspection. For years now I have had complaints from people actually engaged in that profession to the effect that they are embarrassed to take money for playing cards; that it gets difficult to work out who will work for his hour a day while the others play cards or fill in time one way or another. I think that it is a matter of very considerable concern for the Senate again to just rubber stamp meat export inspection charges at the same time as we are considering the continuation of all sorts of other export development incentives which have been provided to various sectors of industry. Huge public expenditure is being outlaid to encourage exports at a time when we have an industry in Australia struggling to maintain its position against the competition of the subsidised productivity of the European Economic Community under the common agricultural policy which is swamping the world with products which I say flatly and simply are more often than not dumped in the markets of the world to compete against efficient producers such as Australia. Those efficient producers have enough problems trying to compete on a fair basis in the available markets without having imposed on them what is not imposed on a large cross-section of the exporting industries, that is, an extra cost in relation to their export activities. What we do for a large cross-section of exporting industries is encourage, either by the provision of some form of tariff or by other protection, the domestic market, to export or at least withstand competition from other exports. Alternatively, we positively encourage a whole lot of our domestic producers of various products to go out and sell in other parts of the world and we pay them very substantial amounts of public money to do so. When it comes to the primary sector we want a user pays provision to apply.

What worries me is that the Department of Primary Industry today is the same Department as yesterday. I do not blame any government for this; I am not suggesting that the Government today is any different from the government of yesterday in relation to the provision of these charges. The Department has not been changed, and neither have its attitudes. It still takes the same sort of approaches as have been adopted in the past. It might be more effective if the Department were to ask about the huge sink that the Cattlemen's Association used to talk about in the middle of the Pacific where the funds were dropped that represented the difference between the export price in Australia and the import price in the United States. Where are the shipping and insurance costs and the extra loadings that have come about as a result of the various types of activities that have apparently been engaged in the export beef market? Why have various people who have endeavoured to inquire into this area been dissuaded from pursuing their inquiries?

Would it not be better in the interests of Australia if we encouraged the export market in what is left of our beef industry rather than added further discouragement? Would it not be encouraging to that industry if it thought that some people in government and on both sides of the Parliament had some sympathy for its plight, particularly for the difficulties it has in competing against two things-firstly, subsidised dumped exports in its markets coming from Europe, and secondly, practices which take off the cream, if I can use that expression in relation to meat, of the financial transactions between the export from Australia and the import into the markets which are their destination. I express a continuing concern. It relates not only to honey but also to meat and a number of other agricultural products in Australia.