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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 644

Senator BOSWELL(10.20) —We are debating the Honey Levy Legislation Amendment Bill 1985. The Bill is supported by the industry and by the Opposition. It allows the producer, as Senator Collard has indicated, to lodge an annual return; it cuts down on the paper work. The total levy payable is only $302,000 a year. The levy supports the Australian Honey Board by 2.2c per kilogram, and 0.25c per kilogram is channelled into research. The honey industry is one of Australia's smallest primary industry exporters. The only one smaller would probably be the kangaroo industry. Yet they both play a significant role in employment in small rural towns. Particularly on the coast, every rural town has its beekeepers. They, in turn, use the facilities of the schools and garages and they crank up and play a significant role in country towns. For that reason, the industry needs all the support it can get.

The honey industry is a $12m earner in export commodities. It supports 15,000 beekeepers, and a number of other people enjoy beekeeping as a hobby. Honey producers are facing significant problems which are peculiar not only to the honey industry but also to every rural industry. In the last four years, costs in the farm area have risen by 39 per cent. Of course, the honey industry, like every primary industry, is hard pressed to pass on those costs.

The honey industry exports 60 per cent of its production. It has to accept world prices. If the industry were not able-I suppose that 'dump' is the right word-to dump the excess produced beyond domestic requirements, the price would be forced down and this would cause a glut on the Australian market.

The honey industry has unique problems which are adding on-costs to it. Honey producers are being forced to travel further and further afield to locate their hives because of land clearance and the suburbanisation of towns and cities. Heavy use of pesticides, which are being used more and more on farms, is also playing havoc with the industry. Producers are concerned about diminishing returns. For that reason, they approached the Government about a review of their industry. Unfortunately, the Industries Assistance Commission was not prepared to offer any help. The cost of production for a kilo of honey is about a dollar, but many beekeepers are receiving only 70c per kilo. There can be only one result: The industry will contract.

The Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, said yesterday that the Honey Board would be reviewed. It is absolutely essential that the review provides the opportunity for all parts of the industry to be consulted. The packers, keepers and exporters all wish to contribute to the review of the Board.

The honey industry is disappointed with the Labor Government's cancellation of its export inspections. It is essential that anything that represents this primary industry and goes out under an Australian label be of absolutely first quality. The Government wanted to place a $24 per tonne inspection levy on the industry, which it could ill afford because, as I have indicated, the cost of production is more than what is being received. The Government then absolutely wiped the industry, saying: 'If you cannot pay, you do not get inspections'. That is no way to increase our export earnings. The Government should be giving every possible encouragement to the primary industries to export first grade products.

I take this opportunity to tell the Senate about not only the cost squeezes that primary producers, including honey producers, are going through now but also, in very forceful terms, about the fact that there is another area that Senator Button and the Cabinet will have to look at very closely. I refer to the farm Bill which is before the United States Congress at present. That Bill will lower the floor price of many commodities, which will then force the lowered floor price down to the world market price, and that will then establish a world price market. Australia will be caught in one of the greatest price wars ever between the European Economic Community and the American primary producers.

Senator Jones —How will that affect wheat?

Senator BOSWELL —It will very seriously affect wheat, and I am pleased that Senator Jones is expressing concern about it. Grain is one of the areas that it will affect most of all because American producers are probably the most efficient producers of grain. Once that floor price is lowered, that then becomes the world price, and that is the price at which Australian producers will have to sell. The Americans have had enough of the EEC's dumping products on world markets and enough of standing back and controlling their own production. They will be attacking the world market. They are going out now to attack the grain market and every other market. Under the Bill before the Congress, they will be offering extended terms to anyone who is prepared to buy their primary products. They will accept soft currency, and they will subsidise producers so that they can attack the market. It will concern the Australian Cabinet and Senator Button over the next three years.

Senator Button —For the next 10 years, probably.

Senator BOSWELL —Ten years. Certainly it will give the Cabinet and rural producers a lot of headaches over the next couple of years before it sorts itself out. I thought that I would take this opportunity to tell the Senate about this farm Bill, of which we shall hear much more in the near future.

Senator Lewis —Give him a serve, Ron.

Senator BOSWELL —I find it very hard to give Senator Button a serve on the honey Bill. We support the Bill.