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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 645

Senator MACKLIN(10.28) —I do not intend to give Senator Button a serve on this Honey Levy Legislation Amendment Bill, either.

Senator Button —You are a gentleman.

Senator MACKLIN —Yes. This Bill is a measure merely to reduce the amount of administration in the collection of the honey levy, which has been imposed on honey production in Australia since 1962. The major output of the levy is through the Australian Honey Board and the honey research activities. I suppose that I must express a general disappointment. I read the research report each year, and my disappointment lies in the fact that this industry, along with a number of others, has failed to develop alternative products over the years through applied research. The diversification of products is vital for the maintenance of at least the stability of most of our primary industries. There is a range of alternative products for honey, but I intend to speak only briefly so I had better not go down that track.

The major point I raise with regard to the Bill is the recent report of the Industries Assistance Commission. It was an important report with regard to the honey industry in Australia and it canvassed a range of issues that have been of concern to honey producers. At the outset I point out that, although the honey industry in Australia has had significant problems in the last few years, the number of people in the industry and the quantity of the product have increased in each of the last eight years. I think that is significant because, while it is battling with its problems, it is still seen as an industry into which people can go and, as Senator Boswell suggested, it is a diversified and decentralised industry and a very important industry to a number of small towns around Australia. Incidentally, it has also been the basis of some considerable support for a variety of groups which might come under the title 'alternative lifestyle' and which have now assumed a place of some quite considerable importance in domestic production, certainly in my State.

The Australian Democrats fully support the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission that there should be an increase in the level of research. Of course, this Bill will assist that. I was not quite sure that Senator Boswell was directly on the mark in terms of the IAC report when he said that it was not looking at any support for the industry. It held out the notion that extension funding to the beekeeping industry should be significantly increased. I think that is an important factor when one looks at the whole report. The IAC certainly did not go down the line that the industry wanted but it suggested some alternative methods.

Senator Archer has already raised contract pollination, and certainly the IAC report raised that in a significant way. It would be hoped that the industry could improve its economic viability by considerably increasing its contract pollination services. If one looks at the industry in other countries one sees a much higher level of operation in that area. I think we would have the capacity to follow down that line.

Another point in the IAC report to which I wish to allude is the fluctuation in prices which is significant, given the low base from which the industry is starting. The Australian Democrats would certainly look at giving support to any government proposition regarding underwriting schemes.

Generally, we would be hesitant to support propositions which would increase the price to the consumer, but I believe that the underwriting schemes-certainly those canvassed in the IAC report-would assist producers in equalising the sometimes quite severe fluctuations in honey prices. That is to the good of an industry; it has been achieved in our major rural industries through orderly marketing procedures. It would be worth while looking at the ability to do that in this industry.

The Australian Democrats recognise that the Government needs to take measures to introduce that stability to the industry. We hope that the second reading speech of the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) in which indications were given to that effect will bear fruit-if one can use that phrase-fairly shortly.

Senator Button —It will flower.

Senator MACKLIN —Possibly 'flower' would be a better word to use. We agree with the IAC that we should not be looking at increased levels of assistance to the industry which would make Australia less competitive on the international market. We do not believe that should occur in this instance because, when one makes a close analysis of the IAC report, one sees fairly readily that that would ultimately, probably in a relatively short time frame, operate quite severely against the interests of the people engaged in the industry. We have an obligation to try to maintain these people. We would of course like it to expand, but our primary obligation in any industry is to the people engaged in it. Going down the road of increased levels of assistance which put our product markedly at variance with international costs would in the long run be detrimental.

I make one further point that arose in Senator Boswell's speech about the export inspection charges on honey. I do not want to go into the rather long and fascinating story about the export charges on honey. It is one of the interesting stories about the effectiveness of the Senate with regard to legislation. If Senator Boswell wants to know about it, I think he should discuss the matter with his front bench, with Senator Peter Rae who was the Chairman at the time of the Finance and Government Operations Committee which produced a very interesting report on that topic and which ultimately led the Fraser Government to drop the legislation it was proposing. I agree with Senator Boswell that we should make sure that our quality of export production is always of the highest and that the export inspection charges, not only in this area but also in others, go a long way towards that.

However, in this area there are some other fascinating factors regarding the use of export inspection certificates that would give anyone pause in suggesting a wholesale reintroduction in that area. But the type of inspection that is being carried out is, I believe, adequate.

Senator Boswell —There is no inspection.

Senator MACKLIN —That is not quite true, Senator Boswell. There is an inspection available and the level of what is going on at the moment is, I gather from my talks with the industry, sufficient. I agree that the industry is not totally pleased, but the alternatives proposed by the Fraser Government did not make them terribly happy either. It is probably an area that can sustain some further investigation-I would go so far as to say that-but at the moment I certainly would not be willing to support a wholesale reintroduction of those export inspection charges at the level proposed by the last Fraser Government.