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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1123

Senator MACKLIN(11.37) — The Senate is debating four pieces of legislation, a package of Bills designed to replace the Australian Meat Research Committee with an incorporate body, the Australian Meat and Live-stock Research and Development Corporation. The new Corporation is designed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of meat and livestock research and development and, as such, the Australian Democrats welcome and support the proposal. The flexibility to be given to the Corporation is of great interest, and people in the industry are hopeful that this flexibility will allow new initiatives to be taken in this area.

The second Bill, which is complementary to the Corporation Bill, is to effect the necessary consequential amendments to the enabling Acts of relating instrumentalities to repeal existing meat research legislation and to provide those types of transitional arrangements before the new Corporation is fully operational. The last couple of Bills, the slaughter levy and export charges Bills, amend other relevant legislation with regard to the respective levies and charges which form the industry's contribution to research and development.

As I have indicated, the Australian Democrats support the establishment of the Corporation. It is the final stage of a plan to alter the administration of the meat and livestock industry in this country. We had in the last Parliament two debates on the packages of legislation with regard to this subject. Not only will the new Corporation have the necessary independence and authority which we believe are necessary to pursue important research and development goals but also the new structure will improve the means by which expenditure on research and development is accounted for. Combined with the proposed increase in maximum levy rates, the package represents a substantial improvement in this area for the industry.

The Democrats have a concern with the types of moves that the Government seems to be indicating it will take, partly in this legislation and partly in statements made elsewhere, in research and primary industry areas. The Democrats have always supported and supported very strongly the notion that in the research committees the growers have an influential and, hopefully, a majority voice. We believe that the reason for that is a very important and practical one-that the grower has a practical input to a research committee which cannot be obtained elsewhere. The growers representatives are the people who know the current concerns of growers and the current demands for research and the direction of future research. But, probably more importantly, any research undertaken is of value to any industry only if it is communicated and implemented. Research of itself is useless. The communication of research to the people who have to use it-that is, the growers-is the vital link in any research and development proposal.

We believe that it is here that the grower representatives have a remarkable and absolutely necessary role to play. The grower representatives on research committees are the people who talk constantly to growers in each primary industry area and raise with them the type of research which is currently being undertaken and the proposals for new research. In other words, the representatives are the selling agents for research and they sell to the growers who are the users, hopefully the effective users, of any research which we undertake in this country. So we believe that any moves that are likely to be made by the Government in other areas in terms of diminishing and possibly even taking away that type of grower representation on research boards would be a detrimental step in the overall operation and usefulness of research in primary industry.

I return to the Bills. The increased research effort is vital if we are to be able to maximise the opportunities for this industry on the domestic and world markets. We are meeting and have new challenges before us. A properly structured authority, we hope, should assist in building these market opportunities not only in Australia but also in particular in the Pacific Basin markets. In recent years the industry has suffered from severe problems. The dominant problem is the European Economic Community. Europe at the moment is groaning under the weight of surplus agricultural products, which are being grown with extraordinary encouragement from the Common Market farm subsidies. Australian producers, and certainly Australian meat producers, have probably suffered more from the common agricultural policy than producers in most countries around the world. Europe has moved from being a net importer to self-sufficiency in food and then to a food exporter. It is so prodigious, in fact, that world markets in many commodities have collapsed and international pricing arrangements have collapsed with them. We have seen huge European surpluses in other areas and examples of dumping of the most extraordinary kind. It has taken a great deal of effort on the part of the international community to restrain the Europe Economic Community from wholesale dumping in almost every commodity area.

As I said, I think Australia could quite reasonably claim to be hardest hit by the European dumping, particularly in our traditional beef markets. We have supplied traditionally to the north African markets, to the Middle East markets and to Canada. All of those have been severely hit. We have now amongst the meat and livestock industry people in Australia an ongoing concern that the European Economic Community will seek to undercut the price of Australian meat in the Pacific Basin. I think the inroads that it has made, particularly in Singapore and now in Malaysia, hold out for us an ongoing concern that we cannot put to one side. A serious erosion of sheep meat exports has also occurred. Again we have the problem of the Europe Economic Community and New Zealand eating into our long standing markets.

It has to be admitted also that in Australia we have not assisted matters. Honourable senators will recall that the last debate we had on this matter concerned the very problem of export levies, in other words, the types of impositions that Australia places on its own exports. The very last debate on this matter in this chamber saw the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, and the National Party of Australia combining to increase those rates. The only party which was opposed to those rates last year, and indeed in previous years, was the Australian Democrats.

Senator Walsh —And it will never have any responsibility whatever for government policy; the total irresponsibility of the lack of power.

Senator MACKLIN —But the operations of those rates have, as the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) has already indicated, actually eaten into those markets. It is probably of great interest to the Minister for Finance, who does not keep his finger on this pulse any longer, that the Minister for Primary Industry has already indicated that those increases have severely damaged our export trade. It would be useful for Senator Walsh to read the Primary Industry Minister's Press releases.

Senator Walsh —More populist grandstanding.

Senator MACKLIN —If that is indeed populist grandstanding, that is an indictment of the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, who, subsequent to our last debate on this matter, and the levy increases imposed by this chamber, had to decrease those levies. Presumably the Minister, as a Cabinet Minister, would have been party to the agreement to decrease those amounts. It was fairly obvious, and I stated in the debate, that those amounts could not be sustained by the industry. Senator Walsh would want to make all sorts of allegations but he knows the facts of the matter.

It has to be admitted that since 1980 there has been a substantial decline in the consumption of meat. A change in dietary habits has occurred for a whole variety of reasons. The major meat eating countries, of which Australia is one, have changed their dietary habits quite significantly. They are consuming less meat progressively each year. For example, in 1980 Australia consumed 109 kilograms of meat per person. By 1984 this had declined to 97.2 kilograms. That type of pattern is repeated elsewhere in the world.

The Research and Development Corporation has to look not only at the traditional research areas, the problems of disease control and eradication, the concerns of developing meat quality, the ratios required between the land and the number of beasts it carries, all of which have been very much stock in trade in research areas; but also at the variety of products which may be available to the consumer. The variety of products available to the consumer, of course, is important in combating change in dietary habits. I believe that as the amount of research and development in this area picks up, it will be possible for alternative and new products to come on to the market. A variety of products is always necessary in countries such as Australia, which has a fairly free market and a fairly free fluid movement in consumption habits, to meet and possibly reverse some of those changes that have taken place since 1980.

This brief coverage of the types of problems confronting the industry shows the need for a new approach to research and development. We are hopeful that these Bills are a step in the right direction. I think the new Corporation will receive the support of this chamber and the other place. I hope that this incredibly significant industry to Australia and to Australian economic life will in fact be supported and enhanced in the next few years by the operations of the new Corporation. I am sure that the industry will be looking to the Corporation to carry out effective and significant research which can be applied rapidly to the various types of growing conditions for meat in Australia. Hence, the Australian Democrats indicate their support and hope that the new Corporation and the subsequent changes that have to be made elsewhere will provide us with that type of base in the coming years.