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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 1737

Senator COLLARD(11.16) — We are dealing with three Bills which form basically one piece of legislation to replace the existing 10 pieces of legislation. The Opposition will be moving the following amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bills:

At the end of motion, add ', but the Senate is of the opinion that excessive increases in export inspection charges over the past 2 years have seriously damaged the export competitiveness of Australian agricultural industries in a period of intense world competition against other nations which do not impose these export cost burdens'.

The existing charges will remain in force until this legislation is proclaimed. Therefore, any blocking of the legislation that the Senate might wish to do would really serve no purpose. I indicate that we will be supporting the legislation and I will be moving the amendment which I have just read out. I point out that this does not have anything to do with the meat industry. The export inspection charges on the meat industry are not covered by this legislation. We went down that track last year when the Government increased the export inspection charges imposed on the meat industry by a considerable amount, to the detriment of one of our great export industries. The current charges will apply until the new charges take effect in October.

I think it is quite opportune to point out that our agricultural export earnings have increased from $4.2 billion in 1975-76 to $8 billion in 1983-84, a quite substantial increase. Agricultural exports play a quite substantial part in our export earnings. It is important, therefore, to have a high quality export product and to maintain that high quality. It is also interesting to note that our agricultural exports earn $8 for every $1 that the farmers spend on imports; so there is a beneficial ratio to Australia and to our very poor balance of trade situation of 8:1. I think it is important to remember the contribution that the rural industry makes to the overall economy, to employment, and, as I have indicated, to assisting to overcome the very parlous state in which our balance of trade finds itself. The industries which are covered by this legislation-as I have indicated, the Bills do not cover all of our export industries-earned $3.5 billion in export income in 1983.

I want to commend the point alluded to by the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) in his second reading speech, that our export industries are moving to a system in which the intensity of inspection processes is varied depending on the record of individual firms. I commend the Minister for that statement. There is no need to go down the track of setting up a large bureaucracy that will result in higher charges if it is not necessary to do so. Indeed, in many instances, the firms that are operating in our export trade have their reputations at stake. They would not want to see a situation in which their product deteriorated. Their reputation is on the line and it is in their interests, as well as the interests of all Australians, that the top quality of their product be maintained. The Minister has indicated that this will be taken into account. If firms have top quality products and they are maintaining that top quality, there will be less necessity for the inspection process to take place. I compliment the Minister and the Government for looking at that situation because this proposal should lead to a reduction in bureaucracy and a resultant lessening of charges.

Of course, all industries should be looking at this self-regulatory process. They should take into account the need to maintain their own good names both in domestic and overseas markets. It is interesting to note that every time we fly in an aircraft-we in the Senate, along with our colleagues in the other place, do that quite regularly-we are flying in aircraft inspected by a self-regulatory industry. The industry inspects maintenance and engineering work. Of course, there is currently no higher standard of engineering in airlines than that in Australia. As I have said, that industry is self-regulatory. I support the method that the Government has indicated it will adopt in regard to inspection.

Of course, we are concerned about the damage that extra charges could devolve to our export industries. As was indicated last year during a debate on the beef industry, we are exporting in a very competitive market. We are in competition with other countries which have far lower cost structures than we have and which do not impose export inspection levies on their producers. I think it should be remembered-and this is taken up in our amendment-that our agricultural export industries are of such benefit to this community in terms of the income they create and the jobs they provide, that any export inspection charges that are necessary, and I reiterate necessary, should be borne by the community as a whole who are the ultimate beneficiaries of what is produced by these industries.

We are concerned about these export charges. They make our export industries just that little bit less competitive, considering all the other costs which are currently facing our primary producers. I might add that they are costs beyond the farm gate over which primary producers have no control. I refer to on-costs such as the costs that result from our high wage structure and, dare I say once again, the high cost of our fuel compared with the price paid by many other exporting countries, which has gone up considerably because of the horrendous handling of the economy by this Government which has affected the way in which the rest of the world sees the value of our dollar. Some of these charges have gone up considerably. I understand that some have gone up by 1,000 per cent and that is hardly fair to our export industries. I think that is something that we should remember.

It is interesting to note that recently the Government called a farm cost summit which I think broke up in disarray because the Government would not accept the propositions which were put to it by the National Farmers Federation. I understand that the NFF left that meeting in complete disgust and disillusionment because the Government would not accept the high cost that devolved to the rural industry, in particular from government policies. Dare I mention-and this will be mentioned again many times in the debates that will take place on the large number of rural Bills that are coming before this chamber-that secondary industry is still receiving considerable protection while very little protection has been left for rural industry. If rural industries are going to have to compete, we do not see why our secondary industries should be sheltering their inefficiencies behind a protection rate which is currently running at around 25 per cent. So I point out that the NFF is not at all happy about the costs that are devolving to rural industries, particularly those costs over which the Government has control. I move this amendment to the motion that the Bills be now read a second time:

At end of motion, add ', but the Senate is of the opinion that excessive increases in export inspection charges over the past 2 years have seriously damaged the export competitiveness of Australian agricultural industries in a period of intense world competition against other nations which do not impose these export cost burdens'.