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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 1738

Senator MACKLIN(11.28) — The Senate is debating cognately the Export Inspection Charge Bill 1985, the Export Inspection Charge Collection Bill 1985 and the Export Inspection Legislation (Consequential Amendments) Bill 1985. As Senator Collard has already pointed out, these Bills have a history going back to the previous Parliament. Indeed, in October last year the Senate was faced with an enormous number of Bills which related to the collection and imposition of a variety of levies. At that time, the Government was intent on extending export charges to a variety of other primary products that had previously not been subject to the imposition of those charges. At that time the Government propounded the basic philosophy-indeed it was a philosophy which had been initiated by the Fraser Government-that we should move to a point of 50 per cent recovery of inspection costs. The difficulty with that concept, of course, is that inspection costs are under the control of the Government whereas the actual payment is made by the producer. This situation leaves itself open to abuse. Indeed, it has been abused. There have been instances in which a variety of items have been counted to the export charge when they should have been counted to other parts of administration. I have referred to some of these items in previous debates, particularly the debates that were held last year with regard to meat export charges.

I think the approach that has now been adopted by the Government, to consolidate legislation so as, as the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) said in his second reading speech, to reduce the amount of legislation that is necessary, is sensible, given the fact that in previous debates we have tended to deal with a whole range of Bills in a cognate way anyhow. There does not seem to be any reason why those particular pieces of legislation ought not be able to be consolidated as the Government intends here. However, this operation goes beyond consolidation. It actually includes items which appeared in legislation for the first time at the end of last year-items which at that stage were not passed in to legislative form, for a variety of reasons. Some of them were deferred and others were withdrawn by the Government. I do not disagree with the way the Government has chosen to proceed, in technical terms. We did look at moving some technical amendments, but the difficulty of time eventually overcame our efforts in that regard.

It is useful to point out that we are now under a considerable amount of pressure in terms of the legislation that is now available and that will become available in the Senate. It is possible that we are now looking at trying to pass in the next week or so more legislation than we have passed in the rest of the year. That stop-start flow of legislation-undoubtedly caused by a number of factors which are not all under the Government's control-makes the legislative task excessively difficult when one wishes to give thorough coverage to legislation and to look in detail at the various clauses that are proposed, particularly with this piece of legislation in which we have a departure from our past practice, hence requiring closer consideration than other pieces of legislation which merely reiterate or change a schedule. In clause 7 of the Export Inspection Charge Bill in respect of 'Rates of charge' we find that 'The rate of charge in respect of a prescribed commodity . . . shall not exceed'-and then we have a variety of the items in respect of which there cannot be an excess. In each of those cases it is the prescribed limit set in other types of legislation, except in regard to a couple which are new items.

The Senate engaged in an exercise some years ago, under the Fraser Government, when it was presented with a request from that Government to raise charges with regard to honey inspection. This matter is alluded to in the Minister's second reading speech on one of the Bills that are before us. That very interesting exercise was engaged in by the Senate through its committee structure. A committee looked in detail at how and why charges and costs of inspection were incurred. I believe that such an exercise by a Senate committee with regard to all inspection charges would reap similar benefits to the producer. I am not one who is complacent about the fact that we are told by the Government through the Department of Primary Industry that these are the costs that are being incurred and that these costs have to be incurred. The fact that these costs have been incurred in the past does not seem to me to be a good reason for their continuation into the future. I am not at all confident that the costs we are now proposing to charge to the producer are costs which need to be incurred in the inspection of those goods.

In this exercise we are essentially continuing the imposition of considerable charges on producers of various commodities, many of which do not even have a stable or established international market. In fact we are seeking to sell some of these commodities into an international market that is glutted. We are seeking to establish new markets for some of the other commodities. I would have thought that in those circumstances primary producers ought be treated in the same way as manufacturing producers who seek to establish new markets in other countries for Australian products. They should be given support instead of an additional charge. Seemingly, that suggestion has fallen on deaf ears. I have raised it on a number of occasions. The Opposition parties have indicated that they are unwilling to support any moves with regard to winding back these charges. Hence, I indicate on behalf of my Party our continued opposition to this type of exercise without thorough consideration and some substantiation by the Government as to where those costs are being incurred and why, and some justification in respect of each item that indeed those costs have to be incurred by the inspection service. Having obtained that information, at least this chamber would have some basis for saying that those costs are being incurred and should be incurred.

The next stage is one of policy and that is a stage in respect of which the Opposition parties concur with the Government. There is probably little point in reiterating that I do not believe that we have heard reasonable justification for a policy stance of recovery with regard to a number of the primary products that we are dealing with in these Bills, when at the same time export incentives are being paid to manufacturing products and export charges are being charged to primary products. As I expressed under the Fraser Government and in the last Parliament, we have not heard any justification for that policy decision and why there is a discrepancy between the two areas. Until we get some justification of that area, my Party certainly is not willing to give its support.

On the grounds that we do not have information, that we do not have a detailed breakdown, that we do not have detailed justification of where the costs are being incurred and that we do not have any justification for the discrepancies between the primary and secondary industry sectors in Australia, I indicate that we are opposed to the passage of these Bills. While acknowledging that in almost every case, even if such opposition were carried, it would not affect the imposition of these charges, it still seems to my Party that this chamber would do well to express its opposition to an exercise that has so little and such barren justification.