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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 1740


Senator BOSWELL(11.38) — Today we are debating the Export Inspection Charge Bill 1985, the Export Inspection Charge Collection Bill 1985 and the Export Inspection Legislation (Consequential Amendments) Bill 1985. The effect of this legislation is to consolidate the many existing export inspection charges and Acts for primary produce other than meat; that is, where the charges are based on an export permit, but not including livestock and wool. The legislation consolidates the dairy products export inspection charges and those for dried fruit, eggs, fish and grain. New provisions in the legislation impose charges for the inspection of canned and processed fruit and vegetable products.

In February 1985 the Government announced its intention to collect the new charges in the 1985-86 financial year. The legislation states that the maximum charges that may be prescribed are 1c a litre or 1c a kilogram, whichever is the lesser. The rate for canned or processed fruit and vegetable products is expected to be half a cent a litre or kilogram. The Bill is intended to collect $330,000 a year from the fruit and vegetable processing industries.

At the outset of the debate, I reiterate the Opposition's commitment to do away with all forms of inspection levies when the Opposition parties are returned to government. We commit ourselves to abolishing all inspection charges and levies on exports of primary products. We see these export charges as a complete disincentive to exporters of primary products. At a time when mining commodity prices are meeting heavy and increased competition Australia will have to rely more heavily upon the export of our rural and primary products. It is to be noted that at the moment Australian overseas borrowings are $50 billion; that is, $455 for every man, woman and child in Australia. Ironically, this week a Bill was put through the Senate giving the car industry $150m over a five-year period. Yet the Government, through this legislation, is imposing a cost on a very small and very sick export industry.

The canned and frozen fruit and vegetable industries will have to absorb a cost of $330,000 and, under the provisions of this legislation, that amount can be doubled. The inspection charges imposed on the fruit and vegetable industries will be applied to 186 registered establishments and 270 storage establishments. As I mentioned, the frozen and processed fruit and vegetable industries are in decline. In 1970, 234.6 tonnes were produced and exports amounted to 132.8 tonnes. There has been a decline in the 13 years to 1983. Only 996 tonnes have been produced and 55 tonnes exported. The main reason for this is that Australia is under intense competition from the European Economic Community countries. Of course, all our primary industries-not only this one-are facing that intense competition because the EEC is heavily subsidising the producers in its countries. It is giving them all possible incentives to export. Of course, this Government is not. We are putting up barriers and adding on-costs to our products so that we cannot compete on even terms. That is why the farmers are upset with this Government.

The farmers-we have seen many dairy farmers around Parliament House in the last two weeks-are completely upset with the double standards of this Government. This Government has given $326m to prop up the steel industry and $150m only this week to prop up the car industry. This Government has given some of the biggest multinationals such as Ford, Nissan and General Motors-Holden's Ltd $150m. It is ironical that today we are imposing a $330,000 charge on one of the smallest export industries in Australia. I believe that the Government should stand condemned for its double standards on these export levies. If people in the sugar industry-an industry which has provided so many thousands of jobs not only for farmers but also for mill workers-ask for help their requests are met by the Government with deaf ears.


Senator MacGibbon —They are not only getting no response; but also they are not even being listened to.


Senator BOSWELL —That is exactly what I said. I know that Senator MacGibbon is concerned with the sugar industry, being a senator from Queensland. The dairy industry has provided $300m a year in export earnings. It has provided many thousands of jobs not only for the dairy farmers but also for the thousands of people who drive trucks and work in the dairy factories. Yet the Government is not prepared to help them one bit. The Australian Dairy Corporation put up a plan that would not have cost the Government one cent to implement. It was prepared to submit its own restructuring plan and to finance the plan itself. All it wanted was a bit of legislative support from the Government. It was turned down again on the basis, I suppose, that the industry has to stand on its own two feet.

The dairy industry of Australia is providing the second cheapest dairy products in the world. Only New Zealand is capable of offering the people of New Zealand cheaper dairy products. Australia produces the second cheapest milk in the world, the second cheapest butter and the second cheapest cheese. Yet, because the dairy farmers do not vote for the Government, it completely rejects them. The sorts of decisions which the Government is making at the moment in relation to the sugar and dairy industries will come home and haunt them in two years time. The Government will deserve everything it gets.

Over the last 12 months we have seen a 200 per cent increase in inspection charges for meat. These added charges have made our meat exports less attractive in an intensely competitive world market. Most governments are bending over backwards to help primary exporters achieve sales and provide jobs and foreign currency. Yet this Government seems not to concern itself with Australian competitiveness. It is prepared to add cost after cost on to the costs of primary producers. The price of oil and fuel is up by 32 per cent and the excise increase is 56 per cent. It must be noted that government assistance in primary industry has fallen from 28 per cent to 8 per cent over the last 10 years while government assistance to manufacturing industry has fallen from 36 per cent to 25 per cent.

Farmers are continually complaining-justifiably so-that the tariff protection offered to their city brothers is bankrupting them on the farm. Yet we have a government which says we will let the free market forces reign in relation to rural products but we will heavily protect and subsidise secondary industry. If the Government wants to deregulate I am sure that everyone on this side of the Parliament would actually support it, but there cannot be selective deregulation. If the Government is to deregulate it should do so right across the board. Then farmers would be able to meet competition. They would not be charged another $4,000 or $5,000 for their Toyota Land Cruisers or their Land Rovers or another $15,000 or $16,000 for headers, steel posts or fencing. The deregulation would even itself out. I am sure that if the Government wanted to do that all those on this side of the Parliament would be the first to agree with it.

This Government must address itself to the cost of primary products on a world market. It cannot continue to ignore the fact that Australia's agricultural products earn $8 billion per annum for Australia. Since this Government has come into office its treatment of the rural industries has been shameful. The farmers and graziers thought that the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, was not a bad sort of bloke. One heard the comment in country areas: 'Kerin's not a bad fellow. He is prepared to listen to us and we think he is all right'. The same people will now say that he is a trickster. He will listen to them, tell them what they want to hear, but will never come back to Canberra to fight for them. He will go out and agree with everything. He will take the easy way out in the rural areas. But one cannot think of one thing the Minister has ever done for primary industry, except tell untruths.

I refer for example to the sugar industry. Before the 1983 election the Minister went around Queensland and promised underwriting schemes. That was a 1983 election promise. In 1984 he promised a floor price plan. The sugar industry has received neither. The Minister increased meat inspection levies by 200 per cent after telling the farmers and graziers that he would fight the matter in Cabinet. He did not even take the recommendations of the farmers and graziers to Cabinet. He then told them that, because of tight budgeting, he would not be able to fight for their case.

Now we see the demise of the dairy industry. The dairy plan has not been accepted by the Government and the Kerin plan has been put in its place. It should be called the Kerin massacre. It will massacre 20,000 jobs and the livelihoods of 3,000 or 4,000 dairy farmers. There is no reason for this action except to provide cheap milk to some people in Melbourne. The people of Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney do not want cheap milk. They are prepared to pay their share to keep dairy farmers out on the farm. They do not want to rob their country cousins. This is all about getting the consumer price index down. No regard is being paid to the dairy farmers and rural producers. The message is: 'Get the price down, and do not worry about the consequences'.

The dairy industry provides $350m in export income. That will go too. The dairy plan was put up two days before the Victorian State election and was agreed to by every State dairy council and every State government. It was agreed to two days before that State election and was abandoned three days after it. How can a government justify action of that sort? It broke the promise completely in five days. It is a firm commitment of this coalition that on its return to government it will abolish all export inspection charges so that the primary industries can compete on equal terms for primary industry world markets.