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Monday, 26 March 2001
Page: 22911

Senator WOODLEY (12:51 PM) —I rise to speak on the Pig Industry Bill 2000. This bill provides for the winding up of the Australian Pork Corporation and the Pig Research and Development Corporation, so that an industry owned company will undertake the industry marketing and promotion and the research and development functions, which were previously the province of those two bodies. I note also that the industry company will be responsible for strategic planning and industry policy development functions, which were previously the province of the Pork Council of Australia. I note that the new company is to be called Australian Pork Ltd. The Democrats certainly welcome the end of what has been a long process of consultation in the industry over these matters. The minister said in his second reading speech:

These new arrangements will allow a more co-ordinated and commercial approach to the development of industry policy and delivery of services. Importantly it will ensure for the first time that industry levy payers have direct influence and involvement in their industry body ensuring their levies are applied to best effect.

I want to pay tribute today to at least one person. The problem in naming persons is the people you leave out, but I want to pay tribute to officers of the Pork Council who have worked very hard to bring about this legislation and I particularly want to pay tribute to Ron Pollard, a pork grower from Young in New South Wales. I understand he has had to give up a lot of the work that he has been doing in this area because of illness. I am very disappointed about that because he did a tremendous job in bringing the industry together after it had become split during the 1998 election campaign. I remind senators that during that election the Pork Council was very critical of the government and the government was very unhappy about that. I was certainly on the side of the Pork Council and would have delivered the same criticisms—in fact, I did—to the government at that time. The Pork Council paid with some pain for itself during that campaign and, subsequently, the Pork Committee of the New South Wales Farmers Federation split from the Pork Council and we had a divided industry. But the work that officers of the Pork Council and, in particular, Ron Pollard did over the intervening years ought to get the highest possible commendation that this Senate can deliver. Ron is a very quiet man, but someone who just worked away until he brought the industry back together again. Hence, this bill today is a culmination of his efforts over those intervening years.

Part of the impetus for this, not directly but certainly indirectly, was the threat some years ago that imports of Canadian pork posed for the pork industry in Australia. Pig farmers were in dire straits. That was certainly the case with many I talked to in Queensland; but throughout Australia pig farmers were facing a disaster because of Canadian imports. The government—as senators will remember—placed the issue before the Productivity Commission, which found very clearly that subsidised Canadian pork imports were having an adverse effect on the Australian pork industry. The commission pointed out that the World Trade Organisation guidelines which would have imposed some restriction on Canadian imports could have been applied, although, being as dry as it is in economic terms, it did not recommend that we should go down the road. The Democrats hoped that the government might have done that because we believed that, in applying those WTO guideline restrictions, we would have been acting very much in support of the industry. I think we should have done it.

The government decided instead to put in place a financial rescue package, which was of significant help to the industry. But I find it interesting that neither the coalition nor the Labor Party were prepared to use the temporary restrictions which were available under the WTO. I notice now that everyone wants to get on the national competition policy bandwagon, as though nobody voted for it. It was, after all, Labor Party legislation and policy, supported by the coalition at the time. I note that the Democrats, the Greens and Senator Harradine were the only people to vote against it. All of a sudden, national competition policy is probably one of the dirtiest words we can find in the Australian vocabulary, and everyone now wants to bag it. But I note that not many people were bagging it when the legislation was passed in this place.

However, the pork industry was saved, not necessarily by the government's package—although I am sure that helped. It was saved by the fact that in Malaysia and some other South-East Asian countries certain diseases of pigs meant the collapse of the industry in those places and the ability of our pork industry to move into South-East Asian markets. I suppose one could say it was a fortuitous circumstance, although it certainly was not fortuitous for the Malaysians, but at least it helped our industry. We were able to move into those markets and, as a result, the pork industry has certainly seen much better times in the last couple of years. That is part of the background to this legislation, which comes as the culmination of a number of things that have taken place. The Democrats are very happy to support the legislation and we are very pleased to see it in this chamber.

In relation to the Labor Party amendments, I got those at around 20 past 12, just as I was about to come into the chamber. I do not think they have been circulated in the chamber. I believe the amendments have some merit, but I cannot vote for them until I have checked with a number of people as to whether or not they are as helpful as Senator Forshaw says. I always take Senator Forshaw's word, and I am sure he has described them accurately, but until I have a chance to check those amendments with other people I am not prepared to support them. They sound to me as though they are worth supporting. I know these kinds of amendments have been raised with other bills, but I believe we should not simply support amendments because one side or the other says—or even we say with our amendments—that they are beneficial. We need a little time at least to check that they do achieve what the opposition is saying they will achieve. If we are given time we will consider them.

I notice in the minister's second reading speech that he says the Commonwealth will continue to match R&D funds provided by the pork industry, up to 0.5 per cent of the gross value of production, as applies to other rural industries. In 1999-2000 the Commonwealth's matching contribution for pork industry R&D was $3.6 million. That supports what Senator Forshaw is saying, that there still is Commonwealth government money going into the pork industry and, for that reason, there should be scrutiny by the parliament of these particular matters. There is merit in the amendments which have been foreshadowed, but I will not support them unless we have a chance simply to check with other people whether or not they deliver what the Labor Party says they will deliver.