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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5189

Senator O'BRIEN (7:01 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Australian National Residue Survey program manages testing for residues and contaminants. The survey underpins the integrity of 16 animal commodity, 14 plant commodity, five representative seafood commodity and two representative aquaculture commodity sectors. Last financial year 24,000 samples were collected and 274,000 individual chemical commodity combinations were analysed. Participating industries provided $8.658 million from levies and other contributions for the management and operation of residue testing and other projects. This program is essential to export as well as domestic industries that supply those markets. Given that we export most of our agricultural production, it is essential that we meet the residue and contaminant standards required by markets that import our products.

The National Residue Survey program enables us to underpin the integrity of our rural exports with data on residue and contaminant levels. Our trading partners also audit the operation and results of the National Residue Survey from time to time. This program is also essential to the integrity of products sold in the domestic market as well as in the export market. Participation in the National Residue Survey program is a requirement of the Australian Standard for Hygienic Production of Meat for Human Consumption. A number of industries that do not export a large percentage of their production also use the national residue surveys to support their quality assurance programs.

In February this year I asked the Chief Commonwealth Veterinarian, Dr Gardiner Murray, a number of questions about the future of the program. I specifically asked about a review of the NRS because I was concerned that the government was seeking to focus the program on exports at the expense of industries—the chicken industry is one—that focused on the domestic market. Dr Murray advised me that was not the case. But he did confirm that there was a review under way and that the review was examining the objectives of the program and how best it could be repositioned in `the light of other activities that are going on'. He said the program was voluntary and there existed a need to review the participating industries, including the cost of their participation. Dr Murray also said the government was not considering the exclusion of any industry from the program.

In May this year I asked the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry how the review of the NRS was proceeding and I was advised that the review being undertaken by a departmental officer had not been completed. It now seems clear what the review was really about, and it is not a pretty story. It seems it was about finding ways of extracting large sums of money in additional administration costs from participating industries. These exploding costs that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mr Truss, is seeking to impose on the industries will have an impact, and I would like to remind the Senate of the contributions that some of these rural industries make to Australia.

The poultry industry enjoys annual retail sales of $2½ billion based on the production of 400 million chickens, representing 62,000 tonnes of meat, and it employs 35,000 people. Indirect employment is about five times that figure. The feedlot industry employs 6,000 people, mainly in regional Australia, and makes a major contribution to the beef industry. The 2½ thousand pork producers generate $856 million worth of product and an estimated 34,000 regional jobs, and they export $264 million worth of product per annum. The future of these intensive industries depends upon their maintaining consumer confidence, both domestic and international, in their products. The NRS plays a key role in maintaining that confidence. That is why I am concerned that Mr Truss is now seeking to impose a massive increase in these costs. According to the latest annual report of the NRS, and I will quote directly from it:

... full cost recovery for survey activities was introduced on 1 July 1993.

So that is not the basis for this cost increase. Mr Truss is now imposing massive cost hikes on these industries and they have little to do with anything other than the costs of the department and they certainly do not have anything to do with actual NRS costs. An example that I would like to give is the chicken industry. Professional support services are to jump by 740 per cent. There was a slight decline last year, but the increase is massive and reflects the manner in which the department is being administered. The cost profile for the chicken industry saw property expenses jump by 150 per cent. The cost of professional services to the pork industry will jump from $5,000 in 2001-02 to a proposed $61,000 for the current financial year. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.