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Wednesday, 24 July 1946

Mr HUTCHINSON (Deakin) . - This is a. bill to amend the Meat Export Control Act 1935. It is well that I should make a few remarks on the original Meat Export Control Bill, in order that this measure may be debated in true perspective. In 1935, the right honorable member for. Cowper (Sir Earle Page), as Minister for Commerce in the Lyons Government, introduced the original measure. Its objective was to regulate the exports of meat from Australia. It proposed the constitution of a board to make recommendations to the Government as to how the sales of Australian meat might be promoted and for" other purposes. That board was set up in circumstances rather different from those that 'have attended the establishment of . other boards for the regulation of the exports of primary products. For example, there had not been wide representations to the Minister of the day as to the necessity for a meat export control board, although many of the meat producers believed that a body to regulate the export trade and to supervise the grades , and standards of meat exported should be established. Honorable members may recall that the action then taken arose out of the circumstances that existed subsequent to the making of the Ottawa Agreement.

It may be well to consider the state of the meat market in Britain prior to that . agreement. At that time , the British market, being the only free market in the world, was used by all countries as a dumping ground for their. meatexports, with the result that ' priceswerereduced to very low levels. At'the' 'Ottawa conference, imports- of meatby Great Britain from foreign countries were restricted, and the Dominions were given an expanding share of,, the : British market. However, the exports of. meat from the Dominions to 'Great Britain increased so greatly that they quickly overtook the deficiency caused by the limitation of supplies from foreign countries, and the British producer was placed in an unfortunate position. In 1933, Great Britain seriously considered limiting its imports of meat. . Commonwealth Ministers went, hot-foot to London to prevent that at all costs, and they succeeded in preventing, not only the limitation of imports, but also any restriction on the absorption by the British market of chilled meats, in which trade Australia was just beginning to engage.

During., the . discussions Great: . Britain, very, many, conflicting views were expressed by Dominion representatives. The ' British Government concluded that . it would be wise to establish an Empire Meat Council, so that there would always be a body representative of the Dominions which could take into consideration changes on the British market, and the regulation of Supplies to that market, as well as discuss any variations . arising out of the practical experience that had been gained. :.It was further stated that the council would also discuss matters relating to meat imports by Great Britain with bodies set up'' by foreign countries which at that time were regulating their exports to the United Kingdom. Arising out of the suggestions of the British Government, the Australian Minister for Commerce decided to constitute on a permanent basis !a' body representing all phases of the meat industry, which could advise the Government on' matters relating to meat exports, and could consult boards set up by other dominions and foreign countries. "The board appointed under the Meat {Export Control . Act was rather large numerically, being' representative of practically every organization of ., producers in -Australia. All the States 'were given ' representation on it, and the Riverina district of '.New South Wales, as a , regional area, was granted representation..' The main- function of the board, . however, was to make recommendations, to the government of the day as- to the steps. that should be taken to regulate the exports of meat from this country, and the qualities and grades that should be observed in connexion therewith. It was ' also given definite powers in' relation to the measures "that should be ..taken in connexion with, scientific research in the industry, and the pro- motion of sales of meat overseas. It is important to mention that the original legislation was different from that now introduced, in that it provided that the chairman of the board' should be elected by the members of it, despite the fact that the Government was represented on it and the chairman had1 a casting as well as a deliberative vote.- The first point that I make is that the original board has never been abolished and is still in existence.

The question might- well be asked: Why is a new board to be ' constituted ? Did the old Board, which . functioned for a con- siderable time, fail . in any respect to perform the tasks allotted to it ? Probably the' Minister (Mr. Scully), when replying to the debate, will enlighten us on that matter. The Government may consider it to be necessary to appoint a new board. On the other hand, there may have been dissatisfaction with the old board. If there was, we shall be interested to hear from what source it arose. The board continued to exercise its functions in relation to the Australian meat industry until April, 1943. Then, the Curtin Government, under National Security Regulations, set up what is known to-day as Meat Control. Because of the powers vested in Meat Control . under the regulations, the powers of the Australian Meat Board became negligible; in fact, it really did not exercise "any power at all. Complete despotic power was given under the 1943 regulations. A meat controller was appointed at Canberra, with deputy controllers in the various States. The controller at. Canberra came from the Department of . Commerce, and he ' was advised by a committee on -which were four producer members; two were from the exporting companies, one was an employees' representative, and- there were also representatives of the Prices and Rationing- Branches) and for a time a representative of the Department of War Organization of Industry. In accordance with the practice of this Government in finding a job, as far as possible, for every one of its supporters, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) was . a government representative on the board, although his knowledge of the meat industry was negligible. In the States, the deputy controllers had' the assistance of several committees representing various producer interests. In the majority of cases those committees met separately, but on some occasions, when matters of general interest were under discussion, they . met together.

The position therefore, was that the board constituted under the 1935 act ceased to have practical value, and full power became vested in public servants, namely, the controllers and. deputy controllers in the various. States. Therefore, the. industry came directly under, the control of the Government of the day through the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. For the disturbances, that have arisen in the meat market since 1943, the present Government has been responsible. A typical- example was afforded some months ago at Newmarket, Victoria, which has the largest; stockmarket in the . Southern Hemisphere. Operations there came to .a standstill because of government bungling. The whole of the responsibility for that fiasco rests upon the present Ministry. At this stage I should refer to the difference between meat marketing in Australia now, as .compared with the condition's prevailing in the prewar period. At that time private enterprise operated. Meat was sold to private exporters who either froze or chilled it, and sent it mainly to Great Britain, but, during the war and since, meat has been sold by the Commonwealth Government to the Government of Great Britain under terms of contract, . 'and this arrangement will continue until 1948: .

This bill, as I have said, provides for the establishment,' of a- new and -smaller meat board. The - smaller board commends itself to me.: If such boards are kept as small as. .possible, the members can be quickly brought together, and decisions can be.. reached without unduly prolonged discussion: ' The proposed board will represent all phases qf the meat- industry in Australia. There will be seven producer representatives and five other representatives. Of the latter, one member will represent the publicly owned abattoirs and freezing works, one the employees engaged in the slaughter and preparation qf meat, and two the meat exporting companies of Australia. The fifth member will represent the Commonwealth Government. The producer members are to be three members representing the lamb producers of Australia, one representing the mutton producers, two the beef producers, and one . the pig producers. If a producer chairman is to be appointed to the board, it can' be said that there will be eight members with a knowledge of the industry from the producer point of view.

I.   ,see-: no reason -why a producer representative should not . become the chairman. There is no. justification for supposing that he- would fail to act in the interests of the Commonwealth as a whole, and as .a producer he would have an intimate knowledge of the industry which would expedite the decisions of the board.

Of the three members to be selected to represent the lamb producers, Victoria is entitled to at least one member because it is by far the most important lamb exporting' State in the Commonwealth. In 1943-44, lamb exports from this country totalled 141,559,299 lb.,, out of which Victoria supplied 82,627,738 lb. In 1944-45, out of a total export of 108,772,494 lb., Victoria supplied 62,345,457 lb. In 1945-46 - and these figures indicate the severity of the drought as it affected lamb production - the exports fell io 39,052,518 lb., out of which Victoria supplied 18,560,104. lb. Those figures show that Victoria certainly deserves representation on the board from the point of view of lamb production. As to the composition of the board from the producer point of view, the bill provides that the members of the board shall be drawn from certain . organizations. I believe that, the majority of the producer representatives, apart from the representative' of the pig producers, should be selected from the Graziers' Federal Council' of Australia.

Members of the Graziers' Federal Council pay membership dues, in proportion to the number of stock they own. Therefore, when' this organization says to the Government that it represents about 50,000,000 ' sheep and 5,000,000 cattle, it is speaking with authority because, the figures can be checked against members' dues.' Moreover, the organization extends throughout the entire Commonwealth. It represents practically all the beef-producers of northern Queensland "and the Northern Territory, as well as those in the far north of Western Australia, and it is in those areas that the great bulk of Australia's beef is grown. Having regard to the federal character of the organization, and to the number of sheep and cattled owned by its members, it has a right to greater representation . and . the board than any other organization. I do not want to exclude other organizations from representation, particularly those which are expanding. I have in mind the Australian Primary Producers Union, which is not mentioned in the bill and which may not be given an opportunity to submit, a panel of names for appointment to the board. The union has members in four States, and its membership is growing rapidly, particularly in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, and represents a large number of primary producers. It has received scant consideration from the . Go. .vernment. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture said that he would interview representatives of the union, but that will be in his own good time, and after this bill has been passed. I direct attention to clause 4 of the bill, which provides that the board shall represent various producers' organizations, and " any other body approved by the Minister ". I do not know just what is meant by the phrase " any other body ". It. is wide enough to include, the Druids organization or the Women's Christian Temperance Union. No doubt, it was intended to mean " any other body of primary producers ", but that is not stated. .

It has been claimed by at least one primary producers' organization that the board should be elected by a vote of producers as, I understand, is done in New Zealand.. In that country, there is an arrangement for the election of the hoard not unlike that which exists in the United States of America for the election of a President. The dominion is divided into regions in each of which the producers elect members of an electoral committee which, in turn, elects their representatives to the board. This committee corresponds to the American Electoral College-, which, elects the President. In the final analysis, the representatives on the board would probably be the men recommended by the producers' organizations. In any case, conditions are very different in New Zealand and Australia. New Zealand is, after all, a small country, and a system which is workable there would be costly and cumbersome if attempted in a country the size of Australia. I have no fault to find with the method proposed in the bill under which the primary producers' organizations submit a panel . of names from which are chosen -their representatives on the board. I have sufficient confidence in the producers' organizations, to believe that they will nominate men who are able to take a national view of the problems under discussion.

I welcome the proposal to appoint representatives of the employees to the board, because this is in line with liberal thought on this side of the House which "favours a new deal in industry. It is very important that employers and employees should be brought into closer contact. This close contact already exists in small industries, where there is not nearly so much industrial trouble as in the large ones. In the small industries, the boss and the employees know one another, they are familiar with one another's problems, and they attempt to solve them together. In the large industries, there are, I believe, persons who have a vested interest in creating' disturbances. A feeling grows up between the workers and the management which is contrary to the best interests of the industry and of the nation. Anything which tends to bring together employers and employees must be beneficial. At the present time, employees in an industry often have no knowledge whatever of the main problems of management and finance. It will be an education to them to have representatives on a board where such , matters are discussed, and it will be an advantage also to the -'employers to learn the point of view of their employees.

Some primary producers have stated that the board should not represent the meat exporting interests, but with that I do not agree. Production and marketing are two distinct sides of the industry, and no board could function satisfactorily unless it represented both sides. Perhaps I shall be permitted to draw on an experience of some years ago in illustration of this point. When the Ottawa Agreement was being framed, and it was proposed to place a limitation upon the export of beef from Argentina, no limitation was placed on offals. It was pointed out by the adviser to the Australian Government, Sir William Angliss, that there was a. need to define " offals ". Representatives of producers 'did not take the suggestion seriously. Offals could mean nothing but offals. Experience proved that the advice given by Sir "William Angliss was sound, because no sooner had the agreement come into, operation and supplies from Argentina were curtailed than that country adopted the practice of cutting beef into portions -and sending it to Great Britain as offals. Action had to be taken to rectify the trade. I therefore am of the opinion that if marketing aspects have to be considered, marketing interests should be represented on the board. Otherwise that body will not truly reflect the whole of the industry.

A vital principle is embodied in clause 14 which deals with the powers of the board. The powers which will be vested in the board under the bill differ considerably from those which the old board could exercise. That board was really little more than an advisory body, but the new board is to undertake the basic functions of meat control. I believe that the. bill is designed to make the new board a completely despotic body. The powers of the board, as expressed in clause 14, are additional to those authorized under the original act. Clause 14 provides that the board will be empowered, on behalf of the Commonwealth and subject to any directions of the Minister-

(i)   to purchase any meat, meat product or edible offal;

(ii)   to sell any meat, meat product or edible offal ; or

(iii)   to manage and control all matters connected with the handling, storage, protection, treatment, transfer and shipment of any meat, meat product, or edible offal purchased by the Commonwealth.

Under that provision, the board will be empowered to do almost anything with meat. Moreover, as there is no time limit to the exercise of those powers, the Government could continue to trade in meat and meat products indefinitely. The position would be similar to that which obtains in connexion with Government competition in air transport. The clause practically authorizes the socialization of the meat industry.

Mr McEwen - It is framed for that purpose.

Mr HUTCHINSON - Clearly, the clause contemplates Government intrusion into, the field of private enterprise, possibly leading to the socialization of the meat industry. At the. present time powers of this kind may be required because of the United KingdomAustralia meat agreement which extends to 1948, but in committee I shall move that such powers shall, be limited to three years. At the expiration of that period the matter could be reconsidered by the Parliament.

I shall now deal with the provisions of the bill relating to the chairman of the board. Under the original act, he is to have a deliberative vote as well as a casting vote. If at any time the chairman, or the person presiding at a meeting of the board, dissents from a majority decision of the board, he shall have" the right to approach the Minister, who may overrule the decision of the majority and make such variations of that decision as he thinks fit. That means that the board becomes merely an advisory body in the event of the ' chairman disagreeing with the decision of a majority of its members.

Mr McDonald - It means that the chairman can veto any decision of the board.

Mr HUTCHINSON - That is so. This power has been included in; the bill because the Commonwealth Government . is actively trading with the United 'Kingdom Government in meat. Between £20,000,000 and . £25,000,000 of- public moneys is involved in this trading practice. I agree that the responsibility for the expenditure of public moneys must rest with the Minister who,' in turn, is responsible to the Parliament. Were it otherwise, an independent board couldseriously influence a Government's budget. There are, however, some peculiar aspects of this matter. In my opinion, any decision of any board handling public moneys should be subject to the approval of the Minister. That principle has been accepted for many years. In other words, moneys raised from the public and expended by a board should be subjected to ministerial approval, because, ultimately, that means- that they must be approved by the Parliament, because the Minister. is responsible to the Parliament. This bill differs from the usual practice in- that only in cases in which the chairman dissents from the view of a majority of the board does the matter come before the Minister. If the chairman is strong and incorruptible, the matter' will be brought to the notice of the Minister; if the chairin an is weak or open to corruption, the matter may never reach the Minister.

Under the original act the board Was empowered, to' administer a fund derived from a levy on the industry. In other words- the levy was made on exports. ' Proceeds of the levy were placed into the fund from which the board obtained the requisite finance to carry out its activities, to appoint a London representative, to take steps to promote, the sale of Australian meat overseas, and to indulge in any branch of scientific research it deemed necessary for the promotion of the meat industry. The board had complete control of the fund. A majority decision was sufficient authority for it to act. Under the decision now before us, however, not only public moneys but moneys standing in the fund may not be expended on a majority decision of the board ; also such expenditure is subject to veto by the chairman. If the chairman dissents from a majority decision of the members of the board, reference is made to the Minister who may himself determine how the moneys shall be expended. The Minister may give a direction without attending a full- meeting of the board ; therefore the case for the majority decision may not be put fully " before him. He may act without even calling for a written statement of the matters upon which a majority decision was based. He may simply accept the view of the chairman and base his decision upon that. We know that, it is the rule rather than . the exception that people , put . a . particular case in which 'they " are' interested in the manner " that best ' suits their purposes. The Minister may dissent from a majority decision of .the. board in respect of not only public . moneys used for the improvement of the' industry,, but also moneys "levied' upon the industry itself. I agree that- the Minister "should have an overriding authority in connexion with the expenditure of public moneys, but I do hot agree :that that authority should extend to such moneys as come from the industry itself. The board should have the right by a majority decision to determine in what way the latter should be expended, and to deal' with practical matters affecting the industry of which the Minister of the day in most instances would not know anything. I commend these suggestions to the earnest consideration of the Minister. At a later stage ari opportunity will be afforded to test the opinion of the House in regard to them.

I .come now to the last phase of the bill which I wish to discuss, namely the establishment o'f State Meat Advisory Committees. We know from practical experience that these committees will play a very important part in the determina-ti on of matters relating to the industry. In many instances they will constitute the real determining body, although their recommendations will necessarily have to be passed on to the board for consideration. Clause 9 provides that the members of the State Meat Advisory Committees shall be appointed by the Minister and shall, comprise representatives of such sections of the meat industry in . each State as, in the opinion of the Minister, will constitute a committee adequately representative of the industry. In other words they, are to- be persons who, -in the opinion, of the Minister, will be capable of representing in the deliberations of the committees a fair consensus of opinion of those engaged .in the industry in their own State. That, is far from satisfactory. The Meat Advisory Committees will play an . important part in the successful continuance of the industry, and consequently I. believe that their members drawn from organizations representing ' producers and exporters. If the Minister merely appoints representatives whom he-' thinks are suitable for appointment there will be anabsence of harmony and possibly suspicions amongst producers as to these State committees. ... The Minister may even appoint t " stooges " whose opinions - are"' ; rin ' "line with his own and not necessarily representative of "those of the organizations of- primary producers and exporters. The committees should consist of representatives of the producing and exporting interests who should be chosen from a panel of names submitted by the organizations. If that were done there would be' likely to be a great deal more harmony in the industry than can be anticipated if the measure remains unaltered. I trust that the points I have raised, which will be amplified by other honorable members on this side of the House, will be given most serious consideration by the Government, and that . the Government will not be guilty of the stupid and foolish assumption it has adopted in respect of other measures which have come before us that nothing good can emerge from the Opposition.

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