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Wednesday, 24 July 1946

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Barnard) - The honorable member may not refer to the actions of the Government in respect of other measures.

Mr HUTCHINSON - Honorable members on this side of the House have carefully studied the bill and have sought the advice of organizations of producers in relation to the proposals contained in it, and accordingly, their representations should be accorded the fullest consideration. I have endeavoured to approach the bill from a non-party angle ; although I have mentioned instances of the mess and muddle that has occurred in the industry in the last few years as the result of mismanagement, I have not made any definite party attack. Accordingly I trust that when amendments are moved by honorable members on this side of the House they will be accepted in the spirit in which they are submitted and be given the consideration they, deserve, . .

Mr.BREEN (Calare) [12.7] . -During the last six years those whose duty it' has been to co-ordinate our war requirements, particularly in the matter of food production, have had to face ' many changing circumstances. Under the National Security Regulations they were clothed with authority to' take immediate action without reference to the Parliament ' as to' the ' wisdom or otherwise of' their' actions." I pay a tribute* to the^' manner " in" 'which they' have discharged their duties. This "bill' represents an attempt ' to incorporate in a new measure the, experiences of the war period and to devise a code that will, lead to organization and peace in the meat industry, and a greater benefit from our export trade than was possible in the past; As the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) has pointed out there has been some dislocation of our export trade due to our inability to compete with' other countries principally with Argentina, in . the United' Kingdom market. Due- mainly to Argentina's better knowledge : of the affairs of trade, meat exporters of that country have been able to outwit us despite the preference given to the Dominions under the Ottawa Agreement.' The principal criticism levelled at the bill by the honorable member was that it did not provide for fair representation, on the Australian Meat Board and the State Meat Advisory Committees of the various components that make up the meat industry, and that the Minister was being given autocratic powers to override decisions arrived at by those bodies. Meat producers are of the opinion that during the regime of anti-Labour administrations', merchants were able to obtain an unfair share of the profits of the meat industry. There may be some truth in that contention. Certainly, under Labour governments meat producers have had greater representation on various boards. However, the task of organizing the meat industry is not one solely for meat producers or meat exporters. It is the business of the community at large. The old days when business interests could carry on in their own sweet way, regardless of -the interests of the community, have gone. In the national interest food must be produced and distributed in sufficient quantities to safeguard the welfare of the nation. It is also the duty of the nation to ensure that producers of food shall be adequately protected from, exploitation. To this end it is essential that the Minister within whose jurisdiction the production of food lies, should -be able to initiate in this Parliament a discussion of any action, provided for in this measure, that the boardmay take, and also should be able to veto immediately any move which he considered to be not _ in the national interest. ' A board composed entirely of representatives of producers and consumers, in the absence of any overriding authority on the part of the Parliament, might be tempted to do things that might produce satisfactory results so far as they themselves were concerned, but which would not be in the best interests of the nation. "We have had experience of that in the coal-mining industry. Experienced coal-miners and mine-owners have agreed on certain action without regard to the repercussions of the action upon the status of the industry, and upon the community at large. We cannot afford to permit that. That is why there is incorporated in this measure a clause giving overriding power to the Minister. Whilst complete producer control of the distribution and sale of a commodity may be desirable in theory, it is more of a political abstraction than an objective capable of immediate realization. The ideal of course is a co-operative organization representing producers, distributors and consumers, all working in the interests of society generally, and without thought of personal gain-; but we must deal with practical things, and it is the job of the Parliament to " talk turkey ". During a previous debate in this chamber one honorable member opposite mentioned the lack of organization amongst food producers generally. He was quite right. Organization amongst primary producers has not reached the stage of development, that it has reached amongst other groups in the community. Consequently, it is impossible to set up an authority that is thoroughly representative of foodproducers of whom probably only 20 per cent, are organized. That is another reason why it is the duty of the" Parliament during the transition from the present inadequate social system to a. more idealistic system, to keep continuous watch over the production, distribution, and exchange of such a vital commodity as food. The bill is an attempt to incorporate all that is practical in meat control, and to eliminate some of the features which, no matter how desirable, in theory, have proved impracticable.

I wish to deal now with three phases of. our meat exporting industry. First, there is the export of lambs which is a major part of our export trade because of Australia's great sheep population, we are able to export large quantities of lamb. Also, as most of this country enjoys a mild climate, it is possible for graziers to change over in a few years from wool production to meat production or vice versa should the international situation demand such a move. Because of that flexibility, we have been able to meet changed circumstances so far as lamb export is concerned, without causing any vital upset. However, because of the ease with which sheep-raising can be carried on in this country, we have been, prone to neglect certain phases of the industry, the development of which would have meant greater efficiency in lamb production, and therefore, a greater income from that activity than we have had in the past. It is well known that if lambs which at present are killed when sixteen to twenty weeks old were allowed to reach the mutton stage, we would not be able to export them because of the high incidence of lymphatic gland trouble. This ailment, which does not become manifest until the later stages of development, excludes almost 7 per cent, of our fullygrown sheep from the export trade. The result is that even at present" when we have substantial supplies of mutton in cold storage, and Great Britain is in need of meat, this mutton is not being shipped. We may not be able , to market so many of our lambs in the United Kingdom if transport between the Americas and Europe improves to such a degree as to outweigh our present advantage of being. able to offer cheap meat. Then we shall have to limit lamb production and improve the quality of our mutton, or look for another market. It may be wise to explore the possibilities of the market in the "East. The international meat trade has a strong grip on the European market, but the Eastern market has been largely neglected possibly because of the limited individual purchasing power of the peoples in the Eastern countries, but, in the aggregate, there ought to be a tremendous amount of money available for the .purchase of meat at prices at which meat cannot be grown on the American pastures. That is a phase that the experts whose appointment is provided for in this legislation could investigate on the production and the merchandising sides.

Mention Has been made by the Opposition of the intrusion of politics into what ought to be exclusively business organization, namely, the Australian Meat Board. One honorable member went to great pains to protest that he intended to debate the bill on' a plane far above that of politics, and that he intended to deal entirely with the economics of the meat industry. But every member of the Australian Meat Board has strong 'political affiliations with the anti-Labour forces of this country. So critical were the producers of the big business interests in the . metropolis, in whose hands their destiny lies, that they established the Australian Country party, thinking that that would mend matters and end their sense of frustration. No other justification could exist for the party's existence, but that the experiment failed will be proved when one counts the heads of the members who claim to represent country . interests on the other side of the. House after the general elections. I will not canvass that aspect any further, but I do point out that New South Wales has had unfortunate experiences with the autonomous boards that have been set up in the State. Owing to the preponderance of politicians of the kind that have lost public confidence in the Legislative Council, legislation sent to the council from the Legislative Assembly designed to end independence of the Meat Commission and other similar bodies has been so amended as to frustrate the intentions of the- popularly elected Lower House. The Meat Commission was set up as an independent authority to control the Homebush abattoirs prior to the advent of the Labour Government. Since then every effort made by the Government to bring it within the control of the State Parliament has been fruitless. The economy of New South Wales, in (particular, and Australia, as a whole, has been damaged by the fact that the Meat Commission has been independent of the State Parliament. In view of the experience, of the State Government, this Government is not inclined to set up a board that is completely independent of the Parliament. It is the Parliament's job to keep control of the economy of the country. No parliament can function as it should without the power, once having created something, to change it if need be.

Reverting to the meat export trade, and having dealt with the lamb .export section, I point out now that there is room for great improvement in the mutton export trade. A board on which all sections of the meat' trade are repre- , sented and "without the antagonisms and other weaknesses of the Meat Commission of New South Wales will be able to recommend legislation to control the industry in such a way as, among other things,' to bring about that improvement. Meat producers who have paid a lot of money for sires on their properties tell me that Australian beef is a very bad second compared -with beef from Argentina when the two are in competition on a fair basis. I do not know -how that can be overcome. Hitherto beef has been raised in the Northern Territory and drafted south to' mature and fatten on Victorian pastures before being slaughtered for the export trade. That is a haphazard practice.

Mr McEwen - That is a figment of the honorable member's imagination.

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