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Wednesday, 24 July 1946

Mr ABBOTT (New England)


taken, those difficulties would have been smoothed out.

As to the composition of. the board, no provision is found in the bill to limit the tenure of office of the members. The measure states that they shall be appointed by the Governor-General, in accordance with the provisions of proposed new section 5. It is entirely wrong to appoint members of a board without giving the people whose, interests they represent the right to express their views concerning the representation. I fail to realize why the Government maintains opposition to the election of representa*tives. Surely thi3 is a democracy' in which the will of the people should be expressed from time to time. If board members are to be appointed merely at the pleasure of the Governor-General, which means at the will of - the government of the day, they may become completely out of touch with the interests which they are supposed to represent, and become mere automatons of the Government. For that reason, I believe it to be wrong that members should be appointed and . hold office at the pleasure of the Governor-General.

Mr Scully - What would the honorable member suggest as a reasonable term?

Mr ABBOTT - I suggest three years. One year is too short, but every three years members should come up for election by the bodies which originally ' nominated them.

Mr Scully - Perhaps five years would not be too long?

Mr ABBOTT - Perhaps not, but the members of this House are elected for three years, and that term" ought to be long enough for the proposed board. The bill provides that each member of the board shall be appointed from representatives nominated by the Graziers Federal Council of Australia or the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation, or any other body approved by the Minister. I agree that the two bodies specifically named represent most of the meat producers of Australia, and there is nothing to stop those who are not already members from joining one or the other of them.

Mr Scully - I suggested that any producers now outside those organizations should affiliate with one of them.

Mr ABBOTT - That is a very sound suggestion.. One of those bodies may represent certain interests, while the other represents certain other interests,, but between them they represent all the producers. However, I do not like the words "'or any other body approved by the Minister ".

Mr Scully - They were put in to meet a possible emergency, or to enable us to remedy an injustice.

Mr ABBOTT - I. do not for a moment believe that the present Minister would use this provision improperly, but it is possible- that some future Minister, of whatever political colour, might even arrange for the creation of bogus bodies of producers, or for the representation of a body, the membership of which was confined .to one State, and thereby perpetrate an injustice against the producers of other States. The bill provides that the board shall have on it seven producer representatives, and if some future Minister were to give representation to a body with members in one State only it would be prejudicial to the interests of producers in other States. I suggest, therefore, that the Minister might accept an amendment which would make the provision, read " or any other body of producers federally constituted ". I recognize that the machinery for the constitution of the board must be flexible. If the representatives of the producers get out of touch" with the industry it should be possible for some other body to be constituted and obtain representation, but it should be a federal body. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, conceded this principle, because he said that the persons nominated for appointment tq the board must be nominated by the producers' organizations constituted oh a Commonwealth basis. This stipulation, however, is not made in the bill itself. Clause 9 of the bill is as follows : -

Section twelve of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: - "12. - (1.) In order to assist the Board in carrying out its functions under this' Act; theMinister may appoint for each State a Meat. Advisory Committee. (2.) The members- of the Meat Advisory Committee for a State shall be appointed by the Minister and shall comprise representatives of such sections of the meat industry in' the State as, in the opinion of the Minister, will constitute a Committee adequately representative of that industry. (3.)The members of any such Committee shall hold office during the pleasure of the Minister and shall be paid fees and allowances at such rates as the Minister determines.".

I suggest that it would have been better if the constitution of the State committees had been more clearly defined. I believe that on. them, as on the federal body, there should be a majority of producers. I do not know whether that is what the Minister intends.

Mr Scully - It is.

Mr ABBOTT - Then I suggest that the producer-members of the State committees should be elected by the State bodies affiliated to the federal primary producers organizations, and provision for this should be made in the bill,

Reverting to the constitution of the Australian Meat Board, I point out that the bill provides that one member shall represent the Commonwealth Government, and I maintain that he should be a producer-member. The ideal man would be one who had been actively engaged in primary production, or one who is still so engaged, and who, during the war, served as a temporary officer with the Department of Commerce or some other Government department. Thus, he would have gained administrative experience, and would yet have a practical knowledge of . the meat industry. Such a combination would be ideal, and would be helpful both to the Government and to the producers.

I turn now to the very contentious clause 7, paragraph . c, which provides that' section 10 of the principal act shall be amended -

(c)   by inserting after sub-section . (5.) the following sub-section: - " (5a.) If the person presiding at a meeting of the Board dissents from any decision of the Board, signifies at the meeting to the other members present in person his intention to bring his dissent to the notice of the Minister and within twenty-four hours after the close of the meeting, transmits to the. Minister notice of his dissent together with full particulars of the decision, effect shall not be given to the decision unless the Minister approves of the decision (whether with or without variation) and, if the Minister approves of the decision subject to a variation, the decision so approved shall be deemed to be the decision of the Board.".

This is the provision which arms the chairman of the board with the power of veto. I know that the Minister claims that the Commonwealth is so deeply in-' volved in this scheme, being liable for the expenditure annually of an amount of £20,000,000, that it must reserve this right of veto on a point of principle, or upon any matter having a bearing upon financial losses or gains. I do not know exactly what the Minister meant by a point of principle; he did not elaborate it. I can understand "his fear that the board might involve the Government, as the agent of the British Government in the purchase of this enormous quantity of meat, in financial commitments which he did not believe to be warranted and which accordingly the Government considers it should have the right to veto. What is particularly worrying the producers' representatives is the final line in the clause, which reads -

The decision so approved shall be deemed to be the decision of the board.

Mr Scully - I believe that I made that reasonably clear in the subsequent discussions I have had with representatives of the Graziers Council and others. I then agreed that the clause might be amended in such a way as to make it clear that when a Minister exercises his power of veto to interfere with a decision of the board, whilst such decision would remain in essence a decision of the board, it would beclearly understood that the onus of responsibility was entirely uponthe Minister. The language in which the clause is at present expressed is the usual technical language used in measures of this kind. In no circumstances would a decision so arrived at be considered as a definite decision of the board itself.

Mr ABBOTT - If that were made perfectly clear many of the objections of producers to the wording of the clause as it stands at present would be overcome.

Mr Scully - I shall ascertain whether it is possible to amend the clause in such a way as to coincide with the wishes of the honorable member and of the representatives of the Graziers Association in that respect.

Mr ABBOTT - A difficulty may arise in that, for legal purposes, such a decision may have to be regarded as a decision of the board. However, I see no insuperable difficulty in so rewording the clause as to make it clear that in such cases the Minister, and not the board, is clearly responsible. The representatives of the producers on the board hold office at the will of the Governor-General who, in turn, is guided by the recommendation of the Minister of. the day, and thus they have no security of tenure, even for three years.- They should be appointed for at least three years and have the right to nominate for re-election. If these two important matters were cleared up most of the objections that the producers have to this measure would be overcome. Wide powers are proposed, to be given to the board under clause 14, and I am in entire agreement with the amendment which was forecast, by the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson). The clause provides -

Section., sixteen of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after paragraph , (d) the following'word and paragraph: - " ; and (e) 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,".

No limitation whatever is imposed by that., clause. It . may be still in operation long after the expiration of the contract for the sale of meat to the United . Kingdom Government, unless, provision be made for a definite date of expiry of this legislation or the clause be redrafted in accordance with the amendment, sought by the honorable member, for Deakin. If that amendment is subsequently accepted, producers' interests will be safeguarded, because the legislation' will operate "only- for a period of three years. This clause enables the Minister ' to override completely the members of the board. ' Whether they be representatives of producers, exporters, abattoirs, or employees, theymay have to accept direction's . from the' Minister without protest or objection. I do" "riot suggest that the Minister is likely, to use unwisely these dictatorial powers,- but they will enable him, if he so desires, to maintain a facade of democracy by retaining a semblance of producer-control when, in fact, at his very whim, ; the members of the board might have to act like marionettes responsive to his pulling of the strings. I trust that the Minister will accept the amendment that the honorable member for Deakin will move so that after the expiration of three years, say in June, 1949, this legislation will expire. When it is then being reconsidered, . an opportunity will be afforded to amendthe clause if necessary. Arid the people will consider it necessary because,- as democrats, they will object to the continuance of anything that smacks of dictatorship".

Another matter which reaches the very crux of the . bill is the block . sale of . meat exported from1 Australia during" the next three years: The total . amount of beef, mutton' andlamb that will be exported willrun into many millionsof pounds1. The agreement under which these "exports are ; to be sold to the United Kingdom Government is to operate for three years. What is worryingme about . it is whether", during the operation of the agreement sufficient opportunities will be taken to explore the- possibilities of obtaining other markets for our meat. I found when the American troops came into this country, early, in 1942, their dietary scale Was vastly different from bur own. We were told by responsible American Army officers' that , the American people would riot live on the kind of foods to which we had become accustomed. They were pigfood eaters and, to 'a lesser degree, beef eaters. However, we. found that subsequently,. whilst none of them would; eat mutton, many of them acquired a liking for Australian lamb. The taste for Australian lamb grew upon them so rapidly that many.preferred lamb to the "pig products to which they . had formerly been accustomed.. ' This raises the possibility thatthere exists in the United States of America and in Canada a big potential market- for Australian lamb. One can almost envisage a possible opening of a market in South American republics, as the standard of living in those countries is raised. . And thus some useful work, may be found for our representatives in those countries who are now merely disporting themselves there at the Government's expense. I have not the faith some people have in the Government's ability to open up new avenues for the sale of our surplus meat, or in civil servants having the necessary initiative or specialized knowledge that private enterprise has to find new markets for our exportable surplus. Despite the three-year agreement with Great Britain, without doubt a fight will develop' for markets, and at the conclusion of the agreement Great Britain may not be able to renew it because of its commitment, as the result of its loan from the United States of America, to increase its exports by 75 per cent, above the prewar level. Consequently, Great Britain may be compelled to divert its import trade from this country to countries that will freely accept its exports. I therefore hope that, Australia will develop new markets; overseas. The honorable member for Calare(Mr. Breen) referred to the possibilities of the market in the East. I realize that the purchasing power of the Eastern, races is small at present, but during the war India became a great creditor country, and, with an improvement.of the living, standards of its people, there ought to be a possibility of our developing -a market in India for our meat, despite the prejudices of the Indian peoples . against food not killed arid prepared by people of their religions. I agree that, this bill is necessary to carry out the terms of the agreement,but certain' of its provisions are anathema to the meat producers, and I feel sure that the 'Minister for. Commerce and Agriculture, after having given further consideration; to them, will accept the amendments that, have been foreshadowed on this side.

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