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Wednesday, 24 July 1946

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) .- I am glad that the debate on this bill enables me to .pay a well-deserved tribute to the wonderfully efficient work that has been done by the Australian Meat Board over a period of years, especially by the Controller of Meat Supplies, Mr. Tonkin, during the last four years, and of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, Messrs. Murphy and McCarthy, who assisted to inaugurate this policy many years ago. Australia is indebted to those gentlemen, as I shall later show. No -industry has been more difficult to administer during the war period than the meat industry, and in those years Mr. Tonkin displayed extraordinary tact and courage in performing his duties. He was always ready to obtain the benefit of the advice and experience of those? capable of assisting him; Under most difficult conditions, he succeeded in doing a very good job, hampered as he. was by other circumstances entirely beyond his control. Those other circumstances include the recent strike of meat employees in Queensland, which caused the loss of many thousands of tons of export beef for Great Britain, and the refusal of slaughtermen at various times to kill sheep and cattle. As the result of their attitude, the stock often died of starvation after having been sent to the abattoirs. Those factors were outside Mr. Tonkin's control.* In my opinion, the rationing of meat in Australia should have been placed under the authority of the Controller of Meat Supplies. Prom Dr. Clements, chairman of the Nutrition Committee, which the Government appointed in 1945 to examine the position, we learn that, despite rationing, and probably because of the existence of black markets,, the quantity of meat and other commodities consumed in Australia, with the sole exception of butter, has -actually increased since the introduction of rationing. That had a detrimental effect on the quantity of meat that we in Australia were able to export to our starving kinsmen in Great Britain, and to other countries. As the Controller and the existing Meat Board have done such . a good job, one would have thought that the Minister would have given strong reasons for proposing the changes that are now being suggested, but no adequate reasons have been given for the new policy. Instead of receiving a pat on the back, the Controller of Meat Supplies and his Board are getting a kick. I am reminded of the treatment meted out to the Commonwealth Bank Board which, after having performed fine work, was summarily dismissed.

I wish to say a few words about the contention that producer control will be expanded under .;the . new board, and, in that connexion,I shall relate the history of the meat, export control . business to show the necessity for proceeding with the greatest caution, in order to make certain that we shall ' do nothing that will interfere with our market in Great Britain, for it must be understood that that is our sole market at present, and in order to ensure, also,- that we shall be in a position to take immediate advantage of - any other markets' that may open 'for Australian meat products as. world conditions return tonormal.

The Australian Meat Board which was. appointed in 1935 consisted of sixteen representatives of whom' nine were producers. They included one member to represent the stock breeders of each State, a member as the special representative of the Riverina; a representative ofthe stock breeders of the Northern Territory, and a -representative -of the pig breeders, The honorable member for Wilmot . (Mr. Guy) will realize 'that the constitution of that board met his complaint' in that it provided -for- the direct represen tation of Tasmania.The_ board also included a representative of- the exporting interests,- a representative of the co-operative organizations which export mutton and ' lamb, ' and four representatives of publicly-owned abattoirs and freezing works which, at that time, were operating in Australia. Most of those governmental organizations have since disappeared -and ; their representatives automatically retired from the board. The proposed, new board will consist of twelve representatives of whom seven will represent producers, and five non-producers, one of whom will be a government member and chairman of the board. I have seen a suggestion, though I do not know whether it had official basis, that there may be two more government appointees who will act in a 'temporary capacity, one to represent the Prices Commission, and the other the rationing authority. I would not mind this, if it were not for the fact that the final control will rest with the chairman of the board. I am favorable to the ultimate control of these industries resting with a Minister who is responsible to Parliament, but ' in my opinion it is a long step backward for the government member not -onlyto be made chairman but also to have'- a' right of veto. The other eleven ' member's ' of the board may be against the chairman and. they may be more experienced in the details of the industry than he; yet. he is to have the right of veto.

It will pay us to examine... for a few moments the record of the : Australian Meat Control Board in order to remind ourselves of what it has been, able to do. This should be done before we approve of radical changes. I am not strongly opposed to the changes that have ; been suggested, with the exception that I entirely disagree , with the placing of the . power of. veto in the hands of the chairman. We should take all . possible care to satisfy., ourselves that we. do not agree to anythingthat will interferewith the- proper working of the board or the expansion of the Australian meat industry. 'The Australian Meat- Board has always worked in . the closest association, with the Department of Commerce and Agriculture 'of . which it- is an integral part, and it has secured some splendid results for the- Australian meat industry. With the whole-hearted' support of the 'government of -the day it was able, -.-in 1936, to secure a substantial restriction of imports of meat from Argentina ' under.' the Anglo-Argentine Agreement. Argentina was our principal competitor- on the British market. The board secured in 1937 a reduction of the 1935 Argentina quota of chilled beef by 138,700 cwt., representing 2 per cent. ; it also secured a reduction of the 1937 quota by an additional 138,700- cwt'. In 1939 it secured the same concession, provided that the total for that year should not be less than 6,595,000 cwt., which was the 1935 total, less 5 per cent. At the time that this substantial cut was _ made in imports of chilled ' beef from Argentina it was necessary to do everything possible to. encourage imports of chilled beef from Australia to Great Britain, scientific improvements having been made which rendered it possible for us to export our product in a competitive condition. It is true that our meat could not reach the British market with quite the same bloom that could be retained ori the more quickly transported chilled meat from Argentina,but the point is that we were able, . to secure the business. The Government and : the. board . was also -able to obtain ' a'duty of three farthings per lb. ' on chilled' beef from -Argentina, which', previously, had been admitted duty., free. Later I shall give figures which will indicate a steady growth of exports of Australian meat to Great Britain,' which enabled us to take such a substantial part in providing meat for the people of Great Britain during the first two or 'three years of the war, when the U-boat menace was at its height and the difficulties in securing shipping space for exports to Britain seemed to be -almost insuperable.' In addition the board secured the following restrictions of imports from Argentina : -

Frozen beef, 124,000 cwt., and a duty ofd. ( two-thirds of a penny ) per lb., . plus 20 per cent, ad valorem.

Frozen beef offal's, not less than 5.6 per cent, of the total current imports- of chilled and frozen, plus 20 per cent, ad . valorem.

Canned beef, 605,600 cwt., a slight reduction on" the 1935 figures, plus 20' per. cent, ad valorem.

Frozen mutton and lamb, 1937-886,000 cwt. (no reduction) free; 1938 - 797;400 cwt., 10 per cent, reduction,' free:'

Frozen pork,- 186,800 cwt., same' as 1935 total, free.

When I was in England in . 1938 I was able to make contracts on behalf of the Australian Government for the supply to . Great Britain in war-time of 240,000 tons of meat per annum, which is roughly the average quantity that we had been exporting for the- last four or five years. Because of the good season, and the economies it was possible to make, we were able to send to England during the first year of the war not only the 240,000 tons we had contracted to supply but also an additional 50,000 tons, which proved of great value. The shipments consisted of beef, mutton, lamb and pork. Then, difficulties arose in the provision of the necessary shipping, with the result that we were unable to despatch all that the British people desired us to send. Thus, the Meat Export Control Board and the Government were confronted with the necessity to reorganize meat processing in Australia. The first step was to extend the cold storage facilities in this country. During 1940 and . 1941, the cold storage space provided for all purposes was. increased , by 500,000 tons, and a considerable portion . of it was devoted to the storage of meat. That enabled us to hold a tremendous quantity of meat in. this country until refrigerated shipping space became available, as it -fortunately did late in 1941. Simultaneously, the production of canned meats was increased, from 15,000 tons in 1940 to. a maximum of 90,000 tons in 1945. That was one of our great achievements during the war period. The advantage of canned meat, compared with frozen or chilled meat, was that it did not require insulated shipping space, and could be carried in ordinary cargo vessels. It was revealed during the war that vessels with insulated space were equipped with engines that gave them a speed of 20 or 21 knots an hour. When the Navy and Army authorities had compared this speed with that of ordinary liners, they commandeered most of these vessels for the transport of troops, and thus correspondingly reduced the tonnage of cold storage space available for the shipment of perishable food, which then had to be transported ' in ordinary merchantmen. The Meat Export Control Board did good work during that . period in effecting reorganization. It also attempted dehydration. . The experiments begun while I was Minister for Commerce were continued by the . present Minister. I regret that they werenot wholly successful. Although dehydrated foods were produced, they were not very palatable. As only the poorer stock was used, the loss was not great. Theeffort was well worth while,however, because it ensured to the people of Great Britain an increase of the number of calories they consumed, and thus assisted them to resist the advancing foe. . A plan for dealing with pig-meats also was introduced, and proved of very great value to Australia. In the first and second years of the war, the British Government could not decide exactly what pork or bacon it desired, and repeatedly varied the weight from high to low and vice versa. The increase of weight from 120 to 180 lb. was an easy matter, but the reverse was the case when a reduction in the weight of carcasses was soughtby Great Britain. The subject was canvassed at some length and final agreement " on standard weight was reached. It was essential that a plan should be produced which would permit Australia to make continuous progress in the pig industry under stabilized conditions. I trust" that the . industry has now reached a stage of efficiency from which it will not be allowed to deteriorate. I fear, however, that if the dairying industry cannot attain to its rightful place, the pig industry cannot be maintained because the skimmed milk feeds so many pigs. Bacon is easily transported ; consequently, our aim should be to produce it. Figures given by the Minister reveal that the number of dairy cows has decreased in the last six years by 250,000, and the number of dairy calves under one year old by 120,000, compared with the previous year. He has said that at least five years will be needed to restore production to the pre-war level. This emphasizes the necessity for fixing the prices of butter and other commodities produced on dairy farms at such a figure that there will be an incentive to increase production. The previous meat organization differed from that now proposed, in that it was based on a State instead of an industry conception. It will be interesting to see whether the present proposal will prove more satisfactory. I am prepared to support any plan that is properly based, but am most strongly opposed to the proposal in regard to a veto.

I wish to deal at some length with the consumption of meat in Australia. It seems a strange anomaly that whilst the people of Britain have to be content with half a pound of meat a week, Australians are permitted to eat 3J lb. or 4 lb. The effect of rationing has been rather to make people coupon-conscious. Having coupons, they consider that they must use them. They regard them as more difficult to obtain than the money that is needed to purchase meat. The Nutrition Committee set up by the Government to examine a cross-section of 3,000 families in Australia, found that their consumption of meat in November, 1945, was substantially greater than it had been in November, 1938, despite the fact that our compatriots overseas had been practically starving. The Government should examine, this matter closely

Sir Earle Page.

Probably the Australian Meat Board, consisting of men with a practical knowledge of production-, and wholesale and retail aspects of the meat industry, might be able to propound a scheme whereby extra meat could be sent to Great Britain, not in the dim, distant future, but immediately. That would establish widespread goodwill in Great Britain which would be of very great service to us for many years. We should do this in the interest of our future trade with the United Kingdom, quite apart from humanitarian considerations, or the duty that we owe to. Great Britain, which stood solidly against every shock administered to it during the war, hardpressed though it was.

A problem that will, worry the Australian meat producer is the market he will have for the disposal of his lamb and mutton. Under ' the contract, the prices are: lamb 7 1/2d. per lb., mutton 4£d. per lb., and beef 41s. 8d. per 100 lb. It is obvious that the value of lamb, is two-thirds greater than .that of either mutton or beef. Therefore, we should endeavour to grow and sell as much lamb as possible, and- thus obtain much more money for equal weight. It has been evident for many years that only in the two great English-speaking countries, Great Britain and the United States of America, can the people afford to purchase lamb at that price. South Africa raises many sheep, and is an active competitor of Australia in the production of wool. Canada is practically self-contained. But in the United States of America there could be a very big lamb market, which we could secure if we took proper steps to that end. I join with the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) in the hope that the new board will concern itself not only with the fulfilment of the contract with Great Britain, but also in taking advantage of any opportunity that may be presented to supply the United Kingdom market, alternatively with lower grades of meat and to secure entry to the American market. In conjunction with. Great ' Britain, we should press for the reduction of the duty on lamb entering the United States of America, in order to ensure that what we send to that market will be sold at a reasonable pa-ice. In addition, the Aust tralian Meat Board should closely examine the whole of our international trade relations, with a view to diverting considerable quantities of Argentina meat to European, countries,which need is so greatly. The Argentina has admirable conditions for de-pasturing cattle. Its land is of high quality. Its immense rivers, such as the Rio de la Plata and the Parana, can take boats of deep draught, and this enables it to transport stock by water for hundreds of miles, lt is in comparatively close proximity to Europe. All of these factors enable it to market its beef in Europe at a much lower cost than ours. Therefore, I urge the Government to ask the board to bear this matter in mind.

I wish to deal with the damage that is clone to our meat export trade by the lack of continuity of supplies. The recent strike in Queensland caused us to lose the sale of 40,000 or 50,000 tons of meat to the United Kingdom. This meat was urgently required by the people of Great Britain. Cattle which should have been slaughtered were returned to the proporties from which they had been brought, causing those properties to be overstocked. But those are not all the disadvantages that were caused. In addition, there is the lack of confidence in a continuity of supplies of Australian meat to our regular market in Britain. In Australia, the beef season lasts from February to April or May, and the lamb season from September onwards. This makes it difficult to maintain a continuous supply to the British market, and we found that it was necessary sometimes to sell our meat as Empire meat rather than as Australian, and to get other dominion countries, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, to fill in the seasonal gaps so that we might keep the customers that we had gained by advertising. The dislocation of the meat industry by strikes not only causes immediate discomfort to the public here, but it also may result in a permanent loss of customers abroad. I regret that the Government has not seen fit during the recent strike-

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