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Wednesday, 24 July 1946

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- The

Meat Export Control Bill deals with oneof - the most important industries of Australia. Probably the annual value of the production of the .Australian meat indus try is .greater than that of any other Australian primary industry. I have, not been able to ascertain from the Commonwealth Year-book the total annual value of. meat production - the only figures given by it relate to the value of meat exports - but I do not think there is much doubt that the value of .meat produced in Australia exceeds that of any other primary' product. Therefore, farreaching legislation affecting the meat industry must be recognized as being of supreme importance. The industry rs not only of great magnitude but it also presents most extraordinary difficulties in the production, handling and marketing of its products. The pastoral industry is not only subject to all the vicissitudes of adverse and changing seasonal conditions, but it also possesses great difficulties, some of which are peculiar to Australia. For instance, most of the sheep in Australia are bred for the primary purpose of producing wool, not meat, and the carcasses are not of high quality for butchering' purposes. Many of our cattle are bred for dairy purposes and the carcasses are also not very suitable for meat. Those difficulties are .greater in Australia than in any other meat-producing country. Then, of course, there are disabilities in the marketing of the meat and in ensuring that it shall be marketed on a fair competitive basis. The Australian meat industry has developed the system of' auctioning the live beast. Determination of the value of the animal at the point when its ownership passes from the producer- or fattener to- the butcher is made on the -judgment of some person. It' is a simple matter to determine the value of meat, because it is a standard product. The formerly fairly complicated determination of wool values has been simplified by the adoption of a. table of limits. Similarly fruit and almost every other primary product present few difficulties in the determination of prices. But the value of meat on' the hoof is determined at auction on the judgment of men who areobliged to form a quick opinion of various factors that will determine the return that will be got from a carcass. A buyer has to be able to gauge not only the live weight of the beast, but also the carcass weight, what the beast will weigh when' it is slaughtered and hung. He also has to estimate the quality' of the carcass when it is hung. Superimposed on those two difficulties are factors which are unpredictable. The carcass value of a sheep may be; reduced by bruising or by its having been bitten by a dog or prodded with a' stick on its way to market, but that damage may not be apparent to the purchaser when he is estimating its carcass value. Some carcasses that at auction appear to be suitable . for human consumption, are found, on slaughter, to be suffering disease that requires that they be condemned. A glandular condition in ewe mutton makes it. unsuitable for export to Great Britain because of British food standards, although carcasses so affected are accepted for local consumption. All those difficulties confront the butchers competing for stock at auction. On top of that there is the possibility of restricted bidding,

I offer no solutions of these problems; they are inherent in the industry. I merely mention them in passing to (show that the industry is beset with great difficulties. This is -a measure to amend the Meat Export Con trol Act, whichwasenacted in 1935 and amended in 1938 at the instance of a government with' which I was associated. That1 act '- "established the Australian Meat Board;'" on "which the producers' representatives' are a substantial majority.' The board : has limited authority, but it performs an important function in advising the' Government and in exercising some control on the export meat trade. It has nothing' to do with the . local', trade. This' measure is also called a Meat Export Control Bill, but it contains nothing to' reveal that the activities ' of 'the Australian Meat Board are to be confined to export meat. On the contrary,- , it appearstome, as a layman, quite clear that the legislation will give the board unqualified authority "to deal with any meat. The export side is by far the smaller part of the. meat trade.. If my memory is . correct, before the war' 83 per cent, of the meat produced in Australia was consumed locally, and 17 per cent., was exported. I believe; . that' during the war the quantity ofmeat exported fell to about 10 per cent, of that produced. So the home trade is overwhelmingly the more important. Yet this measure, which sets up a board to control the export of meat, vests the board with power, which, unless the English language does not mean what I think it means, will enable it to deal with all or any meat produced in Australia. That brings me to the point that I am obliged to make. I regret that the Minister's second-reading speech was not more explanatory of this most important measure. I have carefully studied the speech several times with the knowledge of a person whose livelihood is the meat industry, but I say frankly that I have been unable to get a picture of the intended functions of the board. This Parliament should not be required to legislate on this most important subject without a complete knowledge of the purposes for which the bill has been introduced. The Minister stated that the Australian Meat Board will have authority to expend large sums of money, but failed to explain to the House the intended functions of the body. I hope that he will repair that omission when he replies to the. objections which honorable members on this side of the chamber have raised. It has become quite evident on this bill, as on the Wheat Export Charge Bill, that Government supporters do not propose to speak. Some of them represent rural constituencies, hut they have refrained from taking part in 'this debate just as they remained silent during the' debate on the Wheat Export Charge Bill.

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