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Wednesday, 24 July 1946

Mr SPEAKER (Hon J S Rosevear (DALLEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Order I I ask {he honorable member to direct his remarks to this bill.

Mr McEWEN - When the Minister replies to the second-reading debate, he should explain to the House what the functions of the Australian Meat Board will really be. He will not satisfy us by telling us how the Government intends the board to function. The real point at issue is the authority that will he vestedin the board by this legislation. In the absence to date of an adequate explanation by the Minister, I am obliged to read the bill and interpret its provisions to the best of my ability.

Ever since I have been an adult, the export value of meat has been lower than the home consumption value. Yet the export value has determined the over-all value of meat. It has not been uncommon during the last few years for deliveries of meat to the markets in Melbourne and Sydney, to exceed by 20 per cent, to 25 per cent, the local demand. Yet the effect of the surplus, no matter how small, has been to depress the whole market to the level of the export prices. The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald), who knows this business very well, will endorse my statement. The Government would be taking a tremendous step forward if it intended, by legislative action,, to separate the values for export meat from the prevailing higher level of values ruling for meat intended for home consumption. However, the Minister did not mention this important matter which .so materially affects the prospects of the live-stock industry. Before we agree to the motion for the second reading, T should like to know whether the Government recognizes that- as one of the problems of the industry, and proposes to deal with it under the authority which it seeks in this bill.All I am able ;to deduce -from my study of this legislation is that the real, intention is not to- perpetuate the functioning of the meat export control authority, but to continue the autocratic control that has been exercised under National Security Regulations. Of course, that intention is in accord with the policy of the Australian Labour party, which is to take control of a product, although it has been produced by individuals on their own initiative, with their own capital and at their own risk, and dispose of it in accordance with Labours political and economic policies. It seems clear, from the proposal to transfer to the new board all the authority which was- exercised by the meat' controller under the National SecurityRegulations that that is the intentions, of the Government. Having substantial majorities in the Senate and the Houseof Representatives, the Government is at liberty, once such a decision has been approved . by caucus, to introduce the necessary legislation and put it on the statute-book. But the Government acts unfairly when, having that intention, it does not inform the Parliament and the meat producers of- the fate which awaits the industry. If the Minister proposes only to .transfer the form of the meat control under National Security Regulations to the Australian Meat Board, let him say so in plain language, and we shall know where we stand. What will be- even better, the electors will know what attitude they should adopt when, at an early date, they, are given an opportunity to voice their opinion on these matters. - The original board, which this bill purports to reconstitute,1 functioned in an advisory capacity. It had a great .preponderance of producerrepresentatives. On the proposed new and smaller board, the producers will have a small majority. The original board, which the Lyons Government established, had complete authority within the ambit of the Meat Export Control Act. The Minister informed meat producers that the reconstituted board is a present from Santa Claus, and 'will enable them to realize one of their earliest aspirations, namely, to have a board with producercontrol. The proposed board is a sham, a farce and a trick. Incorporated in the bill by subtle wording are provisions which will make it completely subservient to the Minister. Its powers will be subject to the directions of the Minister, and its decisions may be vetoed by the chairman, who will be the Minister's nominee.

Mr McDonald - The Minister's decision will become the board's decision.

Mr McEWEN - Exactly. The Minister's decision will be publicized- as the board's decision,' although. on occasions the decision will be the reverse of that which the producer-majority on the board desire. Therefore, let us be sure that the meat producers understand what they will get from the Minister's Christmas stocking. The board will not have any authority, and behind this screen the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, will sit, not readily visible to the producers, but with his hands on the levers controlling the meat and wheat industries. I have never known of legislation which went further to socialize great Australian industries. I listened to lengthy debates in this House about the socialization of interstate airlines and the nationalization of banking but the effect of those bills was trifling compared with the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill and the Meat Export Control Bill. Section 16 of the Meat Export Control Act, as amended, will provide -

The board shall have power on behalf of the Commonwealth and . subject to any direction of the Minister . . ..

That excludes the' board, and establishes the authority 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, pro-, tection, treatment, transfer . and shipment ofany meat, meat product or edible offal purchased by the Commonwealth.

What words could we select from a dictionary which would make it' more clear that the Minister would be placed in complete control of this industry and decide the fate of all the meat producers'? Doubtless, we shall be told that the Minister is a benevolent gentleman, for he ordered that wheat should be provided for the manufacture of dog biscuits at a time when children- -

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