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Wednesday, 3 October 1956

Mr MACKINNON (Corangamite) . - I do not propose to deal with the speech made by the honorable member .for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) except to say, Mr. Chairman, that I think it was most regrettable and distinctly to his discredit that he presumed on your well-known generosity in granting us a good deal of latitude in this debate by indulging in a certain amount of subtle propaganda on behalf of a contender in the very difficult Suez Canal problem. I think that the people who heard his remarks have been given reasonable cause to believe that his sympathies lie very much with one side in the dispute. That side is not one that generally receives much admiration from people in Australia.

Mr Cairns - I rise to order. I regard that remark as offensive. I made it quite clear in my remarks-

The CHAIRMAN - Order! If the honorable member claims that he has been misrepresented, he may make a personal explanation.

Mr Cairns - The remark of the honorable member for Corangamite is offensive to me, and I ask that it be withdrawn.

The CHAIRMAN - I did not hear the remark. What is the remark to which you object?

Mr Cairns - The honorable member said that my remarks showed quite clearly -which side I was on in the dispute.

The CHAIRMAN - I rule that the remark was not unparliamentary, and nothing need be withdrawn.

Mr MACKINNON - I shall not proceed further along that line, but will leave the matter to the public of Australia to judge. After listening, during this debate, to speeches concerning the activities of various departments, I wish to direct my remarks to a department which I consider to be the most important of all, having regard to the present economic position of this country. I refer to the Department of Primary Industry. 1 think it will be generally agreed that, by the nature of its activities, this department renders the greatest assistance to our primary industries and, one could almost say, thus makes it possible for other departments to function. 1 have the honour to represent a great rural constituency, in which a diversity of primary production is carried out. I frankly believe that many farmers, not only of this country, but throughout the world, have an instinctive suspicion of people in offices who are supposed to assist them with their various tasks. I shall refer now to some of the activities of this new department that was established last year and which, 1 believe, are of vast importance to our national economy. The importance of our primary industries is evident from the fact that, during the last two years, the average income from our export trade was £776,000,000, of which £643,000,000 was derived from our exported primary products. That was approximately 84 per cent. The remaining 16 per cent, of our export income was derived from the export of minerals and certain manufactured goods.

As this is the first occasion on which estimates for this new department have been submitted, I think it would be as well for us to consider some of the department's activities, so that those who are interested in our great primary industries can gain an idea of the ways in which the department can assist them. The main functions of the department come under five headings. There is a section dealing with marketing and industry stabilization, and there is a Division of Agricultural Production. Another very valuable instrumentality is the Division of Agricultural Economics. Liaison between the

Commonwealth and the States is maintained by the Standing Committee of the Australian Agricultural Council. Then there is another section, that dealing with fisheries, which gained added significance as the result of legislation that was passed during the last sessional period. There is also an export inspection service, which performs very important work in relation to exports. The administration of the various marketing boards is a task of great magnitude, lt is, of course, expected that the boards that are appointed will carry out their several tasks without undue interference from the Government, but-

Mr Pollard - The Government has muzzled them.

Mr MACKINNON - Although the previous Labour government interfered quite a lot with them, this Government has not done so. The boards that are charged with the responsible task of disposing of our enormous surpluses of primary produce have at their beck and call the assistance and advice that is available from the Department of Primary Industry. As you can well understand, Mr. Chairman, because of frequently changing world demand and world prices, a very heavy responsibility devolves on government instrumentalities such as the Australian Wheat Board, the Australian Meat Board and, particularly, the Australian Dairy Produce Board. I, personally, have received tremendously valuable assistance from the Department of Primary Industry, particularly the provision of statistical information regarding the markets that exist in various parts of the world for our primary produce, ruling prices, and other information of a like nature. Such information is invaluable to those, such as myself, who bear a responsibility to advise their constituents on problems associated with primary industry.

The information that the department supplied to me relating to the changed set-up in connexion with the export of dairy products was of very great value to me. Many dairy-farmers did not realize fully the change that took place when the British Ministry of Food ceased buying Australian butter and cheese in bulk, and this trade reverted to an ordinary commercial basis. One needed full, detailed knowledge of the position in order to explain to the dairyfarmers, when the first impact of the change-over affected their pockets, just exactly what was happening. 1 should like to acknowledge that I received very valuable assistance from the officers of the department in this connexion. 1 mentioned earlier the Standing Committee of the Australian Agricultural Council. This committee arranges for the State Ministers of Agriculture to meet with the Federal Minister as the Australian Agricultural Council in order to work out a line of co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States in relation to primary production. These meetings are of great value, not only to those engaged in primary industry, but to the community as a whole. But for this liaison, I am convinced that there would be considerable duplication in this field. The Department of Primary Industry also administers grants for extension services.

Mr Pollard - That system was inaugurated by the Chifley Government.

Mr MACKINNON - I do not detract for a moment from the very valuable work that was performed by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) when he was a Minister in the Labour government.

Mr Pollard - Labour provided extension services to the dairying industry for five years, at a cost of £250,000 a year.

Mr MACKINNON - At page 101 of the Estimates, under Division 224, there are set out in detail the various activities of the Department of Primary Industry. I come now to a very important aspect of the department's activities. I refer to the export drive that it is conducting and its efforts to reduce the volume of imports from dollar countries. Honorable members will recollect that, quite recently, this Government provided valuable assistance to the Australian tobacco-growing industry. 1 referred, earlier, to the fact that, as a result of legislation that was passed during the last sessional period, the work of the Fisheries Division in the development of the fishing industry in Australia is now tremendously important. Money to extend its activities was obtained by the sale of the assets of the Australian Whaling Commission in Western Australia, about which we have heard many wails in this chamber. I want to point out that already the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has a very active fisheries research section. 1 feel that some duplication of activity could arise if the fisheries section of the Department of Primary Industry should undertake research into the extension of our fisheries activities around the Australian coast. I know that a decision has not yet been arrived at as to the way in which these activities will be pursued, but I suggest to the Minister that before the final decision is made the matter should be very closely examined to ensure that no duplication occurs of activities in the Department of Primary Industry and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

Another very important activity connected with the development of Australia's export industries concerns the raising of the standards of our export products. Special staffs are engaged in inspecting meat, eggs, and canned, fresh and dried fruits for export. This is a necessary part of the activities of the Department of Trade, and, if it is carried out efficiently, Australia's produce will be recognized abroad as being of a high standard of quality. I appreciated the suggestion inherent in a question asked last week by an honorable member in this chamber. He asked whether it would be possible to establish a standards association, with power to ensure that export products conformed to certain standards, in the same way as similar organizations have done in certain manufacturing countries. I believe that the department should consider the introduction of a scheme of this kind.

I shall close on this note: Whatever the activities of the department may be in the future, the energetic direction of the Minister and the loyal co-operation of his staff have in the past been of great assistance to Australia's primary industries, which need all the help they can get if they are to continue to produce the goods so necessary to increase Australia's overseas reserves. I should like to thank the officers of the Department of Trade publicity for the assistance that they have given me in dealing with some of the tricky problems that arise concerning the stabilization plan, and primary industry generally.

The CHAIRMAN - I now find that the ruling that I gave when the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) was concluding his speech was incorrect. The Tariff Board comes within the administration of the Department of Trade. As the honorable member was just about to conclude his speech when 1 gave my ruling, I do not think that he was unduly inconvenienced.

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