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Wednesday, 17 November 1976
Page: 2765

Mr HUNT (Gwydir) (Minister for Health) - by leave- The House will be pleased to learn that the Government has agreed on the need to proceed urgently with the contraction of a high security off-shore animal quarantine station. Subject to satisfactory arrangements concerning the site, the station will be established on Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Mr Kelly -Hear, hear!

Mr HUNT -That is the site that was recommended in 1973 by the Public Works Committee. I am sure that the honourable member for Wakefield will be delighted with that decision. The Government is anxious to ensure that maximum opportunities exist for Cocos Islanders to be employed in the construction of the station and that it will be of direct economic benefit to them. The station will be used for the importation of genetically superior animals which, for quarantine reasons, are now prohibited entry into this country. The Station will therefore be instrumental in the development and proliferation of livestock herds which are better adapted to our environmental conditions. The result will be increased unit productivity, reduced costs of pest control, and reduced production losses arising from pests and parasites.

Mr Lusher - Will it get rid of the Labor Party?

Mr HUNT -These factors are of general importance but are particularly relevant to our vast beef producing operations in the northern areas of Australia. For the cattle industry alone, it has been estimated that tick eradication measures and production losses from that pest approximate $40m per annum. That sum is far less than it cost the industry as a result of the other pest to which the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) referred. Further, increasing costs are reducing the use of tickicides with consequential and compounding adverse effects on productivity. The development of genetically tick resistant herds is a practical answer. This has become an economic necessity.

Under present quarantine arrangements, live cattle, sheep and pigs are a prohibited importation from all countries except New Zealand. Animals of most genetic value to Australia are not generally procurable from that country. The risk of disease now precludes direct importation from such countries as Africa, Japan, Indonesia and India where proven tick resistant strains are available. When the off-shore station is available it will be possible to arrange importation from any of these countries without disease risk. The establishment of the station is therefore the only means by which Australia can obtain direct access to the best genetic material available in a number of countries, without exposing our livestock industries to an otherwise unacceptable disease risk. This is a practical and responsible approach to the needs of Australia and the realities of the disease risk which we constantly face.

The proposal has the strong support of the Australian Agricultural Council and of agricultural interests throughout Australia. I might point out that Australia is the only major agricultural livestock producer which does not have access to facilities of this kind. We are therefore at a relative disadvantage with our competitors on world markets until the station is established. The Government's decision has been made in the light of the direct and substantial benefit which will accrue to Australia's livestock industries and hence to Australia and Australians generally. It is the Government's intention that negotiations with the Clunies-Ross Estate on all issues concerning the availability of the site for the station should be commenced as soon as possible.

I look forward to an early and satisfactory resolution of all issues so that the project can be commenced without delay. Construction costs are estimated at $6.36m which it is expected would be spread over three consecutive financial years. Commencement of construction would be subject to availability of funds.

Mr Lionel Bowen -I seek leave to make a short statement on this matter.

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