Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 24 February 1977
Page: 436

Mr KEATING (Blaxland) -The Opposition is certainly sympathetic to the terms of the matter of public importance introduced by the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter), which relates to:

The plight of Australia 's beef producers.

I might say that throughout the period that the Labor Government was in office we were always conscious of that situation and we were interested in the Australian beef industry. One wonders why the honourable member for Kennedy should introduce such a matter of public importance, particularly at this time. His remarks probably gave him away, because when referring to the reconstructed Australian Meat Board he said:

If the composition were announced before lunchtime today it would not be too soon.

In other words, he is saying that his own Government has been tardy in setting up that organisation.

Mr Katter - Read the rest of it.

Mr KEATING - Let us look at what the Land newspaper had to say on 1 7 December. It carries an article headed: 'Sinclair Warned' with the subheading: 'UFWA in uproar over delays on marketing decisions '.

Mr Baillieu - Talk sense.

Mr Katter -Read the rest of it.

Mr KEATING - Mr Deputy Speaker,I do not intend to be interrupted all afternoon. I listened to the honourable member for Kennedy in silence and I want the same respect from honourable members opposite. The article headed: Sinclair Warned ' reads as follows:

Speed up decisions on important rural matters- or be sacked ... the United Farmers and Woolgrowers' Association put this ultimatum this week to the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, . . . particularly with suggested meat and wool marketing reforms.

The honourable member for Kennedy said that an announcement should be made as to the composition of the reconstructed Meat Board. That organisation has not even been established yet, much less the composition of it announced. The honourable member also talked about the fact that cattle producers are the victims in terms of export returns. Indeed they are. What did his Government do?

Mr Katter - A damned sight more than your Government did. You destroyed them.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member for Kennedy has already made his speech on this matter of public importance, and I suggest that he does not interject during the speech of the honourable member for Blaxland. I call the honourable member for Blaxland.

Mr KEATING - The Government lifted the meat inspection charges and the Opposition made it plain that that money would go directly to the exporters and not to the producers, and that in fact has been the case. Now the Government is crying about the fact that the producers are getting nothing. The honourable member for Kennedy is trying to save his skin up in northern Queensland, while the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), a member of his own Party, will do absolutely nothing about the reconstruction of the Meat Board and will not do anything substantial about the state of the beef industry.

Let us look at the record. When Labor was in government we granted $39.6m directly for carry-on loans to the beef industry and we provided for a further $8m in our last Budget, making a total of $47.5m. Yet all that has come to fruition after all the promises of the halcyon days of the 1975 election campaign, when the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party were running all over Australia making wild promises, is a States Grants (Beef Industry) Bill which provides $ 15m in carry-on loans. Yet honourable members opposite have the hide and the temerity to criticise us for making $47.5m available to the beef industry. I think we should just recall for a moment what the Minister for Primary Industry said during the election campaign. I shall read from an article in the Australian of 18 August 1975 which is headed: Sinclair puts plan to save the beef industry' and it reads:

The program calls for carry-on finance for beef producers, claiming the present $39.6m government allocation is inadequate. It is understood the Country Party wants at least $ 100m lent to producers at 4 per cent interest with an initial 2-year interest moratorium.

The Minister has said other things to which I shall refer. This is a report which appeared in another newspaper:

Beef crisis is a social and economic crisis', says Ian Sinclair.

The time is rapidly passing for the Australian Government to take action to relieve the position of the Australian beef industry . . .'

The Government has been in office now for just on 2 years yet we have not seen any substantial improvement in the Australian beef industry. Let us look at exports. Seventy per cent of Australia 's beef exports go to the United States and 52 per cent of United States imports come from Australia. The United States is our only export market for some categories of meat, particularly that which comes from the Northern Territory and from Queensland. When the Minister for Primary Industry went to Canada in the middle of last year he was instrumental in having increased quotas placed upon the import of Australian beef into the United States. I shall read a report from Ottawa which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of 1 7 June:

The Australian Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, told Canadian officials today he was concerned that Australian beef was being re-exported from Canada to the United States at less than home market prices.

In short he was saying: 'My producers back home are dumping beef on you'. That is the long and short of it. As Minister for Primary Industry he went outside this country and put his own beef industry in to the Canadian officials who very quickly took the cue, as did the United States Department of Agriculture in an election year, and shoved the quotas back on. The blame for that can be laid right at the door of the Minister for Primary Industry. Yet the honourable member for Kennedy, like a humbug, talks about the state of the beef industry but is not prepared to take his own Minister to task. All he says is that the Minister has not appointed some people to a board which has not yet been established. That is all he has had to say.

Let me deal with a couple of other matters concerning the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Here is another excellent example of the shoddy way in which the Government has treated the Australian beef industry and the interests of beef producers in this country. I refer honourable members to a story which appeared in the Australian Financial Review last Friday which is headed: 'How 60 million lb of beef got lost at dinner'. The article is written by Robert Haupt from Washington. This is a real pearl of a story and it demonstrates the complete incompetence which the Prime Minister displays when he goes overseas. The article reads:

It was following that dinner that a small, select group of men sat down in a spirit of good intentions to thrash out one of the issues then clouding Australian-American relations: beef imports.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz first raised the topic.

Attending the dinner were the President of the United States, Earl Butz, the Prime Minister, Henry Kissinger, and the Australian Ambassador to the United States. The article goes on to say:

In any event, the ball was in the Australian court. Just what was the complaint?

Here they are sitting down after dinner and asking the Australian Prime Minister, who professes an interest in his own beef industry, and the Australian Ambassador, their basic complaint on beef because the United States Administration would like to try to do something about it. Haupt goes on to say:

The real answer, at that point, was an arbitrary ruling by United States Customs, including in the quota year 1975 34.4 million lb of Australian meat that Australia says arrived in 1974.

That was, quite simply, meat that Australia felt it was entitled to ship to the United States.

Here were the United States Secretary of State and Secretary of Agriculture at least pretending to lend a sympathetic ear to a gripe Australia has had for more than a year.

The Australians fumbled the chance. No one could remember the correct figure for the amount of meat involved.

The Prime Minister left it to the Ambassador, Mr Nicholas Parkinson, who left it to the Australian senior trade representative to Washington, Mr Jack Smith, who, having no one further down the line to leave it to, came up with what was apparently just an inspired guess: 60 million lb.

The Prime Minister, who'd had briefing books on the subject, and the Ambassador, who'd been ultimately in charge of negotiations in the period leading up to the visit, did not demur.

They agreed with the figure of 60 million lb. The article continues:

Neither, for that matter, did Secretary Butz or Secretary Kissinger. Kissinger made some sympathetic noises about having a look at the question, and that was it for the night.

Except for one thing. Leaving, Smith asked Fraser what were his instructions. Fraser replied curtly that he should go for double.

That shows the level of competence displayed by this Government in the United States in relation to the Australian beef industry. When the American President, the American Secretary of State and the American Secretary of Agriculture sit down with the Australian Prime Minister and the Australian Ambassador and ask them what their problem is in relation to United States imports of Australian beef, not one of the 2 Australian representatives knew what was the point at issue or that the figure was 34 million lb instead of 60 million lb. So what finally happened was that the United States Administration caught up with the facts. It then realised that neither Fraser as Prime Minister, nor Parkinson as Ambassador, knew what was at issue. The United States Administration just politely and promptly dropped it. To add insult to injury, the newspaper article continues by stating:

In fact, the way the Prime Minister raised it - that was the beef issue- was to ask the President as the discussions were being wound up whether it would be OK with him if he (Fraser) were to say they had discussed beef.

In other words, the Prime Minister did not discuss beef with the United States President but asked the President whether he would agree to say that he had. If that is not showing contempt for your own beef industry I do not know what is. Later in the year the Prime Minister had the temerity, because the National Country Party was kicking at him, to write a dirty letter to Ford in the middle of an election year and asked Ford to go back on the quota decision, after Fraser had asked Ford to include in the communique that they had discussed beef when in fact they had not. Yet this humbug comes in here to talk about the beef industry. He has never done anything positive about agricultural marketing in his life. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) has just turned down the Australian Wool Corporation in the finality of the Corporation's Clans, and honourable members know this. Yet h e has the indecency to criticise us for what happened with wool. We fixed the floor price plan for wool and allocated $3 50m on the line to prop up the Australian wool industry. We set up the marketing proposals for the wheat industry. We have done the only substantial things that have been done for the beef industry. Yet the honourable member crawls into this House today and claims that the Government is sympathetic to the beef industry. Let me quote what was said by the honourable member's leader because Mr Anthony's remarks were quoted by the honourable member for Kennedy during the debate. This lays the matter to rest. I quote directly from a speech made by the Leader of the National Country Party in 1973. Honourable members should listen to this. He stated:

The Country Party believes that Government policy inasmuch as it relates to the beef industry should be directed to:

(a)   the encouragement of production.

I stress those words 'the encouragement of production'. He went on to state:

If, as appears likely, a world beef shortage is developing, then Australia must respond in the most effective manner possible to meet this position.

Of course, the Liberal-Country Parry Government up to that time had encouraged beef production in Australia. They have now found that markets are not available for it. What we are facing now is a massive social crisis in some sections of the beef industry. There is a need for firm reconstruction policy, a lead which the Party of the honourable member for Kennedy is incapable of giving.

Let us get down to the real issues. The present Government has been in office since December 1973. It has had all that time to do something firm about the plight of the Australian beef industry. It has removed the meat inspection levy and handed the benefit squarely to meat exporters and not to producers. We told the Government that that would happen, yet it still gave it to the exporters because the real friends of this Government are not the beef producers but the meat companies who are friendly with the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume), who is on the board of one such company, and the Minister for Primary Industry. The Government was happy to give them a little more to go into their pockets. If honourable members do not believe me they should refer to the statistics made available to this House by the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) relating to the profits of the meat exporting companies this year. Those profits have skyrocketed in the past 12 months because of the Government's policy. But where is the producer? The producer is left destitute because all that the Government has done since it came to office has been to creep in here with an amendment to a Labor Party piece of legislation by which it will provide $ 1 5m in carry on loans to the beef industry, whereas the Labor Party when in government provided $47.5m to that industry. We have had enough of the Government's humbug, its duplicity and its deceit. It has let the beef producers down. It has consistently let agriculture down. We will not tolerate or let the Government get away with this snide attempt to exonerate the Minister for Primary Industry from his task.

Every rural newspaper in this country is critical of the behaviour of the Minister for Primary Industry. They say he is lax in his job; that he is incompetent; that he cannot be trusted overseas; that he sells industry down the drain. They are correct. The point is that if the Government wants to be credible on agriculture it needs to develop some sensible marketing policy, some stabilisation policies and some readjustment policies. All the Government has done in all the years it has been in government is to foster more production, thereby creating over-supply. Ultimately we have seen industries and families go destitute. So enough of the Government's humbug. We on this side of the House support the Australian beef industry and are sympathetic to its plight. But we will not watch Government supporters come in here and try to exonerate an incompetent Minister for his incompetence and his lack of sympathy for an industry which is in dire economic circumstances.

Suggest corrections