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Friday, 15 November 1935

Senator BRENNAN (Victoria) (Assistant Minister) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The object of this measure is to provide for the control of the export of meat. The principle of export control has already been applied to dairy produce, dried fruits, canned fruits, and wine, and it is now proposed to extend it to meat and meat products.

Although the basic principle proposed to be applied to meat is similar to that applied to other primary products there are differences, in regard both to the circumstances under which control is sought, and the extent of the powers proposed for the board. Export control has usually resulted from representations by the industries concerned. This was illustrated yesterday in the discussion on the dried fruits industry. In respect of meat it has resulted from the negotiations recently conducted in London between the British and dominion Governments. The circumstances under which these negotiations were conducted are well known to honorable senators, but a brief review of them may indicate the necessity for the present measure.

For a number of years the United Kingdom has been practically the only world market for meat. Ten years ago, European countries imported approximately 300,000 tons of different classes of meat, but those imports have declined until they are now considerably less than 100,000 tons. For some years prior to the Ottawa Conference, all exporting countries were forced to concentrate on the British market, with the result that that market became glutted, low prices prevailed, and a general condition of disorganization existed. During the years preceding the Ottawa Conference, Australia's beef exports fluctuated without any material expansion, but mutton and lamb supplies were on the increase, and Australia had become an important factor in the supply of mutton and lamb to British consumers. As a result of the agreements reached at Ottawa, supplies of meat from foreign countries were reduced, market conditions improved, and the way was opened for greater supplies from the dominions. Increased supplies of beef, mutton and lamb from the dominions practically equalled the reduction of foreign supplies, and, from the point of view of the British producer, market conditions for beef were not greatly improved. This condition also had its effect upon prices received for beef supplied by the dominions. During the second half of 1934, the general position was causing considerable anxiety to the Commonwealth Government because of the conflicting interests of the dominions and foreign suppliers, and the existence of the agreement with Argentina. Since July, 1934, the British Government has had the right to regulate meat supplies from the dominions, subject to their being granted a corresponding share of the import trade. Differences of opinion regarding the effect of the AngloArgentine agreement on the rights of the dominions rendered personal consultation between British and dominion Ministers imperative. There were two chief points at issue when the delegation sailed from Australia, namely -

(a)   The proposed limitation of Australia's total supplies of beef, mutton and lamb; and

(b)   The danger of a check to Australia's right freely to ship beef in a. chilled, instead of a frozen condition.

Honorable senators are aware that the negotiations in London were attended with gratifying success from Australia's point of view. The Australian delegation was able to ensure a market in the United Kingdom during 1935 for all the supplies which are available for export, and Australia has been able to maintain the remarkable expansion which has taken place in exports since 1932. In addition to the satisfactory result for all meat during 1935, an arrangement has been made in regard to mutton and lamb for the year 1936, under which Australia will supply up to 90,000 tons of these meats. If we succeed in supplying this quantity, Australia will have increased her supplies to the extent of 55 per cent. above the 1932 level, and 20 per cent. above the Ottawa base year - 1931-32 - which was thought at the time to be a figure beyond which a substantial increase was very unlikely. The supplies of beef from Australia in 1935 will exceed those of 1932 by 75 per cent., and those of the Ottawa year - 1931-32 - by 49 per cent. No arrangement has yet been concluded for beef beyond December, 1935. Negotiations in regard to future beef supplies are still proceeding.

The export of chilled beef from Australia is of recent origin. Prior to 1934 it practically did not exist. In 1934, Australia's chilled beef supplies totalled 2,750 tons. When the delegation sailed from Australia in February last, the threatened check to chilled beef shipments was causing great concern. However, the efforts of the Government were successful in ensuring an unrestricted market for this commodity during the progress of the negotiations, and it is expected that the total supplies this year will be approximately 12,000 tons. Thus, the situation gives grounds for gratification, because we have so far ensured a market for all available supplies. However, there are other features of the situation which have been emphasized during the negotiations. It is the desire of the British Government that not only should there be some knowledge of the total supplies which are to be made available in any given year, but that there should be some regulation of those supplies during the year to ensure that the market shall be supplied according to its requirements. New Zealand has a Meat Board, which has been able to regulate supplies, and the South American meat trade is regulated in a very detailed maner. Hitherto, regulation of this type has not been applied to Australian shipments. It has been, felt that, to make future regulation of the British market fully effective, cooperation between all the governments and the British administration is essential. With this objective, a definite proposal arose out of the London negotiations as follows: -

There should be an Empire meat council, representative of the United Kingdom and other Empire countries interested in the supply of meat to the United Kingdom market. The functions of this council would be to consider the well-being of the Empire meat trade, and to review the working of any agreement which might be in existence.

There should also be a standing meat conference of all countries supplying meat to the United Kingdom market, to secure appropriate regulation of the flow of meat on to the British market in the light of supplies and of information regarding the trend of prices and production.

The Empire body would be quite independent of, and in no way subordinate to, the general body. Neither body would have any statutory power to interfere with the total volume of supplies from any dominion. Their function would be to regulate the market within the limits of government policy and the provisions of existing agreements.

The constitution of an Empire meat council and a standing meat conference was strongly urged during the negotiations by the British and New Zealand delegates, and it was also urged that there should be in each dominion a meat board affiliated with the Empire meat council. Without such a board, suitably constituted and with the necessary statutory powers, the Australian meat industry would be placed at a serious disadvantage, as compared with that of other countries, in attempting to give effect to any agreement that may be drawn up, and in ensuring that the utmost advantage should be taken of market conditions from time to time.

For about eighteen months the Commonwealth Government has had the assistance, in its negotiations, of a voluntary Meat Advisory Committee, composed of representatives of producers and exporters from each State. This Advisory Committee has sat in conference with Federal and State Ministers, and has given very valuable advice and support to the Government in the conduct of negotiations. The position has now beenreached, however, when some more definite and permanent form of organization is called for. It is necessary to establish a board, with statutory powers of a limited character, which will be so composed, and clothed with such powers, that it will be able to protect the interests of the Australian meat export industry and encourage its further development.

At the Commonwealth Meat Conference, held on the 5th October, 1935, which was attended by Commonwealth and State Ministers, and members of the Commonwealth Meat Advisory Committee, con sideration was given to a recommendation of the Advisory Committee that an Australian Meat Board be set up with power -

(1)   to appoint a London representative ;

(2)   to regulate shipments;

(3)   to issue licences to export;

(4)   to formulate quotas.

That recommendation had been considered and affirmed at conferences representative of the industry in each State; in some cases the resolutions of the State conferences went further and recommended a board with somewhat wider powers. These resolutions were also placed before the Meat Conference, together with a draft bill based upon the original recommendation of the Advisory Committee. The principal decision of the conference was that a board having defined statutory powers should be established. It also dealt in detail with the constitution and functions of the board. This bill has accordingly been introduced to give effect to the decision of the conference, and to provide for the appointment of a board with the powers necessary to meet the position that exists.

It is proposed that the board shall consist of eighteen members. One member shall be appointed to represent the Commonwealth Government. The meat producers will have nine representatives - one for each State, to be nominated by the stock-producer members of the Meat Advisory Committee in the States; one to be appointed on the nomination of the stock-producer members of the Southern Riverina Meat Advisory Committee to represent the meat producers of that district ; one to be appointed on the nomination of the Northern Territory Lessees Association to represent the meat producers of that territory; and one to be appointed on the nomination of the Australian Pig Council to represent the pig producers of Australia.

Senator Collings - Why will the Riverina have a special representative?

Senator BRENNAN - The Riverina, for purposes of stock supplies, is practically a separate geographical area, as in this respect it cannot be considered to be definitely a part of Victoria or New South Wales. There will be three representatives of the meat-exporting companies - one for each of the States of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland; these will be nominated by the Minister, after consultation, wherever practicable, with the Meat Exporters Association in each of those States. There will be one member appointed to represent co-operative meat-exporting organizations.Four members will be appointed to represent publicly-owned abattoirs and freezing works which deal with export, such members to be persons occupying for the time being the following positions : -

(1)   Metropolitan Meat Industry Com missioner, New South Wales.

(2)   Chairman, Queensland Meat Industry Board.

(3)   Manager, Government Produce Export Department, South Australia.

(4)   General Manager, Western Australian Government Meat Works, Wyndham.

The present occupants of these positions are Messrs. Merrett (New South Wales), Sunners (Queensland), Pope (South Australia), andFarrell (Western Australia). These gentlemen will be members of the board. The constitution of the board is designed to give representationto all sections of the industry, with a balance of representation on the side of the producers.

An executive of seven members has also been provided for, as it has been felt that if all executive actshad to be decided upon at meetings of a board consisting of eighteen members, the operations of the board would be unduly hampered. A special beef committee, to be appointed from within the board, has been provided for, to ensure that the complex problems surrounding the beef industry shall receive the special consideration that is warranted.

The provision upon which the whole success of the bill depends is that no meat shall be exported from Australia except under licence. Such licences will be issued by the Minister or a prescribed person to act on his behalf, but the board shall have power to recommend to the Minister the terms and conditions upon which licences to export meat shall be granted. It will be competent for the

Minister to refuse to grant a licence, or to decline to approve of any conditions laid down by the board. This is the principle which has been adopted in other export control acts, and it has worked in a highly satisfactory manner. In this case, however, control is not to extend beyond the powers necessary to regulate shipments within the limits of any export programme which may be fixed from time to time. Control of other products includes, not, only power to regulate shipments, but also the power to determine through whom such products are to be sold, and, in respect of dried fruits, canned fruits and wine, to require that such products shall not be sold overseas at less than the authorized price. The boards set up in respect of other Australian industries exercise very wide powers, and may, if the producers so desire, assume full marketing control over exports.

The main objective of the Australian Meat Board will be so to arrange clearances that full advantage maybe taken of overseas markets, consistent with the need for ensuring that the full season's output shall be disposed of. The bill does not compel producers to export any propor tion of their output. They will be at liberty to decide whether they will sell in Australia or in overseas markets. If they elect to sell in Australia they will not be subject to control by the board in any way. Theboard will be financed by a method similar to that adopted in other acts, that is to say, by a levy on meat exported. Provision is made in a complementary measure for a levy not exceeding id. per quarter on beef, and1d. per carcase on mutton, lamb, pork and veal, with corresponding charges on other classes of meat exported. These rates may be reduced, but not increased, by regulation. In any case, the maximum rates are but a small impost on the industry. On the basis of export during the year ended the 30th June, 1934, the maximum levieswould have amounted to, approximately, £25,000. Obviously, that sum is very much larger than will be required to finance the administrative expenses of the board, but it is intended that it shallbe empowered to devote portion of its funds to defraying the cost of promoting the sale of

Australian meat overseas, by advertising and by undertaking any experiments calculated to . improvethe quality of meat intended for export, other provisions in the bill can be dealt with more appropriately in committee. I commend the measure to the favorable consideration of the Senate.

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