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Wednesday, 11 November 1964

Senator CORMACK (Victoria) (12:15 PM) . - I know that honorable senators may tend to be irritated at this early hour in the morning when we have a vast stock of bills on the slips.

Senator Wright - I do not think the honorable senator is entitled to reflect on the equanimity of the chamber.

Senator CORMACK - I thank Senator Wright for his reminder. While waiting to return to the Senate after the suspension for supper I was thinking about the origin of these late sittings and the way in which bills about which the Government may feel sensitive from time to time always seem to pile up. I think it is probably a tradition inherited from the House of Commons where the government of the day would wait until reports began to seep in from the shires and the country indicating that conditions for hunting were good and that the foxes were getting good thick coats. At about that time members would get itchy feet and proceed to drift away until such time as the Government could get its bills through without difficulty.

The Leader of the Government (Senator Paltridge) reminds me by the determination with which he is bringing in these bills tonight that he has an historical precedent for his action. I think he is behaving like an 18th century Prime Minister. However, all that is by the way. I must turn my attention to the Bill.

I suggest that it is a curiously deceptive Bill. Looking through it one gains the impression that it is a simple Bill designed to ratify an agreement between the Commonwealth and South Australia. The Bill concerns the transfer of some 24 meat inspectors from the employment of South Australia to Commonwealth employment. The Bill relates, I imagine, to a couple of small exporting works in South Australia, ohe near Port Lincoln and another at Gepps Cross. I do not know whether it is a coincidence, but honorable senators may have noticed that this morning a dozen camels were found wandering around the Gepps Cross killing works. This may be the reason why the Commonwealth is anxious to get these 24 meat inspectors in South Australia on to its pay roll.

I pass on that information simply to get honorable senators, or at least some of them, into a good humour for what I am about to say. This is a deceptive Bill for the reason that I now make plain. In the last session honorable senators will recollect that we passed a bill to establish the Commonwealth Meat Board. One of the things that concerned me at that time - I am sure it concerned other honorable senators as well - was how the Government would be able to control the Board. I do not have the slightest doubt that this Bill is one of the first examples of the influence exerted within the Commonwealth by this newly established Australian Meat Board. One reason given for the establishment of the Board was that it was to meet conditions laid down by the United States of America for the admission of meat into that country. The United States had stipulated that it would not permit the entry of any meat from overseas unless it carried a certificate that it complied with standards of inspection laid down by the United States. I am not grumbling about that because the level of the inspection in Australia of meat for export has always been the responsibility of the Department of Primary Industry and Commonwealth meat inspectors. So if the standard of Commonwealth inspecting has been reaised it has been done as a result of insistence on the part of the United States that certain standards should be maintained. This is an interesting exercise in the use of the Commonwealth's power under section 51 of the Constitution - the external affairs power.

Not only has the attention of the Commonwealth been engaged in relation to the export meat pact, but it has now turned its attention towards the examination and the inspection of meat for domestic consumption in Australia. It began this operation first by trying to persuade the Australian Agricultural Council to agree on some uniformity about this matter. Not being successful in obtaining this uniformity, it has now set about trying, through the back door, to extend the Commonwealth's jurisdiction to the inspection of meat, both for export and for domestic consumption. On the face of it, this pursuit of uniformity may look a good thing, but I shall put the other side of the case in a moment.

The interesting thing is that the only State that has consented to follow this procedure is the State of South Australia, where there are 24 meat inspectors. I may be corrected on this point by Senator Wright, but I think the Commonwealth has always carried out meat inspection for the State of Tasmania. However, the circumstances in the States of Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria are not the same. When one deals with the problems of Victoria - and that is the State that I represent in the Senate - one is dealing with meat inspectors under the supervision of the Health Commission in Victoria. There are over 250 meat inspectors in Victoria, not 24 as there are in South Australia. For example, the matter raised by Senator Cooke about fitting the 24 meat inspectors from South Australia into Commonwealth employment as regards seniority is going to be a vexed problem when one attempts to fit 250 inspectors from Victoria into the Commonwealth employment. Perhaps there are 300 or 400 meat inspectors in New South Wales. I do not know how many there are in Queensland. This is not an easy problem to solve. Clause 5, sub-clause (1.) of the Bill provides -

The Commonwealth may enter into an agreement with a State or with a State meat authority with respect to the inspection of meat for or on behalf of the State or the Slate meat authority ....

It does not confine its ambit to South Australia by any manner of means at all.

The problem of inspecting meat for export and the problem of inspecting meat for domestic consumption are quite different. In addition to an inspection of the viscera and a few other requirements laid down by the United States of America, meat for export from Australia has to conform to certain standards laid down by Australia itself. For example, the meat shall not bc bruised and there. shall not be any cuts in it. Also, lymphatic glands of one sort or another should not be in certain meat. For example, if there are lymphatic glands in lamb, that meat is not fit for export. It is also true that this meat is not fit for domestic consumption unless it is properly inspected.

The point is that any State is entitled to lay down requirements for meat for domestic consumption and to have its own supervision, not the supervision of the Com?monwealth or the standards of the Commonwealth. As it seems to me, the States are entitled to lay down the standards for meat for domestic consumption themselves and they should be able to inspect it themselves, which, in fact, they do. One can appreciate the expressed reluctance on the part of Victoria to allow itself to be manoeuvred into the situation where the Commonwealth meat inspectors, under the control of the Department of Primary Industry, will take over the inspection of its meat.

As I said before, there are over 250 meat inspectors in Victoria. The problem of meat inspection is not the same with meat for export as it is with meat for domestic consumption. For example, the meat inspectors in Victoria have to hold a certificate from the Royal Health Society for meat inspection. This is up to the level of, if not higher than, the requirements demanded of meat inspectors by the Commonwealth Government.

This is an interesting story which honorable senators might care to bear in mind: When the United States laid down the conditions for meat inspection, a great number of meat operators began to come in and take advantage of this remunerative market in the United States. So the curious situation arose where the meat works in Victoria and Queensland, which were concentrating solely on the production of meat for domestic consumption, began to operate on the export market. That necessitated the intrusion at that point, and properly so, of Commonwealth meat inspectors, but it caused a problem for the meat operators. They were being forced into the position of first putting stock through for killing for domestic consumption and then putting another run of animals through for killing for export. This meant that there were two sets of inspectors, some being employed at one stage and others being employed at another stage. In order to overcome the problem, the various State Ministers for Health and Minister for Agriculture agreed with the Commonwealth Government upon a rationalisation system. They agreed that in order to maintain the throughput of animals State meat inspectors would be allowed to carry out the inspection of export meat under the supervision of the Commonwealth veterinary officer and that Commonwealth meat inspectors could do some of the inspection of meat killed for domestic consumption, again under the supervision of the Commonwealth veterinary officer.

This situation is now beginning to be distorted unilaterally, because it is obvious from the Bill under discussion that the Commonwealth intends, if possible, to take over all meat inspection for the whole of Australia. I think that is a dubious affair. One honorable senator opposite, speaking on another matter the other day, referred to what he described as a classic illustration of Parkinson's law. This is another Parkinson's law job. We shall have an enormously large Commonwealth meat inspection system before very long. I do not know whether this should be called an operation of Parkinson's law. Perhaps we might more aptly take a phrase out of the report of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, which I mentioned during the debate on the Estimates. This might be compared with the feed back mechanism in rabbit increase. Another way to put it is to say that, watered or showered with Commonwealth revenue, you get ovulation. I think that was another phrase that was used in the report. The more rain that falls on the grass, the faster the rabbits breed. This is going to be another operation of that sort. I suggest that that is the background to the situation.

Things start off in a small way. This started off with an agreement with the United States of America. Then came the gradual extension of the foreign affairs power of the Commonwealth to a matter which was totally unrelated to that power Now the Commonwealth is extending its grasp to take control of the entire meat production of Australia. Having said that; I have said all I propose to say except that I do not know how we are going to feed into the system another 500 or 600 meat inspectors in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. The problem is not merely one of absorbing the 24 meat inspectors in South Australia.

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