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Wednesday, 19 May 1965

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) . - We are now discussing three Bills. One of them is to regulate the collection of a levy on the poultry industry; another is to grant financial assistance to the States to assist the poultry industry, and the third is to make a levy in respect of hens kept for commercial purposes. Senator Cormack - quite properly in one sense - has described this collection of Bills as a facade to circumvent section 92 of the Constitution. But in another sense, as the High Court of Australia has held, they are three Bills which take this form to demonstrate an occasion for the co-operative exercise by the States and the Commonwealth of their constitutional powers.

Except for one point that I will mention later, this scheme has, in my view, received the approval of a decision of the High Court. Notwithstanding that, I feel greatly indebted to Senator Cormack for the reference he made to our responsibility as members of this Parliament in dealing with this matter. I refuse to accept the viewpoint of the Opposition spokesman, Senator O'Byrne, who seems to think that it is all right for a collection of people such as the Council of Egg Marketing Authorities of Australia, which is an associated body of the Egg Boards of the six States, to approach the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) and say: " We have a scheme." The honorable senator goes further and says: " It is an orderly marketing scheme ". He expects the Federal Parliament to adopt that scheme. To my way of thinking that is a thoroughly debased idea of the responsibility of this Parliament, because the powers invoked by these Bills depend upon our judgment as to whether they should be exercised.

The fundamental thing about this legislation is that it proposes that a levy not exceeding 10s. per laying hen per year should be made by regulation. We are asked to approve the imposition of this tax on the owners of hens. In Tasmania, where a State Egg Board has been constituted, people who keep 50 hens or more are required to make contributions to that Board. The contribution is about 8s. per hen per year, of which 4s. is absorbed in administrative expenses and 4s. is absorbed in losses sustained in the disposal of the surplus product. This proposal to impose a Commonwealth wide levy of 7s. per hen per year will not relieve Tasmanian poultry farmers of the whole of their 8s. State levy. It will, at best, relieve them of half that amount, so that, on the present expectations, they will be liable for a combined State and Commonwealth levy of lis. per hen per year. When I point out that the average net profit on a laying hen is about £1 per year net, I believe that members of this Parliament will agree that if the Australian community is to be taxed, it has the right to be consulted. We should examine the acceptability of the present proposal on a proper constitutional and parliamentary basis.

I am not here with any idea of putting before the Parliament the economic notions underlying a scheme such as this. If it had come to me 20 years ago, when I was unpersuaded of the merits of orderly marketing, I would have fought the proposal tooth and nail. But I believe the experience of orderly marketing has been such as to demonstrate to producers and growers throughout Australia the inherent defects that come from the lack of incentive to which Senator Cormack referred. We have had wheat harvests riddled by mice and weevil. We have had all sorts of inefficiency in potato marketing through State boards and so on. But in the past ten years there has developed in orderly marketing boards a greater sense of know-how and efficiency. This eradicates a great many difficulties but never arrives at the stage of private enterprise efficiency so as to give to the people represented by the boards the yield that a private company or a co-operative company gives to its shareholders. That is the very essence of human nature. Notwithstanding that, I am persuaded for the most part that many of the industries in Australia could benefit from organised marketing.

I heard Senator Cormack say rather abruptly in reply to Senator Prowse that a remark emanated from the spirit of the Liberal Party rather than from the Constitution. I am one of those people who join a political party because they believe in it. When I find people in this Parliament diverging from the principles laid down by the party, I diverge from them. That is why I frequently - but not as frequently as the newspapers imply - find myself in the company of the Opposition. One thing which must be borne in mind, without disparaging those who activate the government of the Liberal Party in this place at present, is that they are not infallible; at any rate, not every one of them is. Therefore, we can always have a difference of opinion but usually it derives from a basis of difference of interpretation. Here, however, in the matter of organised marketing we have a specific principle that has been adopted by the Liberal Party to the effect that organised marketing schemes for industries will be supported if they are initiated by the industry and are approved by it.

Senator Hannaford - That applies only to primary industries.

Senator WRIGHT - I am speaking now of primary industries, because so far as I understand this matter both the hens and the eggs are part of primary industry. The Liberal Party stands for the principle that those who operate and own the industry should be consulted as to the terms and conditions upon which it shall be organised. I am sufficiently a democrat to know that the small man in the industry as well as the large man, according to his proper measure of representation, is entitled to be consulted. I also remind Senator O'Byrne who spoke about democracy that the only proper method of consultation with an industry such as this is through the vote of the individual producer. That is entirely different from the voice that has brought this scheme before the Parliament - the voice of the Council of Egg Marketing Authorities representing the six State boards.

Senator Ormonde - Which represent the growers.

Senator WRIGHT - That is just the lie I want to nail. I use the term that will be most descriptive without any reproach to Senator Ormonde in whom we have great confidence. These marketing boards do not represent the egg industry for two reasons. First, in many States no vote was ever taken on their constitution. As honorable senators know, State marketing legislation requires too great a majority to achieve the disestablishment of a board. Until a board begins to operate, there are many people as easy going as I who will not go to the trouble to organise opposition against the Government which wants to set up an egg marketing board. Therefore, those responsible get the establishment of a board, so to speak, by stealth and by the easy going confidence that many of us have. Rather than have our short lives wasted by participation in trouble, we accept what is coming. The State egg marketing boards get established in that way and to disestablish them, you need a very big majority.

The second point is this: In Tasmania - simply to use that State as an illustration, and I hope some note will be taken of it - the people who contribute to organised egg marketing are producers with a yard of 50 hens or more. Now, by just one majestic Canberra stride we propose to impose a levy on a federal basis on producers who have 20 hens or more. I claim that these people are entitled to be consulted if we are going to create an organised marketing scheme on the basis of federal taxation with a levy which means as much as 7s. a hen a year to be imposed on every owner of 20 or more hens.

I am here to yield as much advantage as possible to those who have commercial interests in the poultry industry; but I hope to be rejected as a member of Parliament if I ever desert the cause of the small producer when it comes to a matter of imposing increased taxes on him. I insist that he has a right to vote whether he is prepared to accept this scheme or not. On this basis, Senator O'Byrne's proposition is completely belied. The egg industry has not asked for this scheme; the organised boards in control of the industry have asked for it. If anybody is prepared to take a vote of those producers throughout Australia who are to be taxed, I shall be as happy as anybody else to accept the verdict if they vote by a majority for such a scheme. But if they do not vote for it, nobody has a right to impose on their industry a levy of which they disapprove. That is Liberal policy.

From time to time in this Parliament we recall that both the principal political parties in 1956 constituted a committee which worked with great assistance from many constitutional channels throughout the country. It also had some high level advice provided by the Government itself. The purpose was to work out a proper system on a constitutional basis for, among other things, orderly marketing in Australia. There were six members of the Australian Labour Party on that committee. They were the present Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator McKenna) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Kennelly), Mr. Arthur Calwell, the late Mr. E. J. Ward, Mr. Pollard from Victoria and Mr. Gough Whitlam. Realising that the difficulty of applying section 92 to a modern approach to organised marketing, undreamed of when section 92 was framed, did not outweigh its advantages, the Committee which comprised representatives of all parties in the Parliament, including the Leaders of the Australian Labour Party, recommended as follows -

(1)   The Parliament should have power to make laws for the submission to a poll of primary producers of proposed plans for the organised marketing of primary products.

(2)   For the purpose of submitting a proposed plan to producers, the Parliament should be authorised to make such laws as it deems necessary in connection with the holding of a poll, including laws determining who is a primary producer, eligibility to vote, and the number of votes which a producer should have.

(3)   If three-fifths of the votes cast at a poll by the producers of a primary product are in favour of a proposed marketing plan for that product, the Parliament should have power to make laws to give effect to the plan free from the operation of section 92 of the Constitution, but otherwise subject to the Constitution.

(4)   For the purposes of the power, a primary product should include any product directly produced or derived from a primary product which the Parliament deems to be a primary product.

We are not concerned with the difficulties of clause 4.I have directed the attention of the Senate to that decision of the Committee because we all should recognise the ascendant position of section 92 in the Australian Constitution. It was one of the fundamental provisions, almost as vital as a pre-condition to Federation as the primary condition that the States should have equal representation in the Seriate. But after over 60 years of experience of the Constitution, the geographical entity represented by Australia has become integrated into one economic unit, and where there is a desire to organise a primary industry on an Australia-wide basis we want a supple, straightforward, uncompromised method of doing so without the necessity of going through all the complexities of this facade, as Senator Cormack called it. For this reason we recommend that the Commonwealth Parliament should have power to make laws for the submission to a poll of primary producers of proposed plans for organised marketing. Then, if three-fifths of the votes cast are in favour of the plan, we recommend that the Parliament should have power to make laws to give effect to the plan, free from the operation of section 92 of the Constitution.

I do not wish to urge too much upon the Senate the acceptance of the essential merits of the Committee, the composition of which I have mentioned. I want to be quite fair about this. The Senate can bring to its acceptance of the report as much prejudice as it wishes because I claim to have had a fair share in the way in which the recommendation was framed. However, when the recommendation is taken in conjunction with the Liberal Party's policy, which insists that before we impose a levy on an industry for its own organisation the plan must be initiated and then approved by the industry - that is, the individual producers in the industry - it can be seen that there is very little justification these days for introducing an organised marketing scheme on the basis on which these Bills have been introduced, unless a poll of the producers is taken.

Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.

Senator WRIGHT - At the suspension of the sitting I had reminded the Senate that it is the policy of the Australian Liberal Party to support organised marketing, if the proposal for organised marketing is initiated and approved by the industry. I had reminded the Senate that the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review, which comprised representatives of the three main parties in this Parliament, recommended that there be included in the Federal Constitution provision to enable the Parliament to provide for a poll of producers in any industry. If the poll results in a 60 per cent, vote in favour of establishment of orderly marketing, the proposal should have Federal endorsement. I now remind the Senate of a debate concerning another industry in which I participated less than two years ago. I refer to the debate on the wool industry. At that time I invoked the examples of New Zealand practice and Liberal Party policy for the purpose of affirming the view that it is Parliament's right to impose taxation by way of levy to raise funds to establish organised marketing in an industry only if the industry is consulted.

It is interesting to examine the " Hansard " reports of that debate and to find there the many and various transitory arguments that were called in aid to prove that the proposal was not acceptable. I remind honorable senators present tonight that two years of subsequent experience has convinced everybody associated with the proposal in the wool industry that it would be dangerous to establish any form of organised marketing except with the support of a vote of the wool growers. If that procedure is good enough for the wool growers, it is good enough for the owners of hens. As honorable senators should be aware, under the legislation before us it is proposed to impose on the owner of hens exceeding 20 in number a levy of 7s. a hen annually. I believe that levy should be imposed only if the industry, on a vote of each individual producer, approves of the proposal.

Mr. President,one facet of the proposed scheme has particular application to Tasmania. The dimensions of the poultry industry in Tasmania are not enormous. Tasmania does not enter upon the export market in large measure. We are not in reality an exporting State. But the levy to be imposed upon Tasmanian poultry owners is the same as that to be imposed upon poultry owners in every other State. In view of the enormous potential of the larger States to expand their activities in the poultry industry, I see danger in still further dwarfing the Tasmanian poultry industry by the imposition of a levy uniformly over the industry throughout Australia. There is no guarantee that the Tasmanian producers will obtain equalisation with the other States.

Senator O'Byrne - The Tasmanian producers will obtain protection against dumping from Victoria which has cost them ls. 6d. a dozen in the past.

Senator WRIGHT - That factor must be taken into account and I have not neglected that it is possible under section 92 of the Constitution for a large egg producer on the mainland to try to dump a big consignment of eggs in Tasmania if he thinks that the prices there will advantage him.

Senator Cormack - Why not use the word " sell " instead of " dump "?

Senator WRIGHT - I did not wish to use three sentences to convey the meaning contained in one four-letter word - if I may join the literary class for a moment and use a four-letter word, but on my own level.

I did not neglect to consult the representatives of the poultry industry in Tasmania before speaking in this debate. They have assured me that their marketing devices have been equal to any dumping excursion. They have quickly undercut the prices of producers attempting to dump their products in Tasmania and shown them that it was not profitable to repeat the consignments. Senator O'Byrne is again attempting to interject. He may think that there are a few clucking hens that will cluck more loudly because of his advocacy of this Bill, but I am putting forward a few matters for consideration on the parliamentary plane. I have pointed out that the Tasmanian producers will have to submit to a uniform levy. But there is nothing to say that they will receive a uniform share of equalisation.

Senator Cormackreferred indirectly to clause 6 of the Poultry Industry Assistance Bill which states -

The Minister- that is the Federal Minister - may from time to time authorise the payment to a State, by way of financial assistance, of such amount or amounts as he determines after taking into account any recommendations made to him by the Council.

That is the Council of Egg Marketing Authorities. I have received a letter dated 19th April from the Secretary of the Tasmanian Commercial Poultry Producers Association which requests me to ensure that the legislation should clearly state that any unused proportion of the levy should be refunded to Tasmania. I understand that subsequent consultations by C.E.M.A. induced the industry to rely upon what Senator Cormack appropriately referred to as a gentleman's agreement. To me that seems to be a very insubstantial and unsatisfactory basis upon which to construct a legislative scheme for orderly marketing. In my view that would not be sufficient reason for objecting to the scheme, and I point it out only as a deficiency.

I would support the proposed scheme if it had the support of a majority of producers in the Australian poultry industry voting at a poll. Until that poll is conducted and results in a majority in favour of the proposal I believe that I am not authorised to inflict upon the poultry producers of Tasmania an annual levy of 7s. a hen. When Senator Cormack said that he believed that financial assistance under section 96 should not be disparate as between the States, I took leave to suggest that that was not necessarily so, because individual grants by way of financial assistance may be made under section 66. As this would come under a law or regulation of trade or commerce, it would be provided for under section 99, which reads -

The Commonwealth shall not by any law or regulation of trade, commerce or revenue, give preference to one State or any part thereof over another State or any part thereof.

It is questionable whether or not, if we passed legislation giving the Minister a complete discretion as to the amounts that he should distribute by way of financial assistance, we thereby would contravene section 99. I just make that observation in deference to the very thoughtful remarks of Senator Cormack. I approve of orderly marketing but I will not, on my own responsibility, be a party to creating it unless the individual producers in the industry vote for the establishment of the scheme.

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