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Wednesday, 19 May 1965

Senator LILLICO (Tasmania) . - I rise to speak briefly about some of the provisions contained in these three measures very largely because reference has been made to what has been described as the peculiar situation that could arise in Tasmania if the legislation comes into force. I was interested in what Senator Cormack said. He criticised the machinery of the measures. He said that the legislation is more or less a roundabout attempt to inhibit section 92 of the Constitution. I am not going to argue that point at all. Senator Cormack referred to a communication which had been received from Mr. Patrick, the Chairman of the Tasmanian Egg Marketing Board, in which reference was made to a gentleman's agreement. Perhaps it was unfortunate that that expression was used. The constitution under which the Egg Marketing Board operates was drawn up by the Australian Agricultural Council. Had Senator Cormack read more of the letter he would have seen this passage -

It is pointed out that Tasmania has ample security in that it has 1 vote out of 6 and this one vole could veto the whole Bill should it not he satisfied wilh ils treatment. Other Slates, throughout all negotiations, have been more than willing to meet our small Slate's requirements; Victoria in particular has for some time taken our surplus pulp and sold it on their local market as our pulp cannot be exported owing to lack of pasturisation. lt would appear that under the constitution by virtue of which this Board will operate there is a definite power of veto. If the State of Tasmania is not satisfied with any disbursement or any decision made in regard to it, I take it that it has power of its own volition to veto that decision.

Senator Wright - Is it not part of the constitution that one vote out of six vetoes?

Senator LILLICO - I understand the position is that, under the constitution drawn up by the Australian Agricultural Council, one vote out of six can veto such a decision. The chairman of the Tasmanian Egg Marketing Board, Mr. Patrick, had something to say about the Tasmanian position which is very illuminating indeed. I am of the opinion that egg marketing in the Commonwealth has reached the crossroads. Apparently there are so many people avoiding contributions to egg boards that it would appear to be difficult in the future for some of these boards to carry on, particularly the Tasmanian Egg Board, according to a communication I received. The sole objective of this legislation, I believe, is to bring stability to another section of primary industry - the same stability that is enjoyed by many people in other walks of life. That is the focal point of the legislation. I cannot see where the position can improve under existing conditions. Mr. Patrick said -

Almost 50 per cent, of the local market for pulp has been undercut and lost to interstate traders. This means that the excess pulp has now to be offered for export, and it is only through the good offices of the Victorian Board that the pulp can be disposed of at all. After paying freightto Victoria, and also pasturisation costs, the net return is around1s. per lb., which corresponds to1s. per dozen for eggs.

He exposed the very critical position in which the Tasmanian Board finds itself and said -

The Board's sales have been drastically reduced by producers undercutting the Board's price, and this has a snowball effect.

A further problem has now arisen in that recently interstate eggs from Victoria have been on the Tasmanian market at a price of1s. 3d. per dozen below the Board price. These eggs are handled by people with the avowed intention of breaking the Board and Producers in this State. They can be sold so cheaply - referring to the importations into Tasmania - because: -

1.   They are surplus in any case.

This next point is the condition which this Bill attempts to remedy -

2.   They are sold by producers who have evaded the legitimate charges made by the Victorian Board.

That is just another way of dodging the contribution which I believe all producers must pay if there is to be stability in the egg marketing industry. Mr. Patrick continued -

3.   They operate under Section 92 of the Constitution.

4.   They are " ungraded " and sell only on price. The Board has recently acquired some of these eggs and they graded out as follows: -

Of 150 dozen tested over 120 dozen were substandard. This constitutes a fraud on the general public, and is also a pure food hazard.

I do not know whether that situation is permanent and continuing so far as egg marketing in Tasmania is concerned. If it is, it seems to me that if producers on the mainland - and this is happening all over the Commonwealth - can be made to pay the levy, as the producers who are trying to achieve stabilisation pay the levy, then certainly the position must improve so far as marketing is concerned.

I recall that years ago the same difficulty arose in regard to the dairy industry. At that time the trouble occurred with those farmers who made up their butter and sold it to the retailer thereby escaping the levy that was used for equalisation purposes. A scheme was proposed and put into operation for a time whereby those farmers were compelled to put a threepenny stamp on every pound of butter they sold. In that way they contributed to the equalisation fund. It was claimed then that the producers who were avoiding the equalisation levy, which was conferring such a benefit on the Australian butter market, were tending to hamstring the scheme and would eventually drag it down. There was tremendous contention at that time when these people were compelled to put that threepenny stamp on their butter. I am not saying that that scheme was right but it did indicate the view taken of this avoidance of the levy which was due and necessary to achieve some stability in the industry.

I noticed a statement made in another place by Mr. Whitlam, instancing the wholesale avoidance of the payment of this levy which is to be made to try to achieve some stability. If avoidance occurs it seems to me we have either to wipe the whole idea or else tighten it up in order to achieve real stability.

Reference has been made to producers having the right to say whether they approve of this scheme or not. I was rather intrigued when Senator Wright read a passage from the report of the Constitutional Review Com. mittee which was set up three years ago, perhaps, and which comprised prominent members of this Parliament. In formulating a proposed marketing scheme, the Committee arrived at the conclusion that it would be necessary to have a three-fifths majority before a scheme could be put into operation.

Senator McClelland - The Government has done nothing about that report.

Senator LILLICO - I am not speaking of what the Government did. I am speaking of the way in which the minds of these prominent Commonwealth parliamentarians worked. They thought, as I did, that threefifths was a fair and reasonable majority. It indicated that the people concerned, who wanted the body to be efficient, thought there should be more than a bare majority. My mind goes back to 1945, because threefifths was the figure arrived at by the Tasmanian Legislative Council - which some people regard as a most reactionary body - in regard to the setting up of boards under the Marketing of Primary Products Act, 1945. I understand that the Tasmanian Egg Board operates under the Tasmanian

Egg Marketing Act, 1957, which took its electoral provisions holus-bolus from the 1945 Marketing of Primary Products Act. The producers were given the right to set up a board. They were given the right to draw up a petition containing a certain number of names and to forward it to the responsible authorities. I understand that that procedure was not followed in this instance, but the point is that this Board operates under a democratic constitution. Its members are elected at biennial elections. It can be dispensed with by the producers. The producers can demand a poll and, if the poll is carried by the same three-fifths majority as was agreed to by the Constitutional Review Committee, the Board goes out of existence.

It seems to me that if the producers in Tasmania are satisfied with the operations of this Board - I believe a similar position applies in all the other States, except South Australia - then three-fifths is the obvious figure to use in order to demand a poll and have a vote taken. I feel perfectly certain that if the Tasmanian egg producers felt that they were being victimised by the operation of this legislation and were not receiving fair and just treatment, the required threefifths majority would be forthcoming. Having said that, I feel that I must support this measure. Again I say that as one who has experienced violent fluctuations in the marketing of primary produce - fluctuations which do no good to the producer, the consumer or anyone else but, in fact, do a lot of harm - I feel that I must support this measure. Probably it is not perfect and will need adjustment. Undoubtedly the controlling of the marketing of eggs in the Commonwealth is exceedingly difficult. I know that the people concerned in my own State are conscientious and dedicated men and in view of the evidence furnished to us regarding the chaotic position that applies in the marketing of eggs in Tasmania, I cannot fail to support the Bill. The producers have all the necessary machinery in their hands if they wish to exercise their rights.

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