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Tuesday, 11 April 1972
Page: 972


Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) - A consensus of opinion has been expressed both by Opposition and Government speakers that the general terms of the Honey Industry Bill will receive the approval of the Senate. My view is that the Bill has been sought basically by honey producers and that over a number of years there has been a great deal of dissatisfaction and conflict among various groups in the industry. I think that in this Bill the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) and the State Agriculture Ministers have attempted to produce something which may lead to satisfaction in future. It was interesting to hear Senator Durack speaking about the origin of the Australian Honey Board. It does not reflect great credit on the Senate to hear about a Bill being passed at 4 a.m. We would hope that, in this more enlightened time of those who have become senators since 1962, the activities of the Senate will be confined to more appropriate hours and that the legislation which comes before us is given closer examination and more debating time than was instanced by the honourable senator. 1 believe that the introduction of the Honey Board was a wise thing for the industry. The main functions of the Board and the limitations imposed on the Board were the result of requests generally of the beekeepers of Australia. The limitations involved were that the regulation of export of honey should be with the aim of preventing price cutting amongst exporters, which included measures to fix minimum prices; that agency arrangements to regulate the sale and distribution of honey after export should be made; that there should be export pooling arrangements; and that the use of funds from a maximum levy - at that time lc per lb - on domestic honey sales should be made to promote the sale of honey in Australia and for other purposes which obviously were industrial purposes. One of the main bases of promotion by any primary industry board is to encourage the Commonwealth Government to contribute to research moneys which may be put forward by producers. They were the facts which were of importance to beekeepers in those earlier years when they attempted to have the Australian Honey Board formed. The criticism which has come to my notice probably every year for the last 10 years is that no poll was taken. If the Bill is passed there will be a poll of producers at least for the election of producer representatives on the Board.

There has been a great deal of benefit obtained by the industry over the years. Price cutting in exports has been eliminated to a great extent. While world shortage has been attributed as one of the reasons for increased prices over recent years, to some extent the elimination of price cutting lifted export prices. I doubt whether that statement could be denied. The export values since the Board's inception have risen, on an average, by over 30 per cent. Supply factors have had an important influence, apart from the Board's regulatory controls. The domestic price to the beekeeper, which is influenced by export prices, has risen appreciably over the prices obtained in previous years. I have some written criticism which places emphasis on the fact that it could be said that an insufficient return has been paid to producers, even after the attempts to keep up the price to producers. In a written work that I have with me one overseas seller of honey has stated that he would be able to obtain a higher price for certain grades of honey than would the Australian Honey Board. This information has been sent to me by either the South Australian Apiarists Association or by an association in my State. Perhaps there is some validity in that statement. My understanding is that the various grades of honey bring various premiums. Although I have not a complete knowledge of the industry I would doubt whether an expert body such as the Honey Board - a body which is representative of the industry and in which the producers, if they wished, could even now exert an influence over the control of the Board's affairs - has not been able to gain for the producers the highest figure.

The benefit obtained by the industry is that there has been a greater co-operation between packers in the various States. My understanding is that previously there was price cutting and competition between the packers - in some instances, to the detriment of the producers in that higher prices were not being returned to them. The establishment of the Board has enabled the promotion of honey to be expanded in Australia. On many occasions when I fly to Canberra it excites to find that marmalade is being served at breakfast when a few years ago we had mainly pre-packed honey. I know that Senator Gair is always extolling the value of honey. Before I commenced speaking he prompted me to point out to the people of Australia in general the great benefits that come from a higher consumption of this particularly important product. The greatest benefit that the industry has gained is the encouragement which has been given by the Government's contributing to the financing of overseas promotion and research on a SO-SO basis. The Government's contribution has continued over many years. This payment from the public purse has brought a benefit to Australian honey produces the cost of which has not come out of the pockets of the producers.

Another aspect of this legislation which has stimulated some argument in the community is whether an owner of 200 hives or more should have the right to vote in this matter. I have here a letter dated 7th April from an important body in Victoria - the Gippsland Apiarists Association - the aim of which is to unite all beekeepers for the benefit of all concerned. I do not think one could have a better motto than that, in the field of politics or beekeeping. Statements I have received from the President of the Association, Mr Kane, and Mr Archibald, Secretary of the Association, show that they agree with the principle that producer members of the Board should be elected by producers. They also agree with the Minister for Primary Industry that the producer nominations should not require the approval of the Federal Council of the Australian Apiarists Association, and that producer members of the Board should own at least

 

200 hives. I understand that that view conflicts with the pronouncement of the South Australian honey association.


Senator McLaren - Which association? There are 2 in South Australia.


Senator WEBSTER - If we are to get technical I will produce some of the papers I have here and the situation will become difficult. Senator McLaren emphasised that throughout Australia there has been a divergence of view, particularly in South Australia. In Victoria, my home State, it has been suggested that ownership of 200 hives is a satisfactory standard. It is difficult to understand the principle guiding either the Government or the Australian Agricultural Council to the view that ownership of 200 hives is a satisfactory level of eligibility. The Minister said in his second reading speech that that number of hives basically gives a member a proper living. I have here an assessment of gross incomes from honey production based on the 1969-70 statistics issued by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics. These are the latest figures available. The basis of the figures is an arbitrary average unit return to apiarists of 10c per lb. I seek the leave of the Senate to have the table incorporated in Hansard.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows):

 

 


Senator WEBSTER - I appreciate that these figures may bc about 18 months out of date, but they are taken from what is probably the latest thorough report on the industry. Perhaps the Minister will correct me if that is not so. The table shows that 4,311 apiarists, or 78 per cent of the number in the industry, at that time owned between 5 and 99 hives. A further 9 per cent owned between 100 and 199 hives. Whether the criterion is to be individuals or production is a matter to be decided, but it is clear that 87 per cent of the industry owned between 5 and 199 hives. The remaining 13 per cent owned between 200 hives and 600 hives, or more.

Again I ask the Minister to correct me if I am wrong. It seems to me that a decision as to who will be the producer representatives on the Board is to be made by 13 per cent of honey producers in Australia. On this point perhaps we should apply our minds to the method of giving a vote to wool producers. Was it basically the big producers, the top 13 per cent, who were once given a vote, or was it given to those who produced the most wool in those days? The figures I have cited demonstrate that 13 per cent of apiarists in Australia produce 83 per cent of the honey. I doubt very much that that is a proper basis for voting eligibility but apparently the Department of Primary Industry thinks that it is appropriate.

State Ministers of Agriculture support that view, but I put to the Senate that a time will come when those producers with less than 200 hives should definitely be given a vote. The Minister in his second reading speech referred to producers making a reasonable living from honey. In the period covered by the statistics I have incorporated in Hansard producers owning between 200 and 249 hives had an average gross annual income of $2,019 each.


Senator McLaren - What was the income of the 78 per cent of producers about whom you were complaining, who do not have a vote?


Senator WEBSTER - The 78 per cent had a gross annual income of $90 each.


Senator McLaren - Do you consider that they should have a say in the running of the industry?


Senator WEBSTER - Senator McLaren,like his Party, always takes extreme points of view. I emphasised that 4,3 1 1 apiarists repesented 78 per cent of producers. I attempted to point out that at one stage producers of 3 bales of wool annually were given a vote in a poll of the industry. I do not know whether that comparison is understandable to the honourable senator, but it appears to me to be important. I think that individuals are important, not necessarily production. Whilst I realise the greater importance in the industry of an individual who gains his main income from the sale of honey, I doubt that an annual income of $2,019 should be accepted as representing that level.


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Are you saying that $2,019 annual income is regarded as a reasonable living in terms of this legislation?


Senator WEBSTER - I was attempting to extract from the Minister's second reading speech words appropriate to voting eligibility of ownership of 200 hives.


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - A reasonable living from beekeeping?


Senator WEBSTER - Yes. The table I have had incorporated in Hansard shows that in 1969-70 140 apiarists owned between 200 and 249 hives. They produced 2,822,000 lb of honey annually and received a gross annual income of $2,019 each. I think Senator Douglas McClelland would agree with me that the words reasonable living' are not appropriate to that annual income.


Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is less than the poverty wage.


Senator WEBSTER - I have heard it said that the dairy industry is in a state of poverty because the net annual income of many dairy farmers is about $2,000. I could devote a great deal of time to emphasising the many benefits that come from living on a dairy farm. That is not a judgment whether $2,000 happens to be too little an income for an individual to be gaining. However, a number of points have been put forward to me on this matter as it relates to the apiarist associations and to the Board. I do no accept the argument that producers can say that they have not had proper representation on the Board or that they will not receive majority representation on the Board because they happen to vote for and return a producer who is also a packer. The person who is returned as a representative of the producers surely must be the most appropriate man to represent their interests.

If producers elect to the Board somebody who in the end they think does not represent their interests, they should ensure that they discharge him from the Board after he has completed his period of service. Some producers have suggested to me that this is not as easy as it sounds. Indeed, it has been said that some packers may find themselves in a situation where they are able to command the support of producers who must sell through them. I would not accept that argument as having much substance. I would think that there must be enough character in the producers today to elect the type of man that they wish to have on the Board. If he happens to have some interests other than producing money, he still should be able to represent the producer effectively. Of the number of arguments that could be put forward in relation to this very important matter I come down to the view which I stated at the outset of my remarks, namely, that we in the Senate have a consensus on this Bill and I am very pleased that it is to the advantage of the honey industry in general.







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