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Wednesday, 24 August 1983
Page: 172

Mr McVEIGH —by leave-On behalf of the Opposition I must express considerable disappointment at the tone and the attitude the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) adopted in his statement. It is disappointing to find that the Minister has not given due recognition to the initiatives developed by the previous Minister. If the previous Minister has a portable radio with him while he is hoeing thistles on his farm in East Gippsland today he will be extremely disappointed that no acknowledgment has been made of the tremendous amount of progress he made in this area. The Minister has not even changed the rug on the animal; he is using the same rug as the previous Minister used. I wish to give the Minister a little advice. Many years ago an old Persian poet called Omar Khayyam, in speaking about such people as the Minister, who likes to take credit for things he has not achieved, said: 'Ah, take the cash and let the credit go'. The old Persian poet was simply indicating that such people might get glory in the short term but in the long term people will wake up to them. They do not come up with new ideas but basically try to build on the excellent foundations laid down by a predecessor.

In truth, virtually all of the announced changes were put in train by the previous Government and the previous Minister, the Hon. Peter Nixon. For example , the Minister said that the Australian Labor Party, in developing its primary produce inspection policies was very aware of the damage done by the meat substitution scandal. He was obviously implying that the previous Government was not aware of that damage. That is completely and utterly untrue. The truth is that the Australian Labor Party, in putting together its policies for export inspection, simply ripped off the policies and initiatives that were put in train by the previous Government. For example, the Minister made reference to the meat inspection service being reorganised. That was started and was well on the way to completion under the previous Government.

The Minister said that the best way to improve the efficiency of meat inspection and to reduce costs is by establishing a single meat inspection service. What originality! It must have taken him hours to think of that. That was the previous Government's policy exactly. The Minister claimed that his Government had ensured that the inspection service had a clear charter. It was the previous Government that set such a charter, such a program, in train. The Minister tried to take credit for the appointment of private sector consultants to determine the training needs of inspection staff, examine the method of charging, study and make recommendations on management and human resources and study the need for greater use of computer technology. The concept of appointing such outside consultants was developed by the previous Government, not the Labour Administration. The preparation of a corporate plan for the Export Inspection Service was also one of our initiatives. Similarly, it was the Fraser -Anthony Government which accepted the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry. We moved on such recommendations as common standards of construction, hygiene and meat inspection. We developed ministerial orders. We initiated changes to the halal slaughter and certification procedures . We initiated discussions with our overseas traders on quality, security and inspection standards. We introduced the Export Control Act and several other pieces of legislation all aimed at ensuring the future integrity and reputation of our export meat trade and exports of other rural products.

As a result of actions taken by the previous Government-not this Government-the Minister for Primary Industry can stand before this House and state, quite correctly, that Australia has been complimented by its trading partners on the initiatives it has shown and that Australia is in the forefront of these developments. It is a pity that the Minister is not prepared to give credit where credit is rightly due-to the previous Minister for Primary Industry and the previous Government.

While on the matter of standards required of the importing countries I think it is worth giving consideration to the standards that we in Australia impose on those countries that export primary products to us. It is all right for us to have very high standards, but what about the standards in the countries from which we import on the occasions when we need to top up local productions? We have consistently recognised that unless we meet the very rigorous requirements of some of our trading partners, particularly the United States of America, in regard to meat exports we will lose those markets. Of course, that is fair enough but I see no reason why we should not develop equally tough standards for the import of goods into this country.

For example, there were reports recently that some cheese imported from the European Economic Community was contaminated. Frankly, I do not believe that that is good enough protection of our various industries on behalf of the Australian consumer. I believe it would have been far more appropriate if the Minister, instead of uttering platitudes and claiming credit where it is not due , had come into this House and indicated to us a very strong position and point of view. We should insist on any nation exporting goods to us being able, at the very least, to match our own domestic production requirements. I realise that this is currently a matter for the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) but I believe it is appropriate to raise this point. Quite obviously the Minister either is not interested in this matter or is completely unaware of it. It is absolutely essential that we safeguard standards in Australia. If these very tough and desirable standards are to be imposed on us equally the Minister, who goes overseas quite a lot, should be tough in his representations to the other countries and make sure that these high standards prevail for imports into Australia.

Quite obviously this statement basically amounts to nothing new. The Minister has told us virtually nothing we did not already know and it took him a jolly long time to tell us. For example, on the matter of future charging for inspection services, he said that a report by private consultants should be available shortly on a more cost-effective and equitable recovery system with particular emphasis on the fee for service concept. This examination has been under way for something like 18 months. It is disappointing that the Minister has no real news to offer on this area. It would have shown good administrative ability if he could have come into the House and told us what has happened, as the consultants have been 18 months preparing the report.

More significantly, this whole matter of the inspection procedures goes to the real heart of the inspection problem. The Department of Primary Industry, which conceded before the Royal Commission that the then service was inefficient, drew up fundamental proposals for change and improvement. Firstly, it recommended that there should be greater decentralisation of management of meat inspection away from Canberra. I can understand why the Australian Labor Party does not like that because it likes to have all things centralised in Canberra where it can control them. Secondly, the Department said that there should be a greater shift of responsibility to meatworks management to ensure that meat inspection and security procedures are carried out properly and that, therefore, DPI activity is more of a monitoring role. Thirdly, it was recommended that a fee for service be introduced.

These recommendations were not only taken up by the Royal Commissioner in his report, they were also taken up by the previous Government and were applauded by the industry. Yet the industry has been told absolutely nothing further about the progress that has or has not been made. As I understand it, the only progress that has been made has been a blossoming in staff numbers at the Export Inspection Service in Canberra. But, that aside, the industry will learn from this statement today that no real progress has been made and that the Minister is still awaiting a consultant's report. I am sure the industry will be far from pleased at that piece of non-news, especially after the Government, in its Budget introduced last night, hiked its inspection charges from $1.80 per head to $5.40 per head-a massive increase. I have no doubt that the industry will adopt the view the Government, in savagely increasing export inspection charges at this time, is basically saying that producers should pay a greater fee for propping up a continuing inefficient service.

We all recognise that a great deal of work has gone on in the Department of Primary Industry and the Export Inspection Service. Most of that work has gone on as a result of initiatives of the previous Government. But how this Government can expect producers to pay massively increased export inspection charges when the basically needed changes to the system are not yet in place- indeed, are not even off the consultant's drawing board-is beyond comprehension. I do not deny that we in government had a policy of increasing the cost recovery of inspection services to 50 per cent. But we would not have been so ignorant of the needs of primary producers to have imposed slugs like this at a time when farmers can least afford to pay them-when they are struggling to survive from the effects of the worst drought in history. The timing of these increases is utterly despicable and displays the total contempt and lack of interest of the Labor Party in the rural sector.

Let me turn to the matter of a single meat inspection service. The Minister heralds the transfer of the New South Wales service to the Commonwealth as being particularly important and welcomed by the Government. What a hide! The offer was made to and welcomed and accepted by the previous Government. We had worked towards the establishment of a single meat inspection service for a very long time. We laid the groundwork which is now turning into reality. The Labor Party can claim no kudos from the progress that has been made towards the establishment of a single service and the Minister should not try to do so.

I notice also that in a very long-winded speech the Minister has made no mention of conditions of service for those officers who may transfer from a State to the Commonwealth service. I trust that he will ensure, as the previous Government did with regard to New South Wales, that any State inspectors who transfer to the Commonwealth will at least be able to retain their current conditions of pay and service and will suffer no detriment. This is a very important point for the people concerned and I think the Minister should be prepared to give them an absolute and categoric public assurance that they will lose nothing by transferring to the Commonwealth. I hope also that he will indicate to the workers in this area that it happened to be a National Party member who drew this matter to his attention in the debate. The National Party holds to a philosophy which aims at helping all people in the community and not just sections of it. I cannot understand why someone who claims to represent the labourers of Australia and the workers in a meat inspection service did not, in response to a very long report, indicate that these meat inspectors would not suffer any detriment in the transfer from a State to a Commonwealth authority.

As a final point I refer to the opening remarks in the Minister's statement. He said:

This Government's well developed rural policies recognise fully the important part primary industries play in our national economy.

Statements such as that leave me totally bewildered. They are simply not true. What this Government has done, in both its mini-Budget and in last night's Budget, is to discriminate blatantly against the primary industry sector. In both of these Budget exercises, the Government has forced the primary industry sector to bear a greater share of the burden of economic restraint than any of the other sectors. In the mini-Budget, in last night's Budget and during the intervening period, the Government has broken a fistful of promises to primary industry. Its entire attitude towards farmers makes a complete mockery of the often stated commitment of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) to ensuring the viability of Australia's 'great primary industries' and his 'equality of sacrifice' philosophy. It makes a complete joke of the Minister's pious statement in his policies for rural Australia that 'Labor is determined to implement the rural policy package'. He has not done very well up to this stage. The Minister is not implementing his package; he is tearing it apart day by day.

This statement from the Minister tells us nothing new of substance. That is disappointing. I trust that the Minister will give us the benefit of a proper and informative statement on the progress of this highly important subject when more positive progress has been made. I sincerely hope-although I do not have much confidence about it-that this will be in the very near future.

Debate interrupted.