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Wednesday, 24 August 1983
Page: 175

Mr TUCKEY —by leave-I thank the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) for the time given to me. The Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry recommended, at page 267 of its report, that:

So far as is practicable, in the light of overseas requirements and sound meat inspection practices, managements should be encouraged to take over responsibilities for work on the chain now performed by meat inspectors. The numbers of meat inspectors should be correspondingly reduced but, on average, their work should become more responsible and call for greater experience and higher personal qualities. The introduction of approved quality controls and compliance checking methods may enable numbers of inspectors to be reduced in other areas also. Such possibilities should be regularly reviewed.

For very many reasons, including the type of my electorate, I gave evidence to the Commission. I am not aware of how many people gave evidence of that nature, but I certainly did. Therefore, I take some credit for that recommendation. The reason behind it-and it is a warning that I give to the Minister in his role in attempting to get a national meat inspection service-is the fact that the Minister, too, must then answer to my constituents and other rural constituents for the cost. The cost of the service has now been identified at, presumably, $ 10.80 for the inspection of a single bullock. That is a huge cost. As I commented this morning to some of my constituents, it does not sound much when one is talking about one bullock, but when one is selling 100 it is a lot of money, and that is not an unusual quantity of stock.

Mr McVeigh —It is still a lot for one, though, isn't it?

Mr TUCKEY —It is a lot of money, and it is sometimes questionable as to how one might get to that position. The Minister would have some difficulty personally in changing that, because, unfortunately, it is my experience that Senator Walsh makes the decisions when it comes to money, and the Minister goes out and makes the promises. That is a pity, because I am sure that if Senator Walsh left him to his own resources he would better serve my constituents. However, it seems that we have that arrangement, and that is the way it will remain.

I should like to address myself to cost. The cost is best exemplified by circumstances which occurred in my electorate and to which I drew the attention of the House at the time. I referred to the Tip-Top Abattoir in my electorate, which was run by a local authority inspection service. It was not a small abattoir. It provided 10 meat inspectors. At that time-this was some time ago, but I do not think that relative costs have changed-a charge for Federal services was $1.80 per bullock; for shire services it was $1.25. There was a massive difference. The massive difference was that the shire was obliged to operate exclusively and entirely on that charge of $1.25 whereas, according to Mr Kelly, in his report at the time, the $1.80 was barely covering 25 per cent to 30 per cent of Commonwealth costs. The reason why we have seen this massive increase in the last couple of years is that we are now coming to grips with the real cost. If one asks oneself the reason for the cost, one finds that much of it lies with the requirements of Federal inspectors. I warn the Minister that he should not proceed to a Federal service on the lines on which it is currently constructed.

Obviously, we are the national representative body with which other importing countries wish to deal. They expect us to take the final decision. But if we continue with the practice of two levels of inspectors, two lots of Australians, at an abattoir not using the same showers and lunch room, we need not wonder why there is this cost. If anyone doubts that, he has only to visit this abattoir. That was union policy-the Meat Inspectors Association policy. I have a photocopy of a letter from the Australian Bureau of Animal Health, in which Mr R. D. Hartwell, Veterinary Officer in Charge, Western Australia, said:

This Department's firm policy is not to share amenities with other inspection personnel.

The union was so powerful as to convince the Department that it was the Department's policy, and when the matter was taken up it was found that it was union policy, not Department policy, and that was admitted by the union as well. Here is the situation, and people wonder why we have this cost.

The important point I wish to raise is that in America today quality control is now a responsibility of the manufacturer. I accept that that does not apply to meat inspection and that the United States still has government meat inspectors. But the Americans are moving, and moving as the Royal Commissioner recommended, to a situation in which that responsibility will lie with the abattoir concerned . In a seasonal and cyclical industry, it is ridiculous to suggest that a central government should be supplying the nuts and bolts of a meat inspection service, and that is what meat inspectors are. The average slaughterman can be trained to be a meat inspector in a very short time. It is not the skilful job that many claim it to be. It is a matter of knowing and remembering certain things and carrying out certain processes. The job can be learnt fairly quickly by people who understand the meat industry. Those who learn the job should be the employees of the abattoir concerned. We can bet that, if that was to happen, those abbatoirs would not have overstaffing or worry about that aspect. I take the Minister's point. He made the point that, whilst there is a charge per beast , there is no concern on the part of the abattoir as to how many meat inspectors are out the back having a smoke if the abattoir is a bit short of stock on a given day. Were the abattoir responsible by one means or another for the wages of those inspectors-preferably because they were its employees-it would be extremely concerned about the number of inspectors it had on the job and the type of people it employed.

The other question is this: Where would the Commonwealth fit in? Quite clearly, the Commonwealth would provide overall supervision, which is the only requirement that importing countries impose upon us. I went to a lot of trouble with the previous Minister to establish that that was the fact. If that were to occur in a major works we would have a single well-paid and well-qualified employee to ensure that the works were conducted in the proper fashion and that the qualifications held by the plants' meat inspectors met the requirements of our legislation.

These are the types of things we have to do if we are ever to get that cost reduced from $10.80 to something which the rural producers can afford. It would be ridiculous for anybody to suggest that abattoirs pay these fees. I know that the abattoirs have gone so far as to claim that this would be a great burden on them. Quite obviously they would adjust the prices that they bid at market to include that fee. They do not pay it; the producer pays it because he is at the end of the line. He can turn in any direction he likes but there is nobody to whom he can pass on his costs.

There is a huge responsibility on the Commonwealth. I agree entirely that the dual fee is ridiculous. I have never been able to see why that matter cannot be simply resolved. Whatever the works, only one fee should be involved. The works in Northam can be run by the Northam shire for something like $200,000 a year. When the Commonwealth proposed to move in, the cost jumped over 100 per cent. One of the reasons was that the shire managed to send its inspectors from the city of Perth for $7,000 a year, and the estimated cost for the Commonwealth to do it was $43,000 a year. These are the sorts of things that occur when we try to direct these types of service from Canberra. It will not work and it should not have to work, as I said, at the nuts and bolts level.

I am not here to criticise the Minister or the future that he proposes. I am here to suggest to him that, if he believes he has an obligation to producers and, of course, to Commonwealth expenditures, he should look closely at the suggestions that I am making. I was cross-examined at the Royal Commission by the representative of the Meat Inspectors Association. I answered all his questions and I was proud to note that the Royal Commissioner saw that this is the way we should be going. I think it should be sooner rather than later. I warn the Minister that every time he creates a new member of the Meat Inspectors Association his job of getting the cost down will be harder. The quicker he responds to some of my suggestions, which are quite practical, the better. Any time he has a spare moment, I will flesh them out in detail. I have addressed myself to the problem at length, and the suggestion I make today is constructive . I thank the House and the Minister for their time.