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Tuesday, 13 September 1983
Page: 684

Mr KERIN (Minister for Primary Industry)(5.54) —In closing the debate I should say that the Government rejects the amendment moved by the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) on behalf of the Opposition. It is pretty obvious, from listening to honourable members who have taken part in this debate , that many have researched the subject very thoroughly. I should particularly like to thank the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay), the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Snow), the honourable member for Grey (Mr O'Neil), and the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Brumby). The honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew) also raised a couple of matters of substance, and I inform him that I will get back to him on those matters.

I have had a chance to read the speech made last week by the honourable member for Darling Downs, and it is pretty obvious that the National Party thinks that abuse can pass for debate. It was supposed to be a cognate debate, it sounded more like a cognac debate from some of the inanities and banter in the honourable member's speech. He said that I made a lame duck excuse when I said to a meeting that I could not win because this was the policy of the previous Government. I have brought into the chamber some correspondence I have chosen at random. I have a minute which states:

In April 1982, the State Boards were advised that your predecessor had approved a new basis for the charging for domestic inspection . . .'.

This sort of thing has been going on for a long time. Opposition members talked about no consultation. Again, just by chance, I have a telex involving a person- I will not give his name-in the fishing industry. This telex just confirms that there is ongoing debate and consultations with the industry. Here I have proof. I did not think I would have it with me, but I have the proof.

I make no apologies on behalf of the Government. I make no apology for being honest when I tell people that I cannot win. I could not win. Last year the Australian economy went into a hole. This Government picked up the end of the economic recession. We had had a drought, and the previous Government had allowed wages to escalate by something like 17 per cent to 20 per cent. This Government took office with three million people on welfare, over 800,000 people unemployed, and a record Budget deficit. This decision was made in terms of the Budget. I could have had a dream run if I had got another $30m for primary industry; but there are 26 other Ministers. If we multiply that figure of $30m by 26 that gives a total of $780m. What then would members of the Opposition benches be moaning about? I appreciate all the efforts of the National Party to get me into Cabinet. If only members of the National Party knew what little effect the nonsense with which they carry on has on the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke ). They simply do not understand. They do not focus their attention on what actually happens in this Government. They like to believe their own stupid propaganda. This revenue decision was taken after bilateral discussions with the Minister for Finance, the Expenditure Review Committee, the Budget Cabinet itself and the revenue Cabinet. The economic situation we are in is the reason for the decision that was taken. This was as a result of the policy of the previous Government; I have already proved that. Opposition members are all hypocrites.

Mr Braithwaite —You couldn't spell it.

Mr KERIN —Yes, I can. We have had all this flawed logic that the Inspection Service has yet to be proved, that it is a continuing, inefficient and costly organisation. Of course, what Opposition members are really saying is that it is not actually working at present, and that is absolute nonsense. I do not know how they can say that the inspection service is yet to be proved. We acknowledge , as the previous Minister for Primary Industry would acknowledge, that changes are still being explored which could well lead to cost savings. We also acknowledge that many initiatives have been taken since the service was set up 18 months ago. In recognition of the work still to be done we have said that the industry should not have to bear the full cost of operating the service. In the Budget calculations we excluded special training costs and costs for excess manpower arising from the changes in inspection practices and procedures.

Opposition members have said that there is no consultation. I cannot understand that. The consultants are examining the method of charging and they have had discussions with a number of sections of the industry. Consultation between industry and consultants will continue until their work is complete. I have already mentioned a telex that I am sending off tonight detailing these ongoing consultations. The fact of the matter is that practice review papers have been sent to the dairy, egg, honey, fish products, dried fruits, grain, wool, edible oils and live animals industries. Papers such as these cross my desk all the time. I do not know where the heck honourable members opposite get these ideas from. Again, the flawed logic of the honourable member for Darling Downs came through when he said that there has been no consultation. I have laid that one to rest. He said also: 'Lo and behold, the Minister announced that there would be an interim policy council'. On the one hand he is saying that there is no consultation and on the other hand he is trying to give me a bagging because an interim policy has been set up. The concept of an inspection policy council was first raised in my Department's discussion paper in April 1983, if the honourable member for Darling Downs had only had enough wit to read the thing. With the progress of discussions, together with an obvious interest by industry and other parties in the inspection service, the decision was taken to establish an interim council to provide an immediate forum for and progressing of the single national inspection service for industry to interface with the Department of Primary Industry. We are intent on the industry being given exposure to the costs and the basis of the costs.

Opposition members have also said that the egg industry has not been told anything. A paper describing proposals for new inspection arrangements for eggs and egg products was circulated to the industry on 15 October 1982. Consultations between the Department of Primary Industry, egg boards and the Council of Egg Marketing Authorities of Australia took place on 3 November 1982. A follow-up paper was circulated in December 1982. On 16 August 1983 a revised paper was circulated to industry and further comments were sought. We anticipate that the new arrangements will begin to be implemented about mid-1984, but timing is dependent upon industry response to proposals set out in the August paper. I do not know where people get the idea that there is no consultation. The previous Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Peter Nixon, set up the process of consultation, and I am continuing that process, yet honourable gentlemen come into this House and disown him, I suppose.

The honourable member for Darling Downs said something about the fact that the Cattle Council of Australia and the Sheep Meat Council of Australia have put a submission before the Government seeking a review of the export inspection charge decision. I actually saw members of the council and told them that I would be sending them a follow-up in writing. I spent an hour or two with the honourable gentlemen. I see industry representatives all round the country. I do not know how much more consultation we need. This is a decision by a government in a Budget context.

The honourable member for Darling Downs raised another point with respect to forward contracts. If there are strong grounds for firms that may get into difficulty as a result of a lack of forward contract provisions, we will be willing to consider possible action to ameliorate the difficulties being experienced, particularly with wheat. Wheat is customarily traded under forward contracts. The profit margin is small. Since the introduction of inspection charges for wheat in 1979, forward contracts written before the date of notification of increased inspection charges for wheat delivered after the date of the new charges have attracted the old rate. It is proposed that forward contracts for wheat written before 14 September attract the old rate, whether shipped in bulk or containers.

The other point the honourable gentleman raised was with respect to figuring. He said there will be an extra $25m this year. The actual amount for 1983-84 over 1982-83 is $15.9m. The actual amount of recoupment this year will be 39 per cent. I point out that the honourable member for Darling Downs was using costs of $1.56 in 1978-79 and $10.98 in 1983-84. He failed to inform the House that in 1978-79 there was no export inspection levy for meat, none was in place. He is not comparing like with like. There are a few other nonsensical arrangements. The honourable member for Darling Downs also said: 'I am not saying anything about what is happening in Queensland'. Discussions have taken place between officials. These discussions have been constructive.

But also of interest is the following: According to a report in the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial of 9 September, the Cattlemen's Union of Australia proposed that a solution to the two-service position in Queensland would be for Commonwealth inspectors to work in export works while State inspectors handled meat works which supply only the domestic market. I invite honourable members to have a look at the Queensland situation. I get sick of the misrepresentation by the National Party in Queensland about what is happening in that State. In the same report the Queensland Minister for Primary Industries is reported as saying that this had already been considered by State Cabinet but would result in a significant loss of funds because two-thirds of State inspection fees came from export works.

I think the points to note in this matter are that of the total number of State inspectors, which amounts to about 130, some 35 are located at export works for the purpose of domestic product inspection. In general, Queensland inspectors take their place on the meat chain beside Commonwealth inspectors and do the same level of inspection. This could be undertaken solely by Commonwealth inspectors, thereby eliminating the double fee. But, as Mr Ahern is reported to have said, this would reduce revenue to Queensland by about two-thirds. Let us not have any nonsense about Queensland. It is responsible for the continued imposition of the dual service.

There is the usual nonsense and larrikinism about socialist coffers and that we are not following the previous policy of having a strong decentralised service. This simply is not true. The overall staffing of the Service has remained pretty consistent. There has actually been a reduction of seven staff since January 1983. With respect to the central office people complaining about the previous system, the reason why we ran into so much trouble was that it was understaffed centrally. We had a system on the cheap and that is how we got into so much trouble. Since the Australian Labor Party has been in government the number of people at central office has increased from 94 to 117, but 25 of them are on short term transfer from regional offices, and back to the regional offices they will go. So all this talk about no decentralised system is nonsense-that is all I can say.

We had a service before. It was on the cheap and that is why we ran into so much trouble. The work that is being undertaken in Canberra at present-that is work following on from that begun by Peter Nixon-is very complicated. Six consultancies are involved. I could give a few examples: There is a comprehensive review of inspection standards and practices for all products including meat to increase productivity; there is development of a common Australian construction and equipment code; there is development and implementation of objective product description; there are the negotiations with the States and the Northern Territory on the single inspection service; there is the development and implementation of a compliance and integrity program; there are the ongoing reviews in consultation with industry on charging methods; there is the application of modern computer technology to manpower planning and security; we are developing a new system of halal slaughter; and we are developing management programs relating to training, industrial relations and development of responsibility to the regions; and we are preparing new legislation accompanying ministerial orders.

We are engaged in a very complex task. We fundamentally believe that is should be a decentralised service, decentralised to the regional offices in the States. We are continuing with that principle because it is a good one and a strong one. The real test of the Export Inspection Service will be when we can get people at the work place in the abattoirs taking decisions that accord entirely with professional standards and those that will guarantee the integrity of our products on overseas markets. To get 2,000 or 3,000 people into place doing that sort of thing is a massive task. The previous inspection service was on the cheap. We are in the business of fixing it up. Finally, in rejecting the amendment of the opportunistic Opposition, I mention one of the statements made by the honourable member for Darling Downs, that is, his statement that the Government does not like the wives and families of farmers. That is typical of the inane sort of nonsense we have come to expect from the honourable member.