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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1589

Mr LLOYD (-Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia)(8.20 p.m.) —-Both the Leader of the National Party (Mr Tim Fischer) and the honourable member for Hinkler (Mr Courtice) have raised the problem of the devastation of the drought over much of Queensland and northern New South Wales. It comes on top of the export subsidy war between the United States and Europe. The additional export subsidies of Europe plus our high input prices and high interest rates mean that an even higher percentage of the world's most efficient farmers are not going to make it. Those points have been made and I will be making them again in other speeches in Parliament over the next few days.

What I want to concentrate on now is the estimates for the Department of Primary Industries and Energy itself. It is rather amazing that a Department that is so good at giving advice to the farmers of Australia on how they have to be more efficient is itself not efficient. For example, while farmers have been cutting back, the DPIE has been expanding. In 1988-89, the cost of the Department was $80.5m. In the next year, 1989-90, it was $91.6m, a 13.7 per cent increase. In 1990-91 it was $103.2m, a 17.9 per cent increase. In 1991-92 it is $109.5m, a 6.2 per cent increase. The increases are well above inflation for each of those years. That means an increase of about 35 per cent since 1988-89. In that time, of course, farmers' incomes dropped dramatically.

I acknowledge that one of the additional costs has been the sustainable development process. I think that was about $9m for the Department. All one can say about that is that it was a very costly exercise which has resulted in many more trees having to be cut down to make paper for reams and reams of reports which seem to be of no real value to this country.

The Budget prediction for next year is also not good. While the figure is set to drop by $1.5m to $108m, it has to be remembered that the major part of the Australian Fisheries Service, which is now costing more than $30m to administer, is transferring from the Department to a self-financed management authority which will be financed by fishermen themselves.

There are three particular areas of administration that I want to concentrate upon in the few minutes available to me. The first is the Australian Fisheries Service, which has been administered by the Department for many years. I acknowledge, fisheries are very difficult to manage because no-one really knows all the time what the resource is. But if one looks at the record, one sees that the total allowable catch for southern bluefin tuna was reduced from 1,800 tonnes last year to 800 tonnes this year. Orange roughy was restricted to 10,700 tonnes for the eastern zone, and 12,000 tonnes for the southern zone. It is intended to bring the amount down to 2,700 tonnes for each zone. The total allowable catch for eastern gemfish two years ago was 3,000 tonnes. Last year it was 1,800 tonnes and this year only 420 tonnes. The northern prawn fishery is working its way through a buy-back to halve the size of that fishery. Then there are other restrictions in areas such as blue eye and southern shark. That is not good management by a Department for a very important resource for this country.

On top of that, some of the AFS staff have been working to rules. It means that the dismal record of administration is even more dismal at the present time. That will change when the management authority starts next year. But the question I ask, and sincerely ask, is this: what disciplinary action has been taken against those staff people in the Department who have refused to do their work properly?

Secondly, I refer to consultants. The Department spent $8.2m on consultants last financial year. An amount of $108,658 went to TASA International to assist the wool industry selection committee. Why bother to have a wool selection committee if a consultant is required to do that job to such a degree? About $1m was spent on various fishery reports. I have already indicated the value of the administration there. An amount of $179,000 was spent on various studies for the south-east forests of New South Wales. An amount of $238,000 was spent on various studies looking at plantations. I believe there is plenty of literature by State departments on that subject.

Mr Cowan —-And a lot of them confusing.

Mr LLOYD —-It would be interesting to see whether these have added to the greater knowledge of the situation, or perhaps created a jungle. An amount of $43,718 went to John Walker and Associates for professional services for gathering, writing and clearing copy for the AQIS bulletin. I acknowledge that that has been a worthwhile publication, but that cost, together with $19,000 to another company to prepare a public relations strategy for AQIS, raises this question: what work are AQIS and DPI public relations officers and press people actually doing?

I refer to AQIS itself. I want to give some figures and I want to ask what is the state of play in AQIS at the present time. As of a few months ago, there were 1,654 meat inspectors, of whom 1,249 are actually engaged in inspection services at a particular time. That means there are always 405 inspectors, or 25 per cent, not engaged in inspection. Of this number, 87 inspectors are deemed to be surplus to requirements. It is estimated that a further 155 will become surplus within the next two years. On top of that, there are 162 inspectors to provide relief for those on holidays, sick leave, et cetera. To cover the cost of these inspectors who do not earn a direct recovery from the industry, a figure of $14,200 is loaded to every working inspector.

I would also like the latest state of play on a second piece of information--that there were 63 inspectors stationed in towns which no longer had abattoirs. It has taken a while to come out, but in the Senate Estimates we were told that 45 of those refused transfers to somewhere where there was work; there were 18 in New South Wales and 27 in Victoria. Why were they still put on the payroll when they refused to be transferred? Despite the Department earlier admitting that it had surplus inspectors and that some inspectors were accepting redundancy packages, while others were refusing transfers, AQIS has recruited an additional 14 inspectors in the last 12 months. That is on top of those who are already considered to be surplus.

On checking out further information on the 63 inspectors, we were told that the travelling allowance for these inspectors amounted to $811,621 in 1989-90 because they had to travel further to any abattoir. For example, some Bendigo inspectors have told me personally that they have been to Geraldton in Western Australia. Yet, in the Senate, we were told that Bendigo inspectors only did jobs locally because there are a lot of local service abattoirs. Somebody is not telling all of the story.

We want to know what is the situation with those inspectors now? On figures also provided by the Department, they were working about half time. When we have a 100 per cent cost recovery on farmers who have no say in how that money is spent, and at a time of reducing prices, it is obviously and simply not good enough. I sincerely ask to be advised of the actual number of AQIS inspectors at the present time.

In addition, the fishing industry, where some progress has been made, I believe, was told it would get significant reductions because there would no longer be on-line inspectors and there would be flexibility. That has not occurred, because the number of people at the regional and head office level has not been reduced in any way.

Is this particular problem of AQIS being overcome? It is one thing for me and others to knock the actual meat inspectors but, after all, they--or the majority of them--are working. They are being paid about $34,000, but they are being charged out at $68,000, and unless the dead weight in the regional office and head office is reduced, nothing is really being achieved. So I would certainly like to know what the position is with that, and also with the Australian Fisheries Service and whether, in spite of this increasing Budget, we are going to be burdened with more consultants this year.