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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6431

Senator TROETH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (5:48 PM) — I thank honourable senators for their contribution to the debate on the Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002 and the associated bill, the Egg Industry Service Provision (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2002. This legislation has come about as a result of moves within the egg industry to rationalise its marketing and research and development activities, and to provide other industry services to the egg industry which will enable it to be more responsive to the challenges that it faces.

I would like to deal with some of the issues raised by senators during their speeches and certainly with the issue flagged by Senator O'Brien and continued by Senator Bartlett about the opposition to the levy. As Senator O'Brien remarked, there was a formal consultation period from April 2001 until 30 September 2001, and during the period since only two letters of complaint have been received. Ninety-four per cent of 238 producers who voted on the proposal were in favour of this legislation and the implied levy and they represent over 96 per cent of the laying hens flock.

I should also point out that I too have had some comment on the issues raised by the protesters. The signatories to the petition that has been circulated have not been able to establish bona fides. It has not been shown that all the signatories are producers or will be paying a levy under the new arrangements to be implemented. It is still an absolute fact, and has been clearly shown, that the majority of the industry is vastly in favour of the establishment of the corporation. I have a letter from the Australian Egg Industry Association telling me that. They have analysed those figures and still maintain that around 94 per cent of voters voted in favour of these proposals. As I will be the one who decides these matters for the egg industry, I am perfectly satisfied with that demonstration of support for the legislation.

With regard to Senator Bartlett's comments on animal welfare, I believe that the establishment of the new company will provide the industry with a greater resource base and a more focused means of providing a way of addressing issues of concern to the industry. That includes the need for the industry to respond to any regulations or resolutions relating to animal welfare. Obviously, the company would not have any direct role, and it is not proposed that it would have any direct role, in enforcing animal health and welfare issues, because these are clearly matters for state legislation. However, it is expected that under the proposed new arrangements the new company will be able to provide direction and leadership to industry in addressing these concerns, as well as assist with the development and implementation of initiatives relating to animal health and welfare arising out of the primary industry standing committee framework and other relevant fora.

Moreover, as an industry services body, the new company will have the capability to undertake, on behalf of the industry, policy research and analysis on important industry issues such as animal welfare standards. The new company will take on the research and development functions that are currently provided to the egg industry under a subprogram of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. As one of its priorities, that organisation has a focus on animal welfare and the new arrangements will not affect the Commonwealth's ability to require the industry to meet these priorities through the new company in the future.

With regard to Senator Bartlett's concerns about parliamentary access to the new company's operations—and he quoted his dealings with Livecorp recently—the contract between the Commonwealth and the new body is in the draft stage. However, it is expected to include a clause which will require the company to provide all reasonable assistance required by the Commonwealth in respect of any evaluation or inquiry into the company's performance. That includes any inquiry conducted by parliament or by a parliamentary committee. I commend both the Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002 and the Egg Industry Service Provision (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2002 to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.