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Thursday, 20 October 1983
Page: 2012

Mr O'NEIL —Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware of allegations suggesting that stock will be diverted from export abattoirs to domestic abattoirs to avoid paying the higher export charges, thereby affecting the viability of some abattoirs and causing closure? Are the increased charges for export inspection the reasons for the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Port Lincoln abattoir? Is the Minister able to do anything about the allegedly anomalous situation existing in export works where part of the kill is for domestic purposes? Is the Minister aware of threats by meat processors in protest at the Government's decision to recoup 50 per cent of inspection costs?

Mr KERIN —I thank the honourable member for Grey for his question. I thank him also for the close interest he takes in rural matters in his electorate, in the meat and livestock industries and the grain growing industries. I am aware of the concerns of some processors that some stock could be diverted from export works to domestic works. I am also aware, incidentally, that no National Party member was in attendance today when I presented a golden meat cleaver to the Beaut Butcher of the Year as part of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation's meat promotion.

Mr Hawke —They were frightened you would have put it through their heads.

Mr KERIN —I do not know whether they feared what I would do with the cleaver. The Beaut Butcher was a chap called Denis Kelly from Kenmore in Brisbane-a Queenslander. I do not know why no National Party member was there to take an interest in the meat industry or the Beaut Butcher. To get back to the question, reports to date indicate that there is no evidence of substantial diversion caused by export inspection fee increases. A number of factors taken together will tend to minimise the scope for redirection of animals to domestic works. Examples are freight costs, freezer capacity and kill charges, which can vary between works by more than the cost of inspection. It is likely that any redirection will reflect the general trend, already in evidence for some time, away from the higher cost work as part of the general industry rationalisation.

I can state categorically to the honourable gentleman that export inspection fees will not be the reason for the Port Lincoln abattoir going out of business, if that does occur. I have no information to indicate that the works may go out of business. The information I have is that the works has operated at a loss over most of its life. The South Australian Government is currently discussing with the industry options for reducing that loss. As part of that discussion the South Australian Minister, my colleague Frank Blevins, will be inspecting the works next week. In the event that problems of diversion for the industry in general prove to be significant, I have had my Department examine possible options. I have even given some of those options to the Opposition, because it is a problem being raised by honourable members on both sides of the House. However, it is difficult to find any effective way of minimising the differential in charges without the two-fold step of the establishment of a single national meat inspection service and charging for the service itself.

In regard to the third part of the honourable gentleman's question about meat processing, I am aware that meat processors have stated that they may refuse to pay the increased export inspection charge or that they may seek to offset the increased charge by charging the Commonwealth for use of facilities at meat works by Commonwealth meat inspectors. Last week I met with the Chairman of the Australian Meat Exporters Federal Council and discussed these propositions with him. I appreciate the concerns he has raised, but I stressed to him that a tremendous amount of effort has been put into, and will continue to be put into, creating a lean and efficient export inspection service. I am advised that if an export works does not pay the full levy, a penalty of some 20 per cent per annum is assessed and action is taken through the courts to recover the amount outstanding. With regard to charging the Commonwealth for the use of facilities, I note that it is a condition of the registration of export meat works that such accommodation is to be provided free of charge.