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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 1936

Senator BOSWELL(10.55) — Today we are debating a wide range of primary industry Bills which concern wheat, dried vine fruits, canned fruits, fisheries, meat exports, dairy products, eggs and livestock slaughter export inspection charges. Before I continue my remarks, I foreshadow that I will move the following amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Meat Export Charge Bill 1984:

At end of motion, add ', but the Senate calls upon the Government to implement a moratorium on charges for 2 years after the date upon which the legislation receives the Royal Assent'.

The Opposition totally rejects the actions of the Labor Government on the entire meat inspection issue. The entire affair has been a continuing saga of stupidity on the part of the Government for well over a year, ever since the Government brought down its first Budget last year. It has been a saga which has caused immeasurable damage not only to the export meat trade, but also to the livelihoods of thousands of meat workers throughout Australia.

I can understand the Government's total disregard for the people of rural Australia and the primary industries of Australia, but I cannot understand how it can turn its back on 40,000 meat workers who have traditionally supported it. That is what the Government is doing by way of these Bills, particularly the Meat Export Charge Bill. The Government is deserting its supporters. It is completely turning its back on them. It has traditionally done so to people involved in primary industry. It does not care about them; it never has, and the people know that. The fact that these 20 Bills which will impose taxes on primary industry have been introduced six weeks before a Federal election clearly demonstrates to the people of rural Australia that the Government could not care less about them. It is a poke in the eye for them. The Government has more or less said to them: 'We don't want your lousy votes; we can live without them'. The Government will receive the people's answer in the ballot box. The meat trade is worth $2 billion in export earnings each year to the economy. Yet Labor is crucifying the trade by imposing increased costs and charges.

Ever since this Government in its August 1983 Budget announced that meat export inspection charges were to be increased, the coalition and the industry have begged and hammered it to change its mind because we can understand what the repercussions will be. It will put 20,000 meat workers out of work and they will have to be employed under a community employment program. I have always considered the Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes, to be a responsible Minister. He has often told me that he is a small business person in his own right. He must understand the implications of this legislation for the meat workers and rural communities. We managed after a great deal of effort to get the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, to have the Interim Inspection Policy Council look into the whole question of the meat export levy. We breathed a sigh of relief. Everyone thought that the Minister had finally realised what a catastrophe and a fiasco the original idea had been. Everyone thought that at least the Government would listen, and it did reduce the levy from $5.40 to $4. 55. This year the Minister announced another half-baked scheme which amounted to no improvement with regard to the export meat trade. The industry pointed out that far from being an improvement on the original $5.40 a head, the cost of the export inspection levy under the new arrangements would amount to more than $8 a head on export bullocks. That is on top of other, self-imposed, levies in the meat industry. The total levy will now come to $13.58 per export beast.

The meat Interim Inspection Policy Council is prepared to pay its way. It says that it is prepared to go along with the Government's legislation. But it cannot at the moment. It has asked for a two-year moratorium. I will tell the Senate why it cannot. Australian meat exports are down by 28.35 per cent. The United States of America has signed a four-year treaty with Japan to increase the quotas they already have from 37,000 tonnes in 1984 to 58,400 tonnes in 1987. The United States was given this extra quota because United States officials went to Japan and fought for it. Vice-President Bush went to Japan three times and fought for his beef producers. But what did we get from the Minister for Trade, Mr Lionel Bowen? He went to Japan once and did not come back with the goods.

Australia is losing markets everywhere. Our sales in Malaysia are down by 80 per cent. The Korean market is down by 60,000 tonnes. We are facing a loss of markets all over the world. The Government has to realise-this is so obvious and it should be obvious to every honourable senator on the other side-that we are in a competitive world market and we must compete with other countries. The Government must allow our meat industries to compete on the same terms as all of our other competitors such as Canada, Argentina and the European Economic Community countries. These countries not only do not impose export taxes but also heavily subsidise their primary industries. They even allow meat purchasers extended credit. If the Government wants an industry that provides 40,000 jobs to meat workers plus spin-off jobs for transport workers, box makers and the like-one could go on ad infinitum-at a ratio of four to one, it has to set the charges it imposes on the industry against the jobs and benefits that are provided by the industry. If the Government does not accept the situation it will put the industry in a completely uncompetitive situation.

Our wage structures are high, and yet we are still adding on cost after cost. Of course, on top of the export charge cost, an $11 superannuation cost for every meat worker and a redundancy cost will be imposed. The whole meat industry is going to crash around the neck of the Minister for Social Security. He will then have to go out and explain to meat workers why they find themselves painting fences and putting down concrete slabs around country towns. I can assure the Minister that he is not going to win any friends, including the meat workers, in these country towns.

The Cattle Council of Australia described the Minister's 20 June statement as ' outrageous' and warned that the 'decision will cause antagonism between the Labor Party and the industry and it will be reflected at the polls'. The Government obviously does not care about that because if it did, it would not be bringing these Bills in six weeks before an election. This antagonism most certainly will be reflected at the polls unless the Government has a late minute change of heart. I appeal to the Government to change its mind because it has one last chance to do so.

The answer is simple: The Government must implement the IIPC's recommendation that there be a two-year moratorium on increased export inspection charges. I will come back to that in a moment. However, first it is worth looking back over the record just to see what did actually happen to the IIPC's two-year moratorium recommendation. Precisely nothing happened to this very major recommendation. It was ditched; it was totally ignored. The Minister for Primary Industry never even took it to his Cabinet for consideration. That is a massive indictment of the Minister for Primary Industry. What a classic example that is of just how much this Minister and the Labor Party really think of our primary industry. The Minister, in his statement on 20 June, said that the Government had 'taken into account the arguments put forward by the Council in relation to this recommendation'. That was the recommendation of a two-year moratorium. However, he went on to say that the Government had concluded that 'it could not implement it given the current tight budgetary context'. I suppose the Minister hoped that it would rest there. As I said, this is a shocking indictment of the Minister. This Minister has been racing around rural Australia, round the primary industries, saying: 'Gentlemen, you are perfectly right. You are all great fellows and we all love you. But my mates down in Canberra will not listen to me'. So they put him in the Cabinet. But he still told the people he was getting rolled, that he was standing up for them, that he would fight for them, that he would take up their battles in Canberra and that he would fight for the primary industries of this nation. That is a farce. He has lost every bit of credibility he ever had. If this Government gets back into power not only will it be unfortunate for Australia but it will also have to change the Minister for Primary Industry because his credibility is absolutely destroyed. He has not one friend out there now.

Senator Watson —They are all socialists.

Senator BOSWELL —Of course they are socialists; we know that. The Minister was sprung by the Australian Meat Exporters Federal Council a few weeks later. The AMEFC revealed on 25 July 1984 that the Minister had confirmed to it in a telex- that was not terribly good footwork-that he did not put the two-year moratorium recommendation to Cabinet for budgetary reasons. I quote the words of the Council:

This is an incredible position taken by the Minister. The Interim Inspection Policy Council, a body comprising consumers, industry and independent members, recommended a package to assist the meat industry, while accepting the monetary constraints of the Government.

The IIPC package was a reasonable approach, but the Minister discarded the critical sections of the package without any consultation with the industry.

This makes a mockery of the Hawke Government's stated commitment to consultation and consensus.

They are not my words; they are the words of the Australian Meat Exporters Federal Council on the Minister's decision not to go to Cabinet. They are proof that the Labor Government does not mean what it says. They prove that the Minister for Primary Industry is a trickster. They prove once again, as we have seen over the last 19 months, that every time a promise is made it is broken.

I think we should look at the inspection service inefficiencies. There are 153 meat inspectors surplus to requirements to service the industry. Why should the primary producers of this nation pick up the tab for 153 people who are not required? I am not advocating that they be dismissed; that is not my position. But they should be paid for out of Consolidated Revenue. That cost cannot be pushed back on to the primary producers of Australia. The point was reached where 38 officers were disciplined, and they were disciplined by being given 19 months holiday on full pay. That certainly would not encourage people to toe the line. Yet the primary producers have to pick up the cost for this inefficiency. I see Senator Grimes making notes. I will be very interested in what he has to say. These Bills should have been debated by the Senate when Senator Walsh was here because at least he has some rural background. Senator Grimes is a doctor and is having to fill in for Senator Walsh. I do not think he will know the first thing he is talking about. Senator Walsh was not game to defend in the Senate his Government's attitude. He shot through overseas. I do not blame him. The Government does not have a feather to fly with. There are no other Government speakers on these Bills because they cannot defend their actions because they are all--

Senator Robertson —Because they want to go home. It's a pity a few more of you do not.

Senator BOSWELL —So do you. The Whip interjects. If anybody should be defending these Bills it should be the Whip because he represents an area of meat exporters. But there are no Government speakers.

Senator Watson —It shows their priorities.

Senator BOSWELL —It does. But they cannot defend the indefensible. Senator Grimes will have to try and I will be very interested to see what he does. I said earlier that there was an honourable way for the Government to get out of this mess. Without scoring any political points, on behalf of the 40,000 meat workers and the great primary industries of this nation I plead for a death-bed recovery for the industry, for repentance by the Government. The Government should use a little common sense in the interests of all Australians.

Senator Grimes —Tell us where you live.

Senator BOSWELL —It is irrelevant where I live because this legislation will have an impact all over Australia. The Government's position has always been the same: It taxes the efficient and then it tries to pick up the unemployed. Having crippled and destroyed the efficient, forcing them to shed jobs, the only defence the Government has is to reduce unemployment by having people paint fences and lay bricks. That is what the Government is trying to do, and it damned well knows it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Order, Senator Boswell, you must withdraw that.

Senator BOSWELL —I withdraw that. I got carried away, Mr Acting Deputy President . I have strong feelings on this legislation. The only way the Government can save face is to accept my foreshadowed amendment, which I believe will have the support of the Australian Democrats. I know that Senator Harradine will definitely support it. If the Government does not accept it it will be defying the Senate, as well as flying in the face of primary industry, the Meat Inspection Council and the meat workers. Therefore, I urge the Senate to give the foreshadowed amendment all the support it can.