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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 1745

Senator ARCHER(12.14) —I take this opportunity to speak to the Export Inspection Charge Bill 1985 and allied Bills to cover several aspects of a whole group of rural Bills which will come before the Parliament over the next week or so. As usual, we have this group of Bills all turning up in the last weeks of a session and we are expected to rush them through. Seldom do we get an opportunity to have a reasonable debate. The Bills before us are as much a matter of attitude as of detail. They demonstrate a lot to us about the philosophy of the Government. They show its general attitude towards the rural sector of Australia. The Government fails to take into account Australia's trading nation status, which is a matter that is forgotten not only by the Government but also by most people in Australia.

We have become so introverted as to believe that what we do in Australia is really all that is important, whereas what is done overseas has a far greater impact on the prosperity of the country than is generally conceded. As a result, we have reached the stage where we are now having real difficulty in competing with other countries, and it is all for a variety of self-inflicted social reasons, not economic or trading ones. We work too little, we pay ourselves too much and we hold our hands out for far too many fringe benefits and side benefits. We are simply out of step with our trading partners. When the Government looks at the sort of problem we get ourselves into, what it does is call the undertaker instead of the doctor. We all know what the symptoms are. We know we have the cure at our disposal but we prefer to write off the patient.

Australia has a collection of very highly efficient, very useful, primary industries spread over the length and breadth of the continent. They operate in widely spread areas; they produce a wide range of skills, crafts and social benefits. They seek very little from government. They contribute very much to a wide variety of communities. The people involved invest their skills and capital and provide employment for a very extensive range of people all over the country. They are the true representatives of the productive sector of the nation. However, that sector is seen by this Government as being there to attack, to tax to destruction, to accuse on various tax issues and to deprive of services by removing facilities and fundamental services, such as health, education and pensions.

This city-based, centralist-minded, union-motivated Government simply would not know what I am talking about. The productive sector of Australia exports the goods that keep this country alive and what consideration does it get? Absolutely none. Every time some wildcat or demarcation strike is called to put genuine workers out of work, the nation pays. For instance, in Queensland it is the Electrical Trade Union of Australia; in Victoria it is the Builders Labourers Federation of Australia; and in Tasmania it is the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen's Association of Australasia. What a sorry state to tell.

What about the incomes of the so-called wealthy farmers whom the Government wants to tax to oblivion? According to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, this year they can each look forward to the grand income of $7,000. In city style one cannot start off a 15-year-old for the money that country people are expected to raise a family and run a business on. The farmers pay all their rates and taxes and they pay to maintain the nation's true wealth, and all of this is done on a third of the average weekly wage of $20,000 a year. Who consults them on increased costs? Who consults them on their decreasing competitiveness? What say do they have in whether the price of fuel goes up 25 per cent without notice? What say do they have on wages or all of the other costs that they have to contend with? All they have to do is again trim their expenses to meet the costs that are involved and their lack of income.

Let us look at dairying as a typical example. The Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, has the answer, as he does, of course, for the dried fruits people. It is probably best that I quote from Mr Kerin's Press release of 7 May. In part, it states:

''Clearly, there will be a range of actions taken by farmers over the next twelve months as they make decisions on their future . . .

''They may reduce the number of cows they have in production, they may change from dairy to some other form of agricultural production, they may remain on the land but seek off farm employment or they may want to leave the farm,'' the Minister said.

''Likewise, factories will make individual decisions about employment levels, product mix, marketing and so on,'' he said.

Of course he is right; they do have those choices. They can reduce the number of cows, but if they do reduce the number of cows so what? Will that still buy food, and pay their doctors', dentists' and chemists' bills? Will it still provide education for their children or transport to get them in and out of the towns? As the Minister says, they have the option to change. Perhaps they would like to change to growing sugar, blackcurrants, dried fruits, peas and beans, peaches and pears or oil seeds! There is a great choice as to what these people can change to! The Minister says that they can seek off-farm employment-they and 700,000 others. What are the jobs that are available in rural areas for these people who the Minister so glibly says can seek jobs in off-farm situations? The Minister says that they may want to leave their farms, but who may want to buy them? Who are these buyers who may want to buy one of these farms that he says they may wish to leave? I am sure the banks and other mortgagors do not want 2,000 dairy farms around their necks either. The Minister says that the factories can do something else as well. I am not quite sure what they can do. The Minister has not told us that, but he gave them the choice to do something else. This is the help we get from the Minister who is leading this debacle.

What sort of choice is it when our producers in the dried fruits and dairying industries have expertise, technology and efficiency at least equal to that in any country in the world and the attitude of the Government is to dispose of them with insensitive and ridiculous legislation that will eliminate them either totally or mainly in the very short term? What does the Government intend to do in both these cases? What it is doing is selling out Australian producers, the efficient, high quality Australian producers. It is selling out their jobs, their properties and their family's futures to efficient, highly subsidised producers of dumped goods from the European Economic Community and other places.

Why do we want to destroy our most efficient and innovative industries when at the same time the less efficient are being left to survive? With this attitude all we will do is continue going round wiping off one of Australia's primary industries after another. Presumably, when we have wiped off all those industries we will start on secondary industries, starting with the better ones, of course. We can, and I presume we will, continue to accelerate this process by supporting all sorts of demands for extra union wages and more fringe benefits, by embarking on more anti-rural cuts and by imposing a new range of capital taxes. This is the part of the economy from where all our nation's wealth starts. If we start by cutting expenditure in that area wherever will we make it up? Already in Australia there is an enormous, extravagant transfer of money away from the rural industries to the city dwellers. I would have thought that by now we would have started to see that this was the case. It is time that we thought of seeing what the highly paid, over-pampered city sector is getting and how some of that should be transferred to the place where the nation, when it again realises it, depends entirely for its future; namely, the rural areas. The rural areas used to be the environment in which the Australian character was really developed, but this Government will make it the place where Australia's hopes and endeavours are destroyed for good. Unless there are changes of thinking by the designers of this Government's economic policies, all we will need to do is to hang up a sign on the edge of what used to be the productive rural areas saying: 'Bob Hawke, John Kerin and Peter Walsh went this way hand in hand'.

The producers of canned and frozen fruits and vegetables will have to find another $330,000 out of their diminishing return. We are told that all this has been agreed and that everybody is happy, but it just so happens that I received a telex, which was sent not only to me but also to Mr Kerin and Mr Hawke, saying:

ACFA strongly opposes proposed legislation to recover 50% export inspection costs of canned fruit.

Because of strong export competition, all canners apply strict quality control inspection systems beyond that exercised by government.

Proposed inspection cost recovery will result in $6.00 per tonne imposition on canning fruitgrowers adding further burden to cost/price squeeze.

The telex was signed by P. A. Pullar, President of the Australian Canning Fruitgrowers Association Ltd. What is $6 a tonne to the Government? It is not very much money to the Government, but to the industry it is another row of nails in the coffin. What will replace this industry if we put it out of business? Right now all of these industries are under the hammer, not because they are inefficient or backward in technology or because their product is less than the best in the world, but simply because Australia has opted for a domestic cost structure that is unsustainable anywhere in the world. When it comes to price we are under threat from everyone. We import fruit and vegetables from about 40 countries, such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France, Rumania, Taiwan, Japan, Canada, Israel, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Indonesia and so on. We have a system of product standard second to none. It is excellent and we are proud of it. What do we know about the standards of those countries from which we import? How much inspection do they have? Do we know? Do we ask? How much money do we spend on checking which imports Australians eat? Is it as much as we spend on seeing what we export?

Let us take cheese. We have a very rigid health standard as to the use of nitrates as a cheese preservative. The use of nitrates is banned totally in Australian production. This makes cheese production much more costly and much more technically exacting and places our exporters at a great disadvantage on export markets. If that is not bad enough, we allow cheese to come into Australia, to compete here against our own, that clearly does not comply with our production requirements and when, clearly, we have done nothing either to prevent it from coming in or to deal with it when it gets here. Every year we import about 10,000 tonnes of cheese that does not comply with Australian health standards. Why do we sell our Australian jobs to overseas producers? Why do we not do more to look after them here? Let us put Australia first.

As I said a week or two ago, what is wrong with Australia? If we had a virile fifth column in this country dedicated to destroying all forms of production and distribution it would be doing a very worthwhile job at present. It could not be more proud of its work. Those who trade and those who export should be regarded as the truly great Australians. We should raise our hats to them. We should encourage them, not tax them into obscurity. We should ensure that the nation gives them a reasonable chance to compete and that we keep them profitable, and, hopefully, make them more profitable.

What are we doing to our efficient primary industries? We have only to look at citrus. I refer to a sheet which was issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics a day or two ago. In 1982 we imported 1,792 tonnes of oranges, tangerines, mandarins and clementines. In 1983 we imported 4,993 tonnes. In 1984 we imported 10,030 tonnes. We imported 4,416 tonnes of the juiced product in 1982 and 11,515 tonnes on 1983. In 1984 we imported 14,628 tonnes. That cost Australian growers $10m in the first year, $26m in the second year and $33m in 1984, the third year. There is no reason why every drop of that juice could not have been produced in Australia by the best fruit growers in the world, yet we buy that quantity overseas. Every cent of that is at the expense of the Australian producers. There are many such examples. One has only to look at the blackcurrant, frozen pea and other markets to see that this is so. This is the way that Australia works.

One processor recently made it clear to me that he felt it was ludicrous that he was paying to have inspectors coming through his place who had nothing like the qualifications of his own highly qualified professionals. These people could not determine what they were there to do. Of course that producer is concerned about the quality of his product and of course anything he exports will be of the highest quality. He knows what the situation is in the real world. But no, we send inspectors through that place and make the producer pay for it.

I refer now to the problem of ministerial orders. I have had this problem with other sections of primary industry. I am totally opposed to anything that permits orders which have not been subject to parliamentary scrutiny and which have not been made available to the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances to look at. This is another case when there should be recourse to members of parliament to have some say about what goes on. Of course, I support adequate and appropriate inspection. I accept the conclusions of the report of the Department of Primary Industry Advisory Committee on Export Inspection Arrangements for Canned and Frozen Fruit and Vegetables. The Committee concluded in paragraph 2.43 of the report that for Australia to maintain its export markets it had, firstly, to ensure that international obligations and importing country requirements were met; secondly, that the product was processed, packed, stored and transported under adequate standards; thirdly, that the product itself complied with minimum standards of quality; and, fourthly, that the product description was adequate. Of course we all believe in that. However, I am in no doubt that this is being done by every reputable exporter in Australia. Whether these industries should be charged with the cost of doing so is the point on which I have a difference of opinion. I believe it is absolutely ridiculous to kick our rural export industries even further when it was we Australians at large who created the situation that has put the producers in the difficulty they are currently in.

I believe also in penalties. Wherever there is fraud, carelessness, complicity or incompetence that could prejudice the good name of an exporter and of the country I believe there is no penalty too great, right up to the loss of licence. I certainly believe that if there is any such activity these penalties are the least we should have. Adequate penalty as a deterrent is far preferable to inadequate inspection and inadequate penalty, which seems to be the alternative. I believe that the whole philosophy behind charging exporters, when the nation itself has put exporters in a difficult situation, is just about as silly as it could be. There is no way I can support that philosophy. I guess that we have no alternative at this stage but to allow the legislation to pass.