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Thursday, 30 September 1971
Page: 1756

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - I rise to support the extension of the levy for very good reasons associated with the support that the levy funds have given, particularly to the research carried out by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. I want to refer to some of the difficulties which are being experienced at the present time in relation to the continuation of vital research for many of our primary industries. Just before I refer to that I think it would be fair to place on record the fact that the beef industry and the meat industry generally at the present time has a hope for expansion which is unparallelled, and far from ever suggesting that there is any reason why the countryside should shut up shop and go out of business there is every reason to give it all the help to become as efficient as possible to enable it to bear the still major burden of earning the export income of this nation. This is the vital thing that must be kept in mind. We trade to live; we live to trade. When one looks at the figures for last year one finds that 51 per cent of our earnings originated from primary exports. There is no prospect of changing materially the emphasis there.

It has been said that Australia can rely on minerals. But the Government has indicated that there is no possibility of doing that for 14 years. That is in the Government's assessment. The Opposition does not always agree with the Government, But from the Government's assessment it would be 14 years before the mineral industry could take up the export position now occupied by primary industry. At the moment we face 14 years of poverty unless primary industry thrives. This should be kept well in mind. It is a factor that should dominate our thinking and our attitude to primary industries at the moment, not for themselves alone but for the contribution they make to the overall economy of the nation, because they are earning the money to buy the materials which keep the factories going and which keep the economy moving along.

It is of concern not only to the people living in the countryside but also to the people who live in other parts of the nation that these industries should continue to earn essential and vital export income. Let me say that very bluntly today, in applying myself to the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Bill. I was delighted to hear the Minister for Primary Industry {Mi Sinclair) say in his second reading speech:

The service and investigation section of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has used the funds obtained from the levy, together wilh a matching Commonwealth contribution, to assist meat works in many fields including quality control, sanitation and hygiene - all of which are assuming increasing importance in the meat trade.

This is true. We should be seizing in a better way the opportunities, particularly in our own region of the world, lor expanding the meat trade. I suppose that a considerable amount of our trade is conducted with Singapore. At the moment another nation in our own region has taken half of the market we could procure for ourselves there as a result of its better approach to trading. At present there is every reason in the world why we should maintain the intensity and level of research to ensure that the efficiency of these export industries is improved, while recognising the fact that they have already reached a level of efficiency which has enabled us to hold our markets.

On the farm there is, I suppose, a level of efficiency on a per man basis and a per acre basis second to none. That is a pretty good achievement. But once the stock or the crop leaves the farm gate it runs into some of the most archaic and inefficient marketing systems in the world. The efficiency of the individual producer has had to carry the great load of marketing and handling inefficiency. So there is an urgent need for reform at all levels. That does not mean that we can leave the level of farm efficiency where it is, high as it is. This is why there is support for measures such as this one.

Let me come back to my earlier comment in relation to the CSIRO and its research. At present there is widespread concern in the CSIRO about the future of much of its work, because much of the work in terms of the service to primary industry is based on levies such as this. Because the industries are under attack at the present time for various reasons - mostly reasons associated with lack of government action or government initiative - there is to be a cutback in the flow of funds.

So we have the paradox of an increasing need for efficiency, an increasing need to ensure the competitiveness of our individual farmers and producers and at the same time a reduction in the flow of money to the research essential to enable that efficiency to be maintained. We should recognise that research cannot be turned on and off like a tap. Very often it is not possible even in a single year to get the results one wants or to secure the basic information one needs on any one of the major problems that confront primary industry. Research is essentially a time consuming and, I am sorry to say, a money consuming activity. This has to be recognised. I am glad that the Government has decided to continue the levy for this research, but what I am concerned about in the overall picture of the CSIRO and the activities designed to service primary industry is that if the flow of funds from the primary sector is not adequate, will the Government permit the research to be interrupted, terminated or reduced significantly?

At present there is no doubt at all that in total terms the amount of time and effort put in by the CSIRO to tackling the problems of the primary sector will be less for the ensuing year. This is a matter which must concern us. I make a plea today that the level of research by the CSIRO, particularly to service the primary industries, be maintained and not reduced, even if that means finding some special funds for this purpose to bridge the gap. However, the proposal which is before us will provide from the levy - according to the Minister - finance to allow continuity of operations over a period in excess of 3 years. 1 welcome this. I would specifically ask the Minister for External Territories (Mr Barnes), who is at the table, either to ask the Minister for Primary Industry or to answer on his own behalf whether the service and investigation section of the CSIRO will not, in that triennium, find its activities reduced. lt is all right to say: 'Yes, we will continue. We will do all the things that we have said in the past should be carried out'. That is a very nice, easy statement to make. I think honourable members should be reassured that there will be no reduction either in personnel or volume of work at this time. I repeat that a very great case has been made out, which is before the Government at the moment, to maintain and indeed increase the research activities to ensure the competitiveness of the industries that are earning more than half of all the export income of the nation. I would agree with the point of view that has been expressed, that we are faced with a period of protein boom particularly in our own region of the world in South-East Asia. Today more people than ever before in the history of the world are eating meat. In our own region more people are getting very much more protein than ever before. People are having meat once a week where previously they had it once a year. It may not be that the total population is sharing equally in this boom, but there are significant numbers of people, in each and every case amounting to several times the population of Australia, who have seen significant and measurable increases in their living standards in the last few years, particularly in the last 3 or 4 years.

So one can see the opportunities that exist for us in Australia to service these needs in our own region of the world. The measure before the House will help us to do that for our benefit and for the benefit of the people of our region. In our own region there has to be mutual reciprocity. I hope that the levy will help to maintain the level of research activity. Let me put forward again these 2 points: Firstly, will the measure ensure absolutely that there will be no reduction in the investigation, services and personnel provided by the CSIRO? Secondly, will the opportunity be taken to look at the whole range of primary research to ensure that it will not be reduced and that the current trend of its reduction will be ended? 1 submit that the current concern among the officers in the divisions of the CSIRO should be obviated. I support the measure and I hope that it will do what the Minister claimed for it in his second reading speech.

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