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Tuesday, 9 November 1976
Page: 2456

Mr KEATING (Blaxland) -The purpose of this Bill, the States Grants (Beef Industry) Amendment Bill, is to amend the States Grants (Beef Industry) Act 1975, legislation enacted by the former Labor Government, to enable the Commonwealth to provide up to $ 15m to match on a dollar for dollar basis State funds approved for lending in 1976-77 under the beef carry-on loans scheme. The scheme provides low interest carry-on finance to specialist beef producers with a sound asset structure who would be viable given a return to more normal beef market conditions. The words used in the introduction of this legislation must be a great let down to the beef industry of Australia- to those thousands of beef producers who thought great promise would be shown by the present LiberalCountry Party Government. After all of its extravagant election talk and all of the massive claims and promises throughout the election campaign the Government has finally got down to extending an existing Australian Labor Party scheme that was initiated in 1974. It might be worth while at this point to quote the words of the present Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) during those irresponsible days of the election campaign of last year and before it I refer firstly to an article in the Australian of 18 August of last year headed 'Sinclair puts plan to save beef industry', which reads:

The program also calls for more carry-on finance for beef producers, claiming the present $39.6m government allocation is inadequate.

The present Minister for Primary Industry claimed then that the Labor Government's scheme was inadequate; yet his Government is now putting up only $ 1 5m. The article continues:

It is understood the Country Party wants at least S 100m lent to producers at 4 per cent interest with an initial 2-year interest moratorium.

So much for the $ 100m and so much for how bad the $39.6m given by the Labor Government was when this Bill provides for the provision of only $15m. Let me quote again from another of the pearls of wisdom that fell from the lips of the present Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to a Press statement of 5 September, which reads: 'Beef crisis is a social and economic crisis', says Ian Sinclair. 'The time is rapidly passing for the Australian Government to take amon to relieve the position of the beef industry -

Of course, it was the Labor Government which he said should be taking action- the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party, Mr Sinclair, said today. Speaking to a public meeting at Wan- garatta, Mr Sinclair said: "The economic problems facing the eef industry are generating grave social problems for the families of beef producers and their employees. These social problems will become more pronounced as long as the Government fails to act to assist the industry. The total failure to act will bring down on Australia not only an economic tragedy but also a widespread, lingering social tragedy. This basic fact needs to be recognised by the Government. Up until now the Labor Government has chosen to callously disregard the position of the beef industry and its problemseven though, only a few years ago, it was Australia's major export earning industry.

One can see what hollow words they were when one looks at the legislation introduced by the Minister for Primary Industry during the 12 months in office of this Government. He was critical of the Labor Government, but he has done little even to match what that Government was prepared to do. I refer now to an article in the Canberra Times of 1 1 October of last year, which was just before the election, headed 'Beef industry dying '. It reads:

The death warrant of the Australian beef industry would be signed unless the Government took action to assist the beef industry, the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party, Mr Sinclair, told a Queanbeyan-Canberra branch Graziers Association meeting . . . Assistance for the beef industry was urgently needed and long overdue.

It says so much for the words of the National Country Party and so much for its interest in the great Australian beef industry that all it has now done is meekly introduce a BUI to enable the provision of $ 15m for a carry-on scheme initiated by the former Government. When one looks at the former Government's scheme one sees that it was for $ 19.5m and not $15m, that the $ 19.5m was at 4 per cent interest and that an additional $20m was provided on a commercial interest rate basis. So $39.5m was made available. The sum of $15,000 a year was provided for producers in Queensland and the Northern Territory, and $10,000 a year to those elsewhere. The Government has now brought those recommendations into this legislation. To all producers in the pastoral zone it is prepared to give $15,000 and to those elsewhere it is prepared to give $10,000 at an interest rate of not less than 4 per cent per annum. But the point is that the situation in the beef industry now is much worse than it was when the Labor Party was in office. Costs are higher and markets have not improved. In fact, the markets have been hit by the Canadian quotas and could feel the effects of United States quotas in the future. Let me again quote the Minister. A report in the Hobart Mercury of 26 September of last year reads:

Australia 's agricultural marketing position overseas would improve dramatically under a Liberal-Country Party Government ... Mr Ian Sinclair said in Hobart yesterday.

So much for that claim, because he was the Minister who trailed his coat and was successful in getting a quota imposed on Australian beef imports into Canada. What do we find? We find that this Minister's performance has led to a deterioration in the market situation for Australian beef overseas.

I think it is probably opportune to put on the record what the Labor Government did for the industry lest there be any more of this double talk and, in fact, these irresponsible deceptions by the Minister. I will cite some of the things that the Labor Government did. I deal firstly with the Australian Government and State government concessional loans. The States Grants (Beef Industry) Act, to which I have already referred, provided for the provision of $ 19.6m to match State funds for the provision of carry-on loan finance to beef producers. An additional $600,000 was subsequently made available to Northern Territory producers. The loans were to be administered by the State rural reconstruction authorities. Persons eligible as specialist beef producers whose incomes were traditionally derived preponderantly from beef and who were judged as viable on the resumption of market recovery were also given carry-on funds. There was an interest rate of 4 per cent in all States except Queensland, where the State funds were at 2Vi per cent for the first year, giving an overall average rate in that State of 3V* per cent. No capital repayments were required in the first year and the first year's interest was capitalised. There was a maximum term of 7 years. There was a maximum loan of $10,000, except in respect of Queensland and the Northern Territory, where it was $15,000, and there was to be a review of loans after 12 months with a view to commencing normal service arrangements. That is not bad when one considers that this Government cannot match that record in any way.

I refer now to specific Australian Government assistance under the Labor Government. I refer to the Development Bank loans. The Government decided in November 1974 to provide $20m to augment Development Bank funds to enable the Bank to broaden its lending to seriously affected beef producers. A further $8m was provided in the 1975-76 Budget. The funds were lent at commercial rates of interest. The Bank also used the funds to assist those producers preponderantly relying on cattle whose capital structures were seriously affected by trends in cattle prices but who, in the opinion of the Bank, would have remained viable. For instance, the Bank took over some burdensome short term debts and funded them in the longer term. That is an indication of what the Labor Government in fact did for the beef industry during its tenure of office. One can see from that how poorly the present Government has performed. As I said earlier, after all its extravagant election promises it has quietly slipped into the House this amendment to a piece of Labor Party legislation which provides for the provision of $ 15m to the beef industry.

This Government has failed to do anything substantial about the plight of the Australian beef industry. The Government- particularly the Country Party section of it- has failed to honour its election promises and bring to fruition the promise it gave to the industry in those heady days during the election campaign. Instead of looking for new markets all that we find is that the Minister has gone overseas- to Canada in particular and the United States of Americaand bad mouthed the Australian beef producers to such an extent that the Canadian Government has been forced to put quotas upon the importation of Australian beef. Let me quote the Minister's words in Ottawa as reported in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 17 June. The article reads:

The Australian Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, told Canadian officials today he was concerned that Australian beef was being re-exported through Canada to the United States at less than home market prices.

In other words, he was saying: 'My producers back home are dumping beef on you. You are foolish not to try to correct the trend'. Of course, the Canadians were quick on the uptake. They took the hint and put quotas on beef imports. The Australian Financial Review has pointed out that it will cost us sales of about 8000 tonnes of beef a year. So much for a Minister saying that he will improve the market conditions. Because of this little procedure the United States of America then started to look at the matter again and breached the upper limit of the beef import quotas. That was directly attributable to what the Minister said. The Minister could not sustain an argument that the beef was being sold at less than the Australian domestic price and he could not sustain an argument that it was being dumped because the definition of 'dumping' is the selling of goods to other countries at less than the home consumption price. So, in terms of the Australian beef industry, the Minister cannot be trusted out of Australia. He cannot be let out of this country. The industry needs to keep a watch on every word he utters because he is an outside devil and an inside angel. When he gets back he will go around the north and all the beef producing areas and tell them anything they want to hear. When he gets overseas he is Mr Responsible. He talks about the irresponsibility of his producers and politely and quietly sells them down the drain.

Let us look at the situation in the United States of America. On what basis could President Ford withstand pressure for quotas after the Australian Minister went over there and said that his own industry was dumping beef? President Ford subsequently lost the election in the United States. He laboured under difficult circumstances trying to carry the mid west and areas where there are beef producers. It is no wonder that the United States Administration was forced to put on beef quotas. We find not only is the deception promulgated by the Minister for Primary Industry but also by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). It was interesting to note that The

Bulletinran a story on 14 August about Australia losing its beef cattle.. The Bulletin is not what could be described as a Labor journal by any manner of means. I Will read a couple of little jewels from that article. It states:

In contrast with its success in ideologically icy Moscow, the Fraser Government has failed as a salesman for Australian beef in the much more intimate atmosphere of Washington. The failure has been accompanied by official misrepresentation.

That is a fairly strong claim for a very conservative journal like this. The article refers to a question addressed to the Prime Minister and what he said about our beef negotiations. The Prime Minister's reply was:

I think that's an area where you could say 2 good friends are having a vigorous discussion. The vigour of that discussion will continue.

What do we find later in the story? Mr Roland Anderson, the Director of the Dairy Livestock and Poultry Division of the Foreign Agricultural Services Section of the United States Agriculture Department, said:

The issue has been put to bed. The numbers stand on their own . . .

Further on the article said: "The thing is over, but I don't think he (Fraser) wanted to announce that it was over', another official said. 'It probably would have got headlines in Australia saying 'Ford rebuffs Fraser'.

The article went on to say that in the American view the whole matter was closed and that the Prime Minister came back and said that he had continuing negotiations and the negotiations were to continue. Later in the story the writer said:

This action was taken at the request of Agriculture Secretary, Erl Butz, Sinclair's 'close personal friend' who, the Minister said in June, had given him an understanding on the subject that made him, Sinclair, 'very happy'.-

Mr Sinclairwas very happy about the way he was very nicely done over in the United States. So much for the special relationship that this Government claims to enjoy with the United States. The charge against the Labor Government was that because of its foreign policy stance, in the view of the then Opposition which is now the Government, the Labor Government had blotted its copy book with the United States administration and was jeopardising Australia's market position, particularly for beef, in the United States. But we found that that was not the case. The Labor Government did very nicely, thank you. This present Government claims to enjoy a special relationship. The Prime Minister ran over there without reason to talk to President Ford and other people in the administration. He foisted himself on them in a year when they could have well done without him. We now find that the special relationship does not mean a thing in terms of United States imports of Australian beef and in terms. of dollars and cents. Not only are there no new markets; there is also a diminishing market in the United States.

Contrast that with the way the Fraser Government is kicking the Russians to death in terms of foreign policy. At any chance it has a jibe at the Soviet Union yet its Ministers are still trotting off to Moscow and trying to arrange meat quotas, meat imports, in order to save their bacon back in what they believe are traditionally National Country Party electorates. The point is that the National Country Party believes it has the rural vote sown up and its interest is in the big mineral areas. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), the Leader of the National Country Party, is the Minister for National Resources. He is interested in the mining companies- the iron ore, the coal, the uranium, the oil and all the rest. The beef people and the other people exist just to vote him into Parliament. The mining companies are there to contribute to election slush funds and that is where the interest of the National Country Party is to be found.

Getting back to beef, scant regard is paid to our trading prospects overseas. When these Ministers go overseas they are not strong enough to stand up for their own industry. Let us take the position of the United States, because 70 per cent of Australia's total beef exports go there. Of the total imports to the United States, 52 per cent come from Australia. Therefore if the United States drops out there will be a sizable impact upon the Australian beef industry. The United States, as honourable members well know, is the only market for some types of beef, particularly beef from the Northern Territory and Queensland. But, of course, people are prone to believe what the Minister for Primary Industry says on his junketeering through the Northern Territory or Queensland and do not analyse his performance in this House or overseas, or his legislation.

The result of all these risque promises and bad mouthings about the former Labor Government is a Bill to amend a former Labor Government scheme and provide $15m. That is not even as much as the Labor Government gave. I give the present Government credit for the fact that it did lift the beef export charge levy. Its supporters will point to that and say that that represents $20m going back to the producers. However they know damn well that that money has gone straight into the pockets of the exporters and nowhere near the producers. There is no relief for the beef industry in that direction. It has just made all the meat companies and the exporting companies much fatter than they would be otherwise. My colleague the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) will demonstrate later in the debate how much these companies have been fattened by the decision of the Government and responsible Minister who are always happy to oblige these companies all under the ruse that this will help the Australian beef producers who the Minister knows, politely, have been forgotten.

So much for what this Minister and this Government say about the beef industry. They have been looked at and scrutinised for 12 months now and have been found wanting. They have not done anything significant about the beef industry. They do not care about it. They had to at least amend the Labor Government's scheme to show some regard for the state of the industry. In fact the industry now is in a much worse state, as I said earner, than it was when the Labor Government introduced assistance worth $39m for the industry.

No matter where one looks, in relation to the United States market or other markets, this Government has been powerless to do anything. Take dairy products. In no way have dairy products gone to the United States of America. In respect of the wool industry, this Government and previous Liberal-National Country Party Governments have never been able to remove the 25 per cent excise duty on imported wool to the United States. This is a big factor in keeping down the consumption of Australian wool in that market. There is a massive clothing market in the United States, as honourable members know. Not even the European Economic Community imposes a tariff on wool but the United States does and this Government, which is supposed to enjoy a special relationship with the Government of the United States of America, cannot do anything to get that excise dropped. What are this Government's trade relations worth? They are worth nothing. They are regarded around the world as a joke, particularly by the United States. The United States thinks it has this Government where it wants it and it does not have to oblige it one way or the other.

I will instance the contempt with which the beef industry should regard statements by leaders of the National-Country Party. I hark back to some of the statements made a couple of years ago by the Leader of the National Country Party about beef production. In a submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Prices a couple of years ago the Leader of the National Country Party stated:

The Country Party believes that Government policy inasmuch as it relates to the beef industry should be directed to: (a) the encouragement of production.

He went on to state:

If, as appears likely, a world beef shortage is developing, then Australia must respond in the most effective manner possible to meet this position.

The date of that statement was August 1973. In other statements made at about the same time, for example in an address to the Agricultural Machinery Exhibition at Gunnedah, New South Wales, the Leader of the National Country Party said:

As incomes rise demand for meat will rise. In fact, I think demand will rise so fast that well be flat out trying to keep up with it. The thing that will most help us to meet the demand will be encouragement of higher production- and if people will restrain themselves from doing silly things about meat prices, production will rise quickly.

In the same address he went on to state:

There will be industries for which production increases will be the appropriate policy at particular times. The meat industry, the wheat industry and the wool industry are current examples.

Among the many statements made at about that time was a Press statement about the Budget issued on 21 August 1973 in which Mr Anthony went on to explain:

At a time when production should be encouraged and decentralisation encouraged, the Government's strategy is to reallocate resources away from the rural sector.

In September 1973 he concluded a statement by saying:

At time when the urgent need is for stimulation of meat production, the Government seems to be going out of its way to find ways of discouraging production.

That is the kind of advice the National Country Party has been giving to the beef industry for years. That is the kind of cheap, irresponsible politics it engages in. It has no concern about the dislocation it causes to families, to districts and to a great industry. It has no concern or worry about the heartburning it causes producers. It just happens to suit the politics of the Country Party at that time. That is the overriding consideration. All other considerations fall into the background. If the industry collapses the attitude of the Country Party seems to be that that is a contingency with which it will deal in the future. A great swag of regional newspapers throughout Australia, mostly controlled by conservative individuals many of whom are associated with the Country Party, will always guarantee to give these people protection in the public media. They will always be protected from the irresponsibility of their actions and when the industry is going bad. But the industry is not going bad. It has gone bad and it has gone a lot worse since this Government has been in office.

All we see today is an amendment to an Australian Labor Party scheme to make available $15m for carry-on loans to the beef industry at a low interest rate. Yet this amount compares with $ 19.6m which was given by the Labor Government. Since then we have had a year and a half of double figure inflation which means that $ 19.6m would look like $22m if, in real terms, that amount were to be equalled. But we find that it is $15m, not $22m. Criticism was offered because of the $39.6m support which was given by the Labor Government to the beef industry. Now we find that the Government trots in this Bill to provide $15m. The beef industry should laugh the Government out of the Parliament and laugh Government supporters out of their place in office. The Government has dismally failed the Australian beef industry. I hope that honourable members on the Government side who follow me in this debate will not have the hide to get up and try to talk their way out of the predicament the Australian beef industry is in. The Government has an absolute disregard for the seriousness of the situation. Let it be honest and say: 'What we have done is not good enough. We are buttressing and reinforcing a scheme which was introduced by the Labor Government. But we will do this and this as we promised during the election campaign'. It is time that this Government put its money where its mouth was and is, particularly where its mouth was during the election campaign, and showed the Australian beef producer that this is not the cynical display of politics which the producers are beginning to believe it is.

The National Country Party which has just used this situation unscrupulously for its electoral advantage has thrown the beef industry in the rubbish can. Later it has come in with this trite piece of legislation and is concentrating all its efforts and interests, as usual, in the mineral sector. The Opposition supports the legislation because it will help the beef industry. We are interested in doing that. We certainly demonstrated our bona fides when in Government. We will do so again. We urge the Government to consider this industry and to treat it better than it has done. The Government should not persist with the notion that the lifting of the beef export charge of $20m helped the industry at all. It has helped only meat exporters, not the industry. The industry needs more help than has been given by the Government. I believe the Government would do well to consider the words I have directed to it today.

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