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Tuesday, 9 November 1976
Page: 2472

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) (Minister for Primary Industry) - in reply- I think there is general recognition by those who have spoken in this debate of the very serious plight that the beef industry currently faces. Unfortunately the situation has been compounded by one of the constant traumas of anybody involved in agriculture in Australia and that is the unpredictability of the governments of the countries to which we sell our products. At present we are suffering as a result of* the presidential election in the United States. Quotas were imposed because of the competition between the candidates on the campaign trail. Then there were difficulties in Canada because of the extent to which it was said that meat passed through Canada to the United States. Now of course we face problems in Japan because of the consequences of the suggestion by the Japanese Livestock Importing Corporation that there should not be an availability of quota according to the original schedule. Each of the markets to which Australia sells beef therefore is in the position where there is marked uncertainty. To all our beef producers, wherever they may be around Australia, I give the Government's assurance that in spite of those present traumas we still think there is light at the end of the beef exporting tunnel. The statistics now coming in demonstrate that consumption is rising and production falling and suggest that even under the normal circumstances of supply and demand the market might well be better next year. The marketing situation aside, it is important that everybody in Australia realises how traumatic is the present income and expenditure position of most people in the beef industry.

The debate today has been around further financial assistance. It is nonsense for it to be suggested that $15m is not sufficient. The amount we are providing under this scheme is in response to requests made by the States for funds in this category. Let me stress to those people involved in rural industry that through this facility, throught the State rural agencies, there are funds available at a significantly concessional interest rate for cattlemen for carry on purposes. Those funds are available to try to overcome some of the traumas that cattlemen are suffering. As the honourable member for Capricornia (Mr Carige) remarked earlier, because of seasonal variations and complete dependence on a commodity which has suffered such marked price unpredictability there are in the beef industry, unfortunately, too many of the new poor in our society.

The honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry), commented on the degree to which the funds have been allocated under the existing rural reconstruction scheme. It might be of interest, therefore, if I explained the State by State allocaton of the original $ 19.6m contributed by the Commonwealth. The Queensland allocation was $10m, New South Wales $5m, Victoria $2m, South Australia $1.5m, Western Australia $0.8m and Tasmania $0.3m. The original allocation was $ 19.6m. The Commonwealth's commitment to match State lending up to 30 June 1 976 was as follows: $6.9m for Queensland, $3.3m for New South Wales, $1.2m for Victoria, $0.3m for South Australia, $0.5m for Western Australia and $0.1 m for Tasmania. In fact $12.3m has been allocated by the Commonwealth to match State lending. By leave of the House I shall incorporate in Hansard the table I have read as I do not think it could be understood properly as I explained it. It might be more meaningful if the table appeared in Hansard in order to satisfy the request from the honourable member for Fraser.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Is leave granted to incorporate the table in Hansard? There being no objection, leave is granted.

The table read as follows-

Mr SINCLAIR - I want to comment now on problems related to the questions raised by the honourable member for Darling (Mr FitzPatrick), the previous speaker in this debate. He wanted to know what the Government is doing about referring long term assistance for the beef industry to the Industries Assistance Commission. As many people would know, there already is a reference to the IAC relating to rural income fluctuations. Until that report is received it is thought that a reference on long term assistance for the beef industry might be partly redundant. Therefore we have not sent that reference to the IAC, preferring to wait until we receive the report on long term assistance generally to offset rural income fluctuations and to see to what degree we might be able to overcome those problems in general rather than the specific problems of the beef industry.

I am quite confident, with the American presidential election behind us and in spite of the uncertainties of the agricultural policies of the Carter regime, and following the Japanese election on 4 December, that there is a reasonable prospect that Australian beef producers can again look forward to something like reasonable access to export markets. As well as all the problems that affect them generally there is on the one hand the unpredictability of markets, which in Australian circumstances is equated by the continuing uncertainty of seasons, and on the other the escalation of prices. There are a number of areas where something needs to be done about prices and costs. I hope that the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen), who nearly saw fit to intervene a moment ago, recognises that what is being done by the meat workers in the trade union movement is not helping beef producers. I believe there are considerable economies that need to be introduced in the handling of beef, particularly on the killing chain. If they can be applied perhaps beef producers might get a higher benefit than they are receiving now.

The Bill before the House is designed to offset some of the difficulties of the beef industry. It is only part of a very significant program that the Government has introduced to help the beef industry. This program ranges from a very significant contribution to the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis, to offset losses incurred during the time of the Labor regime in sales to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and significant assistance in trying to ensure that finance is available in a number of areas to the beef industry. The product of this Bill, together with all those other measures, means that during the present year more money is being allocated to the beef industry than has been allocated by any previous government. In spite of that, we know the difficulties which cattlemen face. We are concerned about their plight. The Liberal and National Country parties, as a Government, are determined to ensure that in spite of all these circumstances we provide the maximum level of government assistance that is practical and worthwhile to ensure the survival of a very important national industry. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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