Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 11 April 1972
Page: 968

Senator DURACK (Western Australia) - I rise to support the Honey Industry Bill. I do so because I have become aware of dissatisfaction among honey producers, not only in my own State but also in every State. I suppose that most of us in this chamber have had representations from various associations of honey producers in our respective States. It seems quite clear from the submissions which have been made to us that there is a very real basis for the dissatisfaction which exists. Of course the main dissatisfaction is directed at the Australian Honey Board and even at the existence of the Board. I cannot help feeling that this attitude has been due largely to the most unsatisfactory way in which the producer members of the Board have been elected or appointed. The purpose of this Bill - this is why it should be fully commended by the Senate - is to change this unsatisfactory method of appointment of producer members and to provide for a reasonable form of democratic election by the producers themselves of their representatives on the Board. The position as it exists and as it has existed since the Honey Board was set up over 9 years ago is that the producer representatives were nominated or selected by the State associations of honey producers. I believe that these associations vary from State to State but in each State there has been recognised what one might call an official body' of representatives of honey producers.

For instance in Western Australia the official body happens to be the beekeepers section of the Farmers' Union of Western Australia Inc. It is only a small section of a very large organisation. However, the reason why this situation has been unsatisfactory would seem to be fairly obvious as a matter of principle. The Minister, in his speech, has detailed how it has simply not worked out as a practical proposition as well. I have had representations made to me by a particular honey producer - I do not think the pros and cons are relevant because this is simply an example I am giving - who resigned from the beekeepers section of the Farmers' Union. Although he is a honey producer he has been unrecognised by that body. If he has gone along to meetings he has been unable to exericse any vote because he is no longer a member of the association. Whether he is justified or wise in resigning is beside the point. The fact is that because he had this private dispute with this body he was virtually disenfranchised from exercising any influence as a honey producer on this body which should represent the basic interests of honey producers of Australia. I think this case highlights very much the totally unsatisfactory nature of the method of appointment as laid down in the present legislation.

The change which is proposed is that the producer members of the Board - they do not represent exactly a majority of the Board but they are a dominant force on the Board because they are 5 members out of 10 - will be representatives of each State elected by the honey producers in each State who are the owners of at least 200 hives of bees. As I have said this is a great advance in the matter of establishing a principle of democratic representation of honey producers. No matter whether or not they are members of an association they will have the right to vote and elect their representative on the Honey Board. The figure of 200 hives may seem arbitrary. No doubt there will be dispute as to whether it is an appropriate number. Maybe it should be more or less. However the figure has been arrived at after very careful discussion and, no doubt, negotiation among the honey producers and the Australian Agricultural Council. The figure has been selected because it represents a person who would be making his living as a honey producer. In other words the figure of 200 hives is a viable unit for the honey production business. 1 am prepared to accept it as such, although I think that a great deal could be said in support of people, who may have a lesser number of hives than 200 and who are in the honey industry on a part time basis, being given some say in who represents them on the Honey Board as they will be liable to pay the honey levy. The proposition that the only consideration in establishing a figure for the number of hives should be an assessment on full time occupation in the industry does not appeal to me. However, as this figure has been accepted, I. am prepared to support it for the purpose of this worthwhile amending Bill. But 1 do hope that the figure will not be accepted as a completely arbitrary one and that in the practical operation of this Bill some consideration will be given in the future to a person with fewer than 200 beehives being granted the right to vote.

I share also the concern that was expressed in another place and also this evening by Senator McLaren as to the way in which the matter of eligibility will work when the legislation is enacted. The Bill simply provides that the owner of at least 200 beehives is eligible to vote. Concern was expressed by Senator McLaren that people who own more than that number of beehives may engage in multiple voting. From the way in which the legislation is expressed, I would fear that there may be multiple voting on the part of people who own only that prescribed number of hives because the owner of 200 beehives may be a sole owner or a part owner. I am not altogether satisfied that the regulations will completely overcome this problem. The legislation expresses the principle that persons meeting the 200 beehives provision are entitled to vote, and regulations cannot depart from a right granted by the Act.

Senator Murphy - Why is that not set out in the Act?

Senator DURACK - lt would be preferable I think, for the reasons that I have mentioned, for it to be set out in the Act. It is quite clear, I think, that the intention is that the basic voting unit will be the sole owner with 200 hives. However, how my objection can be overcome in these circumstances, I am not too sure. Obviously, this is a matter which must be given further attention. Incidentally, on this point of the election of representatives of honey producers to the Honey Board, the eligibility qualification of 200 hives does embrace the major honey producers of Australia. I understand that 83 per cent of all Australian honey production comes from producers who own 200 or more hives each. Although there are some thousands of people who apparently produce honey in some quantity, only approximately 700 honey producers will be eligible to vote. This underlines the problem that 1 have mentioned already; some need may exist to relax this eligibility figure so that there is a more representative electorate of honey producers.

I wish to raise one other matter. I hope that the Minister for Air, as Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), will be prepared to make some comment on this matter in this chamber. I refer to the fact that the Australian Honey Board was set up without a poll of honey producers to express an opinion on the desirability of such action. A referendum of honey producers has never been taken to determine whether or not they support the establishment of this Board. Although, as I have said, 1 believe that this change in the method of the election of representatives of honey producers to the Board will go a long way towards removing the dissatisfaction that obviously exists among certain producers in the honey industry, it is my opinion that a good deal of dissatisfaction will continue to be felt because a referendum of honey producers to seek their views on whether or not this Board is required has never been held.

I had a look at the debate, if we can call it such, that took place in this chamber when the Bill to set up the Honey Board was introduced. That debate took place at the end of 1962. I was rather horrified to find that the Bill establishing the Honey Board was passed by this chamber in approximately 5 minutes at about 4 a.m. on the last sitting day of the Budget session in 1962. The Minister who introduced the legislation at that time was the then Minister for the Navy, Senator Gorton, as he then was. He was commended for the record speed with which he was able to read the second reading speech on the Bill. Practically no debate took place; practically no consideration was given to the Bill. Senator Gorton based his case in support of the introduction of the Bill on the fact that the Federal Council of Apiarists Associations of Australia supported the establishment of the Board. The fact that the industry organisation supported its creation seemed to be accepted as good enough reason to establish the Board. No real need appeared to exist to take a poll of producers to see whether they supported it.

We have found from experience that the Federal Council and the associations are not really very satisfactory bodies to determine the attitude of the producers. One of the main reasons for the introduction of this Bill is that the producers have not been satisfied with the appointment of their representatives by these bodies. This Bill enables producers to express their views on who will represent them. However, if we go that far, I believe that it would not be difficult to conduct a poll among producers to determine whether they wish to retain the Honey Board, and that the appropriate time to do this would be after the machinery was set up to enable the producers to elect their representatives.

I do not propose to prejudge the matter. My knowledge of the workings of the Board is not sufficient. But I do know from what I have read and heard that a good deal of dissatisfaction is expressed amongst honey producers all round Australia on this point. I believe that the best way of resolving the matter would be to hold a referendum to determine whether they really want to retain the Board. A fundamental principle of the Government parties is that no marketing board should be set up unless its establishment is supported by producers at a referendum. I am surprised to find that the Australian Honey Board was created without a referendum having been held. I believe that this is the cause of a great deal of the dissatisfaction that is expressed by honey producers in various parts of Australia. Matters of principle play a great part in the minds of many people. Even if some honey producers support the Board, they may still feel dissatisfaction because that principle has not been followed. I have read the remarks on this subject made by Mr Kelly, the honourable member for Wakefield in another place, in which he expressed the same view. I was disappointed that the Minister for Primary Industry did not reply to his remarks or comment on them in any way. Perhaps the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman), who represents the Minister for Primary Industry in the Senate, may see fit to comment on that submission. As I have said, I believe that a great deal of the dissatisfaction that has been expressed about the Australian Honey Board could be removed if such a referendum were held. However, despite those comments, I support the Bill. I am sure that the vast majority of honey producers in this country will also support the Bill. It can only bring about a great improvement in conditions as they exist.

Suggest corrections