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Thursday, 6 December 1973
Page: 2562

Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) -Two Bills are before the Senate, the Export Incentive Grants Bill 1 973 and the Payroll Tax Assessment Bill 1973. Both these Bills are initiatives taken by a new Government in its review of the type of encouragement which should be given in certain areas. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, (Senator Willesee), during his second reading speech on the original Bill and the most important one, which is the Export Incentive Grants Bill, stated:

.   . the Bill does no more than continue the present export incentive scheme for another year.

There is some query as to the future of the scheme. Probably those who are interested in the benefit which this incentive has been in encouraging and bringing about increased exports in Australia will have some doubts because the Minister continued:

What will happen after 30 June 1974 has yet to be decided, so it cannot yet be said whether the present scheme or some other scheme will operate or even no scheme. That will be decided later, in the light of a number of relevant factors. In the event that there were no schemes, consideration might be given to the need for hardship relief, but if that proved to be the situation such relief would not, of course, provide, under a different name, concessions as generous as the present incentives:

I think that those who have developed export markets might well be concerned at the Minister's words that the concessions have been generous. It is my view that the development of exports over the period, as far as Australia is concerned, is one of the main reasons for our economic strength at the present time. It is certainly one of the main reasons why this Government has finance available to it and why it believes it can spend it in the manner in which it is doing. Action which the Government has taken might be criticised. In its knowledge of commercial interests it has taken a number of actions which it reckons will retract benefits which have been given to manufacturers, to primary producers and to exporters. Indeed, it can be seen in the Labor Government's philosophy that benefits which had been provided by a former antisocialist government should be reduced.

I refer to the various taxation attractions which had been made available for primary producers. The Government has pulled away the deduction for the installation of new equipment for manufacturing purposes. It has been lost to manufacturers. We now see that the export incentive grant which had been made available and which I believe had been of such great encouragement in attracting manufacturers and producers to look for export markets are under threat. That is the view of the new Government. The attitude of the Opposition in discussing this Bill was that in this instance the Government should have its way. It must take the consequences of its own administration. However, since the introduction of the Export Incentive Grants Bill in the Senate we have been notified that there are, I think, 5 amendments. Some of those amendments are of particular concern to us. I will mention them at this stage so that honourable senators will at least be aware of the view of the Australian Country Party. One amendment has the intention of going against the proposition which I read from the Bill. The Minister stated: the Bill does no more than continue the present export incentive scheme for another year.

Of course, the amendments which are to be brought in mean that certain items are to be excluded. My Party is particularly concerned about the exclusion that is to apply to the export of meat. I imagine that the Government has been prompted by the thought of high meat prices in Australia. If I may say so, I think that basically it is a fallacious argument to suggest that there has been a great increase in meat prices. Whilst there has been some escalation in the cost of meat in shops generally, I do not think that there was a ready acceptance on the part of the public of what happened when meat of various types appeared on the markets in Australia at a cost which was totally disastrous for Australian producers. I am aware that a number of butchering businesses realised that they would have to go out of business because of the low prices. Many of them did in past years.

The Australian meat industry is more concerned about the fact that this Government had promised that the export incentive grants scheme would continue until 30 June 1974. The Minister in charge of this Bill, the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy), probably will be concerned that I have been prompted to cite another instance of the Government breaking a promise. This has become an unhappy experience for honourable senators and various members and supporters of the Government who have taken an interest in primary production, education, taxation or defence. The Labor Party had promised that if it gained office it would do certain things. We have found that for some reason or other it has decided that in relation to many items it should break its promises to the people of Australia. However, I do not want to go through all those areas.

So far as incentive grants for primary production are concerned, we note that the Government announced that it would review export incentives and finally, on 13 March this year, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) made a statement in which he said that the Federal Government had decided to extend export incentives for one year to June 1974. That was an undertaking given by the Prime Minister. At the same time the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) stated that a thorough review of the incentive schemes would be carried out during the period to the date that I mentioned and that Cabinet would then consider a possible new scheme. The Minister for Overseas Trade also made the point that during the period of this extension he hoped that business confidence would be stimulated with beneficial effects on investment decisions and employment prospects. I took much pleasure from that statement and thought that the meat exporters of this country, having been given that promise by the Prime Minister in March and having had it endorsed by the Minister for Overseas Trade, obviously would go ahead and plan to take advantage of what the Minister for Overseas Trade said would follow the Government's decision. I hoped that it would stimulate increased business confidence with beneficial effects on investment decisions and employment prospects.

Australia has a great record in the field of export development. Earlier in this debate Senator Guilfoyle pointed out what had been achieved by the people of Australia in the field of exports. It is of interest to note that in 1970 the annual value to Australia of meat exports was $292,130,000. In the 12 months to 30 June last our exports were worth $841,549,000. When one considers the great benefit to Australia of those exports worth $800m-odd, that performance seems almost out of order with the inappropriate step whereby the Government decided to prohibit rebates of from $5m to $7m for the meat industry. It is wrong to describe this scheme as a subsidy as the Minister did in his speech. It was not a subsidy, it was an encouragement which brought results of great benefit to the Australian community.

It is interesting to note from the wording of the Bill that only a particular type of meat is to be excluded. The Minister said that the provisions of the Bill were designed to exclude fresh, chilled or frozen meat from the scope of the export incentive grants scheme as from 1 October 1973. I ask the Minister why carcass meat has been excluded and why live meat has been left in the Bill? It seems inconsistent. I make a plea on behalf of that industry for the Minister to reconsider the promises and assurances he gave to this industry. I ask him to remember that this is a minor amount to be gained for the industry. This trade represents only about 8 per cent of the total world meat production and it is not great but it would mean an enormous amount to the industry if it knew that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Overseas Trade can hold to thenwords. I hope that the Government will see fit to keep to the wording of the original Bill which was designed to continue the export incentive scheme until 30 June 1974.

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