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Tuesday, 15 March 1966

Mr ROBINSON (Cowper) .- 1 rise as one representing an electorate which is predominantly a dairying electorate and which produces a considerable content of the total pig meat production of this country. I want to say at the outset that I very strongly support the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement. I support it for a number of reasons which I want to outline to the House. This afternoon we have been given a lot of misleading information, which is without proper regard for all the facts relevant to this Agreement. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Gray) set out very deliberately to distort the facts. The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Hayden) avoided completely the real issues, and now the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Hansen) has misquoted this matter from beginning to end.

First of all let us deal with the question of pig meats, which has been referred to by all of the speakers of the Opposition side. The Government, in its wisdom, has entered into a trade agreement with New Zealand which in fact is a revision of the trade agreement of 1933. The Agreement has provided for the pig industry unique safeguards for trading on the home market that were never previously provided, which no other government had ever thought of providing, and which are to the credit of the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) who was the architect of this arrangement. It is a great pity that the members of the Opposition have seen fit to spread a story around the Commonwealth which is based on the evasion of the facts of the matter. They have lent themselves to certain commercial interests, the processors of pig meat. As has been mentioned by the honorable member for Wide Bay, rumour upon rumour has been circulated in efforts to justify a fall in the price of pig meat on the home market. The members of the Labour Party could quite well have assisted the farmers by telling the truth of this matter. If they had done so the slight fall in the price of pigs may have been avoided.

First and foremost let us be realistic about the arrangements with regard to pig meat. Prior to the re-arrangement of the agreement pig meat was coming into Australia subject to a slight duty. It was deemed desirable, because of the history of New Zealand's entry into the Australian market, to find a new way of protecting the pig industry in Australia, and this was done by providing in the agreement for the licensing of all pig meat importations. This licensing arrangement incorporates a quantitative limitation on the importation of pig meat and provides that those who contract to import pig meat into Australia from New Zealand may do so only if they can show quite clearly that the importation of the quantities envisaged will not be injurious to the Australian pig producer. This provision, of course, is unique. It is something that was never attempted before. We have not yet seen the new scheme tried out because of the incidence of disease in New Zealand which has blocked importations from that country.

Let me say here and now that those who have knowledge of the pig industry realise that this new arrangement will do far more to protect the pig industry than anything that was possible under previous provisions covering trading arrangements between Australia and New Zealand. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of pig marketing knows full well that for a number of years the main problem that has faced pig producers in this country, and also in most other countries, has been the violent fluctuations in prices. Prices of pigs would rise sharply and a producer would decide that it was good business to increase his herd, first by increasing the numbers of his sows and ultimately, of course, his total production. When the overall production rose prices would fall and there would be a sharp decline in returns. Under the agreement which existed previously the processors found it useful to bring in small quantities at times which suited their book so that they could further reduce the prices offered to producers. Today we find that there has been a slight fall in prices brought about very largely by the rumours spread by the members of the Opposition. This kind of practice is understood by thinking producers in the pig industry but of course it is denied by members of the Australian Labour Party who have a responsibility to the producers and who have failed miserably to bear that responsibility.

They have shown that they have no interest, other than a political interest, in the welfare of the producers.

When we look at the situation as it concerns cheese we find a very similar pattern emerging. For a number of years cheese imported from New Zealand has been subject to a duty. The Government found it expedient in the new arrangement to remove the duty on certain lines of cheese and to fix a ceiling on the total amount that could be brought in.

Mr Hansen - Twice the previous amount.

Mr ROBINSON - The honorable member knows full well what the amount is. He is supposed to be one of his Party's experts on primary industry and I should think he would have read the agreement. The provision covering cheese is also unique. The agreement provides explicitly that the ruling price for cheese imported from New Zealand will be agreed upon by the Australian Dairy Produce Board and its New Zealand counterpart. This is an improvement in trading arrangements and affords greater protection for the dairying industry than anything that was done previously in relation to cheese or any other kind of dairy produce. There is, of course, under the provisions of this agreement a total ban on the importation of butter. These provisions are well known, and yet the honorable member for Oxley stood up in this House a little earlier and referred to the threat to the dairying industry. What sheer rot! He knows very well that he was talking nothing but utter rot. Such statements as he made do no good for the primary producers of this country. It is a great tragedy that the members of the Opposition have chosen to talk in the way in which they have done since the announcement of the arrangements under the new trade agreement with New Zealand. Of course we can remember very clearly the attitude of the Australian Labour Party towards the trade agreement with Japan when it was first negotiated. It was very similar to the attitude it is adopting towards the agreement with New Zealand. Yet one of the most valuable contributions to the welfare of primary industries in this country has been made by the Japanese trade agreement. I venture to suggest that we have achieved more in the rewriting of this trade agree ment with New Zealand to further the interests of the Australian dairying industry than we have done with any other arrangements we have made for many years past.

It is a fundamental fact that Australia and New Zealand, which are producers, in the main, of primary products, must work together, and with the dairying industry in particular there is a very great need for sensible co-operation in marketing. So we have an agreement which provides not only a safe arrangement for a limited quantity of certain lines of New Zealand cheese to come here, but also an outlet for the sale in New Zealand of Australian cheese. The Australian Dairy Produce Board is currently taking action to offer Australian cheese to New Zealanders. This is a straightforward business deal. There are people in Australia who want to eat New Zealand cheese and we hope there are people in New Zealand who will want to eat Australian cheese. If you ask me why this is so I can only tell you that it is for the same reason that people have fancies for particular wines or cheeses or other commodities, and unless we provide for these varied tastes we will fail in our duty to the producers. The objective of the Australian Country Party, and particularly of its Leader, the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) for very many years has been to ensure that primary producers receive the highest prices for their goods on reasonably assured markets, and this policy has been followed in the negotiation of the trade agreement with New Zealand.

There is a further important consideration. There is need for co-operation between Australia and New Zealand in selling butter on the world market, and the best way to ensure this co-operation is to see that good relationships are maintained between the two countries. What folly it is for Australia to be seeking markets for butter around the world by offering lower prices. We have a good market in Europe. We have opened markets in Peru and other obscure places. In recent times we have established markets in Japan and other countries. But what would be the result if there were not a good, sound, sensible relationship between Australia and New Zealand? We could go to a particular country and offer butter at a certain price, only to find the representatives of New Zealand going to that country a week later and undercutting us by a penny, two pence or three pence. Would that be good for the farmers of Australia? Of course it would not. Would it be good for the farmers of New Zealand? Of course it would not.

Having in mind the implications of trade negotiations around the world - the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Kennedy Round and the like - the Minister for Trade in this country was wise enough to make an arrangement with New Zealand which would be advantageous to us and to New Zealand and which would further the interests of primary production and the welfare of primary producers in the two sister countries. This ought to be hailed by every primary producer and every political party in this country. Yet we have seen the spectacle of the Opposition in this Parliament taking every opportunity to knock what is in fact the most sensible and progressive approach to trade that we have experienced for many years. The Opposition's attitude is the sort of thing that is detrimental to development and progress.

We have heard the honorable member for Wide Bay this afternoon quote from the report of the Dairy Industry Committee of Inquiry, which undertook a very wide inquiry into the dairy industry some years ago and made recommendations to the Government. The honorable member failed to say that one of the recommendations proposed the gradual removal of the Commonwealth subsidy paid to the industry. He failed to tell the truth about the report. He quoted from it only recommendations proposing improvements in the treatment of the industry. He denies what was done for the industry by the Menzies Government. He denies that that Government saw to it that financial assistance was provided for the development of the industry and that the subsidy was retained at the present level despite the recommendation gradually to remove it. The honorable member forgets that a Labour Government in Queensland was very loath to grant the dairy farmers an increase in their returns and that it was instrumental in having enacted in Queensland an act known and described as the " stand and deliver " act. That action was taken when the Queensland dairy farmers refused to be blackmailed by the State

Labour Government. The honorable member forgets also that the McGirr Labour Government in New South Wales refused to permit a rise in the price of butter after the war at a time when the Menzies Government, as a result of the first practical inquiry into costs in the industry, recommended a substantial increase of something like ls. per lb. He fails to acknowledge that his Party has been guilty of these actions in the past. Yet he criticises the Government for having done something constructive and based on forward thinking - something designed to protect and help those engaged in dairying and pig raising throughout Australia.

Mr Failes - What about margarine?

Mr ROBINSON - My friend has just mentioned margarine. If we think of the sorry record of Labour in that regard, we recall a story that would disturb any dairy farmer. We recall the tremendous increase in the quota for margarine production that was permitted in Queensland and the large increase that was agreed to in New South Wales during the years when Labour was in office in those States. We think of the tremendous endeavours of members like-

Mr Anthony - The honorable member for Grayndler.

Mr ROBINSON - Yes, the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). In this House, he has advocated the interests of the margarine producers for many years. All these are the things about which we must think when we turn our attention to matters affecting dairying and pig raising. We certainly cannot allow a situation such as would be brought about by the Labour Party, which chooses to be completely destructive in its approach to an industry that needs positive assistance and the support of a government that is prepared to seek throughout the world for substantial, profitable and reliable markets for dairy products.

The trading situation with respect to butter is of fundamental importance to the nation and of great importance to individual dairy farmers. But in this debate nothing has been said by honorable members opposite to the credit of the Minister for

Trade and Industry or of the present Government with respect to our trade in butter. Opposition members have also completely overlooked a number of other important matters, notably the prospects for the timber industry. For some reason, the honorable member for Capricornia, the honorable member for Oxley and the honorable member for Wide Bay deliberately avoided mentioning timber. I suppose they did not want to do so because something useful has been done in promoting the export of hardwoods from this country. I am sure that throughout Australia there is satisfaction at the fact that despite the difficulties that stood in the way a rearrangement of the 1933 agreement will now permit us to sell hardwoods to New Zealand and to enter into other arrangements for the advancement of trade and the disposal of the products of Australian soils and forests. These are useful developments and they should be commended by those who purport to be interested in the welfare of the rural areas of Australia.

When we deal with matters of this kind, we have to think not only of trade but also of long range planning for development. That is the fundamental factor in the consideration of the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement. It is the reason why greater safeguards than ever before have been provided to protect our primary industries. These are acceptable to New Zealand, a country that understands primary production and what must be done by governments if there are to be effective trading arrangements that will permit prudent trade. This Agreement provides in a very businesslike fashion for trade to be controlled, when there is need for control, without any impingement on the general principles of trade between two sister nations. This arrangement sets an example for us to consider if we are in future to face the dangers of the European Common Market. The arrangement entered into between Australia and New Zealand could well be adopted as a world pattern. When we think about what could happen in Europe if Britain's entry into the Common Market were to become a reality, we must realise that the trading arrangement between Australia and New Zealand is a kind of arrangement that would perhaps safe guard particular areas and particular countries if that were to happen.

I think it would be well for honorable members to study more clearly, more fully and more carefully the implications and the details of the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement. If they do, they may understand more completely not only the value and meaning of this Agreement and the long range effects it could have on the immediate trade between the two countries that are party to it but also the value of adopting it as a pattern in the rearrangement of other trading agreements for the protection and advancement of particular industries and especially of primary producers, who, after all, must be our fundamental concern. I am proud to be able to support this agreement. I am proud to say that in my electorate I have been able to tell a story that demonstrates that it is sound and that it stands this Government in good stead. I believe that the Government's action in entering into this agreement justifies the trust and support of us all for this progressive action.

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