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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4050

Mr O'KEEFE (Paterson) - I wish to take part in this debate. On looking through the second reading speech of the Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson) I find that the Bill seeks to impose a levy on honey exports at the rate of a maximum of lc per kilogram - that is approximately lc on every 21b - and at an operative charge. of 0.3c per kilogram. As the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) said, the Australian Honey Board has been financed up to now by a levy on the local sales of honey, which represent about 60 per cent of the honey produced. The other 40 per cent is exported. On looking at the income and expenditure statement of the Australian Honey Board one can readily see the need for financial assistance to this Board. As at 30 June 1972 it had a slight excess of income over expenditure of $16,212. As at 30 June 1973 the excess of expenditure over income amounted to $18,940. So it is quite evident that this Board, which is responsible for the marketing of our honey crop, requires additional finance. I think it is fair that a levy should be placed on the quantity of honey exported in order to provide this additional finance. I also notice that the Minister said in his second reading speech that the trade in general and the honey producers have not raised any great objection to this levy being imposed on honey exports. There have been some objections, but in the main the industry apparently has accepted the proposal.

Unfortunately the position with regard to honey exports has deteriorated considerably in the past few weeks. In my travels and associations I have met quite a few very large apiarists who are concerned about the trend in the export market. I sound a warning to the Minister and to those in the industry that the market has continued to weaken, so much so that it is difficult to make export sales in traditional markets at the present time. The export market is in a state of reassessment and for the first time in 3 years supply has outstripped demand. What has caused this sudden slow-down? Several important factors have caused it. The United Kingdom has been buying more heavily than it normally does to beat the 10.8 per cent duty which will be effective on all honey imported into the United Kingdom after 1 January 1974, which is not very far away. That duty will rise to 27i per cent by January 1977. So it can be readily seen that a problem exists here in relation to the sale of honey to the United Kingdom market. This should mean that the United Kingdom market will drop out of the buying until the extraordinary stock has been absorbed. It is the opinion of top honey exporters that the United Kingdom market will buy very little honey between now and the end of February.

That is not the end of the problem. Japan has over bought by some thousands of tonnes and, surprisingly, has a bumper honey crop itself this season. The Japanese financial situation is much tighter and buyers are not prepared to buy stocks as heavily as previously. Let us have a look at another honey producer. The Argentine has held its honey to obtain higher prices for it. It has now found that these prices will not be available. It has a surplus which will probably be marketed for at least 10 per cent less than the present going price. Roumania and Hungary have held back their acacia honey for ridiculously high prices. It is regarded by the world markets as being a delicious honey. It is one which has been much sought after. But they have been asking a very high price for it. Consequently, they have been unable to sell it. The market rejected that price months ago. Obviously there is a build up of this honey which will have to be cleared somewhere along the line. Of course, this will have an effect on our exports. Some 14 days ago a financial credit squeeze was imposed in the United Kingdom and this also will be a deterrent to future honey purchases. The interest rate paid on money borrowed in the United Kingdom at present is as high as 17 per cent. The 3 revaluations of the Australian dollar have also had an effect, as supply has caught up with demand and, of course, this has affected all our primary exports, as the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson), who is at the table, would know. Bee keepers in northern New South Wales and Queensland have come out of the winter with good bees and favourable seasonal conditions have assured th:m a very high production of honey. We have had a very mild winter in northern New South Wales and apparently the same situation obtains in Queensland. This has been good for bees and it means that our honey production will be up on previous seasons. We will have a lot of honey to sell on 31 January 1974.

During the last 2 years it has been easy to sell honey immediately it is produced, particularly on the export market. Now the market situation is such that stocks will have to be held for a while and this will cause problems. Certainly, this situation will have its advantages in that the local market will be well supplied. The local market has been somewhat neglected over the last 3 years by some packers so that they might gain the high export prices which have been offering. I feel sure that the local market will respond to the fact that there will be increased honey available for home consumption. Those engaged in this industry are concerned at the situation and would like to see the position level out and satisfactory prices maintained in the long term.

Those of us who represent primary producing electorates and who are connected with primary producers know that a good even price for primary products right along the line is better than a boom and bust situation. So we hope that the supply and demand situation will even itself out and will not cause any undue hardship in the industry, which has just got on its feet and which has been a very valuable export earner for Australia.

The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) referred to the removal of export incentives and, of course, this gives honey exporters cause for great concern, particularly those producers who export in packages. The> have been very upset to think that the export incentives have been removed. This does not affect the honey exported in bulk but rather the export packers. So, we support the Bill but would like to draw the attention of the Minister to these problems which confront the industry today and will test to the utmost our marketers in the present world market situation.

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