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Wednesday, 11 November 1964

Senator DRURY (South Australia) (12:28 PM) . - I am interested in this Bill because of the effect it will have upon the meat inspectors of South Australia. First let me say that I disagree with Senator Cormack's assertion that we have only two small abattoirs in South Australia. We are very proud of our abattoirs in South Australia. I am sure that if all the abattoirs throughout Australia had been of the high standard of the South Australian abattoirs there would have been no need for the American Government to impose its present requirements with relation to the inspection of meat.

The South Australian Government is in agreement with this proposal. We all know that that Government co-operates as far as it possibly can with the Federal Government at all times. We in South Australia agree with this proposal because we feel that it might be of some benefit to our State. I point out, however, that the South Australian Government will have to bear its share of the cost of meat inspection. We are not getting out of this entirely free of cost.

The Bill before us provides for the making of arrangements wilh the State authorities in respect of meat inspection. It also relates to meat inspectors now working for the Stale authority in South Australia and who are to be transferred to the Department of Primary Industry as Commonwealth meat inspectors. On transfer these men will enter the Commonwealth Public Service. The negotiations for this changeover have been going on for a number of years, and grave concern has been felt by the inspectors in South Australia. They believe that the Department of Primary Industry has not taken them sufficiently into its confidence and has not explained what their position will be after the transfer is implemented. They appointed a deputation which visited the Commonwealth Parliament offices in Adelaide last week and saw Mr. Sexton, the member for Adelaide in another place, and myself. They put before us, both in written form and verbally, their inquiries regarding the position in which they will be placed after the changeover. I will touch on that matter later.

The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) has pointed out that while this Bill has application to South Australia it is designed to enable other States to take action similar to that which has been taken by the South Australian Government and also by the Metropolitan and Export Abattoirs Board in South Australia. It seems to mc that if this scheme is to be fully effective - and this is where I believe something more concrete should have been done - it should have Australia- wide application.

We should ask ourselves whether the advantages flowing from the proposal will be as great as has been claimed, in view of the fact that the proposal applies to one State only. The Minister has told us that the Australian Agricultural Council has failed to find a solution to the problem and that this is a matter of concern. The Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) said in his second reading speech -

The problem associated with CommonwealthState inspection has been considered by the Australian Agricultural Council over a lengthy period, but an acceptable solution to cover all States has not been found. It has been generally agreed that there would be considerable advantages in having meat inspection under one authority in each State, but it has been recognised that a number of difficulties such as disease control, seasonal conditions affecting transfer of staff, salary differentials, &c, must be overcome in achieving this objective.

Surely this body, which specialises in agricultural matters, should have been able to evolve a formula which could have general application throughout Australia. No doubt problems relating to State rights and other related matters have played a major part in inhibiting the preparation of a plan acceptable to all States. The Australian Labour Party agrees that it is desirable to have a single inspection service. This desirability is emphasised by the recent conditions imposed in respect of meat imported from Australia by countries such as the United States of America, in which Australia finds one of its main markets. I fear that the Government must take some responsibility for this protracted discussion which has been going on for quite a number of years.

As I said previously, my colleague in another place, Mr. Sexton, has been trying for some considerable time on behalf of meat inspectors in South Australia to obtain some clarification as to what is intended in the proposed changeover and, in particular, to ensure that the rights and conditions of these inspectors will not be affected. He has tried to see that their interests will be safeguarded. Although the South Australian meat inspectors are not opposed to the changeover, they are not happy about it at this point of time, because they have been kept more or less in the. dark as to what is going on. They told us that they have made several attempts to obtain a clear picture of the proposals that will be used in the changeover, but have always been met with the promise that they would be consulted before finality was reached in the matter. As I said, it was as late as last week that Mr. Sexton and I met these gentlemen, and they put their case to us. They are opposed neither to this legislation nor to the changeover, but there are certain points that they want clarified.

I will refer now to one of the letters that Mr. Sexton received from these people. They say that since February of 1960 they have been trying to get answers to the question of this transfer but, as yet, have obtained nothing either from the Metropolitan and Export Abattoirs Board or the Department of Primary Industry. They were given to understand by the General Manager of the Metropolitan and Export Abattoirs Board that this transfer of authority in meat inspection control was necessary to comply with American import regulations. That is understandable. They went so far as to write to the American Attache" in Canberra for verification of this. I believe that the reply they received was that such regulations did apply in America, but that what foreign governments did about this matter was their own concern. Economy was another reason that was given to them by the General Manager of the Abattoirs Board. These inspectors readily admit that hygiene in any abattoirs is a very great problem with which care must be taken. But they say that to more than double the inspection staff to do the same amount of work does not add up to economy. They also claim, as I said, that when they made inquiries the usual reply that they received was that the matter was still under discussion and consideration and that they would be fully informed when finality was reached.

The fact that no satisfactory reply has been received by the inspectors is causing them a great deal of concern in regard to their position. I suggest to the Minister that an explanatory document could be produced and given to these men setting out the conditions of employment of State meat inspectors together with the conditions of employment of Commonwealth meat inspectors. I am firmly convinced that it would enable the State employees to study the overall position and would be of great assistance to them in arriving at a decision as to their future. One of the matters exercising the minds of the inspectors is that under the terms of their employment in South Australia their travelling is confined within the borders of the State, but in the event of their transfer to the Commonwealth Public Service they may be required to work part of the season in South Australia and part of the season outside the State. Will these men have the opportunity to volunteer to go outside of the State or will they be compelled to do so? Some of them are reaching rather mature years and it may be difficult for them if they are compelled to travel outside the State.

I know that when a person joins the Commonwealth Public Service he has to be prepared, if necessary, to go out of the State in which he lives. If he complains about this requirement he can be told that one of the conditions of the Service is that an officer may be sent to places where he is needed. One of the things that is exercising the minds of the inspectors is that they may be sent on temporary transfer at short notice at any time to any part of the Commonwealth. They feel that that would be an imposition as they have established their homes near their place of employment, and many of them have other commitments.

The honorable member for Adelaide discussed this matter with officers of the Department of Primary Industry as far back as 1961. I should like to refer to page 2735 of " Hansard " of the House of Representatives where a report about the selection appears. Mr. Sexton said that he had discussed the matter with officers of the Department and as a result he wrote to the representative of the meat inspectors in South Australia as follows -

The Commonwealth employees would have the right to volunteer for seasonal employment in other States and in the event of non-sufficient volunteers some employees may be required to go interstate for these seasonal duties involving export killings, etc.

I should like the Minister to clarify the position and state whether the information that was received by the honorable member is still applicable to meat inspectors in South Australia.

There are other matters about which the men are concerned. One is sick leave. I should like to mention these matters to the

Minister now rather than at a later hour in the morning. The meat inspectors have informed me that they enjoy three weeks leave per annum which is allowed to accumulate, and 50 per cent, of the annual sick leave allowance, or 60 hours per year, may be accrued and the inspector paid for it on retirement or resignation. They inform me that if they were to lose this privilege it would be a great financial loss to them as the inspectors of the Department of Primary Industry do not enjoy those conditions.

Another matter that has been raised is superannuation. The men do not come under the South Australian Superannuation Scheme but they are provided for by way of insurance policies. They feel that if they have to pay into two schemes it would be far too costly, especially for an inspector over the age of 45 years. The men believe that it would cost them between £5 and £6 a week. Another alternative would be to let their contributions to the present superannuation scheme lapse. This would mean losing most of the monetary gain they would expect to receive, and accepting a much less rosy retirement.

Another point exercising the minds of these men concerns their right to long service leave. They want to know whether they will be paid for their long service leave entitlement with the Metropolitan and Export Abattoirs Board, or whether their entitlement will be transferred to the Department of Primary Industry and paid for by that Department. The men cite as an example the question whether an inspector who decided that he was not happy in the Commonwealth Public Service after one month with the Department, would get the money due to him for his long service or would he be obliged to work for a certain period before he could collect it. I believe that the qualifying period for long service leave with the Metropolitan and Export Abattoirs Board in South Australia is 10 years and in the Department of Primary Industry it is 15 years.

The men were also concerned about promotion and want to know whether they would be given the same opportunities of promotion as officers already in the service of the Department. This is something that ] think they arc rightly concerned about. These men would be much happier if they were given a full explanation of their conditions when they transfer to the Commonwealth. Seniority is something about which they are very concerned. They want to know whether they will retain their seniority or whether they will be at the mercy of the Commonwealth Public Service Meat Inspectors Association or the Department of Primary Industry.

Another point is that overtime rates in South Australia are different from those applying in the Commonwealth Public Service. I believe that the Department has a ceiling rate for overtime which is less than the ordinary rate of pay of these men and that they get time and a half for three hours and double time for all other overtime. In South Australia I believe that they receive double time for all overtime. The men are also concerned about the permanency of employment. Are they to be permanent officers or temporary officers with the Department of Primary Industry? At the present time there are five temporary meat inspectors employed by the Metropolitan Export Abattoirs Board. What is going to happen to these inspectors? Honorable senators can see that the men are concerned about their position when the transfer comes into operation. I think that they have a just case. In the other place when the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) was replying to Opposition speeches regarding these men, he said that they would be much better off under the new scheme because they would receive a higher salary; but at no time did the Minister state what the salary was to be. If the Minister for Customs and Excise cannot let me have the figures now, could he let me have them later on so that they can be supplied to these men? This is what the Minister for Primary Industry said in another place, when discussing this Bill, as reported at page 2738 of the House of Representatives " Hansard " of 10th November -

I have tried to answer the queries put to me and I assure honorable members that, to my mind, the State inspectors will benefit if they choose to transfer to the Commonwealth. It is their choice of course. If they choose to transfer they will receive a significant rise in salary, their rights and seniority will be protected and they will be taken over as permanent public servants.

I again ask the Minister for Customs and Excise whether it would be possible to supply to me figures on the salaries. If he cannot supply them now, will he let me have them later so that 1 can give them to the inspectors? I believe that once they know just what will happen to them, they will not be concerned about the transfer. As I said earlier in my speech, they are not condemning the transfer. They think that it is a step in the right direction. They are concerned to ensure that their rights will be safeguarded and that they will be given the same or almost the same conditions as they enjoy at the present time. I say here and now that the Labour Party does not oppose this Bill.

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