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Tuesday, 11 April 1972
Page: 956

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Minister for Air) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The main purpose of this Bill is to amend the Honey Industry Act 1962-66 to provide for some changes in the method of appointing industry members to the Australian Honey Board. The Board which was established in 1962, comprises 10 members - the Chairman who is also the representative of the Commonwealth Government, 5 members to represent honey producers and 4 members to represent honey packers. Each mainland State is entitled to one producer member on the. Board, and with the exception of Queensland, one member to represent honey packers. The existing legislation provides that each mainland State apiarist association shall nominate a member to represent producers in that State on the Board and that each such nomination is subject to the concurrence of the Federal Council of Australian Apiarists Associations which was established to represent producers on a federal basis.

Unfortunately the Federal Council of Australian Apiarists Associations has been largely ineffective in recent years because of its constitutional requirement that all decisions on major matters must be unanimous. This factor, coupled with the inability of the various State Associations to reach agreement on matters affecting the welfare of the industry as a whole, has resulted in a deadlock on some isues. For example, in 1969 the situation occurred where a position on the Board remained vacant for 2 months because one State objected to the person nominated for appointment by another State. A further factor is that the method of selection of producer nominees by some State associations may not always result in appropriate representation of the producers in those States. Most producer nominees are either selected by executive committees or by a majority vote at annual conferences of State associations which in practice are attended by relatively few association members. Consequently the persons who finally vote on the nominations may represent only a small proportion of the producers registered in their respective States.

This matter was discussed at the Australian Agricultural Council meeting last month. The State Ministers for Agriculture agreed that the best solution to the problem should be to provide for the election of producer representatives to the Board in lieu of the existing provisions. Accordingly the Bill provides for the producer representatives to be elected by a poll of honey producers in each of the mainland States. A producer will be entitled to vote at a poll and to be a candidate for election if he is the owner of 200 hives of bees. This minimum qualification has been established with the agreement of the Australian Agricultural Council on the basis that it is the minimum number of hives required to give a person a reasonable living from beekeeping. Proposals have been submitted by the apiarist associations in Western Australia and New South Wales that it be made a condition that candidates for election should be restricted to persons who only pack honey from their own hives. This poposal is not acceptable as it is considered that as provision is being made for the election of producer members it should be left to the producers to decide by a majority vote whether a beekeeper with packer interests should be elected. In addition it is felt that the type of member needed on the Board is not to be found in a beekeeper who is divorced by reason of the legislation from expanding his own operations. At present the 4 honey packer representatives from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia are appointed by the Minister after nomination by individual packing houses. However, as honey packer associations have since been established in most States, provision has been made for the Minister to consult with State honey packer associations, wherever practicable, before appointing a member to represent honey packers.

It has been alleged by some State apiarists associations that the Board is dominated by the honey packer representatives. At the last meeting of the Federal Council of Australian Apiarists Associations in August 1971 representations were made by some State apiarists associations for a reduction in the packer representation on the Board. The other State associations however opposed a change and as all decisions of the Federal Council of Australian Apiarists Associations must be unanimous, the matter was left unresolved. The allegation that the Board is packer dominated has not been substantiated by the industry organisations. At no time since the Board's establishment has it been possible for packer members to outvote the producer members. The present composition of the Board has enabled it to make decisions based on sound commercial guidance and principles. Any decision to reduce the packer representation could seriously affect the marketing efficiency of the Board as it could lose the main source of its commercial knowledge and contacts if the co-operation of packers was lost. Moreover, honey packers have previously stated that they would not be effective as representatives with a vote on behalf of packers in another State whose crop and stock position and methods of business were unknown to them.

Provision has been made in the Bill to extend the terms of office of the present industry members of the Board to 30th June 1972 or such later date as may be specified by the Minister to enable the elections to be held. The Bill specifies the remuneration to be paid to the Chairman and representatives of honey producers and, in addition, for certain fees and allowances to be prescribed.

Tasmania which is a relatively small honey producer is not represented on the Board. By agreement with the Tasmanian Government and the industry, the Tasmanian apiarists decided to forego representation on the Board providing that the honey levy collected in Tasmania was returned to the Tasmanian Beekeepers' Association for promotion and research purposes. The State apiarists associations in the Federal Council of Australian Apiarists Associations have all accepted the principle of the election of producer representatives and it is considered that the amendments proposed will give honey producers added confidence in their representatives on the Board which is necessary to enable the Board to continue to conduct its affairs in the best interests of the Australian honey industry. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.

Debate (on motion by Senator McLaren) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 5.39 to 8 p.m. (Quorum formed)

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