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Tuesday, 11 April 1972
Page: 979

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Minister for Air) - in reply - First of all, I wish to thank the Senate for the passage of this Bill without amendment. I go further than Senator Douglas McClelland and say that not only the representatives of the Australian Agricultural Council but also the members of the Opposition in the House of Representatives have agreed to this Bill. The discussion that has taken place tonight shows that there are many diverse views on the proposed amendments to the Honey Industry Act and on the operations in past years of the Australian Honey Board in general. I think most honourable senators will agree with me when I say that that has stemmed from the fact that the constitution of the Federal Council of the Australian Apiarists Association requires any decisions it makes to be unanimous decisions. Because of that policy the State organisations have become more or less the mouthpieces of the industry and, in that capacity, have expressed divergent views to the Government on the way in which the operations of the Australian Honey Board should be conducted.

Senator McLaren,in opening the debate for the Opposition, mentioned firstly that he hoped that the Australian Agricultural Council would do for the, egg industry what it is doing for the honey industry. I could not agree with him more on that point. The honourable senator went on to ask about the appointment of members of the Australian Honey Board. In that connection I draw his attention to the second paragraph on page 5 of my second reading speech earlier today in which I said:

Provision has been made in the Bil! 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 election to be held.

I believe that covers the point that the honourable senator made in the earlier part of his speech. He went on to talk about the probability of multiple votes. He then moved to the time df registration and suggested to me that I should indicate to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) that he suggest to all State Ministers that they endeavour to arrange a common registration date for all States. In answering those 3 points I should like to read some notes that I have on these matters so that the honourable senator will see what the Government is trying to do and the representations that have previously been made to it on these matters. The situation was that the South Australian Apiarists Association requested that eligibility to vote or eligibility to stand as a candidate for election to the Australian Honey Board should be based on the ownership of 200 hives at the last date of registration instead of the time of voting as provided in the Bill. In these industry proposals the industry tried to avoid vote splitting. It was feared that someone with 1,000 hives could register and divide his holding by 5 and so be entitled to 5 votes. This is the point the honourable senator was trying to make.

This proposal was discussed with Commonwealth legal advisers who pointed out that such a provision could disfranchise some persons coming into the industry and not disfranchise those who had left the industry between the last date of registration and the voting date. It was pointed out that the normal course followed in a poll with a property qualification was to allow anyone qualified at the time of voting to get a vote. In addition there is the further difficulty in that the State Act provides for different times of registration while the Queensland legislation does not cover all the beekeepers in that State - 2 points that the honourable senator made in his speech.

It is proposed that the regulations for the taking of a poll under the amended legislation will provide for the Department of Primary Industry to prepare a roll which will be based essentially on the list of State registrations. A person with 200 hives who is not enrolled will be entitled to apply for enrolment to the Deputy Returning Officer in his particular State. After discussion with our legal advisers it was felt that the problem of vote splitting could best be met by a provision in the regulations which would permit a proper check to be made of applicants for enrolment. The form of application prescribed would require the applicant to declare that he was the owner of 200 hives. The deputy returning officer for the State would then need to satisfy himself of the applicant's entitlement to enrol by checking with the registration list of bee- keepers, and even with the beekeeper himself. As the number of beekeepers is not large, it is considered that such a provision would work satisfactorily.

This in itself would not prevent vote splitting but would mean that a large producer with, say, 1,000 hives would have to go to the trouble of registering with the State department, say, 800 of his hives in the names of 4 other persons, declaring them to be the owners. This could have far reaching legal implications for him in the way of taxation, gift duties, etc. It is considered that this would allow a satisfactory check to be kept on the position as there would not be enough incentive for any producer to go to this trouble to alter the whole nature of his business operation in order to create additional voting powers.

Senator Durackalso spoke on this matter but went a little further. He spoke about the Australian Honey Board and the honey producers. Firstly he referred to the eligibility to vote. I think he referred in this connection to partnerships and companies. The information I have in relation to the voting rights of partnerships and companies who own 200 hives or more is that the Bill follows the basis adopted in previous legislation of a comparable nature, lt provides for property qualifications. Each company which meets the property qualification will be entitled to one vote, but shareholders will be excluded from voting. In the case of a partnership, as each partner owns the property of the partnership each partner will be entitled to a vote. This is the ordinary law and it is considered to represent the fairest approach. The regulations will spell out not only the specific matters which may be necessary in this regard to supplement the general provisions in the Bill. The points raised by both Senators McLaren and Durack will be covered by regulations on the specific matters which will be spelt out at a later date.

Senator Durackmentioned that in the first place the Australian Honey Board was set up without a poll of producers. This is quite true. In 1963 when the honey legislation was passed by the Parliament the Federal Council of the Australian Apiarists Associations indicated that because of the very strong rank and file support in the industry for the establishment of a board a poll of producers on the question was unnecessary. This is not new in regard to the establishment of primary industry boards. Earlier in the 1960s the Government gave an undertaking to the wool industry that any change in marketing legislation would first of all be put before the producers to vote on, but later industry leaders came to the Government and said that the proposed amendments to marketing legislation had the full support of the industry and they did not believe that it was necessary to take a poll. The Government followed that suggestion. I understand the same situation has applied to the egg industry which has not felt up to this stage that it was necessary to have a poll conducted before amending legislation was put to the Parliament. As has been said on a number of occasions, in this matter the Australian Agricultural Council originally agreed to the setting up of a board.

The only other thing I can say to Senator Durack is that to my knowledge no-one within the beekeeping industry or no State organisation in the industry has said to the Government that the Board should be done away with. Admittedly, a group of people in South Australia has suggested that the Board should not sit until a poll of producers has been held. There are in Western Australia individual producers who are not members of organisations who have also expressed a view that there should be a poll among producers. lt is because of this overwhelming support for the Board that the Government went ahead with this legislation. Senator Little asked me some questions about the sittings of the Board and the remuneration which members receive. I have a copy of the report of the Australian Honey Board and I shall make one available to the honourable senator afterwards. I believe that it is a very good report because it sets out the operations and the functions of the Board quite clearly over the period 1970-71. It goes into quite a lot of detail as to the amount of money collected by the Board and the way it was spent.

Senator Little - Does it give sitting days for the year?

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - Yes, it contains that information. The note which 1 have in relation to this matter is that remuneration of $1,300 per annum is paid to producer members. As in all cases with boards associated with the Department of Primary Industry this amount was approved by the Higher Salaries Committee. I believe that this Committee is made up of First Division officers. At this time I cannot tell the honourable senator exactly who sits on the Committee. I understand the Public Service Board and the Commonwealth Treasury have representatives on it. No doubt the Department of Primary Industry would have a representative on it and perhaps the Prime Minister's Department would have a representative too. Should the honourable senator desire further information on this matter I shall seek it. The Board, in setting this fee, took into account the loss in production which might be incurred through the beekeepers being taken away from their business on the business of the Board. At any time Board members can be required to attend to the business of the Board. This does not only include board meetings but also attendance at industry meetings to put the views of the Board. Because of the small amount received from the levy - normally about $110,000 per annum - the Board is conscious of the need to reduce administrative costs and it has been cutting down on its board meetings. As a consequence more business is being dealt with by members through correspondence. I think that answers the honourable senator's questions on that matter. If he desires further information I ask him to come along and tell me and I shall try to collect it for him.

I turn to the matters raised by Senator Webster. He made the point that he found some difficulty in deciding what measuring stick the Government used in determining a producer. The information which I have in this regard is that this minimum qualification has been established with the agreement of the Australian Agricultural Council on the basis that this is the minimum number of hives required to give a reasonable living from beekeeping. The figure of 200 hives was accepted by the Opposition in another place. I make some reference to what the, honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) said in another place:

I think it can be argued logically that this figure could be reduced to 180 hives, 170 hives, ISO hives, or 100 hives, but I am not going to labour this point. 1 accept the fact that it has been examined thoroughly by State governments, including Labor Party governments. This has been accepted by the standing committee of the Australian Agricultural Council and the Council itself. If this is the best figure which has been arrived at for eligibility to vote in a poll to elect representatives of bona fide beekeepers - those receiving the majority of their income from honey - this is the figure that should be adopted by us. I have no doubt that if at a later date this figure of 200 hives is shown to be too high the Government will have no objection to reducing it for future elections.

Senator Webstergave some figures in regard to incomes and the number of producers who have 2 hives or more. The figues which I have differ slightly. They fall more into line with the figures Senator Douglas McClelland gave. The point is that in 1969-70 696 apiarists were registered in Australia as owning 200 or more hives. The 696 apiarists represented 13 per cent of all registered apiarists and account for 83 per cent of all honey produced. But we find that there were 4,785 apiarists who owned less than 200 h ives. Their gross income was between $90 and $1,283 per annum. So the. figure of 200 hives was arrived at as the number which would give as many people as possible the right to vote and to stand for election to the Board. At the same time it was perhaps the lowest figure which would give a man a living while keeping bees full time and not part time as distinct from those who have only a few hives or who have under 200 hives.

Senator DouglasMcClelland in his speech made reference to this matter. I think he was quite, shocked that the man who had 200 hives had a gross income of only just over $2,000. I sympathise with what Senator Douglas McClelland was saying. But I had the feeling that he was trying to tie the Australian Country Party up to this figure. I say to the honourable senator that a man with 200 hives would be a lot worse off if he had to face up to the costs of a 35-hour week. While the honourable senator stands up and supports these small incomes of the commercial apiarists, I think he must pay due regard to costs. On future occasions the honourable senator must endeavour to do what he can to assist in this way. The honourable senator in his remarks spoke about this arbitrary figure of 200 hives. I remind him what the honourable member for Dawson said in another place. I think what the honourable member said has a lot of common sense behind it. As the years go by we will see what happens in relation to this figure, arbitrary as it may be. I think that this figure has been considered by a large section of the industry. We believe that at this time this figure gives the best results. If it does not I assure the honourable senator that the Minister for Primary Industry will have another look at it. Certainly the Australian Agricultural Council will voice its views too.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

The Bill.

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