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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 1139

Mr TUCKEY(4.20) —We are dealing now with the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry. I do not think anyone in this chamber would debate that primary industry is where all of Australia's original wealth comes from. The leader in this field is the agriculture sector. That is evidenced by some words written recently that point out that the dry land grain industry is strategically important to this nation. In 1983-84 it had a gross income of $5, 100m compared with the income in 1982 of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd of $4,500m and that of Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Ltd of $1,900m. The grain industry is a very substantial industry, and alone is responsible for the employment of about 100,000 people.

I take issue with the previous speaker, the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Brumby), who informed the chamber of what a wonderful benefit a drop in the consumer price index was to farmers. There are figures which prove that drops in the inflation rate, that is, inflation as it affects farmers, are very important . I think it is running at almost $100m per one per cent. To suggest that a drop in the CPI will have excellent effects on farmers is not true. The CPI is really the housewives or home owners index. It does not always reflect the situation of farmers. This is so particularly in recent times when government taxes on fuel, for instance, are now close to 3c a litre. It is very clear that these sorts of costs do not reflect on the household budget the way they do on a farmer's costs . I do not think farmers yet believe that their inflation rate is going down. I think they are a little like taxpayers who are being told that they are getting a tax refund when in fact they know that their tax refund cheques are much lower this year than they were the previous year.

Nevertheless, after having been critical in that regard, I congratulate the Government on its decision to float the Australian dollar. No group is better served by that decision than the primary sector. I am sure that we can all agree on that. I welcome the comments of our shadow Treasurer, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard), last night who also congratulated the Government in that regard.

We are very short of time and there are matters about which I am concerned relating to my State of Western Australia and to my electorate in particular. I am pleased to say that we are facing an extremely good harvest, probably the best ever. Estimates are that Western Australian wheat growers will produce some seven million tonnes of wheat. Nevertheless, I am particularly concerned about the off-farm costs that have been mentioned by other speakers, how they will affect people this year and how the people involved, such as the railways and their unions and, of course, the grain handlers and their unions, will treat this record harvest which clearly cannot be kept anywhere but in ships' holds as it is exported away to Australia's profit. Of course, this year we have already seen the shameful exercise in New South Wales whereby a group of greedy men who were earning $1,000 a week refused employment to an additional 80 people by the introduction of a third shift. In the process they hit the innocent wheat producers at a cost which they estimate at $17m. That is not a criticism of the Government, although I believe that both State and Federal governments have to learn to be tougher with people of this nature. The fact is that this is a group of greedy men. In my view people who claim that they are disadvantaged by having to drop their incomes from $1,000 to, say, $800 a week are not very honest. The issue has to be addressed.

The other issue I raise is a warning. Many people in many parts of Australia are particularly concerned about the proposal that a flat levy will be imposed under the new licensing scheme that will raise enough money to pay for the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme. I want it very clearly understood that this is not an anti-Tasmanian statement. It is a pro-mainland, wheat farmer statement. Clearly, the government of the day has the right to subsidise the problems of Tasmania. I do not object to overcoming Tasmania's remoteness. However, great questions have to be asked, such as whether other wheat farmers should be called on to subsidise that freight. I do not believe that that is the way it should be done. I am not one for cross-subsidies of any sort. I protest to the Government in advance of considering those matters.

I have already referred to fuel indexation and the problems that it presents to the farmer. I protest to the Government because my clear understanding of the Budget Papers is that in the past there was a ceiling on the fuel rebate. During the Fraser days the amount of money paid was equal to the amount of excise imposed on diesel fuel, which was an input cost at a time when there was no guarantee of income to a farmer. That fuel was then taxed at and rebated at 7. 155c a litre. The situation we are confronted with today is that the farmer is taxed at 9.397c a litre and rebated at 7.155c a litre. Furthermore, the Government promises to return to the indexation of the 7.155c a litre in February of next year after another set of automatic indexation. It is clear that by then farmers will have a differential of excise in excess of 3c a litre.

The other fact is that we are then to index them both at the same rate. So we are to index the lower and the higher figure at the same rate. So the higher figure will continue to climb away from the lower figure. Consequently, farmers will pay an ever-increasing amount of excise on the fuel they use to put a crop in the ground, with no guarantee whatsoever of a crop. This was best demonstrated in 1982. I do not think that is the way that farmers should be taxed. They should not be taxed in advance. It is tough enough getting a living out there, as many speakers have agreed.

The other issue I touch on, and the Minister for Prime Industry (Mr Kerin) is aware of my great concern about this matter, is the meat inspection charges and their huge cost to Federal revenue, to producers and to many others. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron) raised the costs that could be saved by the Queensland Government. Time and again I have brought to the Minister evidence that local government inspectors in Western Australia provide their services for even less than the Queensland Government inspectors do. In my view, basic inspection does not need Commonwealth involvement. It involves a huge cost. The Commonwealth could purely provide supervisors and let its inspectors become employees of the abattoirs, supervised by our people who could be well paid and, hopefully, above corruption.

Included in the present arrangement is the inspection and the slaughter of meat that is to go to Muslim countries, the halal slaughter arrangements. In recent times a religious monopoly has been established according to the terms of a group known as the Australian Federation of Islamic Councillors. Recently, Mr Trevor Dare of the Department of Primary Industry was sent a telex of which I will read part. It was dated 28 June 1984 and was signed by Mr B. L. Dwyer, the Managing Director of Melbourne Cold Stores in Brunswick, Victoria. It states:

As of today we regret that we will no longer be able to handle Halal export meat.

Gaafar Abdalla Mohammed, self-appointed Victorian Chief Supervisor of Halal Export Establishment has decreed we employ our resident Muslim only on supervisory duties. Other duties such as labouring are demeaning to his gifted status as an expert administrator.

I skip a paragraph. The telex continues:

As our total meat exports per week are presently less than two containers we cannot afford the luxury of $520 per week for a so-called supervisor, who would work approximately 2 hours per week at supervising Halal exports.

For the last 4 weeks Gaafar Abdalla Mohammed has been attempting to blackmail DPI licensed Victorian meat export establishments into employing one of his henchmen as a supervisor at unbelievable rates such as $500 cash plus illegal perks for 2 hours work.

We also intend to inform the Taxation Department of instances where Mohammed has openly incited transgression of Australian tax laws by his supervisors.

The telex goes on to talk about criminal blackmail. AFIC is an organisation that operates within Australia. It has made arrangements through its religious connections in certain countries. At the moment, if Australia wishes to export to those countries, it is obliged to use these people. One can see what it is doing to the industry. It has forced a considerable increase in costs. It is time that the Minister addressed the issue. The only way he will do that is for the Government to have the courage of going to the importing countries and saying: 'We have the responsibility to guarantee you that this meat is killed in the proper way. We will issue an export certificate and that export certificate will be issued by us and by persons of whom we approve'. The fact is that these people will not let people employed under their certificate be employed by anyone else. It is a shocking monopoly which is doing great harm to the potential of the Australian meat export industry. It should be stopped now before it gets any worse. That is only an example of what is going on. I can give other examples of companies having to close because they have been unable to handle the increased costs and ridiculous pressures imposed by these people.