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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1837


Mr CUNNINGHAM(8.48) —In speaking to the Meat Export Charge Bill and the Meat Export Charge Collection Bill this evening and after listening to the honourable member for Corangamite, Mr McArthur, the first point that needs to be made in this debate is that we are talking about a measure designed to collect 50 per cent of export charge expenses, a policy which was introduced by the previous Government, the so-called friend of the graziers. Back in 1978 the Fraser Government decided that all rural industries should pay 50 per cent of the cost of export charges. This policy was further enforced by the famous razor gang, headed by Peter Nixon, the Minister at the time, who set out quite clearly to this House that export charges should be set at the rate of at least 50 per cent for those who are benefiting from the industry.

Tonight members of the Opposition, who were members of the Government at the time this policy was introduced, appear to be trying to tell us that the policy of collecting 50 per cent of export charges was a fallacy. It is a policy that they introduced and one from which they now seem to be wanting to back away. There is no reason why there should not be some charge on export inspection for any industry. To try to blame export charges for the calamity that is occurring in the meat export industry is a complete fallacy. We know that the fortunes of the meat export industry go up and down. Over many years export meatworks have closed and reopened. In fact, this country was governed for 30-odd years by a government which oversaw this type of operation.

It was very strange that honourable members from the Western District of Victoria, the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr McArthur) and the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker), whose predecessor, as Prime Minister of this country, oversaw the policy of introducing 50 per cent export charges, should stand up tonight and try to tell us that there is something wrong with that very policy. This policy has to be implemented. Circumstances in the meat industry at present are such that there will be closures of meatworks simply because of the world market situation. It is wrong to try to blame such closures on export charges. They are a small sector of the cost structure of that industry. They are not the total sector. If export charges were at a minimum we would still have a complete closure of many meatworks simply because the stock is not available and the market is not available. So honourable members opposite ought to be honest in relation to that matter.

I wish to direct my remarks tonight not so much to the meat industry, as has been the case until now, but to the dairy industry and to the egg industry, which are also vital industries to Australia. The dairy industry in my electorate of McMillan is a vital industry for my electorate and for the people who work in that industry. I refer not just to the farming sector but to the factories in every town in my electorate. Hundreds of workers are reliant on the dairy industry. A situation has developed in Australia wherein, once again because we have overproduction and an export market which does not pay, we have to ask ourselves what do we do with that industry. Do we allow the free enterprise market structure to operate? If we followed the philosophy of free enterprise of the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia , we would do absolutely nothing. If their philosophy were allowed to operate we would have a massive collapse right across the board in the industry until things got back to a market supply and demand situation. We clearly know that, while that is an alternative, it is not the priority alternative for any industry. We have to take into consideration that it will affect the jobs of people in factories and on farms. We have to consider the economy of the towns in the dairy areas.


Mr McVeigh —I take a point of order. Madam Deputy Speaker, I, of course, am always very broad-minded but I draw your attention to the fact that these Bills are about the collection of inspection fees. They have nothing to do with philosophy. I ask you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to keep a very close look out to make sure that the honourable member talks to the Bills.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) — Order! There is no point of order. The honourable member is relating it back to the economic conditions in his area.


Mr CUNNINGHAM —In any industry involved in export charges one must look at the complete industry. As the debate has gone on tonight members of the Opposition have tried to tell us that the cost of exports has a definite input in the actual industry. So what I am saying is definitely related to what we are talking about, and I am talking about the dairy industry and export charges. While they are a very minor point in regard to the total economics of the dairy industry, tonight I would like to look at the industry as a whole and at some of its problems.

I know that my colleague the honourable member for Macarthur, who will be following me in this debate, also has a very deep interest in the dairy industry . I put to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the dairy industry employs thousands of people. The first thing every member of every family in Australia sees in the morning after he has cleaned his teeth properly is the milk in his bowl of Wheeties. It is an industry which affects everybody in Australia.

Here we have an industry which has developed in Australia on an export basis for many years. We used to export thousands of tonnes of dairy products to the United Kingdom before it joined the European Economic Community. Since 1970, thanks to the lack of support by members of the former Country Party, we have had the situation where, just across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand is still exporting to the EEC and Australia is on the outer. So we had to try to find markets which were not as lucrative. Because of that we have had to cut back the industry in Australia. It has been cut back to the point now where Victoria and Tasmania are major producers of exports and New South Wales-my colleague from New South Wales, the honourable member for Macarthur, will speak later in this debate-is vitally interested in what will happen.

We have two industries in one. One sector of the industry produces milk for the morning breakfast table under contract with the State governments. Another sector of the industry produces the same product which is converted to our butter and cheese and sold on the world market. Because the world market has collapsed, we have to ask ourselves what we should do at present when those who cannot get a decent price for their products see a market opportunity in sending milk from Victoria to Sydney and want to do something about it.

It is quite clear that in this case the Government has responsibilities and must take a serious look at this problem. I noticed in the speech of the shadow Minister for Primary Industry, the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh), that he did not even mention this most vital subject. This is a most vital subject for those in thousands of jobs, for thousands of producers and for the consumers of Australia. The shadow Minister skipped over it in about two minutes and did not even bother to give its importance a look in.

Right now we have a clash between an industry which is producing for exports and one which is producing for the local market. The Government has to face up to the responsibility of deciding what will happen to the whole industry should it cut itself back to the point--


Mr McVeigh —I take a point of order. In all fairness the matter of quotas for an industry has nothing whatsoever to do with an inspection service. I ask that the honourable member contain his remarks to the Bills, as my colleagues have done.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! The honourable member for McMillan will be relevant to the Bills for the remainder of his remarks.


Mr Kerin —I seek your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker. There have been other Bills in this--


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —I recognise that other speakers have been roaming far and wide. I have given the honourable member for McMillan a fair amount of latitude. I suggest that for the few minutes remaining to him he make his remarks relevant to the Bills. We have seven Bills before us. With the indulgence of the Chair, previous speakers have moved outside the relevance of each of the seven Bills and so has the honourable member for McMillan. I suggest that he now get back to the Bills. Future speakers might also like to look at the fact that they may have a little indulgence but they may not roam forever.


Mr CUNNINGHAM —It has become quite obvious from the debate tonight that there is no member on the Opposition side who understands the dairy industry at the moment. After the next election there will be no Opposition member here who understands the dairy industry at all, because the Opposition does not want to hear what is possibly one of the most important debates to have taken place on primary industry. It is important for thousands of people who have jobs in that industry and for thousands of consumers.

In view of the objections we are receiving from the Opposition, I move on by saying that at present negotiations relating to the dairy industry are in a very delicate stage. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) is negotiating with State Ministers to try to agree on a proposition which will create the climate in which thousands of people can maintain their jobs. People will be able to stay on the farms and will be able once again to pay that export charge which this legislation seeks to cover. If we do not come up with a policy which is for the benefit of the whole industry, we will finish up without an export industry in dairy products. This will adversely affect the Australian economy. We need exports. We can maintain those exports but it will not be done by the Opposition 's laissez-faire, private enterprise, free enterprise, supply and demand type policies. It will be done simply by negotiation between the Federal Minister and the State Ministers. I believe that this Minister at the table knows more about the dairy industry than anybody sitting on the Opposition side.

I move on to the Eggs (Export Inspection Charge) Amendment Bill, the Eggs ( Export Inspection Charge) Collection Amendment Bill and the Egg Export Legislation Repeal Bill. A number of decisions of far-reaching effect to the Australian egg industry have been made by the Government. These were announced in a media release in Townsville on 2 August by the Minister at the table. They were that the Australian Egg Board, which was involved in export marketing, was to be abolished and that the Commonwealth hen levy, which was used to equalise losses, was to be phased out on 1 July 1987. Also, sections of the Trade Practices Act which provide exemptions for arrangements between egg marketing authorities on pricing for interstate trade and for restrictive interstate trade are to be repealed.

Over the period since August it has been suggested in various quarters that all the decisions announced by the Government came as a complete surprise to the industry. However, this was not the case as a number of these decisions followed recommendations made to the Minister for Primary Industry by the Australian Egg Marketing Council. Since that time, in addition to the decisions announced, the Australian Egg Marketing Council has been invited by the Department of Primary Industry to meet the Department to discuss research, the phasing out of the Commonwealth levy and other matters affecting the industry.

I am sure that under this Government and under this Minister we can look forward to rational policies and communication between State and Federal Ministers. It will take a little time but we have to turn around many years of neglect, many years of past governments taking the decision that spending a few bob here and a few bob there would keep the cockies happy. Those days are gone. We are in the real business world now. We are competing in world markets and we have to be fair dinkum. I am sure that these sorts of Bills that have been brought forward by the Minister, and the ones that will continue to be presented by this Government, will be in the long term for the betterment of rural Australia and of jobs in rural Australia. That is a very important point that we never hear a word about from the Opposition benches. We always hear about the farmers but we never hear a thing about the factory jobs involved--


Mr Ian Cameron —What about the abattoir workers?


Mr CUNNINGHAM —The honourable member for Maranoa interjects: 'What about the abattoir jobs?' I point to the number of years when honourable members on that side of the House had charge of the export industries. They allowed them to get to a situation where now it would take an absolute genius to overcome those problems in 18 months. The people of Australia will re-elect this Government on 1 December and over the next four years we will be able to reinstate those jobs which have been lost because of the policies over the seven years prior to our taking government.