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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1850

Mr COWAN(10.06) —My name does not appear on the agenda to speak to the Bills concerned, but I would appreciate the opportunity to speak briefly on a few of the matters that have been raised. I strongly support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh). We are so dependent in Australia today on the success of the primary industries and we are striking problems throughout the world, particularly with marketing, the costs at home and the effect of the European Economic Community, which has been mentioned by a lot of honourable members tonight. But we have to appreciate these facts and anything we can do as a parliament to assist the man upon the land should be done now. That is why the honourable member for Darling Downs has moved the amendment to the Meat Export Charge Bill, simply to ask that this levy be kept over for a certain time. I do not think that the primary industries of Australia are opposed to paying some of their share of the cost of inspection for export, but this must be determined on a basis that reflects the prosperity of those industries at this time. The man on the land today has no say whatsoever on the rising costs in the country and these are a paramount factor which concerns him. Naturally he is very concerned, particularly with exports.

As the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran) mentioned, we all have a great responsibility to promote our product at home. The beef and dairy industries have been doing their best to achieve this over the years. But surely there must be market opportunities throughout the world of which we can take advantage if we look a little further. That is why the Minister for Trade (Mr Lionel Bowen) has been somewhat condemned, because we have not taken advantage of a long term meat agreement with the Japanese. Our farmers, including the graziers, are happy if they know that the Government is doing something to get long term agreements wherever it can at a satisfactory price. The important factor is that no matter how the Australian economy is-if we have a recession or anything else-it has been proved over the last 12 months that the only way the economy can return is through prosperity in the primary industries.

A certain amount has been said tonight about the dairy industry. I did not intend to speak because I believe the debate has gone a little further than the Dairy Products (Export Inspection Charge) Amendment Bill, but I think some honourable members do not realise the situation in the dairy industry in Australia. The industry to date has been a State industry. It is only concerned from a national point of view with underwriting for export markets. Dairy farmers were numerous in years gone by, but their numbers have been cut drastically. They have been forced to reduce their numbers themselves, simply because of the profitability within the industry. The whole structure of dairy farming within Australia today has been based upon Acts brought into being by the State parliaments. I do not blame the farmers of Victoria or Tasmania for being envious of the market milk sales that farmers can make, particularly in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and perhaps South Australia. To understand the industry one has to appreciate that farmers have invested their capital in stock, plant and land. As the honourable member for Gippsland pointed out, the dairy industry in Australia is as efficient, in dealing with our climatic conditions, as any other country in the world. We have kept our costs to reasonable levels. When the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) starts to talk about a national dairy industry-and I think he appreciates this because he and I have talked about it-any changes must be based on the structures that are there now.

It is natural that I should rise in the chamber to say that the dairymen in New South Wales, who number 3,000 or more, must receive some protection in a market they have pioneered at great cost over a long period. In any changes that are made the Minister must consider this. It disturbs me at times when we talk of a national dairy industry. I think I am correct in saying that the other States have co-operated with the Minister for Primary Industry over recent times to try to devise a system that will be acceptable to all the farmers throughout Australia. I supported the Dairy Farmers Association in New South Wales when it agreed that a levy of 1.4c to 2c a litre would be paid on all milk produced on the farm as long as entitlements were fixed within a scheme.

I was sorry to hear that, when the Australian Agricultural Council met the other day, the Minister for Primary Industry was not able to get general agreement between the States. I point out that it was the Minister of Agriculture in Victoria who would not agree to the scheme. I believe the farmers in the other States were most generous when they offered to contribute as long as certain safeguards were provided. They were prepared to assist a farmer suffering a low return because of the markets around the world. They actually agreed to assist him under certain conditions. All they asked for was a recognition that the markets are supplied for 365 days of the year and an assurance that the income of those dairymen would not be reduced accordingly. The contribution to the levy about which I have spoken, under a national farming scheme, means a payment of between $4,000 and $10,000 a farm in New South Wales. I wanted to make those points quite clear. When we talk about the dairy industry we have to understand how it has grown over the years, the way it has developed, and the investment and the work of the farmer. It must not be affected by any overnight move.

I conclude by saying that there are indications that the world markets for dairy products will improve over a period. At last the European Economic Community has taken some positive action to reduce its production. I believe it has been reduced by about 6.9 per cent over a six-month period. That is a sign that the EEC recognises that it is affecting the markets of the world, as it is with the beef industry, the sugar industry and all the other primary industries. Any plans that are being made now from a national point of view I hope will keep in mind and analyse properly the world situation. Perhaps then we will not have to do the things that are being talked about now-pulling down one farmer and building up another. We hope to reach a situation in which all the farmers will be built up, not only because of the domestic market within Australia but also because of the world scene.