Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 26 March 1985
Page: 950

Mr HUNT(9.52) —The Opposition endorses the establishment of an Australian Meat and Livestock Research and Development Corporation. This is the third and final stage of a plan to alter the administration of the meat and livestock industry. The first stage was the reconstitution of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. This was followed by the creation of an industry parliament, the Meat and Livestock Industry Policy Council. The Research and Development Corporation will take over the role of the Australian Meat Research Committee. Joint producer-government sponsorship of research into industry production and marketing began in 1960 through the establishment of the Australian Cattle and Beef Research Committee. Early efforts concentrated on the problems of cattle breeding, but in 1966 the charter was widened to include the sheep meat industry. The name of the body was also changed to the present day Australian Meat Research Committee.

Under the existing legislation finance is raised through a levy on cattle, sheep and lamb slaughterings with a matching contribution from the Commonwealth. Any change to the levy rate is recommended by the Meat Research Committee to the AMLC and, in turn, to the Minister for Primary Industry. Under the provisions of the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Amendment Bill and the Live-stock Export Charge Amendment Bill, which are presently before the House, the new Research Corporation will recommend any change to an annual meeting of the industry producers and shall also consult with industry organisations before submitting a recommendation directly to the Minister. Under this legislation maximum levy rates will be doubled. Whilst these new maximum rates will not be implemented in the immediate future, they should provide ample scope for gradual increases over time as the industry sees fit.

Amalgamation of the 4c a head Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation levy and the 5c AMRC levy will require the CSIRO to compete against other bodies for research funding. An increased research effort is important because it is clear that the meat industries are falling behind other primary industries in this regard. For instance, wool producers set aside more than one per cent of their gross returns for research. This has been partly responsible for the wool industry remaining comparatively profitable when other industries are deep in the jaws of a cost-price squeeze. In contrast to the wool industry, only about 0.2 per cent of meat industry returns are channelled into research. I believe the industry has failed to maximise its opportunities on the domestic and world markets. Consumer tastes are changing rapidly, yet there has been a degree of inertia on the part of the industry in response to these market challenges.

The decision of the Government to raise the maximum level of its matching contribution for rural research over the next five years to 0.5 per cent of the gross value of production is to be commended. This should encourage producers to raise the overall level of research, in turn improving domestic and export penetration and creating new rounds of income to the producers and, therefore, wealth in the Australian economy. The new Research Corporation should enjoy a degree of autonomy which will give it flexibility and commercial orientation. The Opposition endorses these goals. I think it is absolutely essential for there to be a commercial orientation of research in this area. Enormous sums have been spent in the area of production research, obviously in the field of agriculture. More and more resources will have to be devoted to the area of market penetration and to ways and means of improving the presentation as well as satisfying consumer demand. The Corporation will prepare a five-year rolling plan for research and development, together with an annual operational plan of individual projects. It will not only cover the beef, cattle and sheep meat industries but also extend its activities to buffalo and goat research.

While endorsing the basic framework of this legislation I wish to draw attention to several points of concern. I do so in the hope that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) will recognise that concerns are held by the respective industries over some aspects of these Bills. In each case it is well within the Minister's power to achieve the necessary changes, thereby ensuring maximum benefit for the meat and livestock industries. I would be grateful if the Minister would respond to the points I make because I make them in all sincerity. I hope that he can act upon them and give the assurances that certain sectors require.

There is a need for clarification of the relationship between the new body and the peak industry councils such as the cattle and sheep meat councils of Australia. I believe it is the intention of the Minister to provide for regular and effective consultation, but it would be helpful if this were spelled out by the Minister either in this House or in his letter of instruction to the new Research Corporation chairman. Perhaps that should be the principal way to address that problem. Although it would be appreciated if the Minister could give that assurance to the House, I think it should be put in writing to the chairman.

There is also some concern over the accountability of the new body directly to its producers and exporters from whom it will draw financial support. Of the 11 Corporation members, eight will be selected by the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Selection Committee to provide a range of skills and expertise. I assure the Minister that these appointments will be closely monitored to make sure that those who finance the research work-that is, the meat and livestock producers and processors-have full and proper representation.

Thought must also be given to maximising the cost effectiveness of the Corporation's accountability to its industries. For instance, the annual meeting of the AMLC on 10 May will probably cost more than $200,000 to stage. That seems to be an extraordinary cost. A lot of research could be done with that money. It will be extraordinary if it costs $200,000 to stage the annual meeting each year. I hope that we are not so badly off for sales for our beef that we have to have a big barbecue every time we have an annual meeting in order to accommodate the throngs of people who are likely to come to it. The other accountability area is research. I think some very strong accountability provisions need to be imposed upon the scientific research people. The industry and the contributors to the cost of the various research programs have an obligation to report fairly frequently on the outcome of their research programs.

I return to these annual meetings. By planning the annual meetings of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation and the Australian Meat and Live-stock Research and Development Corporation on consecutive days, if that is possible-I hope it could be-there could well be a substantial cost saving to the industry which would leave additional funds for research. In other words, I suggest it is absolutely essential to try to have both the annual meetings of the Meat and Live-stock Corporation on the same day as the Research and Development Corporation, or on consecutive days, thus trying to save some funds.

While endorsing the decision to amalgamate the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation levy-I notice the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) is at the table-and requiring the CSIRO to compete with other research bodies for available funds, I draw attention to the drift of resource within this Organisation away from rural and mineral research towards manufacturing, information and service industries.

In answer to a question that I placed on the Notice Paper the Minister was good enough to advise me that there will be a further drift of some 2.6 per cent of resources away from rural industries and another 1.6 per cent from minerals, energy and water resources within the CSIRO. The Government must take a long term view and allocate resources within the CSIRO so as not to jeopardise vital rural industry research work. I hope that the Minister will watch this very carefully because the rural sector in Australia is still a very important sector. I know that I have a vested interest in saying so as I represent a rural constituency.

Mr Barry Jones —That is not contested.

Mr Simmons —I agree with you.

Mr HUNT —I know the honourable member for Calare agrees with me on this.

Mr Barry Jones —We all agree with you but there are other things which have to be done.

Mr HUNT —I realise that. If I could fight a battle with the Minister on this, I would. I think it is essential to get adequate resources for the CSIRO because in this day and age research is vital for the future progress of any industrial sector. The rural sector has done so much over a long period to improve the standard of living of the Australian people. The rural industries are more efficient than a lot of their competing industries overseas because of the valuable work of the CSIRO. We cannot overestimate the importance of the CSIRO. I know that the Minister is concerned about not enough money going to the manufacturing sector-he says that it has to be built up-and not enough money going to some of the other new technology areas. But it would be dreadful if, because of the toe cutters and razor gangs that governments have to put into operation from time to time, particularly in view of budgetary problems, the CSIRO was denied adequate funds and therefore had to do a big shuffle with its resources and in so doing had to deny the agricultural sector funds that it has become accustomed to, funds which have been a tremendously good public investment.

Mr McVeigh —CSIRO has a pretty weak Minister.

Mr HUNT —I think we will hold our judgment. I do not like being unkind because I think the Minister is one of the more favourable characters in this place. He is highly intelligent and courageous and he has done his best. He says what he thinks. I hope he is able to get his point across in the pre-Budget battles between now and probably the end of June or early July. God bless him. I hope he succeeds in his battles with some of these people who from time to time cannot see the importance of research. I will hold my judgment. The honourable member for Groom (Mr McVeigh) has already cast his judgment.

Mr McVeigh —I would just like him to fight a bit harder-and win.

Mr HUNT —Yes, but he will probably restrain himself until the next Budget. There is one further concern arising from this legislation which is significant, not only for the livestock industries research effort but for a much wider range of primary industry research. I refer to the way in which members of the new corporation are to be appointed. As I said earlier, eight of the 11 members of this Live-stock Research Board are to be selected by the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Selection Committee. But there is a double standard in what is provided for in the legislation. Outside those eight members the government appointee will not be required-I repeat this-the government appointee, whoever he may be, will not be required to satisfy the criteria laid down by the Selection Committee. In other words, we have one rule for the industry representatives and another rule for the government appointee. At the very least the Government is leaving itself open to the charge of giving jobs to the boys. More seriously, the failure of the Minister to bring this government member under the strict Selection Committee criteria will create the impression, particularly within the industry, that his nominee is a political plant. This anomaly could be solved by having one ministerial nominee on the Selection Committee and turning over the ninth selection position to another person from the industry with special skills or qualifications. This should in turn lead to a more efficient application of the Board to its immediate tasks while at the same time clearing the Minister of charges of political influence on the Board. I now turn to the amendment circulated in my name. I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

'whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that other factors such as heavily increased export inspection charges are adversely affecting competitiveness on vital export markets'.

The Opposition is moving this amendment to impress on the Hawke Labor Government the effects of unnecessary burdens that it is placing on the Australian meat and livestock industries, burdens not applied by our competing nations. This is the handicap that our industries cannot carry in a tight world market situation. The honourable member for Groom has said on numerous occasions that the Australian Labor Party whacked a 200 per cent increase on charges and hoped it would not affect export returns.

Mr McVeigh —Destroyed a great industry.

Mr HUNT —Absolutely. The electoral backlash suffered by the Labor Party in the rural areas of Australia last December-the honourable member for Calare lost a lot of support out there-

Mr Simmons —No, we didn't. There was a 1.4 per cent swing to Labor in my electorate.

Mr HUNT —He had better improve his performance a bit; otherwise he will lose his seat. The electoral backlash suffered by the Labor Party in the rural areas of Australia last December was proof of its lack of concern for our agricultural industries. The export inspection slug came at a crucial point in the recovery of primary industries from four long years of harsh drought. Labor refused even to consider a two-year moratorium on the increases recommended by its consultative council to enable the industry to recover as soon as possible. The reaction of industry leaders at the time put the savage increase into its true perspective. They called it cynical, bloody-minded and callous. The Hawke Government showed no concern for the industry or remorse for its actions. One wonders how long the Labor Party can expect to remain in office when it imposes a 200 per cent increase on consumption goods purchased by its trade unions members. The Australian Meat Exporters Federal Council saw the decision as serious enough for it to be challenged in the High Court of Australia, and there were strong moves to this end at the time. The Labor Government rejected the recommendation of the industry parliament, the interim inspection policy council, for a two-year moratorium. The industry estimated that this decision is costing the export meat trade an extra $30m a year at a time when world markets are contracting and high input costs are making Australia's products less and less competitive.

Mr Nehl —Shame!

Mr HUNT —It is a shame. It is a shocking state of affairs. The honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) cannot get the grin off his face. Anybody would think he hated the farmers. I cannot understand it because they always gave him a good go in the woolsheds, too.

Mr McVeigh —You took your dough when you were shearing, Mick, but they tell me you were a butcher, too.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! I think the honourable member for Groom is interfering with the speech of the Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia.

Mr HUNT —At the same time, this Government has presided over a series of negotiation debacles led by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) on his Asian tour in February last year which has left the industry wondering what the next foul-up will be.

The Australian livestock industries, principally the beef and sheepmeat industries, can ill afford the excessive costs of production being imposed by this Government. We need to reverse government thinking, to start looking at ways of reducing costs instead of imposing heavy new burdens to solve the Government's revenue difficulties. The Hawke Government has an opportunity to show the livestock industry that it is genuine in its wish to help the industry to increase its efficiency and competitiveness further. It seems ironic that, on the one hand, Labor is trumpeting its reforms in livestock industry administration while, on the other hand, it is allowing heavy increases in costs such as fuel, labour and inspection charges. It is high time that this two-faced attitude was abandoned and some consistency was demonstrated in government policy.

Having said that, the Opposition will not block the passage of these Bills but does call on the Hawke Government to show a genuine concern for the livestock industry by acting immediately on the chance that it has to reduce farm costs, principally by removing the wretched export inspection charge which is helping to drag the industry down into the dust of the cattleyards.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is the amendment seconded?

Mrs Sullivan —I second the amendment.

Debate (on motion by Mr Simmons) adjourned.