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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 1138


Mr O'KEEFE(9.52) —I wish that there was some way under the Standing Orders to move for an extension of time for the honourable member of Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron) because there is very little left to say after what he has brought forward in the House tonight. I think I am one of the final speakers in this cognate debate; so I briefly wish to sum up and place the debate on these Bills into some perspective. The amendment which has been moved by the Opposition is of so little substance that I draw the conclusion that there is consensus on the Bills. That is wonderful to see in the House.

In respect of the Bills and the developments in the area of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation and the Meat and Livestock Research and Development Corporation, I make the point that I have spent many years living in a small rural community. I have spent years talking with meat and livestock producers on the land and I am aware of the needs of their industry. I can give them an assurance that I am very confident that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) and our Government have a clear understanding and a clear direction for the future for this industry. That touches on something that I raised in my maiden speech in this House. I think it has to be kept in perspective that we on this side of the House have inherited in all areas, including the primary sector, a mess that has been built up over 30 years of previous Government. It has taken us one term to address this mess and during the next term we will attempt to re-build what it has taken our opponents on the other side 30 years to mess up.

The position in respect of the rural community, and in particular the meat and livestock sector, is that both it and the Government see the need for reform, the introduction of new technology and the introduction of research and development which enables us once again to rebuild our competitiveness in the export sector. In my electorate I have two quite major provincial abattoirs, one servicing a domestic market and the other servicing an export market. At the moment they are considering expansions in their processing. They have the markets and they are looking for the technology that will enable them to expand and compete.

This legislation complements the establishment of the Meat and Livestock Corporation. The whole process results from extensive consultation which has taken place with sectors of the industry, the Minister and the Department of Primary Industry. The introduction of this legislation and that which has preceded it is in fact a result of the consultation process. Because the Minister has been prepared to go out there and consult, because he has demonstrated his understanding and knowledge of the rural sector, he has the confidence of the major industry groups and the confidence of the producers. He is a very easy act to follow in the bush because he is known to care and to have this understanding of the rural sector.

As a result of the introduction of this legislation we have in fact put in process the second stage of what I would call a two-pronged approach. First of all, we tackled the deficiencies in production, processing and marketing through the establishment of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation. We are now turning to the deficiencies within the research and development sector and this Bill will lead to the benefits of which I have spoken. Quite consistently-I reiterate the word 'consistently'-the successes of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation will follow through in the Australian Meat and Livestock Research and Development Corporation.

Just for the record, I will outline a couple of the key aspects which have already been seen to be major improvements and advances. The most significant, of course, has been the establishment of a corporate board approach, which has brought a commercial orientation, a commercial expertise in areas of marketing, production and processing. That now will be extended to the areas of research and development.

The Minister is to be commended-this matter has been touched on during the debate by honourable members on the other side of the House-for the selection process for board members. He has removed the responsibility for selection from the Department of Primary Industry and has established professional panels of people who are skilled in the process of choosing the best people for the job. The corporate boards for both corporations comprise the best people for the job, coming from the production, processing, marketing and government sectors.

The principal responsibility of the Research and Development Corporation, as I perceive it, is that it will control the application and disbursement of funds available to research and development in the meat and livestock industry. I draw some heart from the commitment made by the honourable member for Maranoa in his speech just a few minutes ago that the livestock industry, the meat producers, will certainly match government contributions to research and development. If the honourable member had done his homework he would have noted that the Minister made a very clear statement in his second reading speech that the Government is committed to matching the contribution for rural research over the next five years up to 0.5 per cent of the gross value of production. This is a significant commitment by the Minister. I am sure that the meat and livestock industry will be glad that the honourable member for Maranoa took the opportunity to advise honourable members that it will also be hopping into that. That is good to hear.

I look to the new Corporation not only to emphasise the benefits of research and the improvements in technology, processing and marketing but also, most importantly, to transfer those benefits of research into the area of development, into actually making it happen in the market-place. I think that the Minister's speech, the Bill and the whole approach of the Government emphasise that we are committed to applying research to applications which will produce those benefits.

I would like to pick up the comments that were made by the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker) a little earlier tonight. The honourable member emphasised that he wants to see the benefits of research transferred to the market-place. I can assure him that that is what is going to happen. We on this side of the House are the ones who are making it happen. The rural sector and the meat and livestock industry have been looking for key reforms of the kind that are contained in this legislation. Leadership from the previous Government has been sadly lacking. The previous Administration wandered along, did nothing to improve the industry, propped up the industry and left it without leadership. That is why we are in the situation we are in at the moment. Leadership is being provided by this Government.

Another reform covers accountability and consultation. I have touched earlier on the consultative processes used by the Minister. I now turn to the matter of accountability to the industry. Producers and growers are to be consulted through the process of the annual general meeting, something about which the honourable member for Maranoa showed an amazing lack of understanding. Just about every organisation in this land has an annual general meeting. The honourable member does not seem to have attended any of them; that is why he is so totally out of touch with what transpires in the rural sector. The comments of the honourable members are inappropriate because one-third of the 100,000-odd producers in the industry have already registered as shareholders or investors in the Corporation. Over 2,000 of them have already indicated that they intend to attend the annual general meeting. Rather than despairing at having a couple of thousand producers and growers at an annual general meeting, the honourable member ought to commend it. The fact that they attend, are interested and know what is happening will have a tremendous impact on the industry. I commend the annual general meeting provision. I am amazed that the honourable member for Maranoa could have said what he said about it.

Another important role of the AGM was pointed out by the Minister in his second reading speech. I refer to its role of accountability to the industry in setting the research and development levy. Those in the industry, through the AGM, will now get an increased say in the setting of the levy. If the Corporation wants to recommend to the Government that the levy be increased, it has to satisfy the producers. That is the way it should be. It has to satisfy the producers and the processors. I commend this process. It is consultation and it is open decision-making, and that is what we need.

Another key aspect of the approach by the Minister is the requirement that both corporations are to come up with a strategy for development plans for their industries. The corporate boards will be required to set out for their industries and for the Minister a strategic plan. This will give leadership and direction to production, marketing and processing. Those strategic plans will be based on commercial expertise. As I have said before, they will provide leadership and direction to an industry which was rudderless until we took over.

I point to another very important aspect, that of deregulation. The Minister, throughout the whole primary sector, has quite clearly set in process a consistent approach to deregulating the nonsense we inherited. I commend that initiative and I am sure it is welcomed by the rural sector. I conclude by making the point that the meat and livestock industries have an impact not only in their own immediate vicinity but also in the rural and provincial areas which service these industries. The Minister, in setting up his Primary Industry, Rural and Provincial Affairs Committee, has also shown his awareness of the need for the Government to stay in touch with the effects of its legislation and with the impact that the changes in the rural sector have on these provincial and rural centres for which we are responsible. I am confident that the leadership and direction being provided is welcomed by primary producers. I know them; I mix with them; and I know that they like what is happening. I know that those on the other side are bereft of ideas in this area. I welcome the legislation that has been introduced by the Minister.