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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 1143

Mr KERIN (Minister for Primary Industry)(10.20) —Now that the Opposition has taken 10 minutes of its precious time, I will continue. I also fully expect that from time to time the Australian Meat and Livestock Research and Development Corporation will meet producer organisations or special liaison committees set up by those bodies. I would not expect these meetings necessarily to be held on a regularly rostered basis, nor that the personnel of such liaison groups would be necessarily the same on all occasions. The primary consideration should be the tapping of all possible sources of advice which may assist the Corporation in its critical role for the industry.

The Deputy Leader of the National Party, the honourable member for Gwydir, raised the question of the government member of the new Corporation. The Australian Meat and Live-stock Research and Development Corporation Bill requires that the government member be a person who the Minister is satisfied has a knowledge of, and experience in, the formulation of government policy and public administration. Certainly, these are not the qualifications and experience required of the other members but people who possess them can be very useful members of statutory authorities, particularly so, I imagine, in the early years. One role of the government member of the Corporation figuratively is to provide the Corporation with a window into government. In practice such members make a contribution to the work of the Corporation and provide a link with the bureaucracy and the quite complex government environment.

Contrary to the suggestion of the honourable member for Gwydir, the provisions of the Bill actually reduce the possibility that the member is a 'political plant'. Persons likely to meet the requirement for experience in the formulation of government policy and public administration would normally be senior public servants, who are expected to be politically unbiased. On the other hand, the typical provisions for government representation on existing statutory authorities do not specify any criteria at all. Accordingly, it would not be difficult for any government to make political appointments to such authorities. They are responsible in a corporate fashion, as are other honourable members.

We should not talk about patronage! In my portfolio I have to appoint hundreds of people over a term of government. In fact, I was once told that I could appoint up to 700 people over two terms. Actually, I have put onto these boards two people with Australian Labor Party affiliations out of some 300 appointments. I found out about it only after the event. This is not Queensland. This is not the National Party of Australia where patronage the whole time is the name of the game. We are trying to deal with this matter in objective terms.

I turn to the annual general meeting. The Deputy Leader of the National Party also expressed concern about the costs which will be incurred by the Corporation in holding annual general meetings, at which members of the meat and livestock industry will review the Corporation's operations and financial requirements. He commented that a similar meeting to be held by the Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation on 10 May would probably cost more than $200,000. I understand that the AMLC had budgeted for an amount of slightly under $200,000 to cover the cost of its first AGM. However, about a third of that amount represents the cost of establishing the registers of eligible participants which is, of course, not a recurrent expense but an establishment cost.

Since both corporations will use the same registers and share the cost of maintaining them, this will reduce costs to each in future years. Further savings are likely because, wherever possible, the two corporations will hold their AGMs either on the same day or on succeeding days. A provision requiring the Research and Development Corporation to strive for such synchronisation is included in the Bill. It is expected that eventually the cost of staging the two AGMs will be around the amount budgeted for the first AGM convened by the AMLC. Of this some two-thirds will be the cost of printing and posting the annual reports.

I turn to what other honourable members had to say. The honourable member for Moncrieff (Mrs Sullivan) asked whether it was my intention to appoint livestock producers to at least half the positions on the Research and Development Corporation Board. Of course, she fundamentally missed the point behind the Government's philosophy. We are trying to get boards that act corporately. No, it is not my intention to do so. Honourable members surely recall that eight of the members of the Board are being selected by the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Selection Committee. This Committee comprises three livestock producers and three meat processor exporters. This Selection Committee is required to appoint members who have expertise related to, for instance, livestock production. Given the statutory requirements for certain expertise to be represented on the Board and that the Selection Committee comprises industry representatives, I am sure that honourable members can be confident that the Board will contain people familiar with livestock production.

The honourable member also referred to the five-year strategic research plan and the annual operational plan giving the Minister enormous powers as both plans require ministerial approval. This is again nonsensical because I remind honourable members that under existing arrangements with the Australian Meat Research Committee, allocation of funds by that Committee requires ministerial approval for each and every research project. The honourable member for Moncrieff should be relieved that this specific requirement for ministerial approval will not apply to the Research and Development Corporation. Rather, for the Corporation, ministerial and industry scrutiny will focus on the broad policies and operational plans proposed by the Corporation. I submit that this is not only a more effective accountability mechanism, but one which distances the Minister from day to day operations of a corporation responsible for significant expenditure for this multi-million dollar industry.

The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker) indicated that he hoped the level of expenditure for research and development for the livestock and meat industries increases over time.

Mr Hunt —He is stupid, too?

Mr KERIN —No, he is not stupid, he is echoing hope, unlike the other honourable members who spoke. I remind honourable members again of the recent decision of the Government to set as an objective, to be achieved over five years, a level of expenditure up to 0.5 per cent of gross value of production. In the case of the livestock and meat industries, the Government has thus signalled that it is prepared to support, through its matching funding arrangements with the industry, a doubling of expenditure on research and development. The honourable member for Wannon also asserted that the requirement for no confidence motions to be supported by 75 per cent of both producers and processors eligible to vote was impossible to achieve. The 75 per cent majority has been stipulated for such motions, and negotiated with the industry over a long time, as a safeguard against a situation where a poorly attended annual general meeting could remove a carefully chosen chairman or board.

We know now that the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron) knows a lot about dung. He throws a lot, and we all know that he has dung beetles. I do not know why the honourable member for Maranoa repeats things which he knows are not true-again he gave us his usual racist rant. I will go through some of the points he made. He said that we have cut our sales of beef to Japan. We have increased our sales of beef to Japan in tonnage terms. The great drop in percentage terms was caused by the previous Government during the Strauss-Ushiba round when diaphragm beef was put outside the quota and thereby the percentage share dropped against us, but rose in favour of the United States. The honourable member expressed quite a bit of ignorance on quite a range of measures. The fact that the United States gouged some 6.9 thousand tonnes out of the available market is related to three very powerful facts: The enormous trade imbalance between the United States and Japan, estimated to be between $23 billion and $30 billion; the fact that it is an election year; and the unstated fact that Japan enjoys the nuclear umbrella of the United States. I would also point out that the United States is still the best bet for Australia to gain trade liberalisation in that market.

I will not speak at length on other markets, but Canada is now our third biggest market. The European Economic Community has engaged in predatory practices on this market in restituting beef out of intervention stocks. In 1981 it supplied 1.2 thousand tonnes; in 1984, 21.2 thousand tonnes-

Mr Hunt —How much?

Mr KERIN —In 1984 the figure was 21.2 thousand tonnes. The EEC came in so hard that the Canadians invoked their meat import low, set a quota allocation globally of 66.5 thousand tonnes, and out of that allocated Australia 24.9 thousand tonnes, which was fair given our export performance; 9.8 thousand tonnes to the United States of America; 29.1 thousand tonnes mainly to New Zealand; and 2.7 thousand tonnes, on the basis of our performance, to the EEC. The EEC tried to blackmail Canada with $50m worth of trade retaliations, and the issue has not been settled. At the same time, I was in Canada putting our case on this and I noticed a cable indicating that a Mr Martre from Aerospatiale was in Australia trying to involve us in buying French helicopters. I would like to say that this is one Cabinet member who will not be looking at that too happily.

The Government rejects the amendment which the Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia moved to the motion for the second reading of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Research and Development Corporation Bill. Neither the amendment nor the reasons advanced for it will bear scrutiny, as I shall demonstrate. Since coming to office the Government has reaffirmed the previous Government's policy of 50 per cent recovery of inspection costs from industry. As its first task the newly formed Interim Inspection Policy Council in early 1984 was asked to examine the impact on industry's viability and competitiveness of 50 per cent cost recovery for meat inspection. On receipt of the IIPC report the Government acted on 1 July 1984 to reduce the charge by 20 per cent in line with recommendations to exclude certain costs from industry charges. We also accepted the recommendation for a split charging system to address the problem of a drift of product from export works to domestic works. The split charge was implemented on 1 December 1984. Negotiations with the States have resulted in Queensland and Victoria in late 1984 dropping their charges on the domestic component of the export charge kill and New South Wales did so in 1983.

The Government is continuing to trim the inspection force. In late 1984, 55 inspectors were voluntarily retired. The service was reduced by 120 inspectors in 1984. There is constant reference to other countries. We have just carried out a survey of the key 21 countries, and 17 currently impose inspection charges. Almost all European Economic Community countries, including Ireland and Denmark, have charges ranging from 50 per cent to 100 per cent cost recovery. South American competitors-including Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay-have substantial charges. New Zealand will impose charges for a one-third cost recovery from 1 October 1985, moving to a two-thirds recovery in 1986. United States of America budget proposals are for a 100 per cent cost recovery over three years. The United States currently recovers costs for overtime, travel, grading and additional inspection over and above domestic requirements for exports. The Government rejects the amendment and supports the Bills.

Amendment negatived.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.