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Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1812

Mr TUCKEY(10.41) —It is interesting that every time there is a legitimate complaint from the Opposition regarding the extravagances of this Government, the only defence the Government seems to be able to give us is a history lesson. It justifies all the bad things that it does on its perception of how a previous government may have done something. It is about time, after what is now almost three years of the present Government, that it started to stand up and say: 'We take responsibility for what we do. We are prepared to answer to the community for what we do'. Furthermore-

Mr Wright —You have to be kidding.

Mr TUCKEY —The honourable member says that I have to be kidding. That is a very good example of the attitude of this Government. As long as it can fudge the issue and make it appear to the public that it is not the Government's fault, that all the disasters are not its fault, and that none of the matters in which it has succeeded have any relationship to the actions of a previous Liberal government, as long as it can carry on in that fashion, this Government believes it is successful.

The Government has ridden on the tail of previous economic policy. Anybody who is silly enough to suggest in this place that any government, by its decisions, can turn an economy on its head in a matter of perhaps 18 months-certainly six or 12 months-is an economic fool, and economic fools we have in plenty on the other side of the House. The reality is that we will get changes to the economy only over time. It would not matter what a government did in its first six months of office, one would find that the economic decisions of a previous government would have a major influence.

When we find that so many of the benefits are attributed to the accord, because of certain movements in the consumer price index and therefore in inflation, we overlook entirely what happened in the time of the previous Liberal Government. Most of those benefits occurred by coincidence, not because of the accord. The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Ronald Edwards) talked about economic mismanagement. A method of altering the value of the Australian dollar was in force before we floated it. It was responding to the pressures of the international money markets. Those decisions were taken on a daily basis and, although I am very pleased that the Government chose to do away with that mechanism and let the market have its direct effect, the reality is that this situation is a problem for the Government because it is a demonstration of what the international community now thinks of the economic management of which the Government is so proud.

The Export Inspection Charge Bill seeks to entrench further the costs that are applicable to the industry, particularly to the meat industry. The Government says: 'We are here to charge only 50 per cent, and that was the fault of the previous Government'. But we have to look at what that 50 per cent represents. The 50 per cent used to be 50 per cent of an amount of over $60m in 1979-80. This meant that $31m went to the producers via the processors. In 1983-84 inspection costs were $79m, and half of those costs are charged to the industry, which is an increase of 150 per cent. That is what we are on about. We are not on about the percentages; we are on about the realities. These increases have occurred as a result of the activities of this Government. We are well aware that while the cattle kill, for instance, has dropped dramatically from 8.8 million to seven million, this massive increase in total costs has occurred during that period.

We have seen a substantial decrease in the number of meatworks operating. In fact 40 works have closed over the last five years. What have we seen concerning the number of government employed inspectors? We have seen that the number has been reduced from 1,794 to 1,632, which was the figure about a year ago. There has been no reduction in numbers because we have a Public Service mentality in relation to the employment of meat inspectors who operate in a cyclical and seasonal industry. That is quite improper.

I have spoken in this Parliament time and again in an attempt to work out why it is costing the processor between $6 and $10 for the inspection of a beast. That is the cost the processor pays, and that is only 50 per cent of the cost; so we have to double that figure. The charge by a local authority for inspecting a beast in an abattoir in my electorate is only $2.80. I am not making a comparison between the $6 to $10 and the $2.80. The $2.80 is charged by a local authority in my electorate which gives a very adequate meat inspection service. It does not provide veterinary services but it provides everything else. If we increased that charge even to $3.50, 100 per cent of the cost of the meat inspection service is met by a local authority in my electorate. It is providing qualified inspectors and doing all the things that the Commonwealth does with its inspection service.

Why is it that the service can be provided at that cost when the Commonwealth cost is so much higher? That is what the industry is on about. It would not mind if it had to pay 50 per cent of $2.80 or, say, $3.50, but it is certainly very upset with the cost that this Government chooses to levy and tries to excuse away by saying: 'The previous Government did something similar to that'. The previous Government did not; it charged substantially less. In my view, we still charged too much.

The basic meat inspection service should not be provided by government. Importing companies do not require those inspectors on the floor to be employed by government. I established that fact by asking a question in this Parliament on a previous occasion. All that is needed is for us to supervise the inspection; that is what the importing companies demand of us. But we have this bureaucracy that wants to maintain its power and its staff numbers, and it promotes arguments that do not exist.

The report of the Woodward Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry recommended that, as soon as possible, the basic inspection services provided by the so-called meat inspectors become the responsibility of the industry. But what does this Bill do? The fruit industry, where things are already quite satisfactory and where the label that is on the product is the best recommendation of quality, knows that if it does not maintain quality, the consumers will very quickly identify that label. That industry is already meeting health standards within Australia which are very high. We find that the Government now wants to get in to that area. To people in that particular industry this Bill represents another $330,000 cost that they are not paying now. I can guarantee that the reputation of the Export Inspection Service is not such that it will raise the market potential of the industry. Not long ago, for about the fifth time I raised other problems in regard to its handling of halal slaughter of meat. I may come back to that matter shortly.

The reality is that the Service gives very little to industry. It is a disaster. It certainly has not improved our reputation. As the honourable member for Stirling mentioned a little while ago, it contributed dramatically to the fall in the reputation of Australia's exports. He wants to blame the Fraser Government. The fact is that as a result of inquiries under the Fraser Government a large number of inspectors were stood down. They have now all been reinstated. How can the Government members, as policy makers, say that they have done anything about that problem? The Government has employed more inspectors for little gain. As I said, the costs have jumped from $31m in 1979-80 to $79m in 1983-84 and they are going up even further. How can Government members claim to be good managers? How can the honourable member for Stirling talk as he did? He wanted to give us another history lesson. He was trying to excuse the obvious inadequacies of his Government and its policies in this particular arena.

Not so long ago the Government had great concern for the terms of trade. To date, devaluation has not had a major effect in assisting the farming sector. Yes, it has propped up prices that were falling on world markets anyway, but it ignores the huge cost to farmers of increased inputs from overseas. Much of their input, such as chemicals, is being increased. On a typical farm in my electorate chemicals cost up to $50,000 a year and the cost of fuel is a similar amount. Unfortunately, the farmers have to pay the costs first. The returns on a wheat crop come after that form of expenditure. So they are not seeing a great advantage yet from devaluation although I think they, too, would approve of that move. We are stuck with the fact that because of their great concern they called on the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and some of his senior Ministers to put their case. What did they get out of that? They were told that their figures were wrong. It is the same as what happened to all those poor people who put their figures into the Department of Social Security so that they could maintain their pension. They were told that those figures were wrong. The fact that some of them are now starving apparently has little influence on the Department of Social Security. The farmers went before the Prime Minister and all their figures were questioned. They were told to go back to the drawing board, but the Prime Minister nominated a time five weeks hence for that summit to continue to give time for both sides to review their figures.

It is my understanding that it was eventually agreed that the farmers' figures were right and that their terms of trade are as bad as they argued. Did that help them? No. The day before the very day that they were to meet again, the Prime Minister announced a continuation of the parity pricing policy arrangements and a 4c a litre increase in fuel. They got no assistance. They were told to go away, that there was no help for them, and an additional tax burden was added. Although our side of politics supports the concept of parity pricing-I believe it is essential for our national welfare-there is no reason for the Government to continue increasing its excise charges as it has and refuse to rebate the full amount to the rural sector as was always done. If someone wants a history lesson, this was always done by the Liberal-National Party governments of the past. The fraud that is being perpetrated on people now, whereby the Government is going to reindex the lower figure at the same rate as the higher figure and continue to increase the gap, is disgraceful. I am pleased that our parties will oppose that and try to reinstate the former situation, as we have promised in our policy.

We have a number of further concerns regarding these inspection services. I have mentioned the costs again and again. I must repeat that it is possible to carry out these inspection services for a fraction of what the Commonwealth charges and an even lesser fraction of what it costs the Australian taxpayer. If honourable members think that is all, I inform them that on 17 April this year the Cattle Council of Australia sent a telex to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) expressing its concern. It stated:

The Cattle Council is concerned at a directive which has been in force for some time from your Department to meat inspectors. I understand that the directive instructs inspectors not to cross officially authorised union picket lines where such action would either run the risk of widening an industrial dispute, or risk physical harm to the inspectors.

Of course, any crossing of picket lines could be guaranteed to do both of those things. We know very well that the union movement is prepared to use muscle and injure people to gain whatever its particular desires happen to be. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) told us yesterday that there is no way in the world that he would take any action against a union because it would inflame it. Clearly, were the Commonwealth meat inspectors to cross the picket lines, the dispute would be inflamed. So crossing the lines is banned. In other words, as has been pointed out in this telex, two people who set up a picket line can stop the whole works because the EIS employees will not cross the picket line. The instruction says nothing as to the relevance of the dispute, whether the dispute is correct or whether it is in the interests of Australia nationally. Again, it is just an example of the Government bowing to the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the various unions and taking its instructions as it does on a daily basis. People are complaining bitterly of the Government's attitude in telling people that they must not have anything to do with the dispute even if the dispute is not in the national interest. We wonder why, therefore, the Government has to raise such huge costs against primary producers to provide a service which in fact they probably do not even need or desire. These are the problems we have at the moment.

The honourable member for Stirling mentioned meat substitution. It is interesting that although the honourable member for Stirling was telling us all about the problems of a previous government regarding meat substitution something worse is going on in our very important wheat industry at this time. The New South Wales grain handling authorities cannot prevent their wheat from being mixed up. There is nothing deliberate and horrible about it; they just keep putting sprouted grain in with good grain that is going to very delicate markets such as Japan, where the wheat is made into noodles and mixed wheat is a problem. Within the last week it has happened again. We have not heard much of it in the Press, but another load of substandard wheat has been sent to Japan or loaded into a ship. It is in fact mixed wheat. Whom do we blame for this? Do we blame the Fraser Government? We either blame the Wran Government in New South Wales, or we--

Mr Wright —Now you are attacking wheat farmers. You're a beaut.

Mr TUCKEY —No, I am not. I am pointing out that the wheat farmer has not done this. It has occurred in the handling of the wheat after it leaves the wheat farmer. Farmers in my electorate are now willing to take legal action against the New South Wales Government, its grain handling authorities or the individuals involved to recover the $25,000 that they have estimated that it has cost Western Australian farmers for the gross inadequacy of that long time Labor State, New South Wales, when it comes to grain handling. It is a disaster. If the Government wants to talk about substitution, the substitution of half a shipload of sprouted grain in what is supposed to be the highest quality of wheat leaving Australia is certainly no recommendation for the export inspection services that are provided. It is a disaster. It just goes to show that these history lessons that we keep getting from the Government are not proper and, in fact, there is plenty of blame on the other side.

The reality is cost. This amalgamation procedure is doing nothing to reduce the cost; it is increasing the costs in the fruit export industry. A paper entitled 'Facts on the Government's Meat Export Tax' put out by the Australian Meat Exporters Federal Council tells us that jobs have dropped from 39,000 in 1979 to 29,000 in 1984. To a great extent the Council blames the extra burden of costs that inefficient and inappropriate export inspection services have imposed upon the system. One of its submissions says that the producer's gross profit was only 2.2c per kilogram but the charge for export inspection was to be 2.4c a kilogram. How do we do our sums then?

In all, although this legislation cleans up the situation, it does not go to where the problem lies. The problem lies in costs and inefficiency. The cost has done nothing to address that area; it has no intention of addressing it. If the Government says that farmers should pay 50 per cent of a charge which is about five times higher than what is necessary-I have proved that-of course the farmers have every reason to complain. I am glad to see that our government in the future will remove those charges.