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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 689


Mr COWAN —I address my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to the recent National Agricultural Outlook Conference, at which the Bureau of Agricultural Economics suggested that there was a reasonable buoyancy within the beef industry. It also indicated that the average return per beef producer for 1986-87 would be about $13,000. Does the Minister agree with that assertion? If not, will the Minister say what plans he is undertaking and considering to assist the beef industry, particularly the anticipated expansion of the industry over the next three to four years? Will he also say what early negotiations are taking place in relation to the future Japanese export market?


Mr KERIN —The BAE makes many projections and estimates at its annual Outlook Conference. Last year at this time it made an estimate of another drop in farm income, and for each following quarter it had to revise its estimates. So estimates are very much estimates. Compared with other sectors of primary industries across the board, wool and beef are doing relatively better. Of course, no one would suggest that $13,000 represents buoyancy. However, we ought to look at the composition of that estimate for the beef industry, because it goes right down to a very small number of cattle. One needs to look at the qualifications that apply to any industry under review by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. In other words, there are always rather long tails on both sides of the average, and the average very rarely tells one much, except for comparison year by year. A lot can go into an estimate of income for any primary industry. It cannot be compared in any way, shape or form with wage income. I think people should understand that point.

In terms of what plans we have, given that there is word around that the beef industry will expand, basically this Government believes in private enterprise and in the market determining these sorts of matters. Individual beef producers will make their own decisions. Other people will make their own decisions as to whether they should get out of wheat and into beef, where they can. We do not tell people what they can and cannot do. The full range of measures of assistance is available to the beef industry. The Government is spending a lot of money on brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication. Money is being spent on rural adjustment. There is a 50 per cent subsidisation of inspection costs. There are a lot of government measures in place for the beef industry.

The last part of the honourable member's question referred to early negotiations with the Japanese. This was raised very strongly during the Australia-Japan Ministerial Committee meeting on 8 and 9 January this year. We reached an agreed form of words with the Japanese. We are in close consultation with the United States of America. We hope that the discussions commence early in the second half of this year. There have already been discussions at the official level. People have recently returned from those discussions. We have laid before them all of the additional studies rebutting the general points that are made by the Japanese in beef discussions. I draw the honourable member's attention to papers produced at the Australian Agricultural Economic Society's annual conference in Adelaide recently, which also targeted some of the issues that the Japanese are likely to raise in the negotiations. I take this opportunity to reject the proposition that we commenced the last beef talks too early. Basically, my predecessor, Mr Nixon, commenced them and this Government continued them. In this case, again, we will join with the United States in pushing for complete trade liberalisation in place of the beef quota.