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Wednesday, 29 February 1984
Page: 117

Senator ARCHER(11.11) —I am very grateful to Senator Walsh for, as usual, being able to provide me with such good advice. It is also very refreshing to find that he can come back into this Parliament for his first contribution in 1984 in exactly the same tenor as he would have left it in 1983, 1982, 1981 and so on. Still, I am used to his degree of flattery and complimentary offerings, so I do not really mind saying that I disagree with him . I think it is quite reasonable that honourable senators should have the opportunity not to just say 'Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir', because I disagree with him and I want to make that clear.

Senator Harradine —He misled the Parliament on the last day.

Senator ARCHER —I do not care whether he misled the Parliament on the last day or today. I just disagree with what he is putting and the premise on which he is putting it. I am not here to mislead the meat industry in all its forms in Australia. I am not here to mislead the growers, the unions, the processors, the exporters or all the other carriers, packers, box-makers and anyone else mixed up with this. What I am trying to do is to see that the industry at large is recognised for what it is and that we do our best to ensure that it survives and strengthens.

I do not get any joy out of seeing the actions of any government reducing the amount of work that is available. I do not want to see lay-offs in jobs. I do not want to see costings that will just eliminate the industry piece by piece. I do not want to see the present 20 per cent reduction that is anticipated in 1984 grow to a 30 per cent reduction in 1985. I do not want to be guilty of hypocritically talking here about booms in the rural industry. Where are these booms in the rural industry that everybody has been chanting about for months? Do honourable senators think they are in the sugar industry? Do they think they are in the vegetable industry, the grape industry or the dairy industry? Has a boom shown up in the meat industry? It is the meat industry we are currently talking about. No, such a boom certainly has not shown up there. It is my belief that the Government made a simple mistake of accepting advice from one of its advisory groups which said: 'She'll be right; the industry can stand it'.

The main purpose of my contesting the continuing debate on this Bill today is at least to give the Government an opportunity just to look at the stupidity that goes on in this area. It is absolutely ridiculous for us to continue while we are imperilling the industry day by day. The Minister for Primary Industry ( Mr Kerin) fully understands what is going on. It would have been unthinkable for him to have organised these committees of inquiry and given them his wholehearted support if he really felt that what we were doing was the ideal thing. Of course it is not the ideal thing. The terms of the inquiry and the information that has been put out already say it all. The decision to promote these uneconomic fees was based on fallacies. I still believe that the Government is able to take the necessary actions now. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) so adequately covered the matter last week when he promised us mistakes. This is one of the mistakes that he promised us. I quite understand that the people who are making these decisions at various levels are short of information and that accordingly it is likely that they will make mistakes in areas where they lack practical knowledge and contact with people at large. I believe that the information that they are working on should be better than it is. I think there should be more understanding.

In my State the meat industry is in a lot of trouble. I would like to see a little more consideration given as to how we are going to assist it to build up. It is one of the things that we in Tasmania can do very well. If we had a little more help from some of our bureaucrats and senatorial colleagues we might be able to achieve something. If people from my State come here trying to validate the nonsense that the Government is producing, I will be very sorry for them when they get home and face their growers. I support the growers, the industry and the unions. I do not want us to go through these continuing rounds of enormous union stand-downs. I do not want us to eliminate the standard of inspection that we have but I want the Government to understand that before we validate these things that it arranged last year we are giving it the chance to have another look at what it has done.

Let us look at this inquiry. I believe it will be a good inquiry. I think that the Minister has grappled with the question very well. I certainly commend the fact that we are to have a proper look at it to see just what the economics of it are and what the results will be. I want to ensure that we get an opportunity to cover the position as widely as we can. I have made a little space in the Tasmanian newspapers and on the air this week to urge everybody in the industry to give evidence to the inquiry. I do the same Australia-wide. I hope that everybody who has any association with the meat industry in Australia will make a submission. While we have this feeling that we are suffering from a rural boom and that the millionaires in the bush have to be brought to heel, these sorts of things get through. If we study the realities we see that the average Australian farmer earns $11,400 a year. What is the average weekly income now? It is $350- odd a week. I believe I saw that figure in the newspaper this week. Let us compare that figure with the average annual income of $11,400 for members of the entire farming population of Australia.

How can we skin this louse any more if we try to chase these figures any higher ? I again raise the question of the pig inspections. The cost to the pig producers of Australia is greater than the cost to the total export industry. It just cannot last. I have also been talking to the people who export fish, dairy products, vegetables and honey. They are all in the same boat. I cannot get the Government to understand that, according to the information that I got from the Parliament Library in the last few days, in New Zealand almost the total cost of export inspection schemes is met by the Government. In Canada, as in New Zealand , the Government is responsible for the cost of almost all export inspection charges. Details of inspection scheme costs in the United States of America were procurable only in relation to meat. Unlike the current situation in Australia where the Federal Government has adopted a policy of recovering 50 per cent of the cost of export meat inspection, meat in the United States of America is inspected by Federal inspectors at no cost to either the farmer or the exporter. That alone puts a cost of $40m against the producers in Australia.

Senator Tate —What about the razor gang?

Senator ARCHER —I know that Senator Tate does not give a damn for the meat producers in Australia, but I do. If he wants to squawk about how much he hates them he is welcome to follow me in this debate. In the meantime, I am trying to protect the unionists as well as the producers. I want to be able to say that I have at least done my best to obscure these ridiculous charges and to preserve the industry.

Senator Tate —You are a hypocrite, an absolute hypocrite.

Senator ARCHER —I believe that these things are part of our entire overall social cost. We have a system in Australia which provides considerable benefits to certain sections of the community. Where considerable benefits are provided to certain sections it is done so at the expense of others.

Senator Harradine —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy President. I heard Senator Tate call Senator Archer a hypocrite. That is an unparliamentary expression and I ask that Senator Tate be asked to withdraw it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Tate will withdraw the remark.

Senator Tate —Mr Deputy President, in deference to the Chair I will withdraw that remark.

Senator ARCHER —Thank you. If we really feel that we need to have a meat industry, we will find, as with other primary industries that it is necessary for us to regard ourselves as an international exporting country. If we are to meet the other exporters of the world on the world markets we have to do so on a reasonably comparable basis. We as Australians have set ourselves an urban standard of living which is the envy of everybody else in the world. We have achieved that at the expense of the rural community in matters such as this. The countries that I mentioned-Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America- also have decided that a high standard of living for their population, mainly their urban population, is desirable. They have also decided that as a result of the cost that this places on their primary producers in world markets they at least will contribute something towards the costs that they create. They pay the export inspection charges as a cost against the community as a whole. I have always recommended that that should be done, and I still do. I believe that it is a quite reasonable cost and that it is obviously acceptable by international trading standards. I think that the results of what happens in other places and the effect on our competitiveness should be taken into account.

Are these costs and standards reasonable? The standards are, yes. I am not in any doubt that we have the highest and best standards in the world. As to the costs, I am quite sure that the inquiry that the Minister has now set up will produce a lot of very interesting figures and comparable costs to show that the costs are ridiculous. In the latter stages of the parliamentary session last year I received from the Minister the breakdown on how the various parts of the export inspection service are put together. I have been able to circulate that to various sections of the exporting community. I have already received a considerable amount of information. The people who are paying these costs at present-the people who are participating in the service-would very much like to have an opportunity to discuss what is necessary, what responsibility is to be given and taken and how it would best be carried out. To the best of my knowledge this has not been done up until now. I have discussed this matter in Estimates committees at various times. Regrettably, it does not seem as if there is any great intention to let the people who are involved in the system from the practical point of view really to have any worthwhile input into it. I think that in itself would involve a lot of change.

If we were able to rearrange this question of responsibility and cost I believe that the costs would be reduced enormously. This would show the necessity of this legislation to validate these ridiculous and stupid costs. It should not be necessary to have to validate these ridiculous costs. I certainly will never agree that these costs are reasonable; they should be absorbed. I do not want to see any of the workers in the industry having to look for other jobs when there are jobs available. This is an industry that we should be extending and expanding. Let us get evidence from this inquiry before we close the door on export inspections.

I was somewhat surprised to hear the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Walsh, who spoke before me in this debate, saying that the payers were finished; if they had paid they were done. The non-payers might be off the hook. I am a great believer in the generous heart of Senator Walsh on matters such as this. I am sure that if he found somebody was being disadvantaged he would see that he paid back the amount that may have been held not to have been payable. I am not really in any doubt that he will do that. I am not in any doubt that it could not be done if he was so worried about it.

I think this whole question demonstrates a fairly heavy-handed bureaucratic bungle. We are now going through the justification process which is normal when mistakes have been made. I find it very refreshing to have the Prime Minister saying: 'You knew I would make mistakes; I promised you mistakes'. I think we accept that. I would now like to see him following that up by saying: 'This inspection charge is a classic case. We will fix it'.

I really do not understand why it is seen as necessary, in spite of what Senator Walsh has said, to bring this debate on now before the hearings are concluded and the decisions are taken. Clearly, an enormous mistake has been made. We need to clear it up as best we can. Once this validation legislation is in place and the people who have made this mistake have covered it up, the chances of getting it openly admitted and discussed and having rectifying legislation brought through are not very good. It is in the interests of the public at large and, in this case, the meat producers in particular, that there should be a delay until we are able to see how big this classic error is. The Government can then advise, in the debating stages on the Live-stock Slaughter ( Export Inspection Charge) Validation Bill, what it intends to do about it. I really believe that that is the best thing that we can hope to do. I make no apologies at all for being prepared to endeavour to keep the matter before the Government until the mistakes are put right.

I was interested to hear Senator Walsh mention that some of the processors had not paid because they have solvency problems. He would not need to be all that smart to work out the reason that they have solvency problems. If he really went into it he would find that the actual costs we are now imposing, coupled with the natural problems of years of drought, run down in maintenance, falling stock numbers and greater competition from overseas people who are better treated on the world market than our processors, are the reasons for insolvency. But apparently somewhere along the line that has not quite got through to him.

We are still confronted by this profitability question, this boom syndrome. We still see articles about it in the Press. Obviously the meat inspection charges were built around this high profitability and the fact that the growers and the processors could stand it. The rural sector has in no way got back to a buoyant, competitive and profitable situation. In certain sectors some degree of improvement enabled some of the backlag to be taken up. I know very few farmers, even those who are fairly successful in the grain business, who are able to come back and say that they are making a profit. In most cases they were able to say that they had reduced some of their losses. In many cases it resulted in them having to spend a lot of money trying to catch up with some of their necessary maintenance or restocking in some areas. That does not seem to have got through to the Minister. It concerns me that this apparent blockage is still before us.

I was somewhat surprised to see again in the Press this week that the wheatgrowers, who were carrying this fallacy, are still reported as having had a huge, profitable year. There may be areas where this has happened. But overall, losses have already resulted from weather damage. The Almighty, who provided the grain, took a lot of it back with the rain. He may now well follow that up with what I see the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has referred to as 50,000 mice to the hectare. The Government needs also to take into account that our overseas export markets are not very good at present, even though in the last week or two we found that the meat industry has a new champion who goes to Japan, Korea and other places and assures us that all is well. History shows that Japan bought 101,000 tonnes of beef from Australia in 1979 and 85,000 tonnes in 1982. There was a further decline of about 17 per cent in 1983 and there is an anticipated decline of 17 per cent in 1984. The only problem about this is that nobody has yet said from where the new markets will come to replace that decline. There is also the question of freight. Freight rates are creating a real crisis for our export industry. I do not think that it is reasonable to allow Australian freight rates to continue to rise at a time when we are increasing the costs which high freight rates impose. That is really what is happening now. The higher the costs which keep the freight rates up, the less the return for the producer and the processor.

These figures are interesting: In 1976 there were 1,700 inspectors and the kill totalled 11 million cattle and 32 million sheep. By 1983 the kill would have closed at about 6.3 million, as against 11 million cattle and 26 million, as against 32 million, sheep. Only the number of inspectors rose substantially. Although the numbers of slaughtered stock were down by 40 per cent the number of inspectors had increased by 30 per cent, from 1,700 to 2,200. I find it quite extraordinary that we can have a system under which this is possible.

With all the compliments that Senator Walsh was able to extend to us for having a desire to try to do something to keep the plight of the meat industry before the Parliament, in spite of the fact that he believes it is not right that we should do so and in spite of the fact that the figures on which the costs were raised have been shown to be demonstrably, totally wrong, I still have an interest in seeing that this major industry in Australia is protected. I thing it is better to advance its interests than to damage them. I only hope that honourable senators will take the same view. I urge the Government to get on with the inquiry that it has now set up and to bring the report to the Parliament as soon as possible, together with the plans that it has for rectifying the gross and unfortunate mistakes that the last legislative procedures produced.