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Wednesday, 29 February 1984
Page: 125


Senator MACKLIN(12.06) —I have indicated that the Australian Democrats will be supporting Senator Scott's motion to defer resumption of the debate until May. However, I must say that after hearing Senator Boswell's speech I am confused about precisely why the Opposition has moved the motion. Although nobody seems to be at all interested I think it may be well for me to try to spell out where precisely the Live-stock Slaughter (Export Inspection Charge) Validation Bill 1983 came from and to which set of fees it refers. It does not refer to the current charges. It does not refer to the Bills which were passed by this chamber on 14 September last year. Contrary to the claim made by the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Walsh, they were not passed unanimously. The National Party of Australia, the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party all voted to increase the charges. Senator Boswell does not realise that he voted for the increase last year. In fact in this place he voted not only to increase the charges to $5.40 but also last year to increase them to $10.80. We are talking about charges made under a regulation which came into force in 1982.

I will give some history on this matter because I believe it is important that we know precisely what it is we are talking about. It might be worth while for some honourable senators who thought that they were talking about an export levy to listen. Essentially the legislation that caused the problems was the Export Control Act 1982 which went through both Houses in June 1982. Prior to that date the ability of a person to inspect export beef relied on a range of quarantine and other Acts. The essential Act which was used in most cases, particularly if the matter were taken to court, was the Customs Act 1901. At that time there was a fair amount of discussion in the Government and elsewhere-it was the Liberal- National Country Party Government-as to what precisely would need to be done. It was felt that the Customs Act of 1901 did not give sufficient legislative power for what had been a growing area of meat inspection in particular.

The matter gained a great deal of impetus from the meat inspection scandal over which Mr Nixon, a National Party Minister at the time, presided. There were a great deal of discussions and committees of inquiry into the matter out of which came a package of 19 Bills. The Export Control Act of 1982 as it is now had attached to it a whole series of regulations. Of particular concern was the definition of 'premises' in the live-stock meat inspection legislation which previously referred to premises that were registered under the Export Control Bill. Those registered premises were included in the definition of the Live- stock Slaughter (Export Inspection Charge) Collection Act 1979 which was the first time, of course, that the charges had been levied. For the first time a National Party Minister placed charges on exporting. I think it is well to remember-Senator Boswell obviously is not strong on history-that it was the National Party that presided over export charges when they were first introduced .

Unfortunately the definition of an abattoir was placed in the export control regulations and the prescribed premises were defined as those which were used for the carrying on of operations in connection with the slaughtering and dressing of animals from meat intended for export. There was an oversight in the Live-stock Slaughter (Export Inspection Charge) Collection Act regarding this definition. It was not included under regulations made under that Act. Obviously advice had come from the Attorney-General's Department late last year that this definition may render invalid the collection of the charges made under the orginal Act when it came into force on 1 January 1983. The Government, whether or not through an excess of caution-we are not yet aware because no case has been made relating to this matter-brought in a validation Bill last year. At that time the Liberal and National parties had probably had quite enough of being hit about the head by the rural industry and decided that they had to do something. The reason for that is a point that Senator Boswell did not mention and that is the occurrence that took place in this chamber on 14 September last year. I, on behalf of the Australian Democrats, moved a motion to limit the charges on meat export from the prime adult carcass which is taken as the reference. There are quite a large number of export charges in relation to a whole range of different meats but we generally take the prime adult carcass as the reference point. At that stage the charge was $1.80. The Government moved to make the maximum charge $10.80. However the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin), in his second reading speech, said that the Government would not be seeking to extend the charge in the next financial year beyond $5.40 which is the figure that Senator Boswell talked about. I, on behalf of the Australian Democrats, moved an amendment that we ought to limit the amount to $5.40 and I explained my reason for choosing that figure. I knew that the Liberal-National parties for some reason best known to themselves decided to pass whatever Bill the Government brought in and so I thought that if I moved an amendment which did not have, on the Government's say-so, financial implications for that financial year, I would get the support of the Liberal and National parties. On that basis I negotiated with the Minister for Primary Industry and although he was extremely reluctant to have any discussions on the matter and showed his concern about my seeking to move such an amendment, nevertheless he felt that there was nothing he could do about it. That was a relatively reasonable political stance. If he were not going to get the $10.80 levy but he would get the $5.40 which he wanted to collect, politically he would probably have to settle for that. But the unfortunate situation was the Senator Scott, speaking for the Liberal and National parties in this place, indicated that he would not support my amendment. Immediately that indication was given Senator Walsh, on behalf of the Government, indicated-it is in Hansard-that he was pleased with the Opposition's stance on the matter because if the charges had to be increased beyond $5.40 the Government would be able to do it this financial year which was precisely the reason why the Australian Democrats moved their amendment. It made sure that the Government did not go beyond that figure. That is the history of the Live-stock Slaughter (Export Inspection Charge) Validation Bill 1983.

The Bill is a National Party regulation which the National Party now seeks to defer. The reason that the Australian Democrats are supporting that deferral is that we will support anything at this time that keeps this matter at the forefront of political debate in this country. Unlike the National Party, the Liberal Party and the Labor Party, we believe that the way to collect export inspection charges is not to look at government costs and then charge 50 per cent, 60 per cent, 80 per cent or whatever arbitrary percentage happens to pop into one's mind, but rather to look at the capacity of the industry to pay.

Some extraordinary statements have been made in this chamber. I refer to one made by Senator Tate. He was talking about the throughput of abattoirs being down as a reason we should pass this Bill. I am not quite sure of the logic of that, but if one looks at the nation one finds that throughput is down. Senator Tate said that we could not attribute that totally or in any way to the charges. That is fair enough. But what we can attribute it to is the drought and to two of its consequences. One is that the total national herd has been cut enormously . Secondly, if a producer wishes to restock, he has to retain his stock to rebuild. Therefore, not as much stock is available after a drought for those two reasons. There is nothing particularly esoteric about that. I imagine that anybody who had any reasonable knowledge of what goes on in relation to animals would be able to work that out for himself. Yet Senator Tate adduced that as a reason we should pass the Bills.

Senator Tate then said that the decline in the profitability of the meat industry had been operating for a number of years. That is fair enough. It has been operating for a number of years. But let us not look at the last couple of years; let us look only at the period from mid-November last year onwards. Let us take that as our cut-off point. The reason I take that period is that the export charges, although valid for a month prior to that, would not have been collected for at least six weeks in the normal course of events. So the financial crunch would not come until six weeks after the original application date. I am not even going back to the day on which the extra charges came into force. I am going back to the day on which the charges would have to be paid by the abattoir.

Let us look at abattoirs around Australia. I will not give the names of the abattoirs. I have them here, but I have been asked to keep them confidential. There are obviously business reasons for that. I will simply name the States in which the abattoirs are. In Queensland, an abattoir suffered a 50 per cent drop in kill, leaving seven people unemployed. Traditional customers, as Senator Boswell said, have gone over to non-export works. In Western Australia, an abattoir relinquished export registration to the value of $3m. Three people there are now unemployed. It is now a non-export abattoir. In Victoria, the increased charges have made abattoirs completely non-competitive. In one abattoir, one hundred and thirty five people are out of work. In an abattoir in Tasmania 12 people are out of work. The abattoir is becoming non-competitive. In Victoria, an abattoir which is now non-competitive has closed down the entire cattle chain, putting 70 people out of work. In Tasmania the situation in another abattoir has put 30 people out of work. In Victoria another abattoir has laid off 50 people and newly repaired plant which was readied for operation in mid-September has not been commissioned, meaning that the three hundred people who would have had jobs there now do not. In Victoria, at three abattoirs respectively 60, 145 and 150 people were laid off. In another abattoir in New South Wales 50 people were laid off.

This has gone on since mid-November last year. We are talking about the charges that went through this House and which were supported by every party, except the Australian Democrats. The reason those charges have caused this situation is very obvious. The industry does not have the capacity to pay. The money is not there, yet charges are still being levied and are still increasing. The sole reason the Australian Democrats are supporting the deferral of this legislation is not for any of the reasons that have been bandied around to try to tart up the operation. We are supporting it solely to keep this whole business on the political agenda, because people are losing jobs and abattoirs are closing down all over this country. The Australian Democrats believe that that is sufficient reason to keep the issue on the boil. We are keen to achieve that by whatever means.