Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Friday, 2 March 1984
Page: 291

Senator MacGIBBON(9.30) —In my speech two days ago I was pointing out that the existence of the Live-stock Slaughter (Export Inspection Charge) Validation Bill provides a vehicle by which the Government can increase the meat inspection levy quite dramatically and savagely. It has increased from $1.80 to $5.40. We have the authority of the Treasurer (Mr Keating) that that figure of $ 5.40 represents only 50 per cent of the cost. So we now have a meat inspection levy of $10.80. The point I make is that that is a huge cost for the industry or the community to bear. It is not a matter of saying that the beef producers are paying only 50 per cent of that cost. The point is that the whole community must bear an unreasonably high charge. We, as producers, recognise that we must guarantee the quality of our product on the export market. We have no argument about the need for a meat inspection process. But we do have enormous resistance against and reservations about the very great cost that is involved.

When the debate was adjourned two days ago I was putting in perspective the cost of $10.80 to examine a carcass hanging on a hook in an abattoir. It may be one of thousands that are seen in a day. The levy should be compared with the standard consultation fee that a medical practitioner receives for inspecting a patient, because he receives about the same amount-about $10 for a standard consultation-yet a figure of $10.80 is being charged by an inspector to look at one of thousands of carcasses hanging on a hook in an abattoir. There is no way that that figure can be justified. The abattoir provides the premises, lighting and equipment. All that the Government does is to send an inspector in a white coat to look at the carcasses.

Live-stock Slaughter Bill

The consequences of this meat inspection levy on the industry are profound. They are profound for the beef processors, the abattoirs. Some excellent speakers on this side of the House have outlined in concise detail the effect of this levy on the abattoirs of Australia. They have talked about how a dichotomy has developed between those involved in the export market as compared with the domestic market, because the export producers must pay the meat inspection levy, and how it is necessary, given the structure of Australia, that abattoirs deal with both the domestic and the export trade. The abattoirs have had a hard time. We have come through a major drought. Not the least of their problems has been the industrial relations problem with the meat workers, a matter for which the Australian Labor Party must accept the blame because it has encouraged some of the extreme union demands that the meat workers union has made. The consequence of this is that the productivity of meat workers is not as high as it could be. The net effect has been that the profitability of abattoirs in Australia is very poor. Despite what the Labor Party might think about profits, an organisation must make profits to stay in business. It must make profits to be able to employ people, and the abattoirs are manpower intensive industries. The concern that the ALP is showing for meat workers at present is negligible. It is about as much concern as Senator Gareth Evans shows for human rights. I say that seriously even though there are not too many meat workers in Queensland who vote for me, or other Liberal Party members. Most of them are Labor voters.

On the other side of the coin, the beef producers are also having a hard time. Large areas of Queensland deal exclusively with the export market. All beef producers have suffered the effects of a major drought. It has had an enormous effect on all farm incomes. We have had to deal with major increases in farm costs-increases which are greater than those of many industrial enterprises in urban areas. Over the last 10 years we have had to cope also with a big shift in the traditional share of the profit from a beast. Once upon a time the grazier got a very much larger fraction of the profit from a beast. Now the grazier is getting the minor part and the major part is going to the abattoirs and the retailers. The share of the profit on a carcass that the producers once had has been very seriously circumscribed.

For beef producers, as for abattoirs, if a profit is not made it is not possible to stay in business. Without profit people will move out of the beef industry into growing grain or, in the worst case, will just walk off their properties.

I think it is a tragedy that the Labor Party simply cannot see the large picture of how the rural industries of Australia relate to the whole country. I am at a loss to see why the ALP must be so intensely anti-rural in all its policies and why every Labor primary industry Minister, of which Mr Kerin is the latest, must subscribe to this long line of failures in understanding where Australia's real interests lie.