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Monday, 4 September 1989
Page: 846

Senator DEVLIN —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Has the Minister seen reports that meat inspectors employed by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service intend to strike on Wednesday over new staffing arrangements? Are these reports correct? Can the Minister inform the Senate what effects are foreseen on meat industry operations?

Senator COOK —I have seen those reports. In fact, the Meat Inspectors Association of Australia had announced that it was holding a nation-wide stoppage on Wednesday of next week; that it was holding a protest rally in front of Parliament House over staffing changes within the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service; and that it was launching a campaign about the quality of meat inspection in Australia. That was the case as of last week. On Friday of last week I caused a meeting to be held in my office between the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and the Meat Inspectors Association. At the end of the day the Meat Inspectors Association went back to consult its national executive. I have now been informed that the scheduled nation wide stoppage will not occur and that next Wednesday the Meat Inspectors Association will commence negotiations with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service over their points of disagreement about the changes to meat inspection arrangements in Australia. As a consequence, the slaughtering loss for one day, nationwide, also will not occur.

I congratulate the Meat Inspectors Association on deferring its industrial action. I wish the Meat Inspectors Association and the Quarantine and Inspection Service well in pursuing their negotiations, since they have adopted a very sensible approach to resolving what is a complex issue. The issue concerns a change in inspection procedures which leads to a reduction in the number of meat inspectors. It is a very complex issue, one that is difficult for such an Association, which has a small membership, to deal with, but it has opted to negotiate on this matter. I am optimistic-without wanting to be too optimistic-about the prospects of this negotiation being successful. In matters of this nature it is often the case that the issues that organisations promote are not the causes of the industrial unrest. In fact, in our discussions last Friday, one of the causes of dissatisfaction that emerged was the issue of meat inspectors working on their own or in small groups spread around Australia and what they felt was their alienation from the central management of the Quarantine Service. I must say in defence of the Quarantine Service that it does a sterling job in keeping the lines of communication open, but, given the peculiar arrangements of this industry, it is an amazingly difficult job to do. What the two parties will now explore, as well as the issues that have come to symbolise the disaffection, will be ways in which a more participative style of management approach for meat inspectors can be introduced into the Quarantine Service.