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Tuesday, 16 November 1993
Page: 2912

Senator BROWNHILL (Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia) (6.00 p.m.) —Thank you very much, Mr Acting Deputy President. Yes, it is my birthday and I am very pleased to say that I have reached the age I have. I hope I have many more birthdays. I also hope the meat industry in Australia has many more birthdays and that they will be very propitious.

  The Australian Meat and Live-stock (Quotas) Amendment Bill 1993 has been fairly described in the other place as a daylight saving bill because, like daylight saving, it extends the sunset of the legislation. The need to extend quotas is a comment on the state of play of free trade. The legislation is needed only because the United States and other countries impose quotas on how much meat we can export. That is always a worry to me as somebody who believes in fair trade.

  Australia has restrained its exports of meat to the US under a virtual blackmail arrangement to prevent the US authorities imposing quotas under the meat import law, the MIL. This arrangement has been in place for three years. This amendment bill will extend the life of the legislation another three years. I am confident that within that time frame a true free or fair trade arrangement can be put in place.

  There is so much talk about this around the world at the moment. We are talking about the GATT meeting of 15 December; APEC will have meetings in the next few days; and the NAFTA arrangements are going on with the United States, Canada and Mexico. Let us hope that something comes out of all of this, especially the GATT meeting to which I hope people will turn their attention. I am not full of confidence that a time frame in relation to GATT to give fair trade around the world will be put in place on 15 December. I am not as confident as some that there will be a successful outcome, especially in agriculture. We have to think about what the European Community, especially the French and the Germans, and the Americans are still talking about. If there is to be fair trade and we are all going to compete on a fair basis, there will be problems with land values and that sort of thing in the United States of America.

  If we do not get a successful conclusion to GATT on 15 December, it will be very regrettable for world agriculture and particularly regrettable for Australia. A recent OECD report suggested that a successful conclusion to the Uruguay Round would inject over $400 billion into the world economy. This would be of immense help to getting the whole of the world out of the recession it is in at the moment.

  This legislation is one of numerous measures around the world that countries are forced to take to accommodate trade restrictions and requirements from other countries. Beef exports to the United States are a significant market indicator for domestic prices. The United States is our biggest export market for beef and veal. Over the 1992-94 seasons we will have lost some 19 per cent in exports to the United States, due in large part to access restrictions placed on us by the United States authorities.

  Notwithstanding that, our total value of meat exports will top $3.42 billion this financial year. That is a wonderful thing. As such, beef is an important export commodity for Australia. As a beef producer—and my pecuniary interests are well and truly tied to the beef industry—I would like to think, and I believe it is true, that we produce some of the best meat in the world.

Senator O'Chee —Hear, hear!

Senator BROWNHILL —I thank Senator O'Chee. I know what he does for the beef industry in Queensland and what Senator Panizza does for it in Western Australia. The world has to understand that our beef is produced without subsidy, our production is efficient and the meat we sell is cheap by world standards.

  One of my colleagues, Senator Calvert, has just come back from France. I asked him whether he had a few good steaks when he was there. He said we do not realise how fortunate we are in Australia with the cost of food until we go to places in the European Community. How those consumers in the European Community can afford to keep on paying the subsidies they pay to their farmers, heaven knows. It is definitely keeping up the cost for consumers and it also puts instability into the world market.

  Despite the fact that Australia stands on the sideline and is an innocent victim in the trade wars of countries like the United States, France and other European Community countries, we pay the penalty for their support systems in restricted access for our products. Access is the big thing in the GATT Round, but I believe it has been left too late in the round to make things happen. The internal subsidies and the external support systems might be reduced a bit as far as agriculture is concerned, but I do not know whether we will get the access that we really need. This bill is about access to a market.

  One industry I would like to make mention of that tends to be overlooked in the wash-out of these quotas is the goat meat industry. I would particularly like to mention the Desert Oak Abattoir at Broken Hill. This company is seeking export markets for its goat meat, which it gets from feral goatherds throughout New South Wales and elsewhere. If nothing else, this company is doing a jolly good service ridding Australia of one of our feral pests. However, in order to obtain access for its product into the United States, it has to buy a quota, and that quota must come from the beef industry quota.

  Something that is put up to me in a lot of saleyards that I go to around New South Wales and other states is the problem of people trying to get into a quota which is given to companies which might never do much towards producing beef—they are really just agents or traders within the meat industry. The AMLC should look at whether people who cannot fill the quotas in the meat industries in Australia should be able to transfer them without cost to people who can. I have had talks with the AMLC about this and I have been given good reasons why it should not happen; but maybe it is something that should happen.

  Getting back to goat meat, prices for the quotas for the goat meat people to buy start at about 45c a pound. I have heard that people who hold quotas which they cannot fill sell them at $1 a pound. Clearly, this is outside the capacity of the goat meat industry, and at that price it is pointless the industry even trying to source the market. The argument that this industry has raised with me and my colleagues, Bruce Scott and Michael Cobb from the other place, is that there ought to be separate access for goat meat because it is a different product. If it is wanted, surely we should be able to do something about it.

  If markets could be established for goat meat, the industry would expand and it would add to and strengthen our export commodity mix. As I have said, it would also protect our environment and save Australian taxpayers a great deal of money in environmental restoration works. However, there seems to be little support for the goat meat industry's arguments. Given our restricted access with beef, it is understandable that any beef quota would not be given away without a cost.

  Other quotas controlled by the AMLC are those for live sheep exports. In the past the live sheep industry has been an enormous boost for the Australian sheep industry, albeit that we have lost some of those Middle East markets to the New Zealanders. That is something else we should look at, especially in the beef industry. Only this morning we heard evidence given to the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs that the New Zealanders with their meat inspection services and the efficiency of their abattoirs can really outstrip us in getting that product offshore.

  We only need to look at the last election and the promises by this government not to put up costs. We have just had another cost added to the beef industry with the fuel excise increase, which has put up the price of our transport to the abattoirs and from the abattoirs to the waterfront. Of course, we still have not reformed the waterfront properly. With all the international factors concerning attitudes to supplying markets, we have to look at our figures and our cost of production here at home to make sure that we can compete.

  I think the wool industry has come to realise that its industry is not immune to the vagaries of the marketplace and that more serious attention in future will have to be paid to servicing the live sheep trade. As I have said, that is an area that we have lost.

  As I started off by saying, basically this bill is just putting restrictions on us as Australian exporters to make sure that we do not invoke any problems for the United States meat import laws. The legislation will go on for another three years. As Senator Tambling has already said, we support this bill. I hope that, before we debate it again in three years' time, full and fair trade has been instituted around the world that will give everyone a much better standard of living because of a fair trade situation.