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Tuesday, 7 December 1993
Page: 4070


Senator O'CHEE (10.19 p.m.) —I note that it is almost 20 past 10 and that the Primary Industries and Energy Legislation Amendment Bill proceeded to the second reading stage after 10 o'clock this evening. That is frequently the case with primary industry legislation. We on this side of the chamber have become used to that sort of thing. It is quite a shame that the decisions that were made by both parties in relation to this bill were made some months ago and that the bill has been held up and seems to have been considered unimportant.

  I know that the government understands that we are not opposing the bill, but I think that, perhaps in the scheduling of the legislation for consideration by this Senate chamber, we should not, as a matter of routine, get into the habit of scheduling primary industry legislation for the end of the session in the belief that nobody cares about it. Primary industry legislation is very important.

  These amendments are not just inconsequential amendments to the people who are affected by them. They are important amendments. In a number of cases—I wish to discuss some of those cases—they cause a certain degree of heartache. It is not satisfactory for this parliament to say, `Because it is primary industry legislation, we will slot it in at the end of the session. It doesn't matter when it gets passed; it doesn't matter when it takes effect'. These matters have to be dealt with more expeditiously. The Senate ought to have that in mind when it looks at the legislative program during the next session.

  Senator Tambling has very adequately laid out on behalf of the coalition—both the National Party and the Liberal Party—our attitude to each of the amendments to the legislation. I support Senator Tambling in saying that we will not oppose them. I wish to address three principal matters. The first relates to the amendments made in relation to the market support payments for the export of dairy produce. The coalition supports those amendments. This caused a lot of heartache in my area of North Queensland. I want to make a few comments so that people understand the basis on which the coalition is making this decision to support this part of the bill, lest there be any misunderstanding. I make these comments as somebody who worked almost non-stop for two days on the particular concerns of the Atherton Tableland Cooperative Dairy Corporation. The amendments in relation to the market support payments, which are funded out of the all milk levy, were aimed principally at that dairy cooperative. I do not want anybody to think that the coalition disregarded the concerns of the people at Malanda, because that is certainly not the case.

  The problem with the market support payment arose because the legislation was defective in the first place. The legislation had a hole in it. The dairy cooperative in question took the view that it would utilise those provisions to claim all of the market support payment for the gross amount that it exported, not the net amount when account is taken of the countervailing imports. As a result, it has been in dispute in relation to the amount of market support payment to which it is entitled. This bill deals with that and eliminates the problem.

  If the legislation had been dealt with in the proper fashion in the first place, it would not have been necessary to make this amendment. The amendment was made several years after the defect in the legislation became apparent. At the time it was dealt with by means of a number of guidelines that were issued annually. The then minister for primary industries should have had the legislation rectified at that point. That would have eliminated any possibility of people getting false expectations.

  The basis on which those of us in the coalition support this bill—we are unanimously supporting this; every single member of the National and Liberal parties is supporting it—is that at the end of the day the Australian dairy industry said to us that this bill had to pass. I remember distinctly discussing it on the telephone with Mr Pat Rowley, the head of the dairy industry in this country. He said, `Irrespective of the concerns that individuals may have, we do have to get this rectified and the dairy industry as a whole is of the view that this amendment should be allowed to pass, notwithstanding the fact that there made be particular local concerns'.

  When I look at my responsibilities as a senator—one who lives in Cairns and who is very close to the producers who make up the Atherton Tableland Cooperative Dairy Corporation—it is incumbent on me to look at the big picture; to look at my responsibilities to the local producers but also to recognise that I have responsibilities to every other dairy farmer in the state of Queensland and every other dairy cooperative, and there are many others. I think that those obligations, particularly in view of the comments that have been made by the head of the dairy industry in Australia—who is a Queenslander—force me to support this amendment contained in this bill.

  As I said, the support for that amendment is unanimous in the coalition. I wanted to make that particular comment in relation to that amendment, lest anybody thought there was any division in the coalition or lest anybody misconstrued the basis upon which we support the amendment. We believe that in primary industry matters it is best if the industry can work as a whole, move as a whole and speak as a whole. That has been the great strength of Australian primary industries over a long period—that primary industry generally and primary producers individually have recognised the need at times to accommodate the rest of the industry so that we as a whole in Australia can work together to maximise our opportunities.

  As I said, these amendments have caused a certain degree of heartache. At the end of the day, the particular primary producers in question on the Atherton Tableland will become even better exporters than they are at the moment. They will overcome any particular problems that may arise from this bill. They have already made substantial headway in terms of exporting to markets in South-East Asia and I am sure they will continue to do that. That is the basis upon which the coalition supports the measure. As I said, our support is unanimous.

  I move to two other amendments that are made in this bill. The first is the consequential amendments to the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Act to permit the collection of charges which follow changes made by this parliament earlier to the forest industry research levy. As I said before, it is important that we have a degree of research into the forest industries in this country so that we can maximise the opportunities for a sustainable resource. One of the concerns that I have is that, when we get this sort of legislation and these consequential amendments are held up for long periods, it raises doubts about the government's commitment to following it through. There is always a concern on the part of those who are affected that until all of the legislation gets through they really cannot count on anything. Everybody in the chamber would have to recognise that.

  When we get amendments like this which are designed to support other changes in government policy that have been made, the amendments should be made expeditiously. The enabling legislation should not be delayed. Whilst we in this parliament say, `We passed legislation to give effect to this forest industry research levy', out there in the community where the people are affected they say, `Until the legislation gets through, it doesn't matter whether you have made the in-principle decision; unless the mechanics are in place, we cannot take benefit from it'. We have to improve our act in that respect.

  Finally, I support the changes that we are making to the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act. One of the difficulties for Australian primary industry is that chemicals have been very expensive in this country and remain very expensive compared to our neighbours overseas. Nothing in this bill will change the cost of chemicals. It will improve access to chemicals and it will therefore assist in the development of better agricultural practices.

  Too many times we have heard primary industry saying, `We can do a better job, but we need to have access to the latest technology'—not that I am saying that primary industry is not doing a good job at the moment. Perhaps 20 or 30 years ago the attitude of some primary producers was different. It was, `Look, we will continue going in the fashion in which we have gone before'. Now the attitude of primary producers is very simple: `We want to be on the cutting edge of technology and on the cutting edge of changes in agriculture so that we can get a better return for ourselves and for the country'.

  Debate interrupted.