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Tuesday, 17 September 1996
Page: 3532

Senator BOB COLLINS(3.10 p.m.) —I am indebted to Senator Woodley, as I often am, in his asking this important question because the answer by the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Parer) today in question time in the Senate simply dug the government deeper into the enormous hole that the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Anderson) has created on this issue.

Senator Woodley did not misread the newspaper. Can I assure you that that is exactly what the newspaper said and that is exactly what the minister said—that he has approved the importation of cooked chicken meat. A reference to the Senate Hansard of question time has the minister representing the minister for primary industries saying exactly the same thing. Of course, at the time, comments were also made by the honourable chair of the coalition primary industry committee saying the same thing. I am absolutely certain that Senator Crane said something completely different in the minister's office behind a closed door.

Senator Panizza —How would you know that?

Senator BOB COLLINS —I think it is a reasonable assumption. I am not saying that I know that for a fact; I am assuming it. But he certainly did the right thing in trying to defend the indefensible in here. I simply wanted to rise this afternoon to point out the nonsense that the government is attempting to continue to hide behind on this issue. Senator Parer said in question time today that AQIS is, under the legislation, the technical decision maker, not the minister. That is absolutely correct. He then went on to say that it, being the technical decision maker, had taken a decision to do this a year ago. Do you recall that, Senator Woodley?

Senator Woodley —I do.

Senator BOB COLLINS —At the same time the government and the minister, to his great discredit, in a very cowardly way—and it happened again today—are attempting on some extraordinary basis to blame me for the decision to import the meat.

Senator West interjecting

Senator BOB COLLINS —And the member for Paterson (Mr Bob Baldwin) said that, and it will be recorded in the Hansard of the hearings of the committee in Maitland on Friday that I was responsible for it. Indeed, in the same newspaper article the minister said it again: `It was all Senator Collins's fault.' Can you please explain something to me, Mr Deputy President: if in fact the decision was arrived at a year ago when I was minister, and if in fact I approved it as minister, why are we not now up to our ears in Thai cooked chicken meat? We are not for the simple reason that no such approval was given. Senator Crane knows it, Senator Panizza knows it and John Anderson knows it. So it does him no continuing credit at all to con tinue to run this nonsense in the press. It is simply false.

Why does he do it? I will tell you why. There are a few inescapable truths for the minister for primary industries on this issue. It is a fact that the minister for primary industries, during the period of the election campaign when this was a red-hot issue—this industry employs thousands of Australians in full-time and part-time jobs—promised the industry in writing that he would not take this decision that he has in fact taken. All that is being worked out now are the protocols. The decision is taken. John Anderson says, `Competition policy; you've got to wear it. Competition policy is a good thing. Farmers are just going to have to wake up to this.'

It is an amazing article. I hope Senator Boswell reads it. I hope the National Party senators in here read the article that was in the Australian yesterday. It is interesting reading indeed. It is very gung-ho, hairy-chested stuff on competition policy, and to an extent that I never went to when I was minister for primary industries. This is very brave and courageous stuff.

What did he do? He told the chicken industry in writing that he would not do this until after the Nairn inquiry had been completed and the government had fully implemented its recommendations—not just the inquiry, but until the government had actually implemented its recommendations, probably a year away. He also promised in writing to the chicken industry a full EIS. He has failed to deliver on both.