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Thursday, 18 August 1960

Mr McEWEN (MURRAY, VICTORIA) (Minister for Trade) - Mr. Speaker, as the question relates to a matter of international trade, my colleague, the Minister for Primary Industry, has suggested that it comes within my province, as indeed it does in the sense of ministerial responsibility. I think that the New Zealand Government has been made fully aware of the circumstances in which stability has been achieved for the Australian dairying industry. The dairying industry in Australia has been helped immensely by this Parliament. In the past ten years, this Parliament has voted more than £160,000,000 to support the price of butter and cheese in order to aid Australian consumers mostly but also to aid Australian dairy farmers. That is the assessment by this Parliament of the importance of these products and this industry. On every occasion, this support has been accorded by every one in both Houses of the Parliament.

Great as that support to the dairying industry has been, it has to be realized that it is infinitely less important to the stability of the industry than is something that the industry achieved for itself, tediously and in difficult circumstances, many years ago. I refer to a completely voluntary arrangement between all factories in Australia producing butter and cheese. They have agreed that there shall not be an internal fight for the local market, but that every factory in Australia shall commit itself to a voluntary arrangement. The arrangement must necessarily be voluntary because of inadequacies in the Australian Constitution. Agreement was not easy to achieve. The proposal was fought for and argued over for ten years. But since the 1930's the situation has been that whether Australian butter is sold at the local price - it may be 4s. 6d., 4s. 8d. or 4s. 4d. per lb. at the factory door - or exported overseas for a return of perhaps 2s. 6d. per lb., the return to every factory in Australia and, in due course, to every dairy farmer in Australia, is the same.

No one in the Australian dairy industry or in the Australian Government has any doubt that should butter come into Australia from overseas to sell at lower than the ruling price it would wreck this scheme. I point out that under the Australian Constitution the present scheme is not replaceable by a legally enacted one. That is understood by the Government of New Zealand; it is understood by the dairy industry of New Zealand; and it is understood by other countries which are parties to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Ours is not an arrangement which is designed to facilitate dumping because under it, as has been explained in international circles, there have been times when butter has been sold on the Australian market at prices lower than were being realized at export. That is the reverse of dumping. In very comparable circumstances the dairy industry of the United States of America found it necessary to approach the parties to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and ask for approval of an arrangement similar to that operating in Australia. On that occasion the Australian Government, because of its knowledge of the circumstances, supported the United States Government.

That is the position. Notwithstanding what any individuals in New Zealand or other countries may say, I do not believe that there is any real likelihood of an attempt being made to wreck this classic and invaluable arrangement which, as I have said, has been established in Australia on a completely voluntary basis.

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