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Tuesday, 29 September 1970
Page: 1835

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - I want to raise tonight the very serious problem which is facing the Australian meat industry. It is becoming very apparent that the Australian Government will have to take a very close look at the meat industry and its future. At the present time there seems little doubt that we are running a very grave risk arising from overdependence on our United States market. Just under SO per cent of America's imports of meat come from Australia. Australian meat sales to the United States represent 66 per cent of our total meat sales, and the United States market has provided 80 per cent of Australia's beef export income. The problem would arise, of course, if Australia suddenly suffered a cut back on the American market. We know that there would be serious chaos in northern Australia because in that part of Australia beef production is almost exclusively a monoculture. -In the southern areas it would be very serious but at least there are possibilities for diversification.

The important thing, however, is to find out where we are going with our meat exports. What is the United States policy towards Australian meat? There seems to be great difficulty in getting from the Americans some type of a standard which can be applied to Australian abattoirs and meatworks and which can be interpreted by our meat inspectors and veterinarians in the same way as the Americans do. We are faced with the political problem in

America and it is no good underestimating it. There is a powerful meat lobby in the United States. I know when I lived there that lobby was powerful even in the Chicago area. Every Congressman who represented a cattle area was conscious of the fact that he had to do everything possible to get the greatest share of the markets for producers in his area. The southern and central United States producers are, oi course, putting pressure on. The pollution problem is being used today as an excuse to ban meat. What is the true policy of the United States on this particular problem?

I want to refer to the position at Wyndham at the present time. This meatworks, one of the most important in northern Australia, has been de-listed and. as everybody who is concerned with the north knows, this is a very serious problem. This meatworks is the principal buyer of meat from a large area of country in the east Kimberleys as well as the western properties of the Northern Territory - that is the West Victoria River district. Irrespective of the reasons why this meatworks has been closed down, it is of tremendous importance to the economy of. the area and there seems to be confusion not only in Wyndham but in other meatworks throughout Australia as to just what the Americans want. Apart from the relatively small number of cattle exported on the hoof from the regions in the north, all of the cattle have to go through the meatworks either at Derby, Broome, Wyndham, Katherine or Vesteys.

As regards the diversification scheme, we know the problem in the north. The diversification scheme is unfair as regards the north. In the first instance, the type of country, the standard of improvements and the climate as such produces a type of beef suitable only for manufacturing purposes and the number of markets other than the United States is limited. The second point is the seriousness of having to close down any of the meatworks in the north because there is no alternative to beef production. Prior to 1958 practically all of the beef exported from Australia came from the northern part of Australia. Because of the American market, it has only been since 1958 that the southern parts of Australia have come into operation, particularly in regard to mutton, cold beef or cracker cows. It will be many years yet before we get better quality beef to take advantage of the outlets made possible by diversification. Vesteys in Darwin is in a privileged position. It is amongst a chain of meat works and because of its ramifications it does not have the same problems with diversified markets as other meat works.

As 1 see it, the most important aspect of this problem is that there has to be some agreement with the United States as to reasonable standards of hygiene and we must ensure that all licensed exporters adhere to those standards. Secondly, I think it is essential that some consideration be given to exempting the Wyndham, Derby, Broome and Katherine meat works from the Australian Meat Board's diversification requirements for a reasonable period, say, to 1975. Thirdly, there should be on the Australian Meat Board a beef producer representing the Northern Territory and the Kimberleys. The other point is that because of the diversification problem meat works in the north are often forced to purchase unused entitlements of southern Australian meat works at something like 5c per lb. Of course, this must have the effect of reducing the price of cattle offered in the north. I will conclude now because I would like to hear the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony) say a few words, particularly about the Wyndham meat works. He knows full well the seriousness of this matter. It is in relation to these producers, exporters and cattlemen in the north that the problem is the greatest. The problem is not only what is happening now but also what will happen in the future. It is a most important matter and the Opposition will raise it later when there is more time to debate it.

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