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Thursday, 15 October 1970

Mr NIXON (Gippsland) (Minister for the Interior) - The honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) has proposed the discussion of a matter of public importance, namely:

The failure of the Federal Government to take positive action to halt the seriously deteriorating condition of Australia's export meat trade.

It is important that we understand and know properly the history of our meat trade with the United States. We need to know the role of the Government in this history in order to make a judgment on whether the honourable member for Dawson has made his point. We need also to know whether there is any discrimination against Australian meat in comparison with other countries and also in comparison with United States domestic meat. We also need to know where the responsibility lies for the implementation of the regulations on health in these abattoirs. The first thing that needs to be made perfectly clear is simply that the Australian Government does not control the health regulations covering the entry of meat into the United States. This is within the purview of the Wholesome Meat Act which is part of the Meat Inspection Act which was brought down by the United States Congress and lays down the regulations and conditions covering the entry of meat into America.

I think the first thing we have to understand is that there has been a great change in consumer demand in respect of health regulations covering pure foods not only in America, to which country this discussion is directed, but throughout the world and certainly in Australia. I think it fair to say that as an Australian I certainly would not ask the people of Australia to accept a lesser standard than I would expect to apply to meat sold in the United States. The people of Australia have every right and justification to expect that the health regulations that govern the supply of meat to the Australian people set as high a standard as the health regulations in any other country. The facts are, of course, that we are selling meat on the United States market and the people of the United States would expect the Australian Government therefore to meet the health regulations designed by the United States Government covering the sale of meat in that market, and we have to be sure that when we are selling meat in that market we do in fact meet those regulations. I do not think any of us has the right to challenge the proper protection of consumers in this regard. The question arises of whether there is any discrimination against Australian abattoirs. Are we being picked on politically? The simple answer to that question is: 'No, we are not'. The truth is that the United States is not making any demand on Australian abattoirs that is not making on other exporters to the United States market, such as New Zealand, or indeed on United States domestic abattoirs. lt is interesting to note that the honourable member for Dawson referred to reports made to the United States Congress. A report, which was made to Congress for the year beginning on 1st January 1969, showed that of a total of 51 plants in New Zealand 7 have been deregistered and that of a total of 193 Australian plants there was a net loss of only 8. So one cannot say that Australia is being picked on for some vague political reason. The fact is that New Zealand is undergoing the same difficulties as Australia in meeting the continually improving requirements of the American meat authorities, it is also a fact that the United States authorities are cracking down on United States abattoirs. During the past 1.2 months 79 American plants have been withdrawn through Federal inspection. I think this proves the point that the American authorities are equally determined to bring their abattoirs up to a proper standard to meet the health requirements that are demanded by Congress as they are to make sure that Australian, New Zealand or any other export abattoirs that supply the American market maintain proper standards.

The honourable member for Dawson has alleged that the Government is not playing its part. What is the Government's role? 1 think we need to understand perfectly clearly what the Government's role is in this matter. The Government's role is to provide an inspection service covering the meat that is exported to the United States and other markets. This service gives a certification that the meat is prepared and packed in accordance with the requirements of United States legislation. The honourable member for Dawson drew to the attention of the House the fact that meat can be loaded and be half way across the water before it is declared as not suitable for entry into the United States. Of course, in changing circumstances where health regulations could be altered it is a simple fact that because of the distance between the point of export and the market this can happen. It is unfortunate but it is a fact. However, this does not give us the right not properly to inspect and certify meat under new regulations that might come in. We have to meet the demands that the United States sets down. We are exporting to that market and its consumers want this protection. The least we can do is to make sure that we give them that protection.

The Australian Government assists abattoirs in obtaining a proper understanding of what the Americans want. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, for example, is running schools on such subjects as sanitation services so that employees of abattoirs may gain a proper understanding of what is required by the United States inspection service. They are learning and sturying proper practices of abattoir efficiency and health standards. The CSIRO is giving this assistance for one reason - so that people in our abattoirs might know what is required of them. The Australian Meat Board is running a quality control service advising abattoirs about the method* that ought to be followed. This service is being offered in an endeavour to overcome any problems, misunderstandings or misrepresentations about the regulations. So I think it can be seen that we are playing a proper role.

The United States market is a very valuable one. Last year 245,000 tons of beef and mutton valued at more than $240rn was sent to the United States market. This represented 70 per cent of our total beef exports. The one thing we cannot afford to do is to jeopardise that market, lt is true that difficulties are created by changing demands of the consuming public which wants to be assured that it is being protected. We have to give the consuming public that assurance; we have to meet these requirements. The difficulties that have arisen are of concern to us. Nevertheless, if we want this market we have to comp ' with the requirements laid down by Congress for Australian abattoirs, United States abattoirs and any other abattoir exporting to America. Therefore, I do not think the charge that the honourable member for Dawson made that the Australian Government is falling down on the job is justified. We are handling abattoirs with a great deal of sympathy and understanding. We are trying to get proper communication between the meat inspection service, the abattoir controls and the United States authorities so that there will no: be any misunderstandings and so that meat can h killed under proper regulations and sent to the American market.

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