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Thursday, 15 October 1970

Mr McIVOR (Gellibrand) - The Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon) has sketchily described the condition of the meat industry in Australia. He said nothing about the Government's intentions to bring back some form of organisation to the meat industry of Australia. The meat industry of Australia is in a state of disruption from Darwin to Devonport. It is in disruption across the breadth of the north west of Western Australia. The Minister talked about co-operation between the Government and the meat inspection authorities. He talked about co-operation between the meat industry and this Government. Such is the disorganisation that standards of hygiene, inspection and processing achieved at a considerable cost to the meat industry have become obsolete overnight. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony) has admitted that this is the case. In fact, the greatest problem facing the meat industry today in relation to export requirements is the lack of standardisation.

There is a great difference of interpretation placed on the regulations by individual American personnel. There is variation from shed to shed. These Americans wield great power and they have deliberately caused chaos in the industry. Such is the situation in the meat export trade that after spending about $200m to achieve a set of standards, demands are still being made on abattoirs for even higher standards. This being the case, one cannot Marne the meat industry for taking the view that it is being held to ransom by political lobbyists of the United States. In fact, there are instances in which the Department of Primary Industry has refused to issue an instruction supporting an American demand. Yet, failure to meet this demand will lose the licence for the shed that does not comply. In this regard, in deference to what the Minister has said, this Government has shown little regard for the industry by refusing to demand uniformity. In fact, protection of the industry by this Government is noticeable by its absence.

As 1 said before, it is a lack of uniformity and that insidious power in the hands of American personnel that is causing disruption in the industry. It is costing employer and employee alike thousands of dollars in loss of trade and wages. Many of the regulations intrude into the working conditions of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union. However, in the implementation of these regulations there is no consultation with this union. There have been strikes and stoppages that could have been avoided by a little discussion and forethought. So far as the Union is concerned, lost licences mean lost time and lost wages. Men have lost patience with the industry and have sought work elsewhere. I would like to refer to an advertisement which appeared in the Melbourne 'Sun* on 3rd October 1970 which offered employment to mutton chain slaughtermen and butchers. This advertisement specified the wage these men would receive and offered a 7-hour day. Advertisements such as this one can be seen day after day. Do Commonwealth meat inspectors work a 7-hour day? Certainly not.

I shall reveal some of the conditions endured by Commonwealth meat inspectors as 1 go along. Resignations in the industry do not apply only to meat inspectors. They apply also to meat and mutton slaughtermen. This is a wastage that the industry cannot afford but the Government has done nothing about it. As there are most probably 42,000 people employed in the meal industry throughout Australia, some 10.000 of whom are employed in my electorate of Gellibrand, I can claim to have some knowledge of the situation and the frustration and unrest which is being experienced at all levels in the industry, from the top management to those who perform the most menial task.

I refer to the Commonwealth meat inspectors. It is common knowledge that in Victoria alone there are about 300 inspectors who have from 3 to 9 weeks leave owing to them, yet the Minister for Primary Industry says that there is no cause for alarm. In the same breath he admits that meat inspectors were resigning faster than they were being recruited. Indeed, about 60 have resigned so far this year. If this set of conditions is not alarming, what extent of deterioration and wastage must occur to alarm the Government?

In spite of these conditions, demands for wage justice for meat inspectors over a long period went ignored. Recently an increase in salaries was granted. This increase was accepted without prejudice by the meat inspectors, but still their demands for their case to be heard by the Public Service Arbitrator go unheeded. Wage justice has not been given to these Commonwealth Government employees, yet the Government can afford to bring 50 inspectors from New Zealand at a cost, most probably, of $65,000. This move, whilst carried out with good intention, was made with little thought being given to the end result. Surely with Commonwealth meat inspectors in a state of great turmoil and unrest over wages and conditions, more thought should have go,ne into the application of this plan. Yet in the face of this turmoil and unrest, and in the face of the exodus of meat inspectors from the industry, the Government brings men from New Zealand and employs them at a salary which is much lower than that paid to their Australian counterparts. The effect of all this was to cause deeper resentment in the already resentful ranks of the meat inspectors.

Firstly, the action of employing New Zealand personnel at lower wages is regarded with great suspicion and concern and as being a snide move to stop the Australian meat inspector from making further demands for increased salary. Secondly, the action of bringing 50 inspectors from New Zealand for the purpose of allowing Australian meat inspectors to take some of the recreation leave which is owing to them is only scratching the surface. It was al the best a pleasant paid holiday for the men from New Zealand. There is further concern in the ranks of the Commonwealth meat inspectors, lt has arisen from a rumour which is circulating that the Government is considering a dilute plan for the industry, using the farmers and farm workers who have lost their farms or employment due to the crisis in the wheat and wool industries.

Another rumour which is circulating is that the Government intends to embark on an intensive advertising programme, at a considerable cost, throughout the United Kingdom and Europe in order to obtain meat inspectors, yet the Government cannot afford to pay higher wages to its employees. The Minister can confirm or deny these rumours. He should make some comment upon them. It is no wonder that the conditions to which I have referred compelled the Minister for Agriculture in New South Wales to say:

United States sets absurd conditions on meat and these conditions are politically based.

The same circumstances caused the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) to refer to those Americans implementing these conditions as 'half trained spies'.

Perhaps the most absurd situation in this conglomeration of political interference and Government muddling is the fact that people who are managing what are most probably the biggest meat interests in the world are afraid to engage themselves in any discussions with the representatives of the American political lobbyists, although they are prepared to say to me that the so-called American meat inspectors know little about ante-mortem inspection and nothing about post-mortem inspection. In making these statements they hasten to seek an assurance that their names will not be mentioned. When asked the reason for this attitude they quickly told me that disclosure would lose them their licence and that they would never regain it. In other words, they carry out their production under constant fear of and subjection to the loss of their licence. Could any industry operate under more absurd conditions?

If the Government is prepared to work men for years without allowing them to take recreation leave and to pay wages which are far below those paid to municipal meat inspectors and to workers on the beef and mutton chain and which are even below the wages paid to women in the packing shed who, with a little overtime, can earn more than the meat inspector, and in addition to those anomalies, to work men for 8 hours without a meal break, then I say that chaos, resignations and disruption must continue to be the lot of the employer and employee in the meat industry in Australia. It is a well know fact that many qualified meat inspectors are working on the beef and mutton chains, in the boning rooms and in other subsidiary branches of the trade. It is also a fact that the Government has no chance of getting these men to return to their former occupation unless it has the courage and foresight to pay the wages and provide the conditions which will make the industry attractive enough for these men to return to it.

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