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Thursday, 13 April 1972
Page: 1599

Mr KEOGH (Bowman) - I desire to refer to a very important matter which was disclosed to me in a newspaper report yesterday morning. It is the reported withdrawal of the Cannon Hill abattoirs licence to process meat for sale in the United States. This matter, while being primarily the reponsibility of the Queensland Government, should also be of concern to the Federal Government and, more importantly, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). I indicated to the Minister that it was my intention, to raise this matter this morning, but unfortunately prior commitments have prevented his being here. How ever, he has assured me that he will take note of the points that I raise and will give the matters his immediate attention. I trust that he will see the grave urgency of this matter and do so. This is a matter of vital concern to producers and unionists engaged in the meat industry. I put it to the Parliament that the Queensland Government, as so often has been the case in the past, has failed to cope with the need to plan and provide for present and future needs of the industry. This is certainly not the first warning it has received from the United States Department of Agriculture that the Brisbane abattoir, as it is more commonly referred to, has not been able to meet the hygiene and sanitation requirements that the United States has laid down for meat exported to that country. From memory it is the third time that the abattoir has had its licence withdrawn. The first occasion was for a period in the 1960s. It was later suspended for 3 months in 1970 and now it is facing suspension again.

I want to express my very grave concern for the immediate and long term employment situation in view of this threat. The abattoir, while not being in my electorate, employs a great number of people from the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union and other unions who live in my electorate. This United States decision will affect some 600 to 700 employees of the abattoir. In addition, the fact that under its United States licence the abattoir processes about 50,000 head of beef cattle a year, representing about 42 per cent of the annual beef cattle killed at the Brisbane abattoir, gives an indication of the need to have this quantity of cattle killed elsewhere, creating a great problem for the primary producers concerned. If these cattle need to be taken to Lakes Creek or somewhere else, in addition to adding to the current unemployment position in Brisbane, it will place a grave and unjust cost burden on the primary producers.

While at this stage I understand that the management has not been advised in writing of the requirements following the inspection carried out by Dr Hall on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture, I believe that the requirements cover structural and sanitation deficiencies. There are suggestions that the sanitation problem was discovered by the inspector by scraping the floor under some of the preparation tables. No doubt this would be done under his interpretation of hygiene regulations that the floor should be as clean as the table. Actions such as this by these inspectors give rise to the argument that has often been put forward that the United States Department of Agriculure uses these unfair methods periodically to eliminate certain of the Australian sources of supply to reduce the quota imports into the United States. Of course, this is done in a way which, places the onus on the Australian abattoir concerned and eliminates the obvious possibility of the action reflecting on the purpose for which it is being taken. It seems to me to be more than coincidence that only as recently as 4th March much prominence was given in the Australian Press to a report by a United States Congressman, Mr John Melcher, who represents the beef producing State of Montana. On that occasion he was speaking to a United States House of Representatives committee and said that he did not allow his own family to eat hamburger meat or precooked meat that was likely to have come from meats imported from Australia. Mr Melcher said that the report on foreign meat plants by the United States General Office of Accounting showed that of 35 plants inspected in Australia 10 were so unsanitary that they were banned from exporting meat to the United States. He said that in these 10 plants the main deficiencies were unclean floors, chutes and equipment, flaking paint, rusty pipes, broken plumbing, ineffective insect control and lack of a sanitatation programme. The point I am making is that while this may on occasions give rise to some just cause for import quotas on the American market to be restricted, it is completely unfair for such a method to be used when it handicaps the production of our abattoirs in Australia.

I desire this morning to highlight the abject failure of the Queensland Government over a long period of time to face up to its responsibilities and to see that the structural and hygiene standards of the Brisbane abattoir in particular receive the attention that they should have received from the officers of that government. We must bear in mind that this is a very old abattoir. It was constructed around about 1914, I understand, and was originally owned by Swifts. It was acquired by the

State Abattoirs Board in 1931 and since those days, some 40 odd years ago, the abattoir has been under a continual programme of temporary rebuilding, a continual programme of additions and requirements being brought into effect as standards of structure and hygiene have required. At no stage during those long years has the Queensland Government faced up to the need to plan for the replacement of this abattoir which even as early as the 1940s was becoming obsolete. I can go back beyond the time of this Government but it has certainly been of more urgency in the life of this Government.

Today it has gone far beyond the need to plan for its replacement. I understand that plans have been prepared for a $7.5 m abattoir to be built within a space of 3 to 4 years but this will not overcome the problem that today is immediately facing the producers of beef cattle sent to the abattoir and its employees, the members of the trade unions working at the abattoir. Provisions need to be made immediately to establish the standards required, whether they be unfair or not, so that continuity of employment may be maintained. It may even amount to the need for this Government to investigate the possibility of a special grant being made to the Queensland Government for the immediate rebuilding of the abattoir over a much shorter time than the 3 or 4 years suggested when the current plan was made. But at least the situation does demand that this Government take action to ensure that the Queensland Government faces up to the responsibilities it has failed to face up to in the past and that it should provide the standard of hygiene that can match up to even the unjust requirements of the United States meat inspectors so that in the future requirements such as those now sought by the United States cannot be brought forward to restrict our quotas to the United States.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - Order! The honourable member's time has expired. (Quorum formed.)

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