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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 886

Mr BRUMBY(12.24) — Honour- able members will appreciate that, while the Meat Inspection Bill 1983 is a relatively straightforward piece of legislation, its significance for the Australian meat industry should not be underestimated. Indeed, this is a vital piece of legislation. It affects so many of our domestic and export meat processing establishments. It is also of vital importance to so many Australian meat producers. It is a matter of shame that this debate has been carried for the Opposition today by the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey). I raise the question, as did the honourable member for Ballarat (Mr Mildren), about the absence from the House of members of the National Party of Australia. Looking around, I see that there is one member only of the National Party here in the House who has spoken on this Bill. It is an essential Bill for our primary producers.

Mr Uren —There are no Liberals.

Mr BRUMBY —Where are they now? They have all gone. It is a matter of shame that on a Bill of such fundamental importance the Liberals have been left to carry this for the Opposition and that National Party members have not contributed in the way in which they should contribute to such a vital component of our meat industry, an industry which contributes--

Mr Ian Robinson —I raise a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The honourable member for Bendigo has reflected on my Party and the members of my Party.

Mr Robert Brown —Where are they?

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) -Order! There is no point of order.

Mr Ian Robinson —He should withdraw his observations, because-

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —There is no point of order.

Mr Ian Robinson —The honourable member's facts are wrong. Members of the National Party have attended this debate.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for Cowper. This is the second time that he has defied the Chair.

Mr Ian Robinson —If honourable members are going to lie about it, I shall defy the Chair.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for Cowper. If he wants to spend 24 hours out of the chamber, let him keep speaking.

Mr BRUMBY —I thank you for your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker. Looking around the House now, one sees the strong support that is evident on the part of members of the Government who represent country seats, which puts to shame the apparent indifference of the Opposition towards this very important legislation for primary producers. That comment and support for this legislation puts in context some of the remarks made today. The Opposition has said that our Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) is ineffective because he is not a member of the Cabinet. Opposition members have said that our Government does not appear to care for primary industry. The support that we have shown in the debate today is sure evidence that we recognise the great significance of primary industry to our total economy, that we are concerned about primary producers, and that we are concerned to ensure that the best possible meat inspection service is provided for those who produce meat for the domestic and export markets.

I pursue that point a little further. Some time ago the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) compared our policies for primary industries with those of the previous Government. He was at pains to emphasise that in the previous Government the Minister for Primary Industry had been a member of the Cabinet, and he said that in some way that had ensured that the previous Government's policies for primary industries were good policies. That is utter nonsense because if one looks at the Government's record on primary industry and at what happened to primary industry under that Government one sees that it was a complete disaster. If one goes back to 1982 and looks at the ratio of debt to farm income we find that it was the highest in the history of this great country . That debt ratio was produced solely by the previous Government's incompetent economic management which allowed interest rates to rise to such an intolerable level, with disastrous effects for our farmers and small businesses.

It was not just the previous Government's economic management. What about what it did to primary producers in terms of fuel? As honourable members on this side of the House will appreciate, fuel accounts, on average, on most farms, for between 6 per cent and 9 per cent of total costs, depending on the farm in question and the type of production. Under the Fraser Government the price of petrol rose from 14c per litre in 1975 to 42c per litre in 1982. That was an increase of 300 per cent. That had absolutely disastrous consequences for our primary producers. Finally, I should not forget to mention the previous Government's disastrous record in pasture management and in pasture and soil conservation. The Commonwealth, under the Fraser Government-

Mr MacKellar —I raise a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have just looked at the Daily Program, and I see that it lists 'Meat Inspection Bill'. I should have thought that the honourable member could have made his remarks relevant to the matter under discussion.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —I would take that point. I ask the honourable member for Bendigo to be more relevant.

Mr BRUMBY —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was responding to some of the points that were made by the previous speaker, the honourable member for O' Connor. But I respect your judgment.

Mr Humphreys —The shadow Minister was going on with that nonsense.

Mr BRUMBY —It was the shadow Minister, the honourable member for Darling Downs. I thank the honourable member for Griffith. I was responding to the remarks of the shadow Minister.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! Would the honourable member for Bendigo please continue with the debate?

Mr BRUMBY —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will return to discussing the Bill . This Bill not only establishes the necessary arrangements for the Commonwealth to undertake domestic meat inspection in New South Wales but also permits the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry to undertake domestic meat inspection in any other State which subsequently refers its powers of inspection to the Commonwealth. Honourable members would be aware that both Commonwealth and State governments have responsibilities for meat inspections. State governments have a very long-standing responsibility to ensure that foodstuffs prepared for human consumption meet acceptable standards of hygiene. Indeed, in the early years following Federation in this country all meat inspection was carried out by the States. But at that time, following complaints from the United Kingdom about Australian exports of beef to that country, the Commonwealth appointed veterinary officers to supervise export inspection in all States. In 1916 the Commonwealth went even further and established its own export inspection staff in all the States of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth also has, of course, constitutional authority for the control of all exports, including meat. That legislative control is exercised through the Customs Act, the Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act and the Export Control Act of 1982, amongst others. It would be apparent to all honourable members that the respective responsibilities of both the Commonwealth and State governments have resulted in the evolution of dual meat inspection systems. Meat to be consumed on the domestic market is inspected by meat inspectors employed by State governments, while meat for export must be inspected by meat inspectors employed by the Commonwealth Government. With the increase in Australia's meat exports in recent decades and the concurrent upgrading of slaughtering facilities to meet foreign government veterinary standards-I refer in particular to the United States of America-about 80 per cent of all meat consumed in Australia and a large part of the meat consumed on the domestic market is now slaughtered in export registered establishments. In these establishments Commonwealth and State meat inspectors often work side by side. That dual inspection arrangement has been the source of considerable dissatisfaction for a number of years. It has led to industrial disputes between Commonwealth and State inspectors, added to the overheads of export abattoirs and placed abattoirs which export only a small proportion of their total product at a severe financial disadvantage compared with those which produce solely for the domestic market.

Not surprisingly, there have been a number of inquiries into the meat industry and particularly the meat inspection system throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Most notable amongst these inquiries have been the Prices Justification Tribunal report into beef marketing and processing of 1978; the Committee of Inquiry to examine Commonwealth and State Meat Inspection Systems, which is better known as the Kelly report of 1980; the Woodward Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry of 1982; and, most recently, the Industries Assistance Commission report into the abattoir and meat processing industry tabled in January this year. The recommendations of those reports strongly supported and substantiated the basis on which this legislation is directed. Amongst other recommendations, the PJT report of 1978 recommended:

. . . a thorough overhaul of Australian meat inspection, both from the standpoint of manpower and procedures, that duplication be eliminated and that there would be a continuing scrutiny of basic activities in the light of developing knowledge and circumstances.

The Kelly report noted:

Most of the submissions advocated a single meat inspection service, albeit a different composition-namely entirely State, entirely Commonwealth or by an integrated authority . . .

It went on to recommend the establishment of a single national meat inspection service. Despite the tabling of that report by the previous Government in the Parliament on 27 February 1980, to my knowledge, no ministerial statement was ever made and none of the major recommendations of that report were ever implemented-that is, of course, until today under this Government. I think that fact again puts into some doubt the claims by the honourable member for Darling Downs who, when speaking earlier, suggested that most of these reforms were the product of the previous Government. Of course, that is not so at all. I refer also to the Royal Commission of 1982. Whilst that Commission did not specifically recommend the establishment of a single meat inspection service, with respect to Victoria it recommended that:

A joint authority be established along the lines already negotiated.

Finally, the Industries Assistance Commission report of 1983, with respect to dual inspection, noted:

Duplication of inspection within abattoirs is unwarranted. It places export registered abattoirs competing on the domestic market with local abattoirs at a relative disadvantage. These problems would only be overcome by incorporation of the various meat inspection services throughout the Commonwealth into one national service.

I turn now to the current situation. On 1 July of this year the responsibility for domestic meat inspection in New South Wales passed to the Commonwealth. I welcome that transfer, as does the Government, because by the end of this year it will mean the establishment in New South Wales of a single meat inspection service with all the benefits that that decision involves. Most importantly, the dual fee at export works has already been eliminated in New South Wales.

Of more particular interest, however, are the recent developments in respect of Victoria. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) recently received a letter from the Victorian Premier indicating his Government's willingness to participate with the Commonwealth in examining possible arrangements for the establishment of a single inspection service. If Victoria agreed to join the national inspection service the Commonwealth would employ some 92 per cent of the full time inspection work force and a single, national, meat inspection service would be much closer to reality. Only Queensland would be outside that system. I suppose that Queensland being outside that system is the same as the situation with Queensland in so many other matters. I can assure the House that after the coming State election Queensland will not be outside the system; it will be part of all the State Labor governments in this country.

This legislation and the Government's continuing efforts to establish a national meat inspection service are strongly supported within my electorate of Bendigo where establishments which export products are at a significant disadvantage because of the existing dual inspection system. Only last week the manager of Mayfair Ham and Bacon Co. in Bendigo was reported in the Bendigo Advertiser as stating:

Inspection fees are of great concern to Mayfair. The company is opposed to the dual inspection system and the twin overhead costs associated with its operation in Victoria, where exporters face both Victorian and Commonwealth inspections and charges.

The establishment of a single meat inspection service will make it considerably easier to achieve increased simplification of inspection procedures and will remove the financial disadvantage incurred by abattoirs which provide meat for both the domestic and export markets. This is a good Bill. It has significant repercussions for Australian producers and processors. As I have said, it is a matter of concern to me that the National Party has been so poorly represented in the House during debate on this significant Bill. I certainly commend it to the House.