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Wednesday, 30 November 1983
Page: 3092

Mr ANTHONY (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(6.16) —I enter this debate because I believe there is a very serious crisis in the Australian cattle industry and the meat processing industry which needs to be aired. The tension and the concern in the meat industry is as high as I have known it for a number of years. Certainly it was in a crisis situation in the middle 1970s, and it is in that situation again. In fact, the situation of the processors is worse than it has ever been. This situation has been highlighted by the Government's decision to increase the inspection charges from $1.80 to $5.40 for beasts and from 60c to $1.60 for pigs. The reason that this Live-stock Slaughter (Export Inspection Charge) Validation Bill is before the House is that the industry, in its desperation to try to get the attention of the Government, to have some consultations with it and to get some reasonableness out of it, is now threatening to go before the High Court to challenge the existing legislation. The Government, feeling threatened, immediately revised the legislation to improve any errors that might exist which could be ruled out by the High Court.

Mr Campbell —You mean errors you made.

Mr ANTHONY —It does not matter who made them. The industry is now taking the decision--

Mr Campbell —Did you make your errors deliberately?

Mr ANTHONY —The honourable member says that we made them deliberately. The fees have been collected throughout the period. The industry will be charged the fees retrospectively. Nobody is against validation of the Bill and we will not indefinitely block it. But we expect some reasonableness from the Government. It should consult with the industry but it is not doing so. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin), who is at the table, has a lot to answer for in his impertinence in taking points of order to prevent debate on this very serious issue. It shows his self-consciousness, guilt and inadequacy in dealing with the industry on this very serious matter. All we are asking is that consultations take place. There might not even be a High Court challenge. The Government should learn to consult with people, as it promised to do during the election campaign. We are seeing no consensus at all between the Government and the industry. This is what is causing all the concern and hardship at the moment. We are suggesting that this legislation be deferred until 1 January next year to give the industry time to teach the Government that there are some problems in the cattle industry; that the increased inspection charges are creating utter confusion between export and domestic abattoirs and, as a result, are threatening the viability of many abattoirs. They are having to be closed down; people are being laid off.

I could have understood a Labor government showing complete contempt for the farming community. But it is showing the same contempt for all workers in the abbatoirs. They are being affected as a result of this bungling by the Government in increasing charges at a time when there is no capacity for the industry to be able to pay. In circumstances such as these, if we had been in government, instead of increasing charges I think there would have been a good case for giving a temporary exemption for the industry to be able to recover. That is exactly what we did when the industry was in desperate circumstances a few years ago. But no, the Government blatantly goes ahead and increases these charges by 200 per cent without realising the full consequences of what it is doing.

Mr Simmons —Your policy.

Mr ANTHONY —Our policy was an inspection charge of $1.80; the Government's policy is an inspection charge of $5.40, a 200 per cent increase against very serious circumstances in the industry. The Government will have to pay the price . During this period-the two months which I hope we are going to have-I am looking forward to the Australian Democrats giving us support in the Senate so this legislation is not validated. There is good reason for the validation Bill to be passed as it corrects an error, if there is an error in the legislation. Nobody is going to deny that. But why does the Government not come to reason with the industry? Why does the Government treat it with such contempt? The Government has no compassion, no humanity at all for the circumstances of people out in the bush.

The cattle industry is not booming. The Government seems to be carried away with all this talk that there have been good seasonal conditions and everybody in the bush is a millionaire. There has been some slight improvement for some rural producers, that is, basically the grain producers. However, most other areas of rural Australia are suffering. This year the real net income for rural producers, as the Bureau of Agricultural Economics has pointed out will be less than last year. One can hardly believe that but the statement is from the BAE. The beef industry is in very grave circumstances. Why? It is because the national herd has been declining. Whereas at its peak it was 34 million the forecasts are that by next March it will go down to 22 million. So the total number of cattle in Australia is declining and with the general atmosphere that is now being created there is no encouragement whatsoever for people to want to build up their stock numbers unless they are very fortunate producers-

Mr Campbell —People are building up their stock numbers; they are not selling. That is what is happening.

Mr ANTHONY —In sheep producing areas. The price has gone down. In the last month the American market has deteriorated from 229c a kilo; it is now down to 209c. It is getting worse; it is looking worse. But what does the Government do? It puts a further impost on the industry that is going to cost $40m in a full year. No wonder primary producers are finding it hard to sell on overseas markets and compete. Look at what they have to compete with. The European Economic Community has a subsidy on its exports of beef to the extent of $1,200 a tonne. That is the subsidy that our producers have to compete against. Yet the Government is putting a tax burden of $40m on this industry. How do our producers compete against New Zealand? New Zealand does not even have an inspection charge. There is no inspection charge at all but in this country we have an inspection charge. I am not saying that there should not be some charge but it should be related to the circumstances of the industry. The cattle industry is one of our best industries. A few years ago it was our largest exporting industry. Today it has declined; it is our sixth largest exporting rural industry. That is a marked decline and it is going to get worse if present circumstances do not improve.

The problem amongst the abattoirs is that if one sends a beast to an export abattoir one now pays $5.40 under the new inspection charges. If the abattoir is in Victoria one pays another $2.80 on top of that which takes the charge up to $ 8.20 on each beast. Yet if one sends it to a domestic abattoir-one that is not licensed for overseas export-one pays just the Victorian fee which is $2.80. Of course people are opting to go to a domestic abattoir. The same situation exists in Queensland. One pays $2.20 more in Queensland. However, if one goes to the domestic abattoir in Queensland, one pays only $2.20. So the export abattoirs- these important abattoirs which are all part of our export performance-are finding that they are getting no throughput or a declining throughput and their economics are going down. In recent times 35 abattoirs have closed down and many more are under threat. Six thousand people have been put out of work and what does the Government do? It aggravates the situation even more by imposing a charge when there are circumstances that the industry cannot meet. The Government is complicating and confusing the industry. It has produced a crisis in the industry. What we are saying is that if this Government has a competent Minister who is responsible he should immediately meet with the industry and consult with it as to how it will have a system that works properly.

I have always advocated a single inspection service. It is the only sensible way of doing it. But now with the arrangements that have been put into place I venture to say that people are pressing to have independent inspection services because the slug of the Commonwealth charge and the State charge on top of it is making it virtually impossible for these abattoirs to be able to exist. They are not getting the throughput. In the case of the pig industry, if one sends one's pigs to an export abattoir to be killed one pays $1.60 but this year the collection fee for pigs will be more than the total value of pigs exported. How absurd can it be? Who would want to sell his pigs to an export abattoir to help with their performance if he has a domestic abattoir to which he can send them where he pays only whatever the local State charge is which is very much lower. The Government is cruelling the whole industry. It is putting up costs to the ordinary consumer.

There is absolute bungling by this Minister and his Government. The Minister has been going around, winning no respect from the rural industry, saying: 'I opposed it before but Cabinet would not listen to me'. Have honourable members ever heard such a weaseling out of a proposition? That is a quisling attitude for a Minister to be taking. He is dobbing in his own Cabinet. I thought there was a certain degree of ethics and loyalty once one became a Minister. The Minister is in Cabinet now. I wonder whether he will continue to use that same excuse. Certainly nobody in the rural industry respects him for taking that type of attitude. I hope in future he shows a bit more gumption. If ever there were a case for persuasion before one's Cabinet of putting a logical case it is now because of the circumstances. If ever there were a case for a Minister to show that he has a bit of fire in his belly, that he is prepared to stand up and fight for an industry, it was on this occasion. But this Minister has deserted the industry. It is time that he stood up, explained and consulted with industry .

We are opposing this legislation because we believe it is desperately important that the industry has time to consult. Ultimately we are not going to oppose it. We have passed the increased charges. We have passed all the Government's financial measures in the Senate, as we said we would do in the early stages of the Labor Government. We are not prepared to have a crisis between the Senate and the House of Represenatives. Australian Labor Party members are the elected people. They have to take responsibility for their own faults and errors. If we can help the industry to have time to talk and consult and see whether there is any reasonableness amongst Government members, if they can understand the huge problems that are facing one of Australia's best industries, we will be doing it by delaying this legislation for a further two months.