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Thursday, 12 April 1973
Page: 1375

Mr HANSEN (WIDE BAY, QUEENSLAND) - I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry whether he is aware of the concern shown by both consumers and producers at rapidly rising meat prices. Does the Minister know that many producers are concerned that exceptionally high prices could cause buyer resist.ence and an increased use of substitute foods? Has he or the Minister he represents had any discussion with industry representatives aimed at preventing spasmodic booms and ensuring a stabilised industry?

Dr PATTERSON - This is a question which has been exercising the minds of many people in Australia who are aware, of course, of the dramatic increase in cattle prices throughout

Australia, and particularly in the export producing areas in northern Australia. This position has been caused primarily by a world shortage of beef, as is instanced by the increasing demand for beef by the United States, Canada, Japan and the member countries of the European Economic Community. It is not an easy problem to solve in the short term because, unlike cash crops, it takes 3 to 4 years to increase beef production substantially. It takes 9 months to breed a calf and then there is the ensuing time it takes to turn it off.

I am aware of the threatened action by some sectors of the Australian community with respect to a possible boycott of butcher shops and also of the statements that there should be a compulsory ban on the export of beef. Let us have a look at these proposals. Firstly, with respect to a boycott, it is my considered opinion, from my knowledge of the industry gained over a fairly long period of years, that this action would not achieve anything significant. What it would do would be to cause unemployment in butcher shops and in local abattoirs. It would mean simply that more cattle would be diverted to the export market in which there is an increasing demand. It would not reduce significantly, if at all, the price of beef in Australia. If there were a compulsory ban on the export of beef through industrial action, this could cause problems in Australia because the cattle producers would hold on to their cattle until they were heavier and older. In the long term, of course, it would cause a reduction in price. The initiative, I believe, has to come from the State governments and the industry itself. The Federal Government has power under the export control provisions to place quantitative restrictions on the export of beef if it thinks such action is necessary in order to reduce the price. This action could cause resentment overseas because it has been shown that, when a country that produces a surplus of food deliberately restricts the export of food to countries which need it, retaliatory action can be taken.

Let me put the record straight. I have had discussions with some leaders of the cattle industry and I have warned them that they had better give some very serious thought to stabilising beef prices in Australia. I know that this is a problem. But the initiative will have to come from the industry, and I believe it will. I know that the Australian Meat Board and the industry are thinking seriously about this problem. It has a significant effect on the consumer price index, which in turn will have an effect on wages. All these factors are leading to inflationary forces in Australia. There is a need for the cattle industry and the State governments to look at this problem seriously and to work out some voluntary restraint, perhaps by introducing a 2-price system based on more stabilised beef prices in Australia and the industry reaping the benefits of the export market. The overall surplus could go into a revolving fund as is done in some other export industries which have stable domestic prices. One thing is certain. If beef prices continue to rise there will be greater and growing resentment among housewives in Australia, and once we start tangling with housewives we politicians had better look out.

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