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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1673

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - Of the areas of cost movement in the community that have, been given publicity none has received more publicity than has meat prices. The Australian Meat Board has made some comments and observations about the possiblity of containing excess prices in the meat industry, and has brought out an admirable and concise report, admirable in its argument and admirable in its conclusions. The one area of concern to me in this reference to the. Joint Committee on Prices, in addition to the general concern I expressed a moment ago in relation to the first reference, is that the problem which exists in the community is largely a matter of availability of meat. If as a result of this reference there is to be generated in the producing community a feeling of uncertainty, a feeling that meat prices are to be reduced below comparable profit levels in other sectors of agriculture, it could well be that this reference and any subsequent public examination by the Joint Committee might aggravate the circumstances which create the present high prices for meat.

The present prices are a compound of circumstances which were referred to in the report of the Australian Meat Board and circumstances which relate to supply and demand. They relate also to the series of adverse droughts we have had. They are consequential in part on the very low wool prices which prevailed over the preceding few years. They are consequential also on the poor prices paid for lamb and mutton, and a diversion by producers from meat production. It is in lamb and mutton in particular that there has been a significant increase, and in the choicer cuts of beef. If by this reference we are seeking to place any sort of bar on producers, to contain the level of production or to deter the confidence of producers in their industry, the result is likely to be the direct reverse of what is supposedly the purpose of the Government in making this reference. I think that the Government and the community need to be aware that if this action disrupts the normal forces of supply and demand it could well aggravate the prevailing circumstances of high prices for lamb, mutton and the. choicer cuts of beef to which I referred a moment ago.

The Opposition does not oppose the reference but is cynical about the results it will achieve. We are cynical about the degree to which a reference of this character is put forward by the Government as being a major effort to contain inflationary forces in the community. It belies the Government's motive at a time when, day by day, the Government comes out with significant new areas of government expenditure. In fact, it is directly contradictory to pursue constant escalation in the government sector and then pretend by this reference to contain the impact of prices on the consumer. Indeed, the whole of the management of the economy must be seen as a direct result of the financial and economic policies of the Government. Whilst it is true that excessive prices in any area are to be deplored, it is equally true that providing there is adequate competition and the circumstances in which goods are produced are not excessively interfered with by the Government, excessive prices will not exist. I do not believe that the reference is likely in any way to contain the present level of beef prices. I do not believe that it will stabilise meat prices. I believe that, on the contrary, it is likely that it is simply a deterrent thrown out to the people to distract them from the real causes of inflation. In so deterring them, I hope that it does not so depress the confidence of the producer community that meat prices and the availability of meat are aggravated as a result. 1 find it quite deplorable that the Government has sought only in this one narrow field to attack inflation in any way whatsoever. There are very real problems in the general industrial section to which we of the Opposition have referred. There are problems throughout the whole industrial policy of the Government. There are problems in the escalating expenditure of the Government. It is absolute nonsense to put forward a reference of this character as a meaningful attack on the inflationary forces in the community. The Opposition does not oppose the reference. However, it does not believe that it is in the best interests of consumers or of stabilisation of meat prices in the community.

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