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Tuesday, 18 September 1973
Page: 1194

Mr STREET (Corangamite) - The test of the honourable member for EdenMonaro (Mr Whan) will be when the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Prices is brought into the Parliament. I have no doubt that an occasion will be provided to vote on the recommendation of the report and I withhold my judgment until that takes place. He will have the chance to make his view known then. This Bill that we are debating now which is to impose a levy on export meat is important in more than one respect. In the first place it affects a very important aspect of the Australia's meat export trade. It is vital to ensure access to our export markets that we maintain the hygiene standards required by overseas countries. These standards are rising constantly and we have to meet them. Certainly these requirements have raised our costs but there have been corresponding benefits as well. For example, there has been a marked improvement in the hygiene standards and working conditions in Australian exporting meat works. Many such establishments also provide meat for the home market. Therefore domestic consumers have also benefited. I think it is true to say that Australia's major meatworks can now stand comparison with any in the world.

Mr O'Keefe - They are better than anywhere in the world.

Mr STREET - I agree with my friend and colleague the honourable member for Patterson. Unfortunately the Bill is also important for a quite different reason altogether. It provides a striking example of the incompetence of the Government on one hand and the contempt for Parliament by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on the other. The purpose of this bill was foreshadowed in the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Mr Crean). He said:

The Government has decided to impose a charge on the export of meats, to recoup from the meat industry the substantial expenditure incurred by the Government for the benefit of the industry on export meat inspection services.

From 1 October 1973 to 30 June 1976, the charge will be 1 cent a lb on meat exports. The charge is expected to yield $14m in 1973-74.

Leaving aside for a moment the doubtful arithmetic of that $14m as exposed by my colleague the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) I continue quoting the Treasurer's Budget Speech. He said:

The Government has also decided to recoup from the beef industry the expenditure incurred in the campaign to eradicate bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis. The amount to be recouped in 1973-74 will be approximately $6m.

I ask honourable members to note the last sentence particularly. It reads:

Details will be announced by the Minister for Primary Industry in due course.

My first comment on this aspect is: Where is the promised statement by the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) on raising funds for the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaigns? Other honourable members may have been more fortunate than 1. 1 have not seen it or heard of it so far.

We now come to the second reading speech of the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) in which he stated in the first sentence:

The purpose of this Bill is to impose a charge on meat exported from Australia in order to recoup the cost to the Government of export meat inspection.

That is as clear as crystal. The Bill's intention is clear enough as far as the lc a pound charge is concerned. But we look in vain in the Minister's speech for any mention of brucellosis or tuberculosis. But I do not believe that it is really fair to criticise the Minister for Immigration. After all he is not the Minister for Primary Industry; he is not the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry in this House. He is the Acting Minister representing the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry in this House. Unfortunately for him this looks to be as close as he will ever get to being the Minister for Primary Industry. So it is not fair to blame him. I must remind him of a statement made by his own Leader. The honourable member for Riverina, the Minister, is someone who lives in the country. By the Prime Minister's definition, someone who lives in the country is a pagan. It is not fair to blame him for the deplorable omission in the second reading speech of any reference to the reason why the levy referred to in the Treasurer's Budget Speech has been increased to 1.6c a pound.

As far as we are concerned the purpose of the Bill is to raise money to cover the costs of the inspection of meat for export. That is what the Minister said in his second reading speech. The Treasurer in his Budget Speech said the charge to cover this cost would be lc a pound. Why then is the charge 1.6c a pound? To find some explanation we must go to the Prime Minister's statement following his Press conference on 11 September at which he said: in order to recoup the cost of the Government's contribution to the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign, Cabinet has agreed that the proposed export charge on beef and veal be increased from lc a lb to 1.6c a lb.

I suggest that that is a disgraceful situation. The Prime Minister made a statement outside the House on a matter of substance consequent on the Budget, and directly related to legislation introduced into this House on the same day. But in the legislation itself no mention whatever of this arrangement is made, just as no mention is made in the Minister's second reading speech. There are only 2 explanations for this omission. It is either gross incompetence or an insult to the Parliament, and the Government deserves severe criticism on either count. That is why the Opposition is moving an amendment consistent with the Treasurer's Budget Speech and consistent with the Minister's second reading speech. All I can say is that it is just as well that, when the Government puts forward sloppy and ill considered legislation, there is an Opposition which can straighten things out for it.

But this legislation is deficient in other areas as well. We know from the Minister's second reading speech that the purpose of the Bill is: to impose a charge on meat exported from Australia in order to recoup the cost to the Government of export meat inspection.

The money raised cannot, therefore, be used for any other purpose. At least the Minister was clear and explicit on that point. However, there is no provision in the Bill for where any surplus money can be placed to ensure that it is used for the purpose explicitly stated in the legislation. Again there are 2 possible explanations for this fact. One is attempted deception. The other again regrettably is incompetence. Neither reflects any credit on this Government. I ask: what would happen if, at the end of the 33 months during which the legislation is in force, more money has been collected than is required to cover the expenses of export meat inspection, the only purpose for which money raised by this Bill can be used? Certainly there is no sign in the Bill or the second reading speech that the money would not disappear into Consolidated Revenue in contravention of the legislation.

There is no mention in the second reading speech of the calculations which led to a charge of lc a pound being considered the right amount to pay for export meat inspection. My friend and colleague, the honourable member for New England, has produced convincing evidence that the amount raised could be considerably in excess of requirements. If the Government was confident that it was the correct amount it should have told us how it calculated that figure. It has not told us how it calculated it. It has not told us, which means either it expects to raise more than it needs, or it just does not know. Because of the Government's record of ineptitude and incompetence, I will give it the benefit of the doubt and say that the latter is more likely. But that does not make it any less inexcusable.

The legislation is a mess. It is imprecise; it does not conform with the Treasurer's Budget Speech or the second reading speech of the Minister for Immigration. It fails to make proper provision to ensure that the revenue it raises is spent according to the second reading speech. It even fails to produce any evidence or indeed to give any indication that the amount of revenue it will raise is appropriate to the purpose of the legislation. The amendments which will be moved in due course by the honourable member for New England will, we believe, correct some of the deficiencies of the Bill. It is a sad reflection on the Government that it has to rely on the Opposition to make its legislation conform to the Budget's objectives and the Minister's second reading speech, and to include proper safeguards to ensure that the revenue raised is used for the purpose expressly stated in the Bill. It is the Government's own fault if the implementation of this legislation is delayed, because all the trouble could have been avoided if the Government had made a proper job of drafting the Bill in the first place, instead of having to rely on the Opposition to pick up its deficiencies and to correct the mess for it. I suppose we should not be surprised that the Government has made a complete mess of this legislation. After all, it does not know anything about the subject. But it is unfortunate, to say the least, that meat exporters have been caused so much confusion and uncertainty as a result of the legislation. My telephone has been running hot today with inquiries from meat exporting companies trying to find out what this all means, asking whether the levy was lc a pound or 1.6c a pound and what is the basis on which this levy has been raised.

Mr Whittorn - The Government could not care less.

Mr STREET - As the honourable member for Balaclava so wisely interjects, the Government could not care less. The legislation has implications for future proposals affecting the meat industry. We have all heard of other measures which the Government is considering, such as a very heavy export tax or some form of export quotas. If this legislation is any guide, any further Government interference in the industry will be equally ill considered. The only long term solution to excessively high meat prices - and I should like to point out that present Australian prices, after many years of ridiculously, unrealistically low prices, are still well below those applying overseas - is to produce more meat. Confidence is an essential requirement for increasing production. Confusion inhibits and restricts increased production. Here is a classic example of confusion and badly drafted legislation. I trust - but I confess with not much expectation that I will be proved right - that, by the lessons the Government should have learned from the errors contained in this legislation its future efforts will be better prepared and show more understanding of the subject.

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