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Tuesday, 18 September 1973
Page: 1204

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I ask the honourable member to withdraw them.

Mr Duthie - It is a falsehood.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - I do not regard that as a withdrawal and I ask the honourable member to withdraw it unequivocally.

Mr Duthie - It is a withdrawal and I will not take it any further.

Mr Scholes - I raise a point of order. Is the honourable member for Wannon entitled to remain standing when another person is complying with your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker?

Mr Grassby - The Leader of the Australian Country Party has just come into the House so he should keep quiet.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER -The terrier from Riverina has woken up at last. No man has betrayed his electors more.

Mr Grassby - From the Brutus of Australian politics that is a compliment and I would like it recorded.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -I ask the honourable member for Riverina to resume his seat. I ask the honourable member for Wannon to be seated. The honourable member for Wilmot will assist proceedings by withdrawing his remark.

Mr Duthie - I withdraw and say that it is a falsehood.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - In case one doubts that this House was misled let me read the words again. The Minister for Immigration said:

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 all, nothing else. We would be happy to provide funds for that purpose. We are not arguing about that aspect, but outside the House the Prime Minister, who no doubt could assist this debate if he were prepared to come into the House and say what his Government intends instead of announcing it outside, has said:

In addition, in order to recoup the costs of the Government's contribution to the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign--

That is quite a different matter and not related to the meat inspection services at all -

Cabinet has agreed that the proposed export charge on beef and veal be increased from lc per lb to 1.6c per lb.

He either did not tell the honourable member for Riverina or the honourable member for Riverina misled this House or did not know what he was doing. The House can make up its own mind on this, but it needs to understand that on the basis that the Government has stated and which it has set down to collect money for meat inspection services it needs $55m at the most. From the tax, which is established in this Bill, it will be collecting almost $70m - a profit of $15m. With a tax of lc per lb the Government would gain a profit of $15m. However if the tax is 1.6c per lb on beef and veal, as established by this legislation, which the Opposition will not permit in this House or in the Senate, the funds collected will be $85m, which will result in a cool profit of almost $31m. For what purpose will that be used? It has been suggested that it will be used for brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaigns, but the cost of those campaigns is borne largely by the States and at the most $6m to $7m would be required from the Commonwealth. In these circumstances this Parliament is owed an explanation.

The Prime Minister has made one too many speeches outside the Parliament and has allowed the Minister for Immigration to mislead the House or unwittingly show that he does not know what the situation is all about. If this is allowed to continue, the Government will soon move into a period of decay. It is worth noting that for a long while the primary producers of Australia have provided this country with cheap food. For more than 10 years food prices in Australian shops have stayed much below the general level of increase in average earnings. We have had a situation in which there have been forced sales as a result of drought and low prices and in which sheep numbers have fallen by more than 40 million in 3 to 4 years. In these circumstances, when farmers debts have increased to $2,000m or more, farmers need better prices to be able to pay off some of that debt, as a substitute, if you like, for the $500m at 3 per cent which the honourable member for Riverina wished to provide but whose Government would not allow him to provide. Higher prices and better returns are needed so that the farming community can get out of the debt which low prices and drought have forced it into and so that farmers can also pay the iniquitous 9 to 10 per cent interest rates which are being imposed by the present Government.

If the Government does not interfere with this great industry we may see the present beef herds rising from 28 million or 29 million to 40 million by 1976 or 1977 and probably to 50 million by 1980. Markets are available overseas if there is the inducement in Australia to expand. This country will be better off and more secure. Areas now undeveloped will be opened up if this is allowed to occur. It would be one of the best decentralising forces possible. In these circumstances we hope that the Government will be sensible in relation to the meat industry.

One other matter bears some relevance to this Bill. We should demand that the Minister for Immigration give a categorical guarantee that there will not be amending legislation within a week to increase this tax, as some Government supporters want, to a punitive level of 12c per lb which is basically, as I understand it, the kind of tax recommended by Government members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Prices - a tax that would bring in something like $160m to $170m a year additional revenue to the Government and which, at the same time, they would hope would force down the price of meat and keep it off the export market. We need a guarantee from the Minister that that kind of tax will not be introduced. As a personal view, I do not believe that this legislation should be proceeded with until we have that guarantee.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti - I call the Minister for Immigration representing the Minister for Primary Industry. He will close the debate.

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