Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 19 September 1973
Page: 1247

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - By leave - I move:

After clause 4 insert the following new clauses: 4a. (1) An account is hereby established to be known as the Meat Export Charge Trust Account.

(2)   The Meat Export Charge Trust Account is a Trust Account for the purposes of section 62a of the Audit Act 1901-1969. 4b. There shall be paid into the Meat Export Charge Trust Account -

(a)   all amounts being charges levied on meats exported from Australia; and

(b)   all penalties levied under section 7 of this Act. 4c. (1) Moneys standing to the credit of the Meat

Export Charge Trust Account may be expended with the approval of the Minister in payment of export meat inspection costs.

(2)   The amounts to be fixed from time to time for the purposes of sections 6 and 7 of the Charge Act shall be determined after consideration of the moneys then standing to the credit of the Meat Export Charge Trust Account. 4d. (1) The Minister shall, as soon as practicable after 30 June 1974, and after each succeeding 30 June, cause a report to be prepared on the operation of this Act and be laid before each House of the Parliament.

(2)   For the purposes of sub-section (1), the period that commences on the commencement of this Act and ends on 30 June 1974, shall be deemed to be a year.

In the explanation which the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) has just given lies the cause of my fundamental concern. If it is possible for legislation which has been introduced, according to the Minister's second reading speech, to cover meat inspection charges and the funds raised are to be used not only for meat inspection charges but also for brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaigns, it is equally possible that these funds can be used for any other purpose. It is equally possible that the funds can be diverted as a penal tax on exporters. It is quite possible that those moneys can be just paid into Consolidated Revenue and perhaps at the end of the year we might get some check through the estimates of the Department of Primary Industry.

That is not good enough. It is for that reason that we have specifically moved this amendment for a trust account to be constituted into which all sums received by way of levies shall be paid. If a payment is required for meat inspection services that cost can be covered by withdrawals from that fund. During the course of the debate at the second reading and Committee stages I have made a great deal of the fact that the Minister had not yet given us the undertaking that the Treasurer said would be given in the Budget Speech, relating to brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication. I am completely in favour of an accelerated campaign for the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis.

I belive that it is one of the critical problems affecting the whole of the meat exporting industry. To suggest in any way that we on this side of the House are opposed to that is arrant nonsense. But we believe that a parliament and a government must act in a responsible way. We would be acting in an irresponsible way as a Parliament if we gave carte blanche to the Minister on an undertaking given by him that all funds would be spent in accordance with the second reading speech, or not in accordance with the second reading speech but on another worthwhile project, the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis. We have no complaint about the levying of a charge. We believe that it is unfortunate. I pointed out that this industry was being identified separately from all other export industries and being required to pay for inspection services given to it. This applies only to this industry. I suggested that this was unfortunate and a penalty that the industry does not deserve, but we do not deny the right of the Government to apply the levy. Indeed, as meat inspection charges increase it is not an unreasonable requirement that the industry should contribute, particularly at a time when returns for meat sold abroad are so high. But we object to an extension of this legislation outside the bounds of the Minister's second reading speech.

It has been a practice in courts of law and elsewhere when there has been doubt about the validity of legislation or questioning of the interpretation of words included in legislation to refer to the Minister's second reading speech. What help would it be to turn to the Minister's second reading speech in this instance? We would see no word there of brucellosis or tuberculosis. Yet the Minister has told us that it is for that reason that the 0.6c supplement to the lc per lb levy on beef exports is applied. There was no satisfaction in the Minister's assurance just now that through the Estimates we will be able to identify just how and where the money is spent.

There has been some dispute on the question of arithmetic. Of course I am not in a position to identify exactly the figures from the Bureau of Agricultural Economics that I quoted to this House; but I assure the House that the figures I gave are based on the shipped weight and are taken from the Meat Board's statistics. The figures include both boned-out and boned-in meat. The discrepancy is so great that it seems incredible to me that the Department of Primary Industry or the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, whichever gave the Minister the figures that he included in his explanation last night, should produce figures that in no way relate to the BAE submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Prices inquiry into meat prices.

It is a recent submission. It was not presented months ago, but only in the last few weeks. There is no explanation in the figures cited to me of the difference between the boned-in and boned-out quantities. There is no explanation of the BAE projection that meat exports will rise by 25 per cent over the next 3 years. In other words the Minister is saying this afternoon that the figures he has given us are the right ones and presumably the ones that the BAE gave have something inherently inaccurate in them. If that is so, to my mind it almost gets at the fundamentals of whatever conclusions were reached by the subcommittee of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Prices which examined meat prices. If a conclusion was reached - I understand a report is to be tabled in the House tomorrow - and the figures given to the Committee are wrong and the Department which gave those figures is a department of this Government, I would regard that as most unfortunate; in fact I would suspect that it might go a lot further and be almost criminal negligence.

But I do not believe that that would happen with the Department of Primary Industry or the BAE. This afternoon I do not want to make much of the figures, but I want just to identify the fact that the figures I have cannot be reconciled with the figures of the Minister. I would be interested to have an explanation of those figures and perhaps the Department of Primary Industry will, through the Minister, write to me and give me an appropriate explanation.

As to the amendment, the proposed trust fund should be constituted under the complete discretion of the Minister. We at one stage thought that perhaps a committee should be set up for oversight of the funds, but we felt that the interests of meat producers would be sufficiently protected in the form of the amendment. We have 'provided that payments could be made at any time from the funds collected so that meat inspection charges could be met in a reasonable way as they are incurred. We have ensured that whatever funds stand to the credit of the trust account would be the basis upon which the levy of the industry could be judged year by year so that, at the end of the one-year period, if the levy of lc per lb proves too much, as I have suggested it will be, it could be reduced to, perhaps 0.7c per lb or some other figure.

For that reason, it seems to me that the amendment we have moved to create a trust account is an eminently reasonable way to protect the interests of producers. If the Minister's explanation is correct - that is, that the preamble of section 4 of the Meat Export Charge Act 1973 is sufficiently broad to enable the payment of funds collected for tuberculosis and brucellosis inspections under legislation that has been introduced specifically to cover the cost of meat inspection - it is essential that this form of protection for the funds of meat producers be introduced. For that reason, the Opposition intends to proceed with this amendment to ensure that the Government complies only with that statement that it made and does not extend this legislation into some form of a penal tax.

Suggest corrections