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Thursday, 20 September 1973
Page: 1345

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - One thing that ought to be stated at the outset is that the Joint Select Committee on Prices has tabled a report and that only the members of the Committee, with one or two possible exceptions I fear, have had access to the report. They are the privileged few who have had the opportunity of reading it. So it is quite fallacious to say that the Government has made any decision at all in respect of this matter. But such is the desperation of some honourable members opposite, who remind me of a cockies' choir singing a lament, that they are prepared to lash out at the Government in respect of this proposal. AH matters which have been raised today were discussed by the Committee and it would be as well to look at some of those. But the opposition to this Committee's report is another example of the philosophy of members of the Opposition as the advocates of price maximisation. Their philosophy seems to be, that as far as certain producers and manufacturers are concerned, they should be allowed to charge what they like, to get what they can and to ignore the interests of other sections of the community. Their attitude in this Parliament is one of narrow, selfish self-interest, and let the consumer be damned.

What the Committee says is that there should be justice and equity in this question. I believe that prices should be fixed on the basis of what is fair and equitable, not on the basis of what can be bludgeoned out of the consumer. We have heard an argument here today which makes the assumption that meat is a luxury to be taken or not taken as whim would demand. Apparently those on the Opposition side, particularly members of the Australian Country Party, think that meat should be for the consumption of the wealthy few and the rest of us can live on mince meat or some alternative. That view is unacceptable and it was unacceptable to the members of the Committee. We have not at any stage rejected the concept of a price stabilisation scheme or an incomes stabilisation scheme. Indeed as I sat here this afternoon and listened to the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) I thought that he had a very poor memory. The honourable member said that the Committee had nothing to say about what should occur if prices should crash. What would then happen to the poor producer? During the course of the Committee's deliberations I attempted to have an intelligent conversation with the honourable gentleman.

Mr Cohen - That would be hard.

Mr RIORDAN - It was rather difficult but I attempted to encourage him to put forward h scheme which would guarantee a minimum income for producers. I am one of those who have always advocated strongly minimum incomes for everyone in our community. But the honourable gentleman does not want that because he is being too greedy on behalf of the beef barons that he represents in this place, the big man, the absentee producer, the absentee farmer, the man in Pitt Street, the man who if his income from meat falls will have to put up the price of his medical consultation.

Mr Anthony - You are a greedy, miserable person.

Mr RIORDAN - The right honourable gentleman has the gall-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The House will come to order. I have issued my last warning today. I will take action if interjections do not cease irrespective of who may be involved.

Mr RIORDAN - In view of your warning, Mr Speaker, I will not answer that quite infantile interjection. The right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) claimed that meat prices had risen from a low base but no faster, in his view, than average weekly earnings. That statement, coming from a very senior responsible member of the Opposition, is indeed to be considered carefully. The right honourable member surely must know that he is putting forward the most circular argument that is possible. In other words, if prices are to move in accordance with increases in average weekly earnings and wages are to move in accordance with increased prices we will have a situation where escalation will be continuous and there will be simply no end to the process. That argument has come from people who criticise this Government over price inflation. Their hypocrisy is exposed clearly and beyond any room for argument. The simple fact is that under their philosophy, as we have seen in the past, the poor get poorer and those who have the capacity to own the means of production, whether it be in relation to primary or secondary industries, get fatter and richer at the expense of the poor.

The right honourable gentleman accused the members of the Committee who brought in the majority report of attempting to turn producers into a peasant class. If that has been put seriously, then we are about to create history because it will be the only time in the history of mankind that there has been a peasant class driving around in Cadillacs and Mercedes. The right honourable gentleman said that the industry does not fix its own prices, that the industry is subject to supplydemand fluctuations. That is all very well, except that the industry has a captive market. We have to eat. There is no way out of that. To suggest that the producer is in some unfavourable position is sheer nonsense. The right honourable gentleman attempted to ridicule and to rubbish the report of this Committee. He conveniently neglected to mention that the Government of Canada was forced to take action by placing an embargo on the amount of meat which that country exported last year and it refused to allow any additional exports for the current year. The Opposition ignores the decision of New Zealand to put a complete ban on the export of mutton. What has been the New Zealand experience? Have we seen any mass exodus from the farming community? Have producers been forced into the peasant class? Have they gone bankrupt or gone broke? Of course they have not. What the right honourable gentleman and honourable members opposite have been saying is sheer and utter nonsense..

When the United States Government was confronted with a similar situation it was forced to impose price control, to freeze prices, a step which honourable members opposite only in the last couple of days were advocating in this House. So today we see the hypocrisy of their argument completely exposed. Two days ago they were saying we should freeze all prices. Today they say: 'Do not touch the price of meat because you will cause a disaster'. What utter humbug we have to listen to. That is something that was put forward on the basis of sincerity. It is completely wrong to suggest that this Committee has made an attack on the producer of beef. During the whole of the deliberations of this Committee we were constantly kept informed and during the evidence we were constantly prodded by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) who was very keen indeed that the Committee should be completely, concerned to ensure that the primary producer did not suffer the fate which is being predicted by the prophets of doom who sit opposite.

Let us face this fact, and honourable members opposite have ignored it: There has been a major escalation in the price of meat. Do honourable members opposite seriously say that if prices went back to the level they were in December last or in June of last year the producer would be subject to a life of misery and privation, that he would be placed in the peasant class? Of course they do not say that. Because Of world demand there has been quite an enormous increase in the income of certain producers and the consumer has had to pay for that increase. The undeniable fact is that this has placed an enormous strain on some consumers. It has placed a strain on all consumers but the strain on many of them is unbearable. In this land of plenty, in this land which can produce more food than we need, in this land which can supply other nations with their food supplies, we are currently faced with the position where some people cannot eat meat and some have to buy the cheapest cuts whether they eat meat once or twice a week. These are facts which the honourable member for Gippsland was good enough to acknowledge and I give him credit for acknowledging that some people cannot eat meat. But the honourable member said: Let the rest of the community look after them; fix it up with social welfare payments or let them go without; do not worry about them. Do not affect my rich friends; do not affect the people who put me in here to echo their selfish interests. Let the consumer pay. Let the producer, if he wants to, hold the gun at the head.

The right honourable member for Higgins has said that the answer to the problem is to produce more meat. That is a marvellous suggestion. I remind him that the Committee considered that there were 2 problems associated with this suggestion, unless some of the producer geniuses on the other side of the House have the answer. To the best of my knowledge, gained from evidence given to the Committee, it takes 2 years to rear a calf, slaughter it and put it on the market. How we can get animals for the market next week I will leave it to honourable gentlemen opposite to explain. The other thing wrong with the right honourable member's answer is that evidence given to the Committee indicates that whatever production increase occurs in Australia it will be more than met by the rate of increase in overseas demand. What the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) has said to this House is the absolute truth, namely, that a diversion of some meat on to the Australian market will mean that local prices will fall and the price to overseas consumers will increase. About 70 per cent of all - (Quorum formed) Mr Speaker, I can understand the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) drawing attention to the state of the House, because I thought that members opposite might want this point debated.

It cannot be ignored or disputed that this scheme, if adopted, will mean that meat will be redirected from the export market and an influx to the domestic market. This will result in lower prices for the Australian consumer. It will also mean higher incomes for the producers. In other words, the drop in domestic prices will be offset by the increased income which will come from overseas consumers. The proposal is that at least a great part of this tax will be refunded to the producer on the basis that it will go evenly to all producers. Even this proposal has been attacked by members opposite. The right honourable member for Higgins claims that this would be inequitable. By that suggestion he shows his ignorance of the proposal. It was argued by the honourable member for Gippsland that to promote a product when it is in short supply and the price is high is illogical and wrong. By applying his logic, one would gather that the honourable member for Gippsland is advocating that the $27m being paid in wool subsidies should be immediately withdrawn. I am sure that the country Press, of whom he is the darling, will no doubt be interested to print that tomorrow morning, because if the honourable member argues that one cannot subsidise and promote-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Debate (on motion by Mr Daly) adjourned.

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