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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 4358

Mr O'KEEFE (Paterson) - Tonight I want to speak about the change which has taken place in the export market of Australian meat, particularly in the last few weeks. The importance of the meat industry to Australia cannot be over-emphasised. Despite a huge drop in sheep and lamb production, Australia's total meat production, including pig meat, reached a record 2.3 million tons for the year ended June 1973, with a gross value at the works estimated to exceed $ 1,500m. Exports have yielded nearly $ 1,000m at the ship's side.

The total value of this industry at 30 June was $2,000m. Our export market at the moment is in jeopardy. Three revaluations have taken place, export incentives have been taken away and an export tax has recently been imposed by the Government on the export of beef overseas. These have all contributed to the price of our beef on world markets being too high. We are having problems in off-loading our meat, and this is very much the case in the American market. Buoyant conditions have prevailed in the export market to the United States of America, Japan and Canada.

As I have said, conditions have changed. The almost total lack of overseas interest for all kinds of meat is having a significant influence on our processing operations. Our great country meatworks and our seaboard meatworks right throughout Australia are experiencing a slow down in the operation of their export meats and this will have an effect right across Australia because the meat industry is one of the most decentralised industries that we have in this country. It employs thousands of people. It is in jeopardy because the present Government has declared war on the meat industry. I have mentioned the revaluations, the export incentives and the recent tax. I am pleased to see the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) in the chamber. He knows only too well that the Charles David Pty Ltd works at Gosford in his electorate are experiencing problems at the present time. I believe the management of the works was here today. Possibly it will have to put people off. We are going to have unemployment in this industry. Unfortunately, there are no indications of any relief in sight at this point of time.

Major overseasoutlets, particularly the United States of America, are experiencing an over-supply of beef at prices below Australian prices, and are reported to be exporting large quantities of chilled beef to Japan. This export of American chilled beef to the Japanese market is causing a double blow to Australian exports. The position is further aggravated by the export meat tax introduced on 26 November, currency problems related to the devaluation of the yen relative to the United States dollar and the relativity of both currencies to the Australian dollar. Reduced operations in both kill and processing reflect upon by-products. It is in this area that abattoir profitability will be most severely felt.

All these works that operate in Australia rely for their profitability on prices and the quality of meat meal which they manufacture at the works. The reduction in this export trade will have a serious effect on the quantity of meat meal produced and therefore on the profitability of the abattoirs themselves. Tallow production is down and, as I have mentioned, meat meal production has dropped back. This is a serious situation. It has developed only in the past few weeks. The outlook is extremely black.

The 'Meat Producer and Exporter', which is a journal published by those in the meat trade - I can claim to be in that trade because I am the chairman of one of the largest country works - had this to say:

Although the export meat tonnage of Australia to the US has risen over the past 5 years by 78,000 tons to 319,000 tons, the proportion of the US share of Australian meat exports has fallen from 60 per cent to 39 per cent over the same period.

The Board's North American Representative, Mr Graeme Goodsir, made this statement in an address to the annual meeting of the Meat Importers Council of America in Chicago.

The meeting was held in conjunction with the American Meat Institute convention.

Future supplies of Australian meat for the US will be largely a question of buying competition from other countries. Our meat exports, being demandorientated, will get pulled through the pipeline, not pushed,' he said.

So we have serious problems with our export meat trade. I warn the Government that it should not try to tax this wonderful industry that has been built up over many years by cattle producers, by expertise and by those engaged in the export of meat in this country.

I notice that the Government is setting up a committee to investigate the difference in price between meat at the saleyard and the meat that goes through the butchers' shops in our towns and metropolitan cities. I do not think the Government should worry very much about that. It might take care of itself when the price of beef is reduced considerably in the near future in this country. Supply and demand will take care of the situation entirely. So I do not think that the Government needs to worry about this.

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