Mr MARTIN: My question without notice is to the Minister for Agriculture. What is the latest information on the practice of lamb branding and other matters?
Mr Hartcher: Point of order: Standing Order 135 states that a Minister may be asked a question which relates to public affairs. A Minister may not be asked a question which relates to other matters of a general nature, which could cover anything, such as what he ate for breakfast. Questions must relate to the public affairs of New South Wales. That pertinent point is set out in Standing Order 135 (1).
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I draw the attention of the honourable member for Gosford to Standing Order 135 (2). No point of order is involved.
Mr Armstrong: Point of order: Whilst I hear your ruling, if it is accepted as a precedent, future questions will be asked by Government members to their Ministers only to get them on their feet. A whole new process will be established. I believe that you are setting a precedent that this House cannot live with.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved. The honourable member for Lachlan will resume his seat.
Mr AMERY: I thank the Country Labor member for Bathurst for this important question about lamb branding. Lamb branding is a rural issue. I will not talk about the point raised by the Minister for Police that Opposition members are against DNA, therefore they will be against lamb branding. I will not be that broad.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Wakehurst to order for the second time.
Mr AMERY: The interest of the honourable member for Bathurst on this particular matter has been consistent.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the Leader of the National Party to order.
Mr AMERY: Mr Speaker, give the Leader of the National Party a go. I do not mean to interfere, but he is doing it tough these days. When I was looking on the Internet the other day I found a speech he gave at the State leaders' conference called "Drawing the Battle Lines". There is no mention of lamb branding in it, none at all. He said on the very first page:
Yet he asks questions about illegal parking outside Start City casino. His speech also proves that the National Party is not scared of Country Labor. National Party members hold Country Labor members in contempt. They are not worried. Yet in 11 pages Country Labor is mentioned 11 times. They are not worried about them at all!
We must never waver from our core commitment to the future welfare of agriculture.
Mr Souris: That's right.
Mr AMERY: The Leader of the National Party interjects. He is a very good predictor of coming events. About a week before this week's poll he told the conference:
From 4 per cent to 3.5. What more can I say? The Leader of the National Party is becoming almost incompetent. This is consistent with his comment a couple of days before the last State election. He said:
The fact is the New South Wales Nationals have learned much from the 1999 election and as a result of that experience are gaining essential strength and support. Our strength will continue to increase.
Four days later he said:
The National party will hold all its seats and bring home a batch of new ones.
The only thing I could find about the core commitment to agriculture of the Leader of the National Party was in a book I found at the Ustashi book exchange called "The Complete Book of Souris-isms". The book states that on becoming Leader of the National party in January 1999 he said:
Ms Hodgkinson: Point of order: I am very keen to hear what the Minister has to say about lamb marking. I ask him to get on with his answer.
I fancy myself as a producer of spinach pies.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved
Mr AMERY: The book "The Complete Book of Souris-isms", which is available from my office, contains some very good comments. The honourable member for Bathurst can verify what the Government is doing about the lamb branding issue.
Mr O'Doherty: Branding or marking?
Mr AMERY: Branding.
Mr O'Doherty: There is no detail?
Mr AMERY: Fancy the honourable member for Hornsby asking about detail. To again refer to the book of Souris-isms, when the Leader of the National Party was asked to justify his statement "Heroin shooting galleries coming to a place near you", he said—
Ms Hodgkinson: Point of order: I am keen to find out what the Minister has to say about lamb branding.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Mr AMERY: When Mike Carlton, on radio station 2UE, asked the Leader of the National Party to respond to comments such as, "There is concern that a softer drug law will result in Sydney becoming another Amsterdam", what do honourable members reckon his response was? He said, "I never said I had any proof." The honourable member for Lachlan should not laugh because the Leader of the National Party said, "I've got a good fallback in Ian Armstrong." As some honourable members may know, lambs are identified at the point of slaughter. Lamb identification is dependent on the existence of milk teeth. Once incisor teeth appear the animal is classed as hogget. Lambs are usually less than 12 months old. Once they have been identified the carcasses are marked in the abattoir with a strip of permanent edible pink ink.
The brand, as it is called, stretches from the hind legs over the shoulder to the fore legs and includes the licence number of the abattoir involved. I am giving this bit of detail for the information of the National Party, which is supposed to have a core interest in agriculture. Branding is carried out on the authority of the New South Wales Meat Industry Authority. Once the brand is made it stays on the carcass right through the processing system, and it can still be identified at the retail end by consumers. This system guarantees the general age of the lamb and prevents the much older meats of hogget or mutton from being sold on the pretence of being lamb. The National Competition Policy review of the Meat Industry Act recommended in 1997 that this so-called lamb brand should cease. It argued that a core business of the Meat Industry Authority was food safety and not food quality.
Mr Collins: Was it the sequel to Silence of the Lambs?
Mr AMERY: That was a good interjection by the former Leader of the Opposition. He is making some very interesting comments this week. He is not on the new Coalition team. When the new team runs onto the field with the honourable member for Wakehurst there will be no doubt who will play dummy half, will there?
Mr Hazzard: Point of order: I appreciate that in a series of rulings it has been necessary for you to rule that this Minister is allowed to go on with irrelevancies, but Standing Order No. 67 makes it clear that if he persists in irrelevance, stupidity and mediocrity you can rule him out of order and sit him down.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister has almost concluded his answer.
Mr AMERY: The National Competition Policy review also recommended a phase-out of lamb branding from August 2000. However, over the past few months I have received deputations from a number of sheepmeat industry representatives. The New South Wales Farmers Association, the National Meat Association and the Sheepmeat Council of Australia have come to my office to discuss the issue. They sought my support to extend the practice of lamb branding beyond August. They asked for an extension long enough to cover them until they can develop a new lamb grading system, an Eating Quality System as it will be known. I have agreed to that extension because I believe it will be in the best interests of producers and consumers.
The relevant changes to the Meat Industry Act 1978 passed through this House yesterday as part of the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. Under changes, the lamb branding provisions will be extended until August 2003. By then a new and improved system should be up and running. Meat and Livestock Australia has already started research on an Eating Quality System for lamb, and I am told it should be ready for a pilot trial some time next year. I am further advised that the new system could be fully operational by mid-2003. The industry is worth $175 million and involves 15,000 lamb producers and 56,000 jobs. The question from the honourable member for Bathurst was relevant and shows a continual commitment by Country Labor to our agricultural industries.