Bert Kelly, The Bulletin, March 17, 1981, p. 121.
About two years ago I was appointed chairman of a committee to advise State and Federal governments how to clean up the meat inspection mess. Our report was signed early in 1980 and because nothing seems to be happening I think I should drag the subject out into the open so that everyone can have a good look at it and see what a ripe old mess we have made of it.
In South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, meat inspection in export abattoirs is done by the Bureau of Animal Health (BAH) which is an instrument of the Commonwealth. In the other States, inspection in export abattoirs is done under a tandem system, with both State and BAH inspectors working together.
Both groups inspect to the same standard whether the meat is for export or consumed locally. They do not now inspect one another’s work as they once did, but with two separate services working in parallel there inevitably is a good deal of wasteful administration. For instance, it is necessary to have two amenity rooms, one for each service.
However, far worse than these petty problems is the effect of the bad feeling that haunts the industry, both at the works, and even more so, at the capital city level.
Let me give an example. In an export works, one group of inspectors went on strike on a Friday, but the other group went on working. All of Friday’s kill was put into a chiller room. On Monday the first group returned to work and were naturally unhappy that their colleagues had continued working while they themselves were on strike, so they went into the chiller room and inspected the carcasses with magnifying glasses. They succeeded in finding a hair one one carcass, a spot of dirt on the next until they were able to reject every carcass in the room. They only made one fundamental mistake, they were in the wrong chiller room and they rejected all the meat that they themselves had passed on Thursday!
That the meat inspection system was in a mess was made very clear when the committee asked for submissions from all sectors of the industry in the first half of 1979. When these poured in, there was seen to be only one real problem and that was having two inspection services working together on the same chain. Unfortunately there was not the same unanimity about the solution to the problem.
Then in July, 1979, the Commonwealth really put the cat among the pigeons by imposing a levy on all animals killed in an export works. Until then, the three eastern States and Western Australia had been imposing a levy on all carcasses inspected by State inspectors, with the levy pitched high enough to roughly cover the costs of State meat inspection.
But the Commonwealth had been doing its meat inspection for nothing except a charge for overtime. So when the Commonwealth imposed a levy designed to cover half of the cash costs of BAH meat inspection, the manure really hit the fan.
I have been told that the Commonwealth’s decision to impose this levy at this time was taken to encourage the industry to really bite on the bullet of change.
If this was indeed so, it reminds me of the story of the young teacher who set his class to write an essay about teachers. Everyone did their best except a young delinquent who passed in a very short essay saying “Teachers is bastards!” The teacher as greatly hurt and for the next two weeks fairly force-fed the kid with ice cream and kindness and then asked him to write another essay on the same subject. This time the answer was slightly linger, it was “Teachers is cunning bastards!”
Now I am in no position to know if the Commonwealth were behaving like cunning bastards, but certainly a problem that appeared serious before, suddenly was seen to be intolerable.
The present situation has arisen because of the determination of civil servants to defend their own empires and it will remain until some heads are knocked together.
I had hoped that the meat producers would be able to break free from the State bonds that bind them and some have tried to do this in a tired kind of way. The trouble is that farmers only become really active when they become really poor.
The Treasuries of both the States and the Commonwealth might be able to bring some pressure to bear to alter a system that is clearly wasteful. The Commonwealth Treasury is subsidising BAH inspection costs at well above $26 million a year so you expect them to look at it with a jaundiced eye.
We may indeed by a lucky country, but surely we don’t need to be stupid as well.
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