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Tuesday, 16 February 1999
Page: 2833

Mr NAIRN —My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Can the minister inform the House how the government is improving the financial certainty of farmers in my electorate of Eden-Monaro?

Mr VAILE (Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the honourable member for Eden-Monaro for his question. We all recognise that the honourable member is a hard worker on behalf of the rural constituency of Eden-Monaro. We also recognise that the Carr Labor government are having a meeting there today trying to pay a bit of lip service to the rural community in Eden-Monaro after they have basically closed down the forestry industry in New South Wales.

The question the member has asked is a very important one because the farm sector knows very well the benefits that have already flowed from the sound economic management of the first Howard-Fischer government. A lot of difficult decisions were made in that first term of our government which resulted in a much better fiscal position and outlook, particularly with regard to the budget surplus that has been put together. The best part about it was that it produced six consecutive interest rate cuts resulting in the lowest interest rates in nearly 30 years. What that means to the farm sector is $550 million worth of savings on interest per annum. From the good economic management of this government, the farm sector is saving $550 million every year. That is $550 million that can be put into retiring debt, reinvested in new infrastructure on the farm property or used to alleviate other difficult circumstances that they have faced over the years. That is a direct result of the sound economic management of our government.

But to get to that point we had to fight the Labor Party every inch of the way. They opposed every single measure that we went to put in place to achieve those interest rate cuts. They blocked every single one. And that was on the back of their interest rate regime of the late 1980s and early 1990s that pushed interest rates way above 20 per cent and saw a lot of farm families having to leave the land because they could not cover the interest rates that the Labor Party drove to those high levels.

For the future we are proposing a tax reform package which the Labor Party are again opposing. We are putting forward a tax reform package that will see $880 million worth of benefit annually to the farm sector. And they are not just our figures—they are the figures of the NFF. They are the figures the NFF put out in a release when they made their submission, and I quote:

The NFF's submission accepts the Government's claim that the package would remove $880 million of costs . . .

Every year a further $880 million worth of savings to the farm sector on top of the $550 million that they are already benefiting from because of the interest rate cuts. But what are the Labor Party doing? They are opposing them. They opposed the changes to improve the economic management of Australia and they are opposing the tax reform package that will see these benefits go to rural Australia. The Labor Party are opposed to any benefits going to rural Australia. The Labor Party are opposed to industrial relations reform which will see a much better circumstance for rural Australia, particularly with regard to unfair dismissal.

People in rural Australia should not forget the fact that, over the last three or four years, at every opportunity the Labor Party have opposed what this government has been doing to improve the circumstances of people operating in rural Australia.