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Tuesday, 23 March 1999
Page: 4022

Mr CAUSLEY —My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Minister, you would know that costs are critical to business and particularly farm businesses. Are you aware of any recent developments affecting the cost of hiring workers on farms in New South Wales like those in my electorate of Page?

Mr VAILE (Trade) —I thank the honourable member for Page for his question and acknowledge his interest in the competitive nature of our farm sector, particularly in New South Wales. A number of things have been happening recently that have a profound impact on the cost of hiring workers on farms in New South Wales. The first two relate to the refusal of the federal Labor Party to pass changes to our unfair dismissal laws in this place and also their refusal to support the youth wages bill in the other chamber in this place. They continue to oppose reforms in this place that will benefit the rural sector, particularly New South Wales.

On top of that, the New South Wales Labor government refuses to do anything about the workers compensation arrangements in New South Wales. This financial year in New South Wales, workers compensation premiums on average are 2.8 per cent but, for the rural sector, they are 10.36 per cent—a disproportionate disadvantage to rural New South Wales. If the Labor Party in New South Wales and the Labor Party in the federal parliament were genuine about generating opportunities for work in the rural sector, particularly in New South Wales, they would do something about these things.

If the New South Wales Labor government did something about the workers compensa tion arrangements in New South Wales, they would generate almost 6,000 new jobs in the rural sector in New South Wales. Just the same as if federal Labor stopped opposing every single measure that this government puts forward, we would generate a lot more jobs in rural New South Wales and rural Australia.

You have the situation where you have a government here that has taken the tough decisions with economic reform—doing away with Labor's $10 billion deficit, providing a surplus and getting interest rates to the lowest they have been for 30 years—which are providing great benefits to rural Australia. We want to reform the industrial relations regime in this country to provide greater opportunity for jobs for rural workers in New South Wales. The state Labor government is doing exactly the same thing as federal Labor in opposing every benefit that could flow to rural New South Wales and rural Australia.