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Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Page: 103

Mr KATTER (4:15 PM) —An excellent contribution from the member for Page and my colleague from New England previously. I am quite intrigued by this Mr Cullen from the Wentworth Group. For the statements of an imbecile, the comments made by him would take a lot of beating. In actual fact, the salinity levels on the middle Murray and the lower Murray for that matter are the lowest they have ever been in recorded history and this fellow is getting up and saying the Murray is dying. I have been to Murray Bridge and it is water from bank to bank. I had heard of the likes of this fellow, who calls himself the Wentworth Group—the Wentworths would turn in their graves if they heard the rubbish coming out under their name—trying to ingratiate himself with the famous people of Australia. One of his other many comments and gratuitous wisdom is this: unfortunately, in Australia we have very thin soils so we cannot have agriculture because it will curl up and blow away.

We are the second biggest area in Australia; in fact, Queensland is bigger than Victoria and New South Wales put together. We have two land forms: one is mountains—we have a lot of mountains in Queensland; and we have the great inland plain, which I have represented all my life in various parliaments. These thin soils that he is referring to which cover half of Queensland are 1,500 feet deep. Australia folded and the great inland lake covered it for 30 or 40 million years—maybe someone can take this fact to this lightweight and tell him about it—and there is 1,500 feet of mudstone. Mudstone is black soil. He makes references to thin soils—I do not know what country he comes from but I know which one I would be sending him to.

Let me move on—we are talking about government policy. On my station property, which was 250,000 acres, I estimated that we may suffer a loss in price of 20 per cent. I allocated that in the budget and for interest rates—we borrowed at 6½ per cent—a doubling to 13 per cent. I have never seen 13 per cent interest rates in my life but I was being very conservative. We had two bad years of drought, so I put in a lot of fences and we got a lot of cattle on agistment. I was sitting there comfortably counting my shekels and seeing how rich I was. In 1985, I had no mortgage. It took me an hour to convince the bank manager. He had never met a farmer without a mortgage before, but I was the virgin in the brothel so to speak—I have always been an innocent little fellow at the best of times, I suppose.

Cattle prices did not go down 20 per cent; they went down 30 per cent. Interest rates did not go from 6½ per cent to 13 per cent; they went to 18 per cent for everybody except for us gulf country cattlemen. We were an at-risk group, so we got an extra 2½ per cent lobbed on top of us. Because I was battling against 21 per cent interest rates, I spent a fair bit of money on fencing and waters and I then got hit with another 2½ per cent because I was at risk. With bank charges, I went up to 29 per cent.

The member for Page in his very intelligent contribution and the member for New England have said: do not impose upon us in times of trial the extra 10 per cent interest rate burden that is dumped on top of us by the banks. That is why every intelligent person and great intellect who walked through this place—and I do not hesitate to mention King O’Malley, Ted Theodore, John McEwen, Ben Chifley and Doug Anthony; all these great men—had a development bank to carry the farmers through this period of trial. Quite frankly, over the longer term when John McEwen left this place, he said: ‘Every one of our rural industries was under a stabilisation scheme. Farmers in Australia may not be rich and may not be wealthy but they have a decent living and the security of a decent living. It was with great pride that I left this place and left the farmers of Australia in that state.’

All the stabilisation schemes have been removed, which means that the farmers of Australia have to ride the cycle. Because of the subsidy levels of other countries, the cycle has got lower and lower. The cycle is still there but it is a much lower cycle than it was in the days of John McEwen because of the massive subsidies that are coming in.

We can ask: why has government policy failed us so miserably? Government policy has failed us: 50 per cent of our sheep have gone; 26 per cent of our cattle have gone; 10 per cent of our sugar has gone; 10 per cent of our dairying has gone; 20 per cent of our butter and cheese production has gone. This is as a result of government policy. No droughts, no natural disasters, no calamitous collapse in world market prices have taken place in the last 20 years.

This situation has been created by this place. Let me be very specific and very quick in saying that, when wool was regulated in this place and the statutory marketing scheme came in, the price of wool ascended 300 per cent over the next six or seven years. When Mr Keating removed it, within three years the price had dropped clean in half. Half of our wool herd is gone and it will never come back again. It was the nation’s greatest asset. In 1990, it was 10 per cent of our entire income.

In dairying we know the story. There is not a person in this place who does not know the story. After deregulation, within five years we had lost 30 per cent of our income and the price of milk in the stores had gone up 42 per cent. Why is this? Why have the government’s actions been so misguided? I will give you one of the reasons: the NFF, who are a bunch of traitors to the farmers of Australia. Mr Corish is a man that actually wants to get elected to parliament. I will tell you what is going to happen to him if he puts himself on the parapet. I am quite sure that the member for New England and the member for Calare—and I will most certainly be going down to help—will see how far he gets. I will tell you where he will be going, all right—it will be into the water hole that has no water in it. That is what we will do to him. Mr Corish recommended:

... the removal of interest rate subsidy support during the worst drought in living memory ...

He is also quoted as saying:

Many see it [the interest rate subsidy] as rewarding poor management, propping up farmers who fail to respond to changed conditions or take imprudent risks.

Mr Truss and Mr Anderson have said continuously—I was assailed with it when I was in their party—that we only need one in seven of the farmers that are out there. People waved it in my face in great rage and anger because the message was out there: ‘Six out of seven of you have got to go.’

They are going, all right. Mr Kennett recently said in the Victorian papers that every four days a farmer in Victoria commits suicide. In the sugar industry, we have one a month. In the wool industry after deregulation we scored one every two months in western Queensland. They are going, all right. The government and the NFF can take the responsibility for it. Mr McGauchie, as I said in an earlier speech, became head of the NFF and he sold out the farmers. He ratted on the farmers of Australia. He was then appointed to the Reserve Bank and then he ratted on the NFF. The NFF said, ‘We desperately need a lower dollar.’ He is out there advocating the exact opposite. He ratted on the NFF. Then the government, not seeing that this person had a consistent record as a rat, put him on Telstra. Surprise, surprise, he ratted yet again. (Time expired)