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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 837

Senator BELL (6.02 p.m.) —After listening yesterday to the remarks of Senator Panizza the conclusion could be reached—which is reflective of his long experience and good judgment in these areas—that a freight subsidy might be more appropriate than what was proposed in the original motion and the motion as amended which was moved by Senator Crane. During the latter part of 1991 and into 1992 I was a member of the Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs, along with Senator Crane, Senator Burns who was the chair, Senator Brownhill, and others—

Senator West —Thank you.

Senator BELL —Yes, and Senator West. At that time the committee heard good and sound reasons why a transport subsidy could be useful to facilitate the relocation of stock from drought affected areas to areas where fodder was more readily available. We heard those good and sound reasons which described such a proposition as not necessarily being agistment, in the simplest terms, but rather temporary relocation and transport assistance as an emergency measure to save our national genetic base in livestock.

  As members of that committee we also saw examples of profiteers who relied upon the continued existence of drought somewhere in Australia to allow them to make a lifelong career out of growing fodder for subsidised sale as drought relief. At Casino in New South Wales lucerne was being grown in a prime area, where property values and productivity were high, to send in a subsidised fashion to anywhere there was drought. In other words, starving stock stayed on the drought affected areas in a fragile, survival mode, tenuously clinging to life and desperately awaiting the arrival of quality food. That fodder came from land devoted specifically to meeting that need.

  I ask the Senate: does that sound efficient? Of course not. We could not possibly increase our international competitiveness by following that sort of nonsense. The reason I raised this case is to illustrate that the application of transport and fodder subsidies can create difficulties and anomalies which may advantage some and disadvantage others.

  The chairman, other members of the committee and I had the unpleasant task some two years ago of listening to people in rural Australia describe their situations while they had tears in their eyes and their throats were choked with emotion. I listened today to Senator Burns, the chairman of the committee, when he said that the government will never be able to introduce a scheme which will make everybody happy.

  I do not think that is what is being asked for at this time. No matter what the words of Senator Crane's motion are, I do not think his intention is to necessarily make everybody happy. I think his intention is to provoke the government to do a little more than is being done at the moment. I understand that intention. If I have ascribed the wrong intention to Senator Crane, I apologise. I do not think Senator Crane intended to make everybody happy; I think he wanted to get a few people a little relief, and quickly.

  After lengthy discussions, Senator Crane and I have negotiated a revised motion, and the Democrats will be happy to support part (b) of this motion. We do not support part (a) of the original motion because, quite simply, it is a summary of the coalition's world view. It is essentially opinion and it is not easy to demonstrate that those factors alone caused or exaggerated the drought.

  As Senator Coulter and Senator Margetts have suggested several times in recent days, there is a good deal of international complexity in the question of climatic change, whether we are talking about the El Nino effect or the greenhouse effect. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the greenhouse effect is less likely to produce a gradual world warming which might be seen as benign and perhaps even advantageous in some areas.

  I remember the first time the greenhouse concept was raised. There were some people in Tasmania, Senator Murphy, who were expecting to be able to grow bananas in their backyards and they were looking forward to the day when they could. We are now learning that that is not anywhere near as benign. In fact, it is more likely that we will see increasingly frequent unseasonal extremes, such as storms in times when we have not been used to storms and different frequencies of floods and seasonal adjustments, whether they be droughts or changed tornado routes on some continents.

  The situation is more complicated than the picture painted by part (a) of the motion, which mentions a few government decisions and seeks to ascribe responsibility for the situation to those decisions. While I agree that the income equalisation deposit scheme, which ran from 1976 to 1984, may provide a different financial regime which is much more desirable when planning for drought, after hearing the evidence at the rural and regional affairs committee inquiry which I mentioned before, I want to see the benefits of such a regime.

  The revised motion that Senator Crane moved should allow the introduction of effective assistance which may or may not be something like the original IEDs. Senator Crane knows and would agree that that scheme has no capacity whatsoever to introduce immediate relief in a form that would be desirable. That is something we can consider, but I see no reason to support it in the form in which it is presented in part (a) of the motion.

  I turn now to part (b). I listened to what Senator Troeth had to say and I understand the passion with which that situation was described, but the concern the Democrats have expressed continually in this place is the differential in the price of fuel in rural areas. From a Tasmanian perspective, when I come to Canberra and hear the constant whingeing and whining about petrol prices here, it seems just a little ridiculous because for some years motor fuel has been cheaper here than it has been in Tasmania—a result entirely of the free market forces which are allowed to play and seem to be so much admired by both the coalition and the government. I will not mention the third part. I see less reason to concentrate on that. The revised part (b), which Senator Crane has introduced, will gain Democrat support, but I now move:

  Paragraph (a), omit the paragraph.