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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5487

Senator McGAURAN (3:23 PM) —We have heard from Senator O'Brien, Senator Stephens and other speakers on this motion to take note of answers concerning the drought. All of us are only too well aware of the effects of drought on farm gate prices, on farmers and on the welfare of their families and of the cascading effects on small business throughout the rural sectors.

Senator Ludwig —How would you know about the drought?

Senator McGAURAN —I hear an interjection from Senator Ludwig, a Brisbane based senator, questioning how anyone would know about the drought.

Senator Ludwig —Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. My office is in Beenleigh, which is not in the Brisbane CBD; it is in fact in the country.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. Senator McGauran, worry about addressing your remarks to the chair and forget those other comments.

Senator McGAURAN —What a hopeless attempt to make himself look `country'! Let us put aside all this feigned sincerity for the rural sector that the Labor Party have. You fool no-one. You have not fooled the electors, because you hardly hold any seats out there. They know only too well your record when you were in government and you had your chance to respond to drought. I am talking about a drought that was sustained for some four years between 1990 and 1994. None of you over there, I notice, were in government at the time; none of you were in parliament at the time, so let me remind you. There was a farmhand appeal then. What did the Keating government give to the farmhand appeal then? Not a zack.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator McGAURAN —I have a good corporate memory. I am starting to get one; I am starting to feel as though I have been here quite some time. I will tell you what: the Channel 9 program Sunday did a special in support of the farmhand program and it was not until then, some four years after an incredibly dry season in this country, that the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, declared the exceptional circumstances of drought. Prior to that, Paul Keating refused to acknowledge that there was a drought in this country. He said:

I notice the National Party running around saying I should be standing in a paddock in some drought affected area.

Drought is around now in Australia all the time so we have said let's try and cover this as a normal recurrence of rural life.

That was the philosophy of that government towards the rural sector, and they duly suffered in 1996 for the words I have quoted from Paul Keating. Why shouldn't that be the philosophy that still holds across the opposition? It was set by the cabinet of the time and that information was given away by one of their greatest number-crunchers, a former senator of this parliament. Former Senator Richardson admitted quite coldly and calculatingly, which was part of his very nature, that the Labor Party cabinet of Hawke and Keating quite often dismissed the rural sector—in particular the farmers down at the farm gate—because they always knew that they could never get anything better than one per cent of the vote from it. If you doubt what I say, go to an old Laurie Oakes Bulletin article—Laurie Oakes quite often gets an intriguing leak—where he quotes a source that that was the feeling of the time, confirmed by former Senator Richardson. That is the Labor Party philosophy; that is what the rural sector recall of your attitude towards drought. How desperate can an opposition get! How desperate is such an opposition! You cannot even connect with your own workers in the seat of Cunningham. What foolish chance do you think you have with regard to the rural sector? You hold very few seats in the rural sector. Those in that sector know your performance when it comes to drought. Of course, as previous speakers have indicated to us and told us, this government is acting through farm management deposit schemes and through tax payments and relationships with the tax department.