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Thursday, 25 August 1983
Page: 259

Mr McVEIGH(10.14) —In the short time since this Government came to office it has created massive concern and confusion throughout our primary industries and the rural sector with its litany of bungling administration, broken election promises and discriminatory decisions. In less than six months we have seen this Government literally tear apart its document of so-called policies for agriculture. This is the document that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) claimed was the most comprehensive package of primary industry policies ever presented by a political party in this country. What utter rubbish! If it was such a brilliant package, why has so much of it been abandoned so quickly? The entire document has been degenerated by its authors into nothing more than a comic tragedy. The major sufferers are the nation's farmers. Like so many of the Australian Labor Party's other election documents, this paper has been proved to contain nothing more than empty rhetoric. No wonder the National Farmers Federation, in its pre-Budget submission in early July, stated that the Government's negative decisions have:

. . . reached the point where there is now grave disquiet within the rural community that the Government, notwithstanding the Prime Minister's pledges to the contrary, will adopt an anti-rural posture and take actions to disadvantage the farm sector further.

The NFF gave the Government a very clear warning in that pre-Budget document. It said that the rural sector had been forced to bear a disproportionate share of the burden of economic restraint in the May mini-Budget; that there must, therefore, be no further rural cuts in the August Budget; and that there now existed clear apprehension within the rural community because of the Government' s actions. In other words, the NFF was saying that if the Government wanted to retain any credibility whatsoever in the rural sector, it must give a positive demonstration of its stated commitment to the sector in the August Budget. The Government either failed to recognise the warning or, more likely, took no notice of it. The end result is that it has blown its opportunity. Its credibility in the bush is simply shot to pieces.

The Government has often claimed that its policies and decisions are made after consultation with relevant industries. That has increasingly proven not to be the case. It was certainly not the case in respect of last Tuesday's Budget decisions. There were no pre-Budget consultations with industry or community and welfare organisations. Worse still, the much vaunted Economic Planning Advisory Council, the body that grew out of the so-called consensus of the National Economic Summit Conference specially to advise the Government on economic policy , had absolutely no input into the preparation of this Budget. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said so. After the Council's first meeting on 25 July he stated:

The preparation of the 1983-84 Budget is nearing completion and therefore non- Federal Government members of EPAC have had no involvement in, or responsibility whatsoever for, what will be in that Budget.

The evidence of the Budget overwhelmingly points to the fact that the National Farmers Federation wasted its time in preparing a pre-Budget submission for this Government. The document was totally ignored.

Let us look at the decisions affecting primary industry and the rural sector generally that were contained in both the May mini-Budget and last Tuesday's Budget. They must be considered together because when they are their full impact becomes abundantly clear. The mini-Budget gave a reduction in general depreciation allowances; removal of the tax incentive from income equalisation deposits, despite an election commitment to maintain IEDs; an increase of 2c a litre in excise on aviation fuel; abolition of the special depreciation allowance for petrol storage; abolition of the in-out opting provisons of the tax averaging scheme, despite an election commitment to maintain tax averaging; cancellation of the bicentennial water resources program; a decrease in the amount payable under the petroleum products freight subsidy scheme; increased interest payments charged on Telecom Australia and Australia Post borrowings, resulting in higher telephone and postal charges; suspension of parts of the aerodrome local ownership plan; termination of the home deposit assistance scheme and the housing interest income tax rebate scheme; and a reduction in expenditure on the development of the Alice Springs to Darwin railway line. On top of that--

Mr Fisher —There's nothing left!

Mr McVEIGH —There is more to come. Those measures were contained in the May mini -Budget. On top of that, Tuesday's Budget offered only $20m for wool promotion in 1983-84, instead of the Minister's promised $28m; and only $1m towards the national soil conservation program-the Minister is sympathetic to that program; I am glad he is not sympathetic to me-instead of the promised $4m in the first year. It offers an excise tax on fortified wine that will cost the industry around $15m and threatens massive regional economic problems, despite an unequivocal promise that there would be no sales tax or excise tax on wine. The Government has said today that it will do it anyway, as the right honourable member for Richmond (Mr Anthony) has said.

The Budget doubles the cost of export inspection charges for rural industries from $18m to $36m, at a time when industries can least afford them. It offers a 30 per cent increase in the excise on manufactured tobacco, a cutting back of the petroleum products freight subsidy scheme, removal of the tax concessions for clearing and cultivating new land and swamp drainage, removal of the sales tax exemption for oils and lubricants and an increase of 1.5c a litre in the excise on petrol and diesel fuel-and, to really rub salt into the wounds, it will index that excise. It does not increase the rebate for excise on diesel fuel for tractors and increases the excise on aviation fuel by 0.5c a litre on top of the 2c a litre hike in the mini-Budget. The Government is increasing funding for the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign by only $5.7m instead of implementing the promised accelerated package of $11m and is increasing petrol prices, when it promised to cut them by 3c a litre. It is a huge and miserable list of blatant discrimination against primary industry and the rural sector. No other industry sector has been penalised as specifically as the farm sector in these two budgetary exercises. The Government has tried to excuse itself--

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I do not wish to interrupt the honourable member, but he is getting very close to making a speech on the Budget. The Budget is listed for debate later. I ask him to try to observe that and not to concentrate on the Budget but on the terms of his matter of public importance.

Mr McVEIGH —The Government has tried to excuse itself for breaking specific promises on the grounds that the projected deficit for 1983-84 was larger than anticipated. That is a nonsense excuse. The truth is that Labor made recklessly expensive election promises, knowing full well that the nation could never afford them. Even so, the Government has brought down a Budget that punts for a deficit of $8.36 billion. That massive deficit puts the lie to the Government's stated concern about expenditure restraint. This Government is about imposing economic restraint selectively. It is the primary industry sector that has been singled out for the harshest treatment. This Government's Ministers sit around the Cabinet table-except for the Minister for Primary Industry, of course, who is not there; he is usually overseas-and any time they want to increase government revenue they turn to rural sector programs to see what can be creamed off. That is the real attitude of this Government to the welfare of our farming industries.

Furthermore, the Government has proved time and time again that it has no real understanding of or sensitivity about primary industry. We do not have to wait for Budgets or mini-Budgets to see the evidence of its ignorance. The Government 's decision in the fiasco over the Commonwealth fodder and interest subsidies for drought stricken farmers is one instance. That was a massive demonstration of bungling administration and decision making and of a total lack of understanding of what the drought was all about. In the election campaign Labor promised to maintain existing drought arrangements, to provide additional measures, to ensure that all types of farmers received equitable treatment and to extend drought aid after drought breaking rain. It has not honoured one of those promises.

Indeed, Senator Peter Walsh, as the Acting Minister for Primary Industry, told us that the fodder subsidy would be scrapped from 30 June and the interest subsidy from 31 September. In so doing he hurled abuse at farmers and farm organisations. He said that the NFF was a pressure group for mostly well off farmers, that the NFF was being outrageously greedy, and that the fodder subsidy was a hand-out for millionaires, when the average income of an Australian farmer was only just over $2,000. He is a great economist, isn't he! He said the subsidy policy was a bad policy from the beginning, when he and his own party supported it in the Parliament. He said that the drought in Australia is virtually all over. Indeed, we know that it is still serious in many parts today . Senator Walsh had the gall to say that there was no pledge by Labor to continue drought assistance. He did not even know his Party's policy. The Minister did not even give him a copy of it. He said that the concept of a green drought was a nonsense concept. How ignorant can one be?

Needless to say, Senator Walsh's totally unnecessary attack on farmers and farm organisations caused an uproar. The Minister must have cringed in shame when he read the Press clippings over breakfast, not in Australia but in Washington.

All the Prime Minister, who is supposed to have sympathy for us, could say was that remarks such as Senator Walsh's were not helpful. Time and again the records show that the Ministers of this Government, from the Prime Minister down , trail around the country throwing around promises like confetti, but cash like armless men. Farmers can no longer believe anything this Government says to them . The Prime Minister told the NFF Conference on 17 May:

The Government appreciates the very, very vital contribution that the rural community makes to our total national economy.

That sounds utterly ridiculous when compared with the comments of the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen). That gentleman, speaking in the position of Acting Prime Minister, told the New South Wales Labor Party Conference in June that we could do without our wheat and sugar producers because we could buy those commodities more cheaply somewhere else. That remark demonstrates this Government's real feeling towards our farmers. Such is the true depth of the Prime Minister's feelings towards primary industry that, despite his lyrical public utterings, when the real test comes, he fails to turn up. He is not game to get into the ring. He could not be bothered to turn up for a Victorian Australia Labor Party country conference on 30 July, using the lame excuse that he had to spend a weekend in Canberra, no doubt sweating over the ramifications of the Combe-Ivanov affair. But the implications of his snub to the Australian Labor Party conference were picked up by one Victorian rural policy committee member, Carole Marple, who moved a motion stating:

We would point out that this treatment of country members and country areas will not advance the standing of Labor in rural areas.

That is what a member of the Australian Labor Party thinks of its leaders. We have also had broken promises in relation to the sugar and citrus industries. We also have the fiasco about the $4m payment to the Letona Cannery. The Government did not even have the administrative ability to get the matter sorted out. The Government's decision to maintain the tariff on imported grain harvesters is yet another example of bad decision making. The Government accepted the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission. Worse still, this Government did not consult the Australian Wheat Growers Federation or the grains industry as a whole. So much for the pious commitment to basing decisions on consultation. The wheat growers have said that this decision of the Government will cost the farmers $14m a year, whereas a bounty would have cost only $2m a year. In the words of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation:

This decision casts serious doubts on the Government's commitment to the rural sector . . . The Government's statements about understanding the need for the grains industry to be competitive and have low costs are now shown to be empty rhetoric.

The other interesting point about this ridiculous decision is that, of course, the Minister for Primary Industry did not have any say in the decision. It was announced by the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button). Where was the Minister for Primary Industry? Was he involved in any of the considerations of the issues or not? Surely the answer must be no. I cannot believe that even this Minister for Primary Industry would have gone along with such a stupid decision. Of course, the Minister has tried to claim that his not being in Cabinet allows him to devote all his time to primary industry issues. But that is a totally shallow argument and one which I am sure even the Minister himself does not believe. Giving assurances and promises and then not being able to deliver them gets him embarrassed. Quite obviously, he does not have the clout to get them through Cabinet.

Primary industries are still facing extreme difficulty as they struggle to emerge from the worst drought in history. They need sympathetic and understanding consideration from the Government. They need encouragement to get back on their feet again. Such encouragement should be given without question. It is in everbody's interests that our rural industries be as sound and competitive as possible. It is vital for the national economy.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.