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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 295


Mr TIM FISCHER(6.37) —I rise tonight to highlight to the House, on its second day of sitting for 1987, the parlous state of the rural economy and the fact that two economies are operating side by side. One economy is more capital city orientated which, to some extent, in certain sections, is moving along quite nicely, and the other relates to small business, primary producers and the rural sector, where there is a great deal of economic agony at present. It is high time that the Federal, State and local governments realised the extent of the rural economic decline. That decline is sweeping across a number of primary industries into the provincial towns and cities and is doing great damage to Australia's economic infrastructure, to its export opportunities and export income and, therefore the standard of living of all Australians. I put to the House that what is required is some concrete and constructive action by the Federal Government in consultation with the National Farmers Federation, State rural organisations and the rural sector to see that this situation is turned around.

I speak on a day when the gross national debt has reached an all-time high of $101 billion. I put another very relevant perspective. Honourable members should consider this: From 1900 to 1983 governments of all persuasions, including even the Whitlam Government, and with two world wars intervening, built up a debt of some $14 billion. That was the Federal Government component of the national debt. In the past four years the Hawke Labor Government has doubled that debt and saddled future generations with repayments which, associated with the weak dollar, will require massive outlays in future Federal Budgets just to repay loans. That burden will sweep across the whole economy and further jeopardise the rural economy, where very real economic agony exists at this time.

I refer to the rice, wheat and citrus industries, to name some specific industries from a wide range, which are suffering from, in part, international commodity prices and market decline, but equally are suffering from the heavy burden conferred on them by this Federal Labor Government and a range of State governments in terms of the taxes and charges applied which undermine the viability of many primary producers and, through interest rates and related structures, undermine the viability of many small businesses right across Australia. It is high time that the Federal Government, and in particular the Treasurer (Mr Keating), took the advice-it has been tendered often enough-to get out not only into the supermarkets but also on to the farms and stations, right out into rural Australia to such places as Berrigan, Bunaloo, Balranald, Bourke or beyond, to see what is really happening and have some interface, eyeball to eyeball, with the massive rural problems facing Australia. The Treasurer would learn that there are people with diet deficiencies in Australia at this time as a consequence of the rural economic tragedy. He would learn of the need for urgent action and a range of strategies.

I commend to the House in this regard the work of the Deputy Leader of the National Party, Mr Hunt, who produced on 1 February, following consultations with the Bureau of Agricultural Economics Outlook Conference, some specific strategies, including the injection of substantial additional funds into the rural adjustment scheme. We face the problem of a farm debt set to exceed $10 billion as outlined on the front page of a provincial daily, the Border Morning Mail based at Albury in my electorate. That is why the rural sector wants action and why it wants more liaison. It wants to see the man who is the Treasurer for the time being, and for a little longer only, get out of Canberra and out of the capital city circuit and visit rural Australia.