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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 296

Mr CUNNINGHAM(6.42) —I refute the arguments put to us by the previous speaker, the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer). For the last 18 months I have had the privilege of chairing the Prime Minister's rural taskforce and we have been looking at rural Australia. We have very good members on that committee from the regional seats we hold in Australia, such as McEwen, Burke, Ballarat, Bendigo, Calare, Rankin and others. We on this side of the House represent more of rural Australia than honourable members opposite represent. They might represent more land, but we certainly have more farmers in our electorates than they have. In this debate we have heard about the downturn in the rural sector. There is no doubt about that; there has been a drastic cut in the income coming into Australia from the downturn in the demand for some of our primary products, mainly wheat. Because of the actions taken by the Treasurer (Mr Keating), his tax reform measures, the deregulation of the financial structure in Australia and the float of the dollar, there has been a levelling out and the returns coming to Australia are equal to what they were prior to the collapse of the prices.

Let us look at a couple of the industries. When we average figures we can clearly say that there has been a downturn right across agriculture in Australia, but some agricultural industries are suffering much more than others. It is quite obvious that in the wheat area wool is doing very well. At the Outlook Conference which the honourable member for Farrer mentioned there was some dispute as to how long the boom in the wheat industry would continue. They were not talking about a depression. The wheat industry is doing quite nicely. Six months ago cotton farmers spoke to our committee. Some of those cotton farmers sold early when the market started to move and are now very sorry because the market has continued to move. Cotton is once again looking very prosperous.

Look at the dairy industry. Eighteen months ago we had National Party leaders in my area kicking the sides of the car of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) because of moves we were taking to deregulate the industry and put it on to a market oriented basis. Oh no, the National Party stood against that deregulation. Joh can stomp the country and talk about free enterprise but when it comes to the nitty-gritty they do not want deregulation. Just talk to the people in Victoria now to see where the dairy industry is moving. The president of the Victorian Dairy Farmers Association, Jim Saunders, last week put a letter in all the local papers throughout Victoria telling the farmers that there will be a shortage of supply; that they have to gear up to meet demands because they have more orders than they can fill. It is not that the surplus butter and cheese around the world has disappeared; the industry has been restructured and is now taking the initiative to produce products that the market wants. Therefore, the policies of this Government that have been put into place are working and are being recognised in the country. That message is coming through to our committee.

Opposition members come into this House and criticise, saying that the policies that we have put in place are not working. I challenge that. There is no doubt that the wheat industry is in difficulty because of a world-wide oversupply. That has nothing to do with the Government. The industry has to look at how much wheat it will be able to sell in the future to countries such as India and China as they become self-sufficient. The reality is that this Government has put the correct policies in place. The smart money men know where the good things will be in Australia in the future. They are moving in very quickly and buying shares that are profitable and the land that is productive. They are giving a clear indication that the policies are correct.

But we have this mad push within the conservative parties for control. They want the opportunity to go to the people on false premises. They want to take advantage of what will happen in the future. They will not succeed. Our committee has been getting good vibes around Australia and I am confident that in the next 12 months things will be on the move. We will see a swing to this Government-more so now because the coalition is in total disarray, with the tempest coming down from Queensland and attacking on all sides.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.