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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 565

Mr HAWKER(10.35) —In listening to Question Time in this chamber over the past few days, one could be forgiven for believing that the Government was so on top of things that it really had nothing else to do than spend most of its time analysing a policy which the Opposition has not released, let alone agreed to, and which, as far as I know, has not even seen the light of day. Nonetheless, day after day in here we hear about this wonderful policy that the people on this side have not even seen. It is analysed in detail and we hear about $1 billion here and $2 billion there. It is a great sideshow but, unfortunately and sadly, it is a diversionary tactic by this Government to take away the attention of people in this chamber and, I suppose the Government hopes, outside, from what is a very sad state of affairs facing this country right now.

If we look at some of the statistics which have been released on the financial situation facing Australia at the moment, it is disturbing. In fact, it is more than that; it is downright alarming. One of this Government's records which I am sure the Government is not very proud of is the sort of thing we found on the front page of the Melbourne Sun last week-the headline `$101,366,000,000-We're a nation in red'.

Mr Downer —How much?

Mr HAWKER —$101 billion. This is a record that I am sure the Government would not be too proud of. Yet day after day we hear all the great analyses by the economic experts on the other side of a policy that does not even exist. Is it not marvellous! We are going broke, but who cares?

Tonight I want to talk about something which has probably been overshadowed a little by the incredible debts facing us as a nation, and that is the debt facing the farmers. At the National Farmers Federation conference a couple of weeks ago it was announced that it is likely that the farm debt in Australia will top $10 billion this year. That is $2 billion more than it was a year ago and a 25 per cent increase--

Mr Cunningham —How much have they got on deposit?

Mr HAWKER —The honourable member ought to be ashamed of himself, when he claims to represent--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! Is the honourable member for Wannon intending to participate in the debate or to wait for more interjections?

Mr Downer —He won't last long.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member for Mayo will cease interjecting as well.

Mr HAWKER —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will accept your guidance. I draw the attention of honourable members to the incredible increase in farm debt. In the past year farm debt has increased by a staggering 25 per cent, yet this Government sits back and says that the farmers will be all right. When farmers were contributing something to our balance of trade, the Government would own them, but when things are not going so good, it does not want to know about them. When one looks at it, this is a reflection of the major failing in this Government's policies-that is, interest rates. It goes on and on. How many people will have to go broke before the Government realises the damage it has done by its irresponsible behaviour and the irresponsible policies it has been pursuing? This was brought home to me vividly when the farmers had their big march in Canberra last year. I was talking to a farmer and asked him why he was here. He said: `Well, I have just come here to try to get my point of view across. I have put 25 years into my farm and I do not want to see the whole lot just disappear'. That is the human side of it. It is all very well for the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Cunningham) to laugh about the size of the debt and say that it does not matter, but there is a human side of it.

Mr Slipper —They hate the farmers.

Mr HAWKER —Yes. The human side of it is the suffering of people who have worked, many of them for a lifetime, and who are seeing the whole lot disappear under the weight of the interest rates that this Government continues to propagate, because its policies have failed dismally. Farm debt is one side and the total debt facing Australia is the other side, yet while all this is going on, while everything is crumbling before the Government, day after day this so-called Government lectures us about a policy that does not even exist. Quite frankly, it ought to get its priorities right and have another look at the real problems facing this nation.