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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 667

Mr O'NEIL(10.28) —I wish to speak briefly on the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill, which obviously has the support of both sides of the House. I am delighted to see that. The Deputy Leader of the National Party, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), quite correctly raised some of the problems within the rural industry. I congratulate him, along with other members of the joint party committee that went to Washington to try to overcome some of the problems that we have on the world scene. There is no doubt at all that what is happening in the wheat industry today spells a net loss of income for Australia and will place more pressure on our balance of trade and fundamental economic problems. It is of imperative importance that we end this global trade war. The Deputy Leader of the National Party raised the matter of another delegation going to Washington. I point out that there was no sense in going to Washington in January as the Congress was not in session. In the first two weeks in February the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) was overseas attending a trade meeting. In the second two weeks in February Mr John Dawkins, the Minister for Trade, is in Washington in the United States speaking to the Administration and to Congress. I understand that they have had a range of advice, and it is an ongoing issue and not a crisis. When the timing is right we will certainly contemplate another delegation having discussions with the Americans. I think it is very important that we have a very strong rapport with our allies to combat the obvious problem that we have regarding the wheat industry.

The tragedy is that the Australian wheat industry is highly efficient. Last year Australian armers grew wheat for $1.48 a bushel while United States farmers enjoyed a return of $4.48 and the Europeans received $6.65 a bushel. The Australian farmers carried interest and inflation rates several orders of magnitude greater than those in the United States and the European Economic Community. Obviously the Australian primary producers are the most economic in the world. It is certainly not right that the protectionism that the European Community and the Americans are providing for inefficient industry should be allowed to continue. I am well aware of the problems in primary industry. Undoubtedly, my colleague the honourable member for Calare (Mr Simmons) will expand on those problems later in this debate.

The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has taken a constructive role in relation to some of the difficulties within primary industry and has set up the Prime Minister's country task force which, under the very able chairmanship of the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Cunningham), goes out to regional and rural areas to meet first hand with the farmers and people in those areas to find out the difficulties, to listen and take on board those problems and relay them directly to the Prime Minister. This is a positive contribution because it cuts through bureaucratic red tape. Early next month the first of many reports from the Prime Minister's country task force will be tabled. On 2 and 3 March, I am pleased to say, the Prime Minister's country task force will be going into my electorate of Grey.

Mr Peter Fisher —You had better be careful.

Mr Ian Cameron —You would be better off to have Joh.

Mr O'NEIL —It is a sad thing that the Opposition does not give this task force the support that it duly deserves because we intend talking to farmers and other people in regional areas with obvious difficulties-in Port Lincoln, Ceduna and Port Augusta-and taking on board some of the obvious difficulties that the people in regional and rural areas face today. There is no doubt that this Government has done all in its power to alleviate some of those problems. The Opposition did not have the guts to float the dollar, which has been of tremendous benefit to people in outback areas in particular and which has really given us the edge in trade.

Some of the more thinking people in rural Australia are pleased to have discussions with this Government on those difficulties. Barry Cunningham, the chairman of the Prime Minister's country task force, has been all over Australia. I commend that committee in that it has spent many long hours listening to and having fruitful dialogue with people all over this great nation to see what we can do to overcome those obvious difficulties. I am sure that when this task force goes to the electorate of Grey we also will get some constructive and objective response to our visit and be able to report directly to the Prime Minister.

There is no doubt that on this side of the House we are very fortunate in having a Minister for Primary Industry, John Kerin, who is very able and very caring. I must say to people like me, who have had no rural background as far as primary industry is concerned, that the Minister has been very helpful in assisting me to become aware of the difficulties of farmers. I just cannot thank him enough for the time that he and his officers have spent, along with the honourable member for McMillan and the members of the task force, in our effort to make the Government aware of the problems.

So briefly, I am pleased to acknowledge the efforts of the Government's country task force. I acknowledge the tremendous effort that is being put in by members of that group. I look forward to fruitful discussions in my electorate on 2 and 3 March with farmers and other people in regional areas, so that we can come forward with a constructive report to help those people who obviously need our support.