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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 673


Mr BEDDALL(11.05) —As a result of advice from the Attorney-General's Department, it is necessary to amend the Wheat Marketing Act of 1984. As it is currently drafted, the Act provides for the determination of a guaranteed minimum price for Australian standard white wheat and other prescribed categories of wheat on a basis which was not intended by the Government. This is inconsistent with other sections of the Act and it would run counter to the sound and broadly acceptable accounting procedures currently used by the Australian Wheat Board.

The proposed amendment will permit the calculation of total pool returns. This is income from the sale of all categories of wheat and other revenue earned in the season. This will be compared with total costs in establishing the benchmark of a guaranteed minimum price for Australian standard white wheat. This Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill will remove an anomaly between sub-section 15 (2) and section 16 of the Act. The Bill specifies that for the purpose of calculating the gross return per tonne for Australian standard white wheat, account will be taken of the notional gross return for other categories of wheat had they been Australian standard white quality together with income from the investment of sales proceeds and interest received from the sale of wheat on credit. The amendment should not involve any additional Commonwealth government costs, savings or revenue.

The Australian Labor Party in government has shown that it is quick to respond to the needs of the rural sector. The quick passage of this legislation is just another example of the importance of agriculture to the Australian economy. At times of difficulty for the Australian wheat farmer, the Government does not wish to compound those difficulties. The economic measures that this Government has introduced have limited the impact of the collapse in commodity prices on the Australian wheat farmer. Without the devaluation brought about by the floating exchange rate, Australian wheat farmers would not be able to sell their product at all on the world market. The over-valued dollar maintained by the Liberal-National Party coalition in government robbed Australian wheat farmers of years of prosperity which would have helped them to maintain a decent living standard until the world market recovers from this period of decline. As all honourable members are aware, agricultural prices move in cycles. The speedy passage of this legislation will ensure prompt payment to our wheat growers in difficult economic times. I congratulate the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) on his speedy action to overcome the problem which has arisen. I am sure that all honourable members from both sides of the chamber will support this legislation.

The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker) mentioned earlier that he thought that the country task force of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) was some sort of public relations exercise. As a member of that task force, I say to him that the report of the task force will shortly be released, and I am sure that it will make interesting reading for him and that he will see the many achievements of the task force. As the task force has travelled throughout Australia, it has seen first hand the problems facing grain growers. Many of us who have grain growers in our electorates see these problems on a daily basis. I notice that I will be followed in this debate by the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron), who has very many more grain growers in his electorate than I do in mine. But certainly in the Darling Downs area I see the problems facing my grain growers.

The adjustment being forced on the Australian wheat farmers by the corruption of world wheat prices is one of the great social problems facing rural Australia. I therefore congratulate the Prime Minister, the Minister for Primary Industry and the Minister for Trade (Mr Dawkins) on the efforts that they have made on behalf of Australian wheat farmers. We must continue our efforts to convince the United States of America and the European Economic Community that a trade war based on agricultural subsidies is an economic madness. The honourable member for Wannon also mentioned the all-party delegation to the United States. It was an outstanding success, and I commend all members who took part in it for the bipartisan spirit that they adopted on behalf of Australian agriculture.

Opposition members in their speeches have called for government assistance to the rural sector without specifically saying how that assistance should be given. The honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew) made the revelation that interest rates are a problem for the rural sector. I inform the honourable member for Wakefield that interest rates are a problem for all Australians, and one of which the Government is fully conscious. If the parties that he represents in this place had addressed Australia's economic problems when in office, perhaps we would have a much more broadly based economy which would not now be undertaking such a painful adjustment.

In order to facilitate this debate, I intend to limit my remarks to those I have just made. I commend the Bill to the House.