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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 679

Mr PETER FISHER(11.36) —I support this amendment to the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill which, as has been explained to the Committee, corrects an anomaly within the system of calculating payments by the Australian Wheat Board to growers for the 1986-87 season. Yesterday in the town of Sea Lake in my electorate in the Victorian Mallee some 400 people met to discuss their future in the wheat industry and the arrangements that exist at present within the Rural Finance Commission to assist them through their present difficulties. Therefore, this amendment is both timely and terribly important. I understand that the anomaly has come to light against a background of the likelihood of significant payments having to be made under the wheat underwriting arrangements. Suggestions were made through the Attorney-General's Department that would have been cumbersome and unfair. Therefore I support this amendment.

It should be noted that the problem exists because some grades of wheat are sold earlier in the season than others and with price movements in various markets throughout the year, it was conceivable that a higher grade of wheat could attract a lower return than Australian standard white-an anomaly which could prove very costly to many growers and which would have been contrary to the spirit of the Wheat Marketing Act. Advice was received from the Australian Wheat Board that unless this technical change was made, final payments over the 1986-87 season would be determined so that growers would lose from $1.25 a tonne to $1.50 a tonne. We should recognise that the usual advance pool payment of 90 per cent of the guaranteed minimum price has already been made in the season and the final payment of about 10 per cent, with any late adjustments, is due to be gazetted by 1 March. That is why the Government introduced this emergency legislation so rapidly and why it is necessary that it should pass so quickly.

This season the guaranteed minimum price for wheat is about $130 a tonne of which about $117 per tonne has already been forwarded. Therefore the legislation will affect the payment of the remaining $13 a tonne or so which, with final adjustments, may be as high as $20 a tonne. This legislation is being passed at a time when a very high proportion of Australian wheat growers are considered to be at risk and I believe that there should be no impediment to the payment of this final amount.

I do not wish to delay the Committee but the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) has commented on the attempts being made overseas to change some of the world's corrupt trading practices. I acknowledge the work that is being done by an all-party group from the Parliament and also by the Government in trying to talk some sense into overseas governments about changing some of their subsidisation practices, protection measures and corrupt trading practices. However, I cannot let this moment pass without saying very briefly that this is not the total reason for the problems that our agricultural industries face. I wonder whether honourable members realise that a wheat grower in the central Mallee in my electorate loses 36 per cent of his gross returns in freight and handling charges alone. From the rest of his returns he has to pay all other production costs, interest charges and, if possible, provide a living for his family. So governments here do have a responsibility to try to correct some of the problems that exist in agriculture in this country through the high cost structure. As the Minister is visiting my constituency next week, I also wish to point out to him that I believe major changes will be necessary to the rural adjustment scheme and the legislation under which the guidelines are set there. I believe that this legislation must be changed, arrangements must be more flexible and viability or eligibility must not be determined on the amount of money available. Viability should be based not solely on the debt equity approach but on the productive potential of each individual. It has to be even-handed and it has to be fair, and I believe that the guidelines that were changed in July 1985 do not allow the rural adjustment scheme to be administered fairly, particularly in regard to the need for long term low interest loans. I support this legislation.