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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 695


Mr CUNNINGHAM —Did the Minister for Primary Industry hear the recent comments by the Deputy Director of the National Farmers Federation endorsing the Queensland Premier's campaign? Can the Minister advise the House of the implications for farmers of a Commonwealth government introducing the economic policies endorsed by the NFF?


Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, again I take a point of order. The Minister is not responsible for the statements of the NFF; they are not within his portfolio. These sorts of questions in the past have been ruled out of order, and this question should also be ruled out of order.


Madam SPEAKER —The question is out of order.


Mr Cunningham —On the point of order, Madam Speaker: My question to the Minister was: What would be the implications for farmers of a Commonwealth government introducing these economic policies?


Madam SPEAKER —That is in order. If that is the whole question, it is in order.


Mr Spender —Read the whole question.


Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member will resume his seat. That is the question that the honourable member has now asked. This Chair has given other honourable members on both sides of the House the right to rephrase a question. The honourable member for North Sydney will resume his seat. I call the Minister for Primary Industry.


Mr KERIN —We are all aware of the Press release by the National Farmers Federation which covered a wide range of policy matters. It said that it welcomed the Queensland Premier's coalition-wrecking activities and that it was reassessing its political strategy. That is said in the Press release. I can understand the National Farmers Federation's disgust with the pathetic leadership of the Liberal and National parties in this place--


Mr Spender —Come on; get back to the question.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for North Sydney.


Mr KERIN —From the outset, let me state clearly that the National Farmers Federation has an important role to play in representing the views of farmers to government. While ever it is playing that role, I am very happy to consider seriously its views and will work with it on issues which are relevant to and in the interests of the farm sector and rural Australia. Of course, there is no question-one cannot avoid it-that some matters that it will raise will be at the heart of political debate in this country. We all know the realities of that and no objection is made to that at all.

We need to look closely at some of the other aspects of the present operation of the National Farmers Federation with respect to its partisan political involvement. It is probably more accurate to say that its involvement will be represented as partisan. There has been independent comment on that and any fair-minded person would see it as partisan political involvement. Under the President, Ian McLachlan, the Federation has closely allied itself to the New Right. He has been anointed twice by Katharine West but has sensibly declined, and now there is another call in the papers by a Mr Hay who, I think, represents one of the outside groups making such an influence on the coalition parties in this place. Now Mr McLachlan says he is thinking about entering politics, but he does not know which party. Times are desperate indeed on the other side of the House.

The NFF, I guess, supported the right wing of the Liberal Party to get Mr Howard, the present Leader of the Opposition, up.


Mr Spender —On a point of order, Madam Speaker: You will recall the question that was eventually asked and was ruled to be in order. This answer has nothing to do with that question. It cannot be relevant and it must be out of order.


Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member will resume his seat. The Minister will answer the question.


Mr KERIN —All right, let us talk about policies, Madam Speaker. The NFF has been trying to give its politics some credibility by repeating ad nauseam that it is non-party political. It said that it is going to interview candidates and support anyone who supports NFF policy. That is fair in a democracy. Nine Australian Labor Party members and nine coalition members are going to be interviewed. The NFF has said that that is part of its political strategy which it is now reassessing. But before it has done any of this-


Mr Shipton —Madam Speaker, I take a point of order. The Minister was asked a question which you ruled to be in order. He was asked to advise on the implications for a Commonwealth government of National Farmers Federation policies.


Madam SPEAKER —I expect that that is where the Minister is--


Mr Shipton —You have given the Minister indulgence. He has indulged in a personality attack. Now he is referring to candidates--


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. The Minister will answer the question.


Mr KERIN —Madam Speaker, as I was saying, let us have a look at these policies. The NFF has endorsed the Queensland Premier before he has announced any policies and before it has conducted the political campaign it was going to engage in leading up to the next election. So I assume that the NFF endorses the Premier of Queensland's anti-democratic policies. I assume that it endorses the corruption that is inherent in that political system. I assume that the NFF endorses the most political public service in Australia. I assume that the NFF endorses the irresponsible budget management in that State. I assume that it endorses the fact that that State has the most regulated agriculture. All of those things are things which normally the NFF does not stand for. It has not said that it is in favour of over-regulation, corruption or anti-democratic practices. But now it is saying that it is reassessing its political strategy.

Let us just look at some of the policies of the NFF. The NFF wants real wages reduced by anything up to 40 per cent, ignoring the 4 per cent reduction that has already occurred. It wants manufacturing industry protection abolished tomorrow, ignoring the protection provided to parts of agriculture, and in this respect I can nominate the sugar embargo. Or is the NFF now suddenly in favour of regulation? I think the question is very serious. The NFF wants social welfare spending slashed but it wants assistance given to farmers under the rural adjustment scheme to be increased. Really, the only policy pronouncement which I have heard from the Queensland Premier is about a flat tax, so I assume that the NFF is now endorsing a flat tax-which would increase the tax on farmers.

The NFF recently called for equality between housing and business interest rates, ignoring the fact that business interest rates are tax deductible. So, in after tax terms, most farmers are paying lower rates than home buyers. The fact is that interest rates on new housing loans are determined on a market basis. They are lower than the rates facing farmers because that is the free market outcome. The Government has cushioned the impact on previous savings bank borrowers, just as the rural adjustment schemes assist many farmers.

Let the New Right and its allies-including now, I suppose, by its own words, the NFF-and the likes of the wrecker from the north, explain to the Australian people how their vision of an uncaring society, a society where nothing is done to protect its citizens, would benefit farmers. Quite frankly, it would not.