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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 875


Mr MILES(10.31) —It is now recognised by all informed Australians that the record of this Government is one of high Budget deficits, high interest rates, big government spending, decreasing living standards and an unwillingness to bite the bullet when it comes to hard decisions. I was interested to hear the honourable member for Dunkley (Mr Chynoweth) talk of the need for us to encourage exports and to buy Australian products. I should like to spend some time on that topic tonight There are some difficulties in Australia which we have to face up to before those hopes and wishes are achieved.

Time and time again during four years of office this Government has been advised, counselled and indeed pleaded with to address the impending disaster of high overseas debt, coupled with a forecast of low demand for Australian export commodities, which are on the decrease. But instead of addressing the problems, the Government has buried its head in the sand. Nine months ago the Treasurer (Mr Keating) stated that we were fast headed towards becoming a banana republic and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said that we faced a crisis as serious as war. Two days ago the Prime Minister said that the party is over. In other words, for eight months after declaring war the Prime Minister continued to hold a party in this nation. That is the tragedy that we face-a Prime Minister who will not face up to making the tough decisions.

The rhetoric of the Hawke Government has not addressed, indeed has not recognised, the reality of the debilitating position of the Australian economy. Australia does have a bright future given the right policies. A major plank of such policies would be to enhance exports. At the present time there are many small businesses which are searching for new markets overseas but which find many difficulties in landing their products on time, in top quality, and at the right price. Let me give as an example in my electorate on King Island the kelp industry. The industry harvests kelp from the west coast of King Island and produces the highest quality kelp in the world. The product is dried and then shipped off to Scotland, where it is processed. Some 200 products come from that kelp. To transport a container from King Island to Melbourne, which is only about 150 kilometres, costs $1,084; yet to transport the kelp from King Island to the United Kingdom costs only another $560 for a 12,000-kilometre journey. That is typical of some of the costs which good Australian export industries face. Our local prices are far too high and the cost structure for these industries is quite debilitating.

Another example in my electorate involves a person who wanted to export cauliflowers to Hong Kong. He was able to get a contract of 20 tonnes a week so long as he could guarantee that they would arrive regularly on time on a certain day and in good quality. That went on for a few weeks until there was a strike on the Melbourne wharf. The vegetables sat there for two days supposedly in a refrigerated container, but of course the power to the container was switched off. When they arrived in Singapore, of course, they were very poor quality. So the person who was purchasing those cauliflowers said: `That is it, the first time, no go any more. You are not reliable, you cannot produce'. That is the type of thing we are faced with in this nation.

One of the great difficulties for our exports is not that we cannot grow them, not that the quality is poor and not that our rural people are inefficient but that the off-farm costs are so high. They are estimated at up to almost 50 per cent of the cost at the farm gate. Typically these off-farm costs will include transport, storage, handling and marketing. Inefficiencies in these services markedly increase the costs of production. We have to change this situation so that we can make sure that our costs are low, that we can compete on the world market and that we can deliver our products in a high quality.