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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 1208

Mr CUNNINGHAM(10.41) —I wish to make a few comments about today's grievance debate when the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew) commented on my visit in the last fortnight to the electorate of Grey. He raised a grievance related to the fact that I took a delegation of parliamentarians to the electorate of Grey in order to have consultations, as he said, with farmers in that part of the world and with other members of the community who were feeling the effects of the downturn in commodity prices. I thank the honourable member for the free publicity he gave me on the radio during the debate, but I need to correct some of his statements. He said in his speech:

I can tell the House because one of the gentlemen who was at one of the meetings that the honourable member for McMillan convened said that when they got to the question and answer period the chairman, the honourable member for McMillan, stood up and said: `I am sorry, gentlemen, we are out of time and we have to leave'. So the farmers on Eyre Peninsula at that meeting had had the benefit of the point of view of the honourable member for McMillan, but he had not had the benefit of consultation with those farmers.

I inform the honourable member for Wakefield that the meeting took approximately one hour and 20 minutes and that for the first hour and 15 minutes the committees sat and listened to delegation after delegation present their cases to the committee. The delegations did not represent only farmers but comprised local government people and bankers. After an hour and 15 minutes of a meeting lasting one hour and 20 minutes, there certainly was plenty of consultation with members of the delegations, some of whom had driven up to 300 miles to see us. They fully appreciated that the country task force of the Prime Minister a is very viable unit of the Government, and that was underlined by the fact that some 150 people turned up at the meeting.

On the subject of consultation, I agree that the issues in that area are very serious since the country is marginal wheat land, not the best in Australia. Some farmers in that area are facing great difficulties. The honourable member for Wakefield said those farmers do not need further consultation because they have had consultation and nothing has happened. Let me point to a story that appeared in yesterday's National Farmer dealing with the National Farmers Federation. It said:

The National Farmers Federation-belatedly, some claim-has now taken up the debt issue with a vengeance . . .

We have been saying this for a long time. These farmers' debt problems have been raised for a long time but all the blame has been aimed at the Government. The farmers' organisation should have taken up the issue with the banks and put forward a scheme to negotiate individually on behalf of these farmers. It should have negotiated a scheme of arrangement to get individual debt problems looked at by the banks.

There are several causes of the problem, which are not just related to the downturn of commodity prices or the high level of interest rates. The major cause of the problem in that part of the world was that land prices in the area peaked in 1985. The banks had more money to lend than was responsible and took some drastic decisions in valuations of land properties. I took up one case with the Minister for Community Services and Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Hurford) about land that was valued in writing at $240,000. Prior to auction, a person was given the okay to borrow $175,000 and at auction he bid to $240,000 on a property with a total income from all crops and outside work of $50,000 before expenses. I regard that as in no way a responsible approach by the banks. I fully support the belated attempt by the National Farmers Federation to make deals of arrangements with the banks. They should support their farmers and not appeal to the Government to put in further public funds which will eventually be written off in debt. We will not throw public funds away like that. There must be negotiation with the banks to put matters in perspective. The honourable member for Wakefield also attacked me about a question I asked of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) on the improvement in the prices of wool, beef and other primary products. I have with me a document from the National Farmer of yesterday which I would like to table and which indicates that the wool scale has gone off the graph completely.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. Leave is granted for the honourable member to table the document.