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Monday, 23 March 1987
Page: 1351


Mr PETER FISHER(10.45) —After four years of the Hawke Labor Government this former rich and strong nation is heading past $100 billion in foreign debts; high interest rates, inflation and massive government spending have weakened the economy; and our families, home owners, small business people, farmers and Australian workers are under threat. This Government has the audacity to call itself a Labor government. In recent months we have seen it prostituting itself to the speculators, the money manipulators and the buyers and sellers of paper to a sickening point. The media conglomerates are now paying back the Hawke Government in full for services rendered. No matter how bad the international situation is regarding low market prices or corrupt practices, the fact is undeniable that many domestic policy decisions which have been taken by this Labor Government or are in the pipeline are directly adding to the burden of rural Australia.

Nothing has destroyed our viability more than interest rates. Despite numerous promises to the contrary, they have continued to rise to all time record levels. The truth is that between November 1984 and February 1987 savings bank home loans have gone from 11.5 per cent to 15.5 per cent; prime rates for business from 13.5 per cent to 18.25 per cent, and overdraft rates for small businesses and farmers from 14.5 per cent to 20.5 per cent. Australia faces the prospect of losing the expertise and services of a large proportion of competent rural producers and their support services in country communities if the situation is allowed to continue.

The number of primary producers at risk at the start of 1986, as estimated by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, was 12,000. Now, having had high interest rates for all of 1986, this number has increased substantially and is in the vicinity of 30,000. These producers cannot meet their interest and/or lease or hire purchase commitments and consequently are losing equity as well as suffering extreme stress. If no commodity price recovery or interest rate reduction occurs, financiers will be unable to support a larger number of indebted producers. A substantial collapse in land prices, particularly in the grain belt, is happening and bringing extra pressure on growers. The business support infrastructure in country towns, such as hospitals and schools, is also under threat, as is employment in service industries. The whole fabric of many rural centres is under extreme pressure. There must be changes in this Government's policy to arrest the drift of population from country to cities, which is already evident, in search of work. We have to stop a large section of the population losing their homes, heritage and livelihoods and needing to relocate and possibly retrain in different economic circumstances. We must halt the loss of technical expertise which will substantially affect rural industry's ability to help Australia correct its trade imbalance. This Government must show some concern for our producers and stop grinding the average Australian into the dust by imposing costs, interest rates and Government taxes and regulations.

Generations of effort in rural Australia is under threat. Taxation is at criminal levels and today cannot be distinguished from confiscation and theft. Families and traditional values are being discriminated against and support for the family unit has declined alarmingly in recent years. Government policies are found wanting and the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe), who is in the chamber at the moment, and the rest of the Government's Ministers are totally discredited in the eyes of the electorate. Tomorrow I will place a motion before the House to introduce policy initiatives to correct and restore economic health to this nation. A tragedy is taking place in rural Australia which has major economic and social implications for the whole nation, yet this Government does not seem to care.