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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1830

Mr CAMPBELL(10.50) —Tonight I came into the House to draw attention to an article which appeared in the Melbourne Age on 18 October 1986. It referred to a study done by Civil and Civic Pty Ltd, a large construction firm, which compared the building costs in Australia with those in the United States of America. The article is quite interesting because it says that Australian building workers work quicker than their American counterparts, build higher quality buildings and are much safer. It is true that, because Australia has a large number of public holidays, we take slightly longer-some 3 per cent longer-to build the buildings, but in all it was a tribute to the ability of the Australian building workers. It is rather good, coming from Civil and Civic, and makes a change from the continual bashing that workers tend to get, particularly from honourable members opposite.

I have been side-tracked from enlarging upon that by the honourable member for Mayo (Mr Downer), who made a posturing speech tonight about the problems of the rural sector. Last night I spoke about this matter because I am very aware of the problems of the rural sector. The honourable member for Mayo spoke with something less than sincerity. There is no doubt that interest rates are a problem in the rural sector, but they are not a problem for all farmers. If any assistance is to be given to this group, the aim must be targeted. One of the strange ironies is that whenever a targeting policy has been suggested it has been violently opposed by the National Farmers Federation, the National Party of Australia and, of course, the Liberal Party of Australia. This means that aid cannot be directed to where it is needed. It is needed by a narrow band of farmers, principally wheat farmers, but a few others have had enormous problems. Some farmers are in trouble clearly because of their own incompetence, but others are in trouble because they have borrowed money, at the behest of the banks and based on the best agricultural advice at the time, for essential development work, and they were faced with very large interest rates.

In Perenjori, which is in the area I used to represent, I foresaw this problem several years ago when people, after suffering nine years of drought, were simply failing. Those people failed not because they were poor farmers or because of high interest rates; they failed simply because the resources had been exhausted. It was my view that assistance should have been given in those circumstances. The response from a lot of people was that this was marginal country which should be closed up. The truth is that that country had had record yields for many years. For the previous 50 years it had a record of being some of the best wheat producing country in Western Australia. The drought was one of the vagaries of the season and the vicissitudes of fortune, I guess, and it was most unfortunate for those farmers who suffered. The same thing is happening today. Many farmers who are very hardworking and capable are being beset by problems beyond their control and we have to look at some targeted assistance for them. Unless we accept targeting, we will never be able to do any good for these people. I am pleased to say that some members of farmer organisations in Western Australia, particularly the Primary Industry Association of Western Australia (Inc.), are coming to the view that targeted assistance is necessary.

Another thing that could be done for the rural sector is to increase educational programs. Now that we have much better television services-I thank the initiative of our very good Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy)-we should be looking to utilise those television channels to bring farmers economic and financial planning advice. This is one area that I have found, from my experience and as a member of the rural task force, in which farmers are lacking and if this could be done we would be providing a very useful service to the rural sector.