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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2053


Mr ANDREW(10.55) —I speak tonight because it strikes me as entirely appropriate, both at this time of year and in the present climate, that the Parliament should rise for a three-week period by taking a bipartisan look at what is the most pressing crisis facing Australia, that is--


Mr Cunningham —In the Opposition.


Mr ANDREW —I think that that is a most unbecoming interjection, given the tone of my remarks. I refer to the crisis facing every farmer across this nation. My remarks were intended to be bipartisan, but I am prompted, after the interjection by the honourable member for McMillan, to remind the House of how inappropriate it was for the honourable member for Hunter (Mr Fitzgibbon) to claim that the electors of Hunter have been directly disadvantaged by the Opposition's policies. In fact-I say this reluctantly because normally I would have consulted the honourable member for Hunter before I made these remarks, and he has left the chamber-I would have thought that the honourable member for Hunter, gregarious and pleasant fellow that he is, would be the one person with the least reason to be critical of the Opposition's policies, given the impact on his electorate of the wine tax that this Government has imposed three times, that could well cost him his seat. In that context, I felt that his remarks were rather inappropriate.

I now turn to the dilemma that is facing every farmer across the nation. It is something he will have to come to grips with by the time we return to this House; that is, the decision whether or not to sow a crop this year and, if he chooses to do so, what he will sow it with, and how he will pay for it. Then there is the fundamental decision: Having sown it, what is he going to get for it? Nowhere is this decision being felt more acutely than on the Eyre Peninsula in the electorate of the honourable member for Grey (Mr O'Neil). I freely acknowledge that he is aware of the dilemma because he joined the chairman of the rural task force, the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Cunningham), in a tour of the electorate of Grey and the region of Eyre Peninsula.

Australia's farmers are an important part of our total trading environment. We are the world's sixth largest farm trading nation. We have 170,000 family farms, but the number is declining at an average of 2,500 every year. Principally, this is happening because of the interest rate bill that every Australian farmer has to service. Because of the marginal nature of the country on Eyre Peninsula, and because it has been opened up recently, this dilemma has been felt more acutely. In March this year, 13 farmers chose to abandon their properties leaving 22,000 hectares of productive land unoccupied on the Eyre Peninsula. Values of farms in that area of South Australia have been reduced by 30 per cent over the past two years. As every farmer across Australia knows, wheat prices have crashed by $30 a tonne, largely as a result of the subsidised sales by the United States and the European Economic Community.

I acknowledge that some of the fault rests with farmers who have made what might be determined as rash decisions, but it would be quite unfair to dismiss the dilemma there. I acknowledge that some of the fault rests with banks which have been too free to lend, but it would be unfair to dismiss the decision there. Much of the fault must still be left with the Government whose policy has been to encourage high interest rates. Those high interest rates have done more than anything else to cripple farmers across Australia. Those are not the words of the Liberal Opposition; they are the words of the President of the National Farmers Federation, Mr Ian McLachlan. Mr McLachlan, speaking for farmers across Australia, has endeavoured to address the burdens they face and to ask the Government to do something to address the intolerable burden of rising interest rates. Mr McLachlan has suggested that the Government could have reduced interest rates by cracking down on wages but was afraid of the trade union movement. Mr McLachlan recognises that the present rapid rate-


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. It being 11 p.m., the debate is interrupted.


Mr Barry Jones —Madam Speaker, I require the debate to be extended.


Madam SPEAKER —The debate may continue until 11.10 p.m.