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- Start of Business
- MEMBERS SWORN
- ELECTION PETITION
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Dr HEWSON, Mr BEDDALL)
(Mr NEWELL, Mrs KELLY)
(Dr HEWSON, Mr KEATING)
(Mr SAWFORD, Mr BEAZLEY)
(Mr DOWNER, Mr WILLIS)
Pensioners: Fringe Benefits
(Mr HARRY WOODS, Mr BALDWIN)
(Mr REID, Mr BEDDALL)
Australians with Disabilities
(Ms HENZELL, Mr HOWE)
(Mrs SULLIVAN, Mr KEATING)
Southern Bluefin Tuna
(Mr SNOW, Mr LEE)
(Dr KEMP, Mr BEDDALL)
Legal Aid: Victoria
(Ms DEAHM, Mr KERR)
HMAS Voyager: Compensation Claims
(Mr TAYLOR, Mr LAVARCH)
(Mr GRACE, Mr KEATING)
(Mr TIM FISCHER, Mr BILNEY)
(Mr CAMPBELL, Mr LAVARCH)
- Pay Television
- DEPUTY CHAIRMEN OF COMMITTEES
- AUDITOR-GENERAL'S REPORTS
- PAPERS: PRESENTATION
- COMMONWEALTH GRANTS COMMISSION
- FEDERAL POLICE DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL
- COMPANIES AND SECURITIES ADVISORY COMMITTEE
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- URGENT LEGISLATION
- GOVERNOR-GENERAL'S SPEECH
- APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 5) 1992-93
- APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 6) 1992-93
- APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL (No. 2) 1992-93
- SUPPLY BILL (No. 1) 1993-94
- SUPPLY BILL (No. 2) 1993-94
- SUPPLY (PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS) BILL 1993-94
Monday, 10 May 1993
Mr FORREST (8.00 p.m.) —Thank you for this opportunity to present my first contribution to this eminent House. To you, Mr Speaker, my congratulations and also my thanks for your earlier consideration to me.
I wish to present tonight my feelings about the people of my electorate. They are people I admire and I have been greatly honoured by the confidence they have placed in me. They are people for whom I have enormous respect. They are examples of typical Australians, produced from a need to survive in a harsh environment which in turn has produced characteristics such as resilience which we as Australians have been renowned for but, sadly, I think are losing. Their courage in tackling the countless problems faced by many rural Australians like them enhances my commitment to work hard to ensure that they have in this House the best representation which they so justly deserve. I would like to formally record a tribute to one of those constituents—my predecessor in this very same seat, Mr Peter Fisher.
Opposition members—Hear, hear!
Mr FORREST —I think those hearty `hear, hears' bear testimony to what I am about to say. Peter Fisher spent 20 good, hard years serving this House and the people of Mallee. I relish the challenge of following in his stead. Over his long career he asked 144 questions and made 310 speeches in this House—a creditable performance. I believe Peter Fisher will always be remembered on both sides of the House as a sincere person, as a man of consistency and as a man of persistency, particularly in his advocacy on behalf of the great grain industry.
Mr Speaker, the new member for Mallee comes to the House after a 20-year career as a civil engineer, over half of which has been practised as a private consultant. I wish to be able to play a constructive part in my country's development and in the massive rebuilding we need to do right across our society and community.
I contend, Mr Speaker, that Mallee is the most significant of all the seats represented in this House. I would like to justify that bold boast. It is a rural and provincial electorate, 67,000 square kilometres in area, in the north-west of Victoria, stretching from the Grampian mountains in the south and the Glenelg River right up to the mighty Murray River in the north; and from the South Australian border in the west to the Avoca River in the east. It is one-fifth, or 20 per cent, of Victoria, which is the first point I make in regard to its significance.
It is important to mention that this huge area of Victoria was once represented in this House by 2 1/2 seats. In addition to the original seat held by Sir Winton Turnbull, was the seat of Wimmera held by Bob King. I certainly mean no disrespect, either to the current honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker) or the former Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Malcolm Fraser, by referring to that part of the Mallee once held by Mr Fraser as the other half. The representation of 2 1/2 seats in this House is now reduced to one and, sadly, such electoral redistributions are reducing the voice of rural Australians in the House. It means that those of us who are here on both sides of the House need to shout much louder.
Mallee has enormous significance and yet still untapped potential. Its value is reflected in the diversity of its agriculture and its horticulture. These primary industries are complemented ably in Mallee by three magnificent provincial cities—Horsham, Mildura and Swan Hill—as well as 67 rural townships. All provide an opportunity for any variety of small business and employment in industry, manufacturing, processing, retailing and tourism. All of these small businesses exist in vital co-dependency with the rural industries that surround them.
Much of what is produced in Mallee in food and fibre is exported. This serves what has to be Australia's area of greatest need these days—a dramatically accumulating trade deficit. Virtually anything can be grown in Mallee if it suits the harsh climate. Already it has a proven capacity to rise to such challenges as providing world's best practice, particularly in grain, especially in wine—including those wines that are enjoyed in this place—and wool. To these can be added dairying, many forms of horticulture, eggs, beef and poultry. As in most areas of Australia, Mallee offers the advantage that what is grown is good, clean food, free from the contaminants suffered by our competitors in the more densely populated Northern Hemisphere. I believe this is a marketing tactic we need to be much more clever at exploiting.
Mallee, and other electorates like it in rural Australia, have the specific function of providing a substantial part of the export earning capacity of our nation to pay for the excessive appetite that we as Australians—particularly those in our capital cities—seem to have for consuming imported goods. Mallee has been performing—and I say this with an enormous amount of pride—for many years. Of the big ticket commodity items, it produces four per cent of the national wool clip, nine per cent of the nation's grain, one per cent of dairy produce, 79 per cent of dried vine fruit, 12 per cent of citrus, 15 per cent of wine, and a whole host of other commodities I wish there was time to mention. In total, this amounts to an export earning ability from Mallee alone in excess of $550 million per annum. To this can be added income from tourism and many other earning capacities, but that would have to be regarded as a significant contribution to the nation's wealth.
I bring a message through you, Mr Speaker, to the House. Many of Mallee's industries are struggling, as are the small businesses that depend on them. Not just farmers, but everybody, is doing hard time. I bring that message in an appeal to the House.
In total, there are 15 shire municipalities in addition to the three cities in Mallee. I believe
local government is an indispensable link in the structure of our democracy and is essential to a sound community. I will work steadfastly to preserve that function. There is a strong sense of community right throughout Mallee, which is the hallmark of country people. Often such valuable projects as aged care hostels, nursing homes, education centres and community centres would simply not occur without the sacrificial contribution of the community, and local government is the facilitator of this process.
In pre-Federation times people would have arrived in Mallee by paddle-steamer, coming upstream along the mighty Murray River. That was the principal mode of transport in those days, particularly for the then emerging wool trade. Those people would have arrived at the inland port of Mildura which, owing to the vision of the Chaffey brothers from California in the late 1800s, now presents the magnificent spectre of hundreds of square kilometres of irrigated vineyards and orchards—a sight to be seen—producing some of the world's best wines, dried fruit, citrus and vegetables. The district has become famous as Sunraysia.
The heart of this district is the city of Mildura which is a vibrant provincial and regional centre with a population of 22,000 people. Sunraysia boasts an international reputation as a tourist destination not to be missed, and if you, Mr Speaker, and honourable members have not been there I encourage all to do so. Tourism is a valuable industry centred around the recreational value of the Murray River, but the surrounding horticultural pursuits provide the base for that activity. Intensive horticulture exists along the whole river frontage of Mallee, including extensive private schemes as well as government sponsored soldier settlements. Horticulture extends to include nuts and stone fruits.
As I have mentioned, recent years have seen many struggles for these horticultural industries of the Murray Valley. The growers have to compete not only with the elements and pestilence, which are the common bogies of those who attempt to work the land, but also the uncertainty of commodity prices. They are now being forced to bear the brunt of an agenda in respect of the world trade scene. Taking on the rest of the world is very difficult when you are right on the margin, have trouble paying your rates, have to struggle to educate your kids—if in fact you can at all—and even put food on the table. I will have a lot to say about preserving their interests and in fact trying to ensure that the vital horticultural industries of the Murray Valley survive.
All of these developments along the river have created some problems and salinity is a constant threat. More and more growers are taking an active role in community based salinity management schemes, but the requirement to contribute financially is hampered by their current difficulties. The initiative for the establishment of a mid-river fresh water research institute based in Sunraysia should be supported by this House in recognition of the significance not just of the Murray River, but of the Darling River as well. The Murray-Darling basin covers an enormous area of the Australian continent, embracing the major food bowl. As well, it embraces 14 federal electorates, from Queensland extending right through to South Australia.
So I put on notice the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Bruce Scott), the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Cobb), the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Anderson), the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Hicks), the honourable member for Hume (Mr Sharp), the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer), the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Reid), the honourable member for Barker (Mr McLachlan), the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew) and the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wakelin) that I expect their support in advocacy on behalf of the Murray-Darling River system.
In addition, I was delighted to hear the honourable member for Indi (Mr Lieberman) refer to the Murray-Darling Basin Commission last week in his first speech to the House and I will hold him to his supportive remarks. Indeed, the honourable member for Canberra (Mrs Kelly) is also part of this because the whole of the treated sewage effluent from this great edifice and this great city ends up in the Murray River. In fact, there are many of my constituents who take quite strong objection to receiving the nutrient effluent from this place. I suspect that that is not just in their coffee, but also over the airwaves. The real point is that we must be much more serious about how we treat such a magnificent asset as the Murray-Darling River system and be committed to funding ongoing research into blue green algae and the impact that nutrient rich loads from sewerage have on it, as well as research into salinity.
The other of Mallee's river based provincial cities is Swan Hill, where I reside. This city has an international reputation as a tourist Mecca, attracted by the pioneering heritage museum known right across Australia. This museum really captures the heart and the spirit of Mallee. It stands as a poignant reminder of the courage needed to build vision and make it a reality. It suffered substantial financial difficulties and the actions by the Swan Hill city council to assume responsibility for its fragile financial state to preserve it there for future heritage ought to be commended. The Swan Hill district supports a wide area of dairying, stone fruit and even boasts the largest potato grower in the Southern Hemisphere.
Travelling south of the Murray River, though, reveals what Mallee is most famous for—the grain belt. It extends all the way to the fertile Wimmera plains in the south—oceans of grain in the sun, a sight to see—producing the best hard wheat and the best malting barley. The growers there have demonstrated a willingness to survive by their own efforts. They have already diversified into other crops, demonstrating a versatility and an adaptability which should be the model for all Australians in these days of need for radical reform. This past season the growers were cheated of an opportunity to climb out of their financial difficulties by seasonal elements beyond their control; even the best farmers in the world have no control over the elements. It is an aspect of their activity that city dwellers need to better understand, because the grain industry also is in enormous difficulty.
I believe it is vital that a resolution is found to the practices of international trade corruption if Australia is ever to continue to compete against the USA and other large players in the grain commodities export area. I am committed to the unified marketing strength of the Australian Wheat Board, which must be retained, and threats to its existence by multinational traders masquerading as Australian companies must be resisted. How else is it possible to unify the geographic diversity of growers across such a vast continent as Australia?
At the base of the Mallee electorate is the city of Horsham which provides an attractive provincial centre and is the heart of the Wimmera. Again, it has an international reputation as a tourist destination centred around the Grampian Mountains and the Little Desert National Park, and Mount Arapiles rises as a granite monolith above the fertile plains. The Leader of the National Party (Mr Tim Fischer) has challenged me to climb it with him. Its sheer rock cliffs provide opportunities for mountain climbers from all over the world.
Mr Speaker, you would be impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Mallee. I am proud of every single one of them. There is a willingness there to advance new ideas, characterised by a large casting foundry and duck exporting. There is a huge duck farm with a population of 160,000 ducks producing 15,000 ducks a week, the majority of which go into Asian export markets. There is value added processing of cereal competing with the big players. Wool and trim lamb are the predominant products of the land to the south-west of Horsham across the Western District.
There can be no need to remind you, Mr Speaker, of the difficulties being faced by woolgrowers. When one contemplates its 200-year history, all Australians owe to this great industry an enormous amount. In fact, I would say that it has been historically the most significant contributor to our status as a nation and a major provider of our wealth and standard of living. I believe it is now time that Australians stood behind this flagship, rural industry.
There are growers at the very southern tip of Mallee whose only means of putting food on the table is to cut firewood for $40 a tonne. Do honourable members know how long it takes to cut a tonne of firewood? Sadly, there are many Australians who would refuse to do such abysmally paid menial work, but they are, because such is their spirit. Urgent action is needed to halt the alarming downward spiral of the price of wool. I believe that a strong message needs to be sent to the marketplace, a signal which says that we as Australians are prepared to stand behind that stockpile and finance it or, in some form, to remove it as an impediment to good and orderly marketing. I believe that sincerely.
To be positive, Mallee provides an opportunity to achieve that missing link in our production chain, which is to value add not only to what is produced there, but also to what is produced in other places in our great nation. The proximity of ports in the south, the existence of a fine rail infrastructure which must be maintained and, in fact, enhanced offers openings for wool scouring and a starch industry out of the magnificent grain industry that already exists.
The development of additional exotic industries such as goats, deer and ostriches has already been taken up and other interesting industries being researched include goat and sheep milk, but I think the greatest impediment to the sheep milk industry is convincing farmers to milk their sheep. Salt, which is the great scourge of the dry land of the Mallee and also of the river, must be regarded more as an asset than a liability and opportunity taken to use saline discharge for agroforestry. There are also great opportunities for saline aquaculture with huge markets in Asia, and other industries, including fruit leather, tissue culture, vegetable powder and barley powder are being researched.
I believe that Mallee, as I present it to you, represents a group of Australians with a determination to survive by their own efforts. What they need is encouragement from this House. They need policy which assists them to reduce their costs of operating in order for them to compete in the international trade arena. It is incumbent upon this House to provide the leadership, to instigate the reform that is necessary to achieve that, but I would encourage the House to ensure that it is delivered with an empathy consistent with the circumstances in which industries already find themselves.
There is a great deal more I would like to say, but time dictates that I must leave that to another occasion. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity. I trust you and the other members are better informed about Mallee. I look forward to further opportunities to represent such a magnificent electorate.
Honourable members—Hear, hear!
Mr SPEAKER —Before I call the honourable member for Paterson, I remind the House that this is the honourable member's first speech. I ask the House to extend to him the usual courtesies.