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Tuesday, 3 June 2008
Page: 4292

Mr KATTER (11:56 PM) —I rise to speak on the Wheat Export Marketing Bill 2008. It is curious to me. I find it so extraordinary after coming into this House to go home to my electorate to try to explain what happens here. Here was a government elected on the issue of collective bargaining. And I worked hard for them. I spoke at trade union meetings all over the place. I carried, on my ports, workers rights stickers. I felt passionately that the worker had the right to collectively bargain, and I felt that way because I had watched what had happened to the farmers when they were deregulated.

It is an exercise in hypocrisy for the National Party in this place. I have here the memorandum of understanding entered into by the National Party, clause 8—the agreement with the ALP government of Queensland to deregulate the sugar industry. How can members of the National Party come into this place with a straight face and say they are so passionate about this—some people in that party were nearly crying tonight—after they have deregulated every one of our industries? I watched the maize silos being torn down at Atherton after they deregulated the Maize Board. I watched the tobacco industry close down. Half the main street of the city of Mareeba closed down. We had 1,500 farmers; now we have none. I watched the peanut farmers, at the Woolworths-Coles inquiry, say that they were getting the same price as they were getting 40 years ago, thanks to deregulation.

The first industry to be deregulated was the greatest industry this country had. It carried this country from its foundation, and in 1990 one-tenth of the nation’s entire export earnings came from wool. As a young man I left university and I went home. I did economics at university and I was told that if you had one person selling and hundreds buying then it was a sellers market; on the other hand, if you had two people buying—like Woolworths and Coles—and you had 10,000 sellers, it was a buyers market. That was what I was taught when I went to university. But here we are saying that we will be better off with thousands of sellers of grain. Don’t any of you people ever read an economics book? Doesn’t anybody here ever bother to think about what they are doing in this place?

I say with great passion that in the wool industry I watched a great man. I have not seen many great men in my lifetime, but Doug Anthony was one of them. He took that silly, stupid, dumb, squattocracy leadership of the UGA and told them to—well, I will not tell you exactly what he told them to do! Doug Anthony introduced, under another great man, Sir William Gunn—a man with a tonne of courage and a tonne of intelligence—the wool scheme. When they did that the price of wool was 65c; within four years they were getting $1.84.

We were told that Mr Keating was the greatest genius Treasurer in the world. That was what the OECD told us. He deregulated this industry—and the price dropped. From 1988, which was effectively the year before deregulation, it had dropped by 1995 to $3.95. So when you had collective bargaining you tripled the price; when you took it away it halved. I was at a very impressionable age. I had gone to university and been told free markets were marvellous. I began to realise that this was not correct.

Mr Tuckey interjecting

Mr KATTER —No, this country was earning 10 per cent of its income, $6,000 million, from wool. I heard Alan Jones say that we deregulated the industry and now we only have half a wool industry. I thought that could not be right. It’s right, all right! We had 174 million sheep; now we have got only 103 million sheep. They will not be coming back; it is gone for ever. That industry was completely wrecked by Mr Keating.

We saw what happened when you deregulated a rural industry—and you would have thought that we got the message. Did we get the message? No way, Jose! We went on and deregulated the egg industry. We were going to help the consumers. Well, the price went up to the consumers: 108c a dozen. The price went down to the farmers: 12c a dozen. And there was $288 million extra profit made principally by Woolworths and Coles. So that was a great success story! You would have thought we would have woken up to ourselves then but, no, sugar was next off the rank. We deregulated sugar on the home market, removing the protection on the home market. The price went up to the consumers, at $160 a tonne, and came down to the producers, at $219 a tonne. So Woolworths and Coles picked up $385 million of extra profit a year.

You would have thought then we would have stopped deregulating rural industries. No way, Jose! There was the big one: dairying. As I have said in this place before, I can vividly remember Julian McGauran going in and saying, ‘If you deregulate this industry, this will be the worst crash in Australian agricultural history.’ It was the only time I have ever been affected psychologically by a decision in parliament. I lay in bed the next morning and I just could not get up, I just stared at the ceiling, because I knew what was going to happen. I had 240 farmers and now I have got 80, and all of the ancillary industries in those towns closed down and crashed around our ears. In milk, did we help the consumers? No, the price went up 41c. Did we help the farmers? No, the price came down 19c. So if you multiply that 60c difference by 1,884 million litres a year you come up with a figure of $1,130 million extra profit made.

I suppose the Liberals have been consistent—consistently stupid. You people believe in deregulation, and those are the results of it. Have a look at your handiwork with deregulation. You in the Labor Party are terribly hypocritical and inconsistent. The people gave you the government of Australia on the basis of collective bargaining, and your first major decision is to abolish it. We have a very good minister, and I do not know what pressures have worked upon him in this issue. All I can do is plead with you to issue a licence only to one person, or maybe two at the very outside. You can still get out of jail on this, and I plead with you to consider doing that. To the Nats: I just cannot believe that you deregulated all of these industries when you were in government, but now that you have become an opposition you are suddenly regulators. Nobody is going to believe that. Come in here and cry crocodile tears, but do not be hypocrites.

I just say to all the members in parliament here that you have seen the result of your handiwork. There are the figures, anyone can get them, yet we are going to deregulate another industry in Australia. All I can say is I fought for the workers for the right to collectively bargain and I hope till the day I am pushing up daisies that I will push for the restoration of the regulation of farming. John Curtin said, ‘I did it.’ Ben Chifley said, ‘I did it.’ But Jack McEwen in fact did it and he would roll in his grave if he saw what was happening here tonight, and so would Chifley and so would Curtin.

Debate (on motion by Mr Albanese) adjourned.

Ordered that the debate be made an order of the day for the next sitting.