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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6557

Mr KATTER (12:54 PM) —I rise to speak on the Farm Household Support Amendment (Ancillary Benefits) Bill 2010. The events of the last 24 hours should bring home with a vengeance to the politicians in this parliament and the members of parliament—and I think they are two different things—that the people of Australia really have had enough. The people of Australia watched this place completely destroy manufacturing industries. The policies of this parliament destroyed manufacturing in this country. When Mr Keating spoke about free trade, I thought: ‘Is the man completely mad? Does he think that we are going to work for Asian Third World wages? Or are we going to close down the industries?’ There was no in-between there. I did not think for one moment that he had countenanced that the industries would be closed down. But, since he must have known they were being closed down and he never changed his policies, he decided that we would not have any manufacturing industries in this country.

We then moved on to the next government, the Howard government. Whilst great destruction had been wreaked by Keating, it continued for the next 12 years under the coalition government. It amuses me no end to see people from the National Party—not that there is much left of it. There are only four members from New South Wales and two from Victoria in this place. The others are members of the Liberal Party. Their leader is a member of the division of the Liberal Party and I think it is about time the House sorted out that problem as well.

We went into a second phase when agriculture was completely shattered. It was shattered initially by Mr Keating in the wool industry. Few people realise that in 1990—not ancient history—wool was earning more for this country than the golden coal industry. Wool was a bigger export earner than coal. What has happened to it? It has vanished. It does not get a mention in the top 15 export items. Mr Keating decided to deregulate it. Whilst I very much respect the wisdom and wit of the honourable member for O’Connor from Western Australia—and I read with interest his speech on this bill—I was sorry for his speech because he mentioned the wheat industry but he completely failed to mention the wool industry.

I was very much aware of the collapse of the wool industry back in the late sixties and arguably the early seventies. I thought there was absolutely no hope for wool. That very great Australian Doug Anthony introduced the wool scheme. Having had somewhat of a university education, I said: ‘Supply and demand will determine price. You cannot really get around that.’ I said that the next year when the price rose 30 or 40 per cent and I said that the next year when the price rose 30 or 40 per cent, and after five years of watching the price rise I sort of forgot about what I had been taught at university. It was quite clear to me that collective aggressive marketing policies would dramatically increase the return that you received for a product. Orderly marketing schemes—as they are sometimes called—or statutory marketing schemes were needed if we were going to prosper.

The great Jack McEwen—one of the finest and greatest men to ever set foot into this parliament—said, ‘It was one of my proudest boasts that when I left the federal parliament every single industry was under statutory marketing arrangements.’ In fact, he was wrong. The wool and cattle industries were not. Doug Anthony, in the teeth of opposition from graziers, introduced the scheme. For the next 20 years we had continuing prosperity in this industry. It was not a great prosperity; a lot of people said, ‘You precipitated a great growth in numbers.’ There was never any great growth in numbers. The wool numbers never moved up dramatically. They moved up significantly, but most certainly not dramatically, so that effect did not occur. It is false to say that it did.

The price doubled over the next three years after the regulatory marketing scheme was introduced. We had this marvellous scheme for 20 years. Mr Keating deregulated the scheme and—surprise, surprise—within three years the price had dropped clean in half. I was corrected the other day when I said that there has been a 40 per cent drop in sheep numbers. A person shouted out that there has been a 60 per cent reduction. There is no doubt that the sheep industry’s numbers have dropped clean in half.

From then on we saw, sadly, the Howard government—which I was part of, initially—deregulate all the other industries: eggs, maize, tobacco, fishing and sugar. All of them were deregulated. You would have thought, after the enormous destruction of manufacturing and the complete collapse of the wool industry under deregulation, that someone in here would have said: ‘Hold on a minute, fellas. This ain’t such a good idea. This is working out really badly.’ There was a most wonderful cartoon which I thought epitomised the era magnificently well. It showed Mr Keating reading a book on the Japanese economy and saying: ‘They’re doomed to failure. It works in practice but it’ll never work in theory.’ I thought, ‘That says it all.’

I watched the wipe-out of the maize industry. We buried a hero son from the Atherton Tablelands who lost his life in Afghanistan. The great landmark and icon of Atherton were the grain silos. It was a huge maize-growing area for the dairy industry. We did not need it, of course, because now we have hardly any dairy industry left. We have gone from 240 farmers under deregulation down to 60 farmers. There is no sense of responsibility in this place. There is no sense of failure. There is no admission of being wrong. In the dramatic events of the past 24 hours it was interesting to see that the Australian people have had enough. They have had the two-party system telling them that this is going to be wonderful. They watched the annihilation of the manufacturing industry and then they watched the slow and agonising death of agriculture in this country.

I will be very specific. I have not checked on the wool figures recently, but I am told that they are down 60 per cent. Sheep numbers in Australia have most certainly fallen by half and they will not come back. Cattle numbers are down 20 to 25 per cent. The sugar industry is closing six mills every 10 years. We have only 23 mills to go, and then it will all be gone—wrapped up. This industry has been among the top 10 export earners for this country—minerals, coal and everything thrown in—for the nation’s entire history. The sugar industry was the industry that dragged us out of the Great Depression. It employs 50,000 people and it was shattered and wrecked by the removal of tariffs. It is a great idea to remove tariffs if other people are doing it; it is a really dumb idea if nobody else is doing it. Of course, we fit into the really dumb class.

Just to give you some idea, last time I looked at the figures, a few years ago now, the Europeans were getting $1,000 a tonne for their sugar, the Americans were getting $660 a tonne for their sugar and the Australians were getting the world price of $270 a tonne for their sugar. The Brazilians admitted in the WTO that there was a $2,000 million a year subsidy to their industry via the ethanol industry. In fairness to them, they had done as much to clean up the pollution and to help people dying of lung disease in Sao Paulo as they had done to help their farmers and to provide themselves with a safe source of petrol. They did not have to rely on outsiders.

Having said all those things, government is here to help, to ensure that our industries win. Government is not a spectator sport. Yes, risks have to be taken. Doug Anthony placed his entire political career and income for his family upon his judgment that he was right in introducing that wool scheme. I, for one, did not think he was right at the time, but I admired the man and I went along with him in loyalty to a party that had served us greatly and well in rural Australia. He proved to be dead right and I became a very enthusiastic supporter of the sorts of philosophies and policies that were expounded in this place by Jack McEwen and then later by Doug Anthony. They made us one of the most successful and aggressive farming nations on earth.

Where are we today in farming? We are a joke. The wool industry has almost ceased to exist. The cattle industry is currently collapsing. The dairy industry, which is the next biggest industry, is down by 15 per cent, which quite amazes me—I would have thought that people still have to drink milk. The loss of the manufacturing sector is so huge that it has dragged down the overall demand for dairy throughout Australia. The fifth giant industry that we have is the sugar industry, and, as I said, we are closing six mills every 10 years and have only 20-odd mills to go before we have no industry at all. This is something to be proud of! Australian governments over the past 30 years have had great achievements: they have wiped out manufacturing and destroyed farming! But, over the past two months, the Australian people have jacked up; they have had enough. When this place was going to put the king hit on mining, they said: ‘No. We’ve had enough of your stupidity and your stupid two-party system, where you agree with each other on your stupidities. You’ve wrecked every industry in the country, but you’re not going to wreck mining.’ And we have seen the events of the past 24 hours.

It appears that people in this place could not care less about their country. They could not care less that in this nation a farmer commits suicide every four days. Is that something to be proud of as a race of people—that every four days a farmer in your country commits suicide? I unfortunately have the indignity of presiding over two of the towns with the highest suicide rate in Australia, both of them in the heartland of the dairy industry—or what was once the dairy industry area. It was wrecked by this place.

I will illustrate your incredible stupidity. There are a million people—five per cent of the Australian population—living in North Queensland. Their milk is now being sent down to southern Queensland—because they have access to Woolworths and Coles—and southern milk is being transported to North Queensland. They wave to each other as the milk trains go past and say: ‘Hello, fellows. How are you going?’ So now we are carting milk 2,000 kilometres south and 2,000 kilometres north—4,000 kilometres the milk is being carted, whereas before it was being carted 100 or 200 kilometres at the outside. And five per cent of the nation are being serviced this way. That is so very clever! Is it any wonder that the people of Australia hate politicians? When I go into a bar, the last thing I own up to, if they do not know who I am, is to being a politician, I can assure you.

We have taken away the EC and I would agree with the remarks of the member for O’Connor when he says there is probably a better way to deal with exceptional circumstances than the way we have been dealing with them to date. In the last floods, the people who stood on their hind legs and fought to get government assistance to rescue the industry of the frontier of Australia—the Gulf Country of Australia, our frontier—were not just fighting for themselves. A number of them could sell up and retire as very wealthy people. They include Ian and Ellen Martin; Mick, Nola and Troy Gallagher and Ashley, who was also mayor of Normanton; Paul Edwards at Delta Downs; another mayor of North Queensland in Fred Pascoe; Luke and Helen Symons; the Secombes, a pioneering family of Central Queensland and now a pioneering family of the Gulf Country; Noelene Gross, a tenacious little fighter who has earned the great admiration of everybody who has come into contact with her; and John Nelson, my good friend, one of the most successful cattlemen in the country and one of the most successful businessmen in North Queensland, and his dynamic daughter, Sarah, who was a real tiger in the battle over the flooding devastation in North Queensland—her wonderful work brought it home to every single person in Australia and we pay great tribute to her.

We also thank the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for having an enlightened attitude towards our situation. People said: ‘It is for droughts. Have you got a drought?’ Yes, we had a drought that was created by flood. It killed all of the grass, so we had no grass for the cattle to eat. If that is not a drought, I do not know what is. We thank the minister, because we think his aggression on this matter helped us get agreement out of the state government, which was very critical. I also thank the state minister. At first he was recalcitrant, but I think he found his conscience and God bless him for doing so. We thank those people.

We set up a state bank in Queensland. People think that we troglodyte people who live in the past, those of us from the old Country Party, are a bunch of hick numbskulls. Yes, we were the hick numbskulls that created the greatest agricultural nation on earth. That is what we created. What the hell did you do? You destroyed it, all you clever people in here.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—No, I did not destroy it. Please speak through the chair.

Mr KATTER —Yes, Deputy Speaker Sidebottom. I speak to the Parliament of Australia in saying this and I do not apologise for my remarks—far from it. On almost a weekly or monthly basis at the very least, I have to sit and watch people I know in North Queensland committing suicide thanks to the decisions of this place. If I speak with great passion and anger, it is because I feel great passion and anger.

I conclude by saying that we were a Queensland government of business people—people who had backed our judgment with our own money and who had dirt under our fingernails. We had not asked other people to do the work for us; we had done it ourselves. We had lived in the mustering camps; we had worked down the mines; we had cut cane by hand. Of the cabinet ministers, 13 had cut cane by hand. Those were the sorts of people who  manned the cabinet in Queensland.

We decided that we could do a lot better by having our own bank—one that would look after our people. We conceived of this bank to help people, but it was the government of Queensland that it helped most. We made a huge amount of money out of it. We laugh at all the great free marketeers. Unfortunately, the party lost its way. It was actually the National Party that sold the bank and they made a thousand million dollars out of it. Bill Gunn and I were made responsible to cabinet for that bank. It pulled 25 per cent of the sugar industry through. In this place a lot of people dragged up the fact that I had been personally responsible for sacking the head when we were turning it into a bank. Yes, I had been. He said: ‘Bob, we are men of the world. Thirty per cent of the sugar industry has to go.’ I said: ‘Listen, Graham, the price of sugar goes up and down like a yo-yo, you imbecile. I will bring you down the graphs.’ I did not say ‘imbecile’. I was more restrained in those days. I took him down graphs of beef industry prices, wool industry prices and sugar industry prices. They go up and down, but what happens to us in agriculture is that, when the price goes up, it is truncated by taxation. When the price goes down, the banks add on, add on, add on. The interest rate was 17 per cent. In my last year in St Francis, we paid 29 per cent—an extra 2½ per cent because we were an at-risk industry, an extra three per cent because we were in an at-risk area and another three per cent because we were in drought. By the time you added it all up, we were paying 29 per cent and that is how we overcame the development bank. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —Before calling the member for Hughes, I understand it is the wish of the House that she not be interrupted by points of order. I call the member for Hughes.