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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 660


Senator COLLARD (Leader of the National Party of Australia in the Senate)(10.11) —We have a new explanatory memorandum for the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill 1987, which is to tidy up a mistake which came to light because the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) was not quite satisfied with the original Wheat Marketing Act 1984. For that reason - -


Senator Robertson —You are always looking for something devious. You must be a rotten lot over there.


Senator COLLARD —At least we do not try to duck for cover when a senior public servant makes an honest assessment of the interest rate structure in this country. Not only do we wish this legislation a speedy passage, but also we will assist its speedy passage. So our rhetoric will be matched by our action. We seem to have been waylaid at the start. This is urgent legislation and the Opposition is not opposing it. It is to correct an anomaly within systems of calculating payments by the Australian Wheat Board to growers for the 1986-87 harvest. Without this legislative action, the Government claims that growers could be disadvantaged by up to $1.25 per tonne in their final payments. The anomaly has come to light against the likelihood of a significant payment through the wheat underwriting arrangements. The Attorney-General's Department has advised that strict application of section 15 (2) of the Wheat Marketing Act 1984 would mean a shift away from the methodology used to calculate the guaranteed minimum price for growers. This would be contrary to the wishes of both the Australian Wheat Board and the industry. With a machinery provision such as this we have every wish to expedite its coming into law for the very simple reason that growers could be disadvantaged when they were not meant to be disadvantaged.

We are all aware of the fact that, because of the policies of other nations, the wheat growers of this nation, through no fault of their own-they are still producing some of the best wheat in the world-are being seriously disadvantaged on international markets. On top of that, the wheat growers, as with all other rural producers in this nation, have had to run the gauntlet of this Government's normal policies. Dare I mention the interest rates which have raised their ugly heads in many ways and forms over the past few days, not least the rather honest assessment by a senior public servant.

There have been many other actions by this Government in the last two or three years which have had a detrimental effect on this nation's wheat growers and grain growers generally. I will instance a few. This Government accepted the Industries Assistance Commission recommendation in August 1983 to impose a 15 per cent tariff on imported grain harvesters, despite strong calls from the industry to impose a bounty instead. Finally in August 1985 it realised that a bounty was better. In its May 1983 mini-Budget it wrecked the income equalisation deposits scheme and tax averaging-probably two of the best initiatives of the Fraser-Anthony Government to help the rural industry. Of course that has been basically gutted by this Government.

Also in May 1983 it reduced the general depreciation allowance and abolished the special depreciation allowance for fuel storage. It prematurely scrapped the Commonwealth drought fodder subsidy in June 1983, and the interest payments to subsidy from December 1983, despite specific election undertakings to maintain them, at a time when wide areas of the country were still seriously drought stricken. It has progressively cut back the petroleum products fuel freight subsidy for country Australia to the point where in May 1985 the scheme was virtually abolished. It indexed fuel excise to the consumer price index in August 1983 but failed to index also the diesel fuel rebate. In August 1985 it finally recognised that the diesel rebate should also be indexed, and did so effective from November 1985. Of course there was the farce which we will all remember of the anti-dumping duty on diammonium phosphate and monoammonium phosphate fertilisers, with special exemptions being granted for Western Australia in January 1986 in light of the State election, and the subsequent extension of the duty to all Australians. We all remember the rightful backlash in the Western Australian election on 8 February. The Government's September 1985 tax package proposed to quarantine farm losses, but by April 1986 the Government had to concede in a rural policy statement that this was not a good idea, and dropped it. So the Government's record is a sorry lack of understanding of the difficulties facing rural Australia and a lot of those difficulties have applied to grain growers and wheat growers particularly; thus it is necessary that this legislation receive a speedy passage because if it is not enacted there could be a serious disadvantage of up to $1.25 per tonne in the final payments to wheat growers. As I indicated, the Opposition supports this measure.