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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 661

Senator POWELL(10.56) —The Australian Democrats also recognise the importance and urgency of the Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill, and I personally do as well. As one who grew up on a wheat farm I know very clearly the significance of 1 March. There was scarcely a decision made in my family that did not revolve around 1 March, the day when the wheat payments were due-even down to the date of the marriage of members of the family. Nothing could interfere with 1 March, and nor would we want to interfere at this point. The Wheat Marketing Amendment Bill has a rather odd purpose, of course, but I do not think there is any benefit in rubbing salt into wounds. The original legislation, the wheat marketing Bills of 1984, was welcomed by the Australian Democrats as the culmination of a great deal of work, discussion and co-operation between all sectors on wheat marketing and as a rather radical breakthrough and radical change. It freed up the marketing operation which had been in place, and the legislation before us really just picks up an anomaly which has been discovered which would put at risk the payments due to wheat farmers from 1 March.

The Australian Democrats share the concerns being expressed these days about the plight of the wheat industry. It is a fact that what happens in the wheat industry has an enormous impact on the total economy of this nation. Over the past decade, in one area alone beyond the farm gate-in the tractor and machinery industry-45,000 jobs have been lost because of the slump in sales as a result of the erosion of profitability in the wheat industry. That is a demonstration of the impact of reduced profitability in this one very important traditional Australian rural industry. Already Australia's wheat acreage has plunged by 1.7 million hectares in three years and many wheat farmers are now telling us that they are likely to be cutting their current plantings by up to 50 per cent. This must be of major concern to us all. It is in that context that we want to do everything we can to speed the passage of this legislation.

I point out that one other aspect of the Australian Democrats' views came to light in the passage of the wheat marketing Bills in 1984 and the amending Bills in 1985 in regard to which we took a very strong stance on the issue of grower control of the Australian Wheat Board. I want to reiterate that not just in the case of the wheat industry but in terms of rural industry in general the Australian Democrats believe quite strongly that it should be people from the industry who have control over statutory marketing authorities and other authorities whose decisions do have a major impact on the industry. For that reason we have taken action in the past and have supported retention of that kind of power and control in the hands of growers.

It is important to take this opportunity to put on the record some of the aspects of support of rural industry by the Australian Democrats. For instance, Senator Collard, in his contribution, related the stresses which have been placed on rural industry under the current Government but he neglected to say that in very many of those cases the Opposition had voted with the Government on the enabling legislation-for example, on income equalisation deposits-and only the Australian Democrats had opposed that legislation. Of course, that was Budget legislation. Again in the last Budget session the Opposition, although it complained and expressed its opposition to the imposition of taxes on juice, milk and wine, nevertheless voted with the Government for the imposition of those taxes which have had a marked effect in the rural sector. Again it was only the Australian Democrats which opposed it.

The Australian Democrats in this Parliament have consistently opposed increases of export charges on a range of primary industry areas in the same way as we have consistently supported retention of grower control. In those sorts of areas people in rural Australia can continue to count on the support of the Australian Democrats.

I reiterate that what this legislation is doing is amending the current legislation so that it conforms with the intention of the original legislation, the Government and the industry, and indeed the methodology which the Australian Wheat Board is currently using as the basis for its payments to farmers. It is the expectation of the industry that this is the methodology that will be used, and it is supported by the Australian Democrats.