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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 662


Senator BROWNHILL(10.22) —To too many people this legislation is no longer of any significance because today they are no longer in the business of growing wheat. Conditions out in the country at the moment are such that many wheat farmers have got to the stage where they cannot even afford to plant wheat. There are a great deal of problems out there at the moment. In this last week there was a sale of machinery at Molong, where some 100 items of machinery were put up for auction by finance companies which had repossessed the machinery from farmers who could not meet the repayments. This means that many of the farmers have no equipment with which to earn a living or grow a crop this year.

The Government is aware that things like this are happening every day but I wonder what it is doing about it. Instead of doing something about that, this Government is occupying its time in patching up legislation that was poorly drafted in the first place. Legislation has even been resubmitted to us this morning which is a redraft of what was presented yesterday. Similar patch-ups were needed in the parent legislation when last minute changes were made by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) in the early hours of the morning last year. Australian farmers today are probably the most efficient in the world. With this efficiency has come a degree of professionalism and expertise in a wide range of areas. Yet, despite being the most efficient, it is still hard for them to make a living even when cash reserves and equity are high.

Let me quote an example from my own returns for the last wheat harvest. The Australian standard white is $130.62 per tonne. Ninety per cent of that first payment that people receive is $117.56 per tonne. To give honourable senators an idea, 22.34 tonnes of HD1 at $112.06 per tonne comes to a gross amount of $2,726.82. The deductions for that amount of wheat are $891.37, and they include a freight charge of $449.03, carryover costs of $18.32, the Ceres House Development Fund of $2.23, a wheat research tax of $8.94, a bulk handling authority aggregate fee of $373.08 and a wharfage fee of $39.77. After the payment of that there is not a lot of money left for the wheat grower once the wheat crop is grown. The amount of up to $1.50 which this legislation will allow will be of some help.

The incompetence of this legislation, which was poorly drafted in the first place, is matched only by that of the New South Wales Unsworth Labor Government, which has slugged the New South Wales wheat growers with the rail freight and handling charges. As I have said, I think this Government should take a lot more heed of the crisis in this country at the moment. If the farmers cannot afford to grow a wheat crop, they will not sow it. If they cannot afford to export that wheat, the standard of living for all Australians is going to fall because it is one of our biggest export industries. The farmers simply want a fair go. They want a fair go with interest rates and they want a fair go with a decent price for the products that are produced without too many of the government taxes and charges which are presently being foisted on them, especially on the New South Wales wheat growers by the State Labor Government.

In the last year or two this Government has allowed inflation to rise four or five times the rate of our trading partners. The farmers have borne the constantly increasing fuel prices, and the cost of machinery in the last year has gone up by some 30-odd per cent. What with the extra taxes, such as the fringe benefits tax and the capital gains tax, the wheat farmers are in a great deal of trouble. I think in the other place yesterday, Mr Hunt, the shadow Minister for Primary Industry, instanced the fact that even suicides are occurring in the wheat growing areas because people have been put under so much stress and strain by the problems in the wheat growing industry. I think the calls from that industry as far as debt moratoriums are concerned, the fact that that industry has asked for concessional loans to tide it over the short term until things get better, and the calls for expansion of the rural adjustment scheme, should be heeded by this Government. I think this legislation, as I have said, was poorly drafted in the first place. It is another patch-up by this Go-vernment to fix something that should have been done properly in the first place. I support the quick passage of this Bill to help an industry that has never been under greater stress.