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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1210

Senator O'CHEE (3.18 p.m.) —I am flabbergasted at some of the comments that have just been made by Senator Collins, claiming that the government ought to be congratulated for its funding of scientific research for primary industry. Let us get one thing clear: this government has absolutely no interest in rural industries in this country. This government has no interest in the wellbeing of the rural sector and it has demonstrated this time and time again. I was quite surprised to find that Senator Collins in his little rant of 3 1/2 minutes, or however long it was—

Senator Gareth Evans —It was a better rant than your rant.

Senator O'CHEE —Senator Evans had a rant as well today; hopefully, his hormones have calmed down and we will not have him interjecting. Senator Collins in his little rant today claimed that we ought to look at the policies of the coalition in the last election. There are a lot of farmers from the east coast to the west coast of this country who dearly wish that the coalition had won that last election. They know that the policies that we had on offer were policies that would have delivered real benefit to the rural sector in this country because, unlike this government, we would have substantially reduced the operating costs of Australian farmers. Operating costs are the crippling factor for Australian farmers at the moment—

Senator Campbell —Fuel tax.

Senator O'CHEE —Operating costs such as fuel tax, as my friend Senator Campbell suggests, are driving hundreds of Australian farm families off the land every week. They can no longer make ends meet because this government, instead of fostering primary industry, is using it as a milch cow. In the most despicable and disgusting fashion, it is robbing Australian farmers with outrageous and rapacious taxes which bear absolutely no resemblance to the profitability of those farms. I am sure that most Australian farmers would not mind paying their tax, provided they were making a profit, and that is the key. The taxes this government puts on the farm sector in our country are taxes the farmers have to pay on their costs. They are taxes on input costs, and they make those input costs all the more expensive.

  The coalition was advocating a completely different approach—not putting a tax on top of costs to make those costs more expensive but reducing the costs, allowing farmers to make a profit, to stay on the land, and then taxing expenditure and taxing the income, the profit that is made after all the costs have been met. What could be fairer as far as the farm sector is concerned? Mr Deputy President, you have quite a lot to do with farmers in your home state of Western Australia, as does my colleague Senator Panizza. We have a situation where those of us on this side of the chamber know very well that the government has no interest in the farm sector.

  Let us talk about rural research. Let us talk about the funding for scientific research in terms of primary industry. This government claims that it should be congratulated. This is the same people who, at the Australian sugar industry conference, were suggesting that it might not be a bad idea after all to float off and sell the experimentation stations used to support the sugar industry. There is only one reason why the government would want to do that: if the experimentation stations were sold off, it may well relieve the government of having to provide its matching dollar for dollar funding for sugar research. That is the real reason it is interested in discussing the concept of selling off those research stations. It is solely about how the government can find another excuse to cut back on funding for primary industry.

  Senator Sherry was at that conference too, and I listened to his speech with great interest. Some of the questions to the government were very interesting. They were not just questions in relation to cost—

Senator Sherry —I didn't mention that, though.

Senator O'CHEE —No, because that came after lunch, when Senator Sherry spoke. The interesting thing is that Senator Sherry was not exactly forthcoming on the details of what the government intended to do in relation to water charges to farmers. That is another area where the government, if it has its way through its so-called reform processes, will add costs to farmers, not reduce costs to farmers. Senator Sherry talked about all the great discussion papers he had authored and all the great thought he had put into it—or, rather, the large amounts of time he had spent thinking about it; exactly how productive his thoughts are is a matter completely open to debate.

  Senator Sherry congratulated himself and the government because he had spent a lot of time talking and thinking about water reform. What he did not tell them was that his proposals for water reform will probably see increases in water costs for farmers involved in irrigation. In fact, Senator Sherry said something totally outrageous; maybe he really does need to look at the research. He said that there were probably large areas of irrigation land that should be taken out of irrigation.

Senator Panizza —What!

Senator O'CHEE —That is what he said. He said large amounts of irrigation land in this country should be taken out of irrigation. That is what he told the Australian sugar conference in Brisbane, when he was the lunchtime speaker in place of Senator Collins. If this is what the government really has on its agenda, heaven help Australian farmers.