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Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 40


Senator WOODLEY (4.33 p.m.) —I am sorry, I do not have the details, but I will get them for Senator Collins because I certainly would be interested in engaging in any activity which would end this drought. I rise to speak to this matter of public interest, but I am disappointed that Senator Brownhill has sought to make political capital out of the tragic and terrible situation of Australian farmers. We are in the midst of an exceptional drought. No-one, I am sure, would argue about the devastating personal and financial heartbreak which many Australian farmers face. I agree with that part of the motion and it is this heartbreak that I want to address today.

  However, I do not believe there is a lot of point in my joining in a debate about the rest of Senator Brownhill's motion, as it is little more than silly political point scoring. Whether the callous disregard of the rural sector by Mr Keating and his related failure is worth debating is a matter of opinion, but I am not sure that any of us can claim to have done enough for the bush or our country people. I certainly am not going to stand up here today as though I am lilywhite in that regard. I am not going to single out anyone for particular blame. However, I want to underline and emphasise that I recognise we are in the midst of a terrible drought.

  I also want to emphasise that there is an even deeper problem beyond and prior to the drought, and that is the extent of rural debt. I want to quote from the submission to the rural and regional affairs committee by the Australian conference of leaders of religious institutes. Only last week, they said:

Drought is only part of the story. Banks have a lot to answer for. And, to my knowledge, top level executives of the Commonwealth Bank, in particular, who repeatedly refused to negotiate with families in financial difficulties.

I could add to that many stories. I received in my office just today two votergrams. One was from Mrs Elaine Toohey of Hinkler Street, Tullamore, New South Wales. She exclaims:

HELP!

. . . . . . . . .

I very much need whatever assistance & advice you can offer . . .

as she recounts the story of what has happened to her with her debt. I received another votergram from Don Knight of Riverview, Mount David, New South Wales which says:

PLEA FOR HELP . . . BEFORE DEBT DESTROYS US

He concludes:

Can you help in any way?

I understand that not only are we in the midst of a dreadful drought but also the debt which farmers face has made that drought far worse. The submission of the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes to the rural and regional committee further states:

The deregulation of the banking system in the early 1980s gradually cast aside the long-standing relationship and introduced several significant changes.

A little further on it states:

. . . in this sea change, the financial institutions now operated according to the practices and parameters set by other commercial institutions in which the onus is on the clients to protect their own interests.

The submission was commenting on the fact that years ago farmers could depend upon managers of rural banks, but that has all changed. The submission goes on to say:

In the wake of this change, few farmers appeared to be aware of the manner in which the new practices would affect them. In the rural recession of the mid 1980s however, farmers quickly learned that loyalty and trust were dispensable, and were therefore dispensed with.

I am almost struck dumb by the extent of the evidence which has been given to the rural and regional affairs committee. (Time expired)