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Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 43


Senator BURNS (4.45 p.m.) —When I looked at the motion that has been moved by Senator Brownhill, I found it difficult to believe he really moved it. As Chairman of the Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs, I have worked with Senator Brownhill, who is deputy chairman of the committee, and I know it is certainly not the way in which he operates. He operates in a compassionate way and across party lines in looking for the answers after first having identified the problems.

  I was not very impressed by Senator Brownhill's contribution on this occasion as he spent much of his time describing the problems associated with what is a severe drought. I do not have any argument with that. I probably will not have any argument with the description of the drought and its consequences that Senator Crane might talk about. He also works very well in the committee across party lines in focussing on the problems and seeking the solutions. The point has already been made today that we brought down a unanimous report in the area of drought, and that has been well documented.

  I think it is easy to confuse drought with a severe drought. Drought is part of the Australian landscape. Drought is the absence of rain, aridity—other descriptions can be given to it. It may be for a period of two years. When we talk about the affected areas, we talk about people being able to manage for drought. All of the organisations that represent the farming community rightly talk about the need to manage and prepare for drought. When Prime Minister Keating talked about drought being part of the landscape, he was referring to that sort of situation. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister understands and as part of the cabinet made the decision that, when there is a severe drought, it is very necessary to put extraordinary measures into place to assist people. I talk of droughts that may be only once in 50 or 100 years. There is, I repeat, no question about the fact that people are hurting out there in rural industry.

  In the drought report we made certain suggestions that follow the thinking of many other people in the community such as those involved in an expert drought task force that looked at the matter before our committee did. We talked about self-sufficiency and the ways of accomplishing that, such as using methods of taxation. One of the things that has to be quickly recognised is that, if people have not been practising good management and planning on a farm because they have not had those skills, they could well be in a position where they have not prepared for a drought.

  I do not believe anybody should say, `Look, they've stuffed it up, so let them go down.' I do not believe that at all. In those circumstances the government should dig deep, as it would on occasions when there are floods or fires and people have to be helped. While we can talk about managing and preparing for drought, there are those circumstances that are not in that category and people must be sympathetic and must help. For Senator Brownhill to say that the Labor Party and Labor people do not understand the problems of the rural people is quite wrong.


Senator Brownhill —I said the Prime Minister.


Senator BURNS —But the implication was there. The Prime Minister does understand. I suggest that that was a malicious effort to belittle a great Prime Minister, if not the greatest this nation has ever had.

  People talk about calamities and say, `The rural industry will be destroyed. The rural industry is important to this nation.' The second point is absolutely true. The rural industry is important to this nation and must be protected and helped by this nation. But to suggest that it will be destroyed is absolute rubbish and absolutely untrue. Others will come along who will buy the properties cheaply and farm those properties; so the rural industry will still be there.

  There are many people on the land who have been there for two and three generations, if not more, and who will disappear. That is not a good thing. Nobody understands that more than the Prime Minister does; and nobody wants to prevent that happening more than the Prime Minister does. But we cannot say that, because someone is in difficulty because of bad management, all of a sudden we have to hand the treasury over to them, when others, such as Senator Brownhill, Senator Crane and Senator Panizza, who I know from talking to them are very good managers of their properties, manage, although there might be times when they have great difficulty. Others are very wasteful of their talents and wasteful in their work. They are bad managers, have problems and want the government to solve those problems at all times. That is not possible. The Prime Minister does care about people in the rural industry; as I do; and as every other person in this chamber does. (Time expired)