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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 685

Senator BOSWELL —My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Earlier today in question time, Senator Collins claimed that the shadow minister for primary industries had called for a write-off of one-third of farm debt. The truth is that when Mr Anderson was asked a question about the survival of farmers, he said that in the worst drought-affected areas many farmers would need relief of up to one-third off their drought incurred debt—not their total debt—to survive. Did Senator Collins mislead the Senate in this way? Why did he falsely suggest that Mr Anderson wanted the government to pay this money when he did not? Why did Senator Collins say that the previous government's fodder subsidies saw fodder prices double when, in fact, the ABARE fodder price index rose by only 16 per cent between 1982 and the abolition of the scheme by the Hawke government? Is it not simply the case that Senator Collins has misrepresented Mr Anderson to hide the fact that the government's drought relief is pitiful in comparison?

Senator COLLINS —Before I attack Senator Boswell, I will publicly commend him for the strong and principled stand he has taken against the League of Rights in rural Australia. The reason that I responded in the way that I did was that that is precisely what was reported as a result of what Mr Anderson said at the press conference yesterday—as a reference to the print media will show Senator Boswell. If that is wrong—and I refer Senator Boswell to today's print media—I suggest that Mr Anderson takes it up with the newspapers concerned, because that is how it was reported.

  I might add that the point Senator Boswell made—Mr Anderson was reported as suggesting that this would apply only in severely drought-affected areas—is complicated by two things. One, he has not yet defined, and it is an extremely important matter, what severe drought is. He will find a reference with pages on that in the Senate committee's report on drought policy. There was a huge argument there, trying to define what `severe drought' was. It is a very important issue, but he has not defined it. Secondly, the difficulty with that kind of proposal is turning it on and off—farmers who happen to be declared by governments to be drought affected one day and not drought affected the next. It is not as simple as it sounds.

  In conclusion, I would also like to say that I commend those banks—and the cases have been reported to me—which have negotiated with rural customers that they have categorised as being long-term viable, arrangements for red-lining debt, for warehousing agreed proportions of debt and for not requiring payment of either the interest or the capital. There is no question that some banks have negotiated those arrangements with some of their customers, and I commend them for it. I hope that the practice continues.

Senator BOSWELL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In view of the minister's answer to the question, I ask: if he is wrong on any points in his previous answer, will he publicly apologise in the Senate to Mr Anderson? Will he be man enough to apologise?

Senator COLLINS —We can go outside and talk about that.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.