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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 687

Senator BROWNHILL (Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia) (3.04 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins), to a question without notice asked by Senator Christopher Evans this day, relating to drought.

We have a drought at the moment that is most horrific. I do not think that it was really that great for the minister to answer the question in the way he did. All he did was criticise Mr Anderson for what he was suggesting would be a great help to those farmers who are suffering such great hardship.

  Does this minister not understand that Australia has a drought that is killing breeding herds and breeding flocks, and laying waste to our vast wheat lands and our agriculture? Does he not understand that the rural adjustment scheme is not working quite as well as it could be? Does this minister not understand that it is his government's policies over the last 10 years that have meant that no farmers have got enough meat on their bones to be able to get through this drought on their own? Does this minister not understand that, basically, we require to keep that breeding flock intact if we are going to come out of this drought in any shape or form?

  Senator Boswell alluded to the fact that Mr Anderson did say, `A third of drought incurred debt'—not all the debt on which the minister is using the figures—`in some areas would need to be reduced.' If it has been misreported, it obviously was not heard as well as the tape that was held by his office. He also said that the shadow cabinet subcommittee will be examining the extent and depth of that debt and looking at ways of alleviating it.

  The figure of $17-odd billion debt is horrific. He was talking specifically about those very badly drought-affected areas, which I know the minister has sympathised with. But the minister has actually said, `We have given them $14 million odd.' What Mr Anderson is saying is, `We want to keep that breeding herd and the breeding flock going in Australia so that when the drought breaks we are going to be able to supply those export markets'—about which Senator McMullan will be very cheesed off if we cannot supply, particularly in beef and mutton—`when the drought breaks.' That is what he is trying to do.

  The 1982 policy said that the scheme paid farmers 50 per cent of the cost of feed wheat, less the cost of freight, which was subsidised under the natural disaster relief arrangements with subsidies for all other fodder based on the nutritional value relative to wheat. As the minister well knows, because he has told us he has been on the land, total digestible matter is the way we work out the feed values for what we are going to feed our animals. We do not just feed them anything. We work out what is the best value feed that we can use at that particular time. We work it out relative to the price of wheat. Mr Anderson is saying, `We will give you a subsidy to make sure that you can keep that breeding herd and the breeding flock there.'

  I think Senator Collins has got the intent of what Mr Anderson said a little bit wrong. He is saying, `We want to keep the breeding herd and the breeding flock there.' Senator Collins should remember—and I repeat again—how the government has slammed the farming community in the last 10 years. It has really kicked them in the guts. It has taken away the IEDs so that they are no good any more.

Senator Collins —We have not.

Senator BROWNHILL —Senator Collins and his government have them taken away so that they are no longer of any use. I can tell Senator Collins because I am on the land and I know a little bit more about it. Senator Collins has failed. He has gone off the land. I am still on it. So Senator Collins should start talking a bit of commonsense and then we will listen to him. You do not understand the problems of the damn place.

Senator Collins —You're an idiot—there's $135 million there.

Senator BROWNHILL —I would like you to withdraw that. I have never called you an idiot.

Senator Collins —I withdraw, Mr Deputy President.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Brownhill, would you care to address your remarks through the chair, and, Senator Collins, would you cease to interject.

Senator BROWNHILL —Just to finish, this package that Mr Anderson put yesterday, especially concerning drought fodder, was to keep stock alive. If Senator Collins wants to kill the stock, he should not give any help at all. That is what he is doing at the moment: he is driving people to the wall and he is making sure the animals die in agony, because a lot of people cannot even afford the feed to feed the animals. You stand condemned for that.