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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 688

Senator CRANE (3.09 p.m.) —I would like to support my colleague Senator Brownhill. We are aware of what the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) said in Queensland. However, we are concerned not so much about what Senator Collins said in his answer this afternoon and the fact that he chose to use a newspaper report to misrepresent the position but the tone that he used and the way that he behaved. We now have in this country what is estimated to be the worst drought in our history. It is certainly worse than the drought of 1982.

  One would not expect Senator Collins, holding the position he does, to come into this place with a newspaper report and behave in the manner he did. One would not expect Senator Collins to be saying, `Idiot, idiot, idiot!' while Senator Brownhill was on his feet. That was the way that Senator Collins behaved today. That showed his contempt for the issue that had been raised at question time. I say to Senator Collins that—and Senator Boswell has the figures—not only should he apologise for his behaviour in this place but also he should apologise to Mr Anderson—

Senator Collins —Oh, sit down!

Senator CRANE —Senator Collins should just sit there and listen for a little while. It would do him a lot of good.

Senator Collins —Not to this.

Senator CRANE —Yes, it will. Senator Collins should also apologise to those people out in the country towns and on the country farms—the pastoralists—who are suffering like few people have ever suffered in this country. That is what we are talking about here today.

  Maybe the fodder scheme is not perfect. It can be finetuned. I am not going to argue that particular point. But I say to Senator Collins that genetics were kept inside this country as a result of what was done from 1982 to approximately 1984. When we have to start shipping grain across the country, from Western Australia to New South Wales and Queensland, to feed stock—that is what is happening now—it is time to step in, move on the issue and look at ways in which assistance can be given to get fodder across the country. It does not matter whether this is done by way of subsidising the cost of freight. But we need to act now.

  Senator Collins asked: how do we define `severe drought'? The drought policy committee on which I sat had enormous problems with this question. But I can tell Senator Collins that one does know when a severe drought has arrived. We do know that in Queensland and New South Wales in particular there is now an extremely severe drought. There comes a time when people such as senators who sit in this place and the farm leaders of this country have to make a subjective judgment about what the situation is. The government can put all sorts of fancy measures in place in terms of this, but it has to make a judgment. It would not be very difficult right now to make an assessment that we have a severe drought on our hands and that additional support is required.

  I say to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins) that I am very disappointed. I believe that he has tried very hard to come to grips with this problem—I firmly believe that. But I am very disappointed that he should come in here and behave like he did today. That is a reflection against those very good people out there who are battling their hearts out to stay on top of not only their financial bankruptcy and debt problems but also their emotional problems.

  I was greatly disappointed by the performance of the minister. I was disappointed by the way he grabbed that press release. I know it will disappoint rural people. We have to look at positive, constructive ways in which we can address this problem. One way is to look very precisely at giving some assistance to help people in the eastern states get fodder from Western Australia.