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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 691

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (3.25 p.m.) —I commence by saying this: not only have I pledged the government's willingness to provide further assistance, if it is necessary, but the Prime Minister personally—

Senator McGauran —If it's necessary!

Senator COLLINS —Senator McGauran should wait until I have finished before he makes a fool of himself again. He demonstrated his ignorance on transport subsidies a minute ago. I have been advised that the government of Queensland is preparing a further examination of its own situation for presentation to the Commonwealth government. I also know that the government of New South Wales is doing the same thing. I point to the record in terms of Senator McGauran's interjection—that the immediate call by the Premier of New South Wales, after he toured the drought affected areas of New South Wales, has already been answered by this government. In fact, it was answered within 24 hours in terms of providing additional finance for exceptional circumstances, which was what Mr Fahey asked for, and for it to be extended to New South Wales—and we have done that. I think our record speaks for itself on this.

  I have indicated, and so has the Prime Minister, that we are prepared to do this. It is easy when one is in opposition to do all of these things off the top of one's head—to pump out press releases which do not have to be costed and which do not need the support of the Department of Finance or the Treasury. One also has to work with the appropriate state governments. The most astonishing thing about the policy on drought which the coalition released yesterday—and this has been reported; if it is wrong, Mr Anderson will have to correct it but seeing that the people who have said it are from the farm organisations concerned, I do not see how it can be wrong, unless they have been misreported, too—is that it has not discussed this vitally important response to the drought with any of the peak industry bodies in primary industry. It certainly has not discussed it with the state governments—in the case of New South Wales, that is its colleagues.

  I can say as a matter of record that everything the government has done to this point, and will continue to do, has been done in close consultation with the relevant peak industry groups and the state governments, irrespective of what political party they might belong to. They would acknowledge that there has been no degree of partisan politics introduced in any of the discussions that I have had with my state colleagues on this matter, and which I will continue to have.

  I have indicated on the public record, and so has the Prime Minister, that we will work together cooperatively with the state governments. We are waiting for further responses from those governments, which are properly investigating the matter in their own states, in terms of what additional assistance may be required. That is being done now.

  I apologise to Senator Brownhill for calling him an idiot because he is a senator for whom I have some regard. What I get a little distressed about—and Senator Brownhill must understand this—is that I know there is an enormous amount of misunderstanding in rural Australia about the schemes of assistance that can be accessed by farmers. I have spoken to farmers personally, and it has been reported to me far more that there are many people who do not know what is available. We are addressing that. In the last cabinet discussion on this matter—and I said it publicly—I got an amount of money that we will use to direct mail farmers around Australia. We have been doing it through the peak organisations and through television and radio but clearly there are still gaps. We will direct mail a complete account of what farmers can apply for.

  That is why—and unfortunately the Hansard record will show it—I get a little distressed when respected National Party senators say, `The IED scheme has been removed by the government.' Senator Brownhill may criticise how it has been established. He may suggest better ways of doing it. It has not been removed. It currently contains $135 million, comprising 6,500 individual deposits.

  Honourable senators should look at an article in today's Canberra Times headlined, `Wipe farm debts, says Coalition to banks'. If that report is wrong, Mr Anderson should take it up with the Canberra Times. There are two interesting articles in the Canberra Times today. Both may be wrong. The second one states:

Alexander Downer was outlining to yesterday's Coalition joint party meeting his commitment to the Aboriginal Land Fund, and what a you-beaut thing it was, when Western Australian Senator John Panizza, Right-wing wealthy landowner, chimed in, "That's funny. That's not what you told me when you rang for my vote."

That may well be incorrect, too. I advise Senator Panizza that that is also printed in today's Canberra Times. I do not think it is unreasonable, as I do not have time to attend coalition press conferences—

Senator O'Chee —Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. The minister's time has well and truly expired and, frankly, I think his relevance to the debate has expired as well.

Senator COLLINS —I will conclude as I began. I have given a commitment and the Prime Minister has given a commitment. Further assistance in respect of drought is now being considered by the government. We will continue to work with the peak industry bodies and state governments to provide it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —In response to the point of order with respect to the allotment of time, for the last several days I have allowed speakers to wind up their last sentences. One of our colleagues has the capacity to speak for four minutes without drawing breath and without putting a full stop. That is the process I have followed. I am quite happy to have the microphones turned off on the second, but I think commonsense should prevail and each person should be allowed to finish the last line or two. If senators have a different view I will be glad to hear from them.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.