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Tuesday, 9 November 1976


Mr GILES (Angas) -We just heard a snivelling, nit-picking speech by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) who is becoming an expert in this sort of tactic when he has nothing else to say. Furthermore, I say that it was an attempt to seek a form of political justification. It is well known that the Australian Labor Party has wrecked a lot of industries, including the beef industry. Now it is trying to clutch at straws and by the use of the Parliament and of the broadcasting of this debate to justify its rotten record as a Government.


Mr Keating - You refute it.


Mr GILES - I will. I am just about to commence. I shall start with a phrase which the honourable member wrongly used. He said: 'Callous regard'. I will give the honourable member the benefit and suggest that probably he meant: 'Callous disregard'. I start my speech by talking about the callous disregard of the last Labor Government and the effect it had on export industries in the rural sector of Australia. There will be no crawling out of this one by the time I have finished. Let us look at the record as it is. I suggest we look at inflation. We have had a debate on this matter today already. There is no single person in the rural areas of the community involved in export industries who does not clutch at trying to bring down tariff protection as it affects Australian industries and consumers. We might ask why. It is because it is the only area left in which these people can move. Why is that? It is because the last Government, over the last 3 years, so increased costs that the whole competitive position of Australian exports today, with the possible exception of some minerals, has become open to a great deal of doubt. That is the first point of condemnation of the last 3 years of mismanagement of the Australian economy. That is not the direct cause of the troubles of the beef industry today but it is a strong factor. The fact is that the industry is non-competitive when it looks for new markets in competition with other countries. That is the first important point. The honourable member for Blaxland who is the Opposition spokesman in this House on rural matters very rarely saunters into a paddock in case he gets stung by a bee. If he did, he would know very well that not one member of the rural community would not agree precisely with what I have said this afternoon.

Let us go a little further. The honourable member picked on a man on this side of the parliamentary fence, namely, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). We have a great and healthy respect for the Minister. He has worked hard and diligently up and down the countryside to do everything he possibly can to alleviate some of the problems which are occurring due to Labor's mismanagement over the past 3 years. He is left with the job of trying to pick up the threads following the total irresponsibility which has been going on. Let us have a look at one or two of the points concerned, such as killing works. I suggest that we leave aside- it might be considered political- the question of whether the owners of the souls of the current members of the Opposition are the trade unions which take advantage of blackmail in killing works. The unions always strike in the middle of a glut. There has not been a spring in Adelaide during the last few years when the unions have not gone out because it is spring and because the farmers' stock is coming in at that time of the year. I cannot remember one year which they have missed. I do not know whether their souls are owned by these people who are so irresponsible as far as the country is concerned. I do know that if we look at the cost of killing a year ago. which is when I last looked, we find that one firm had exactly doubled the cost of killing inside 3 years.

What does that do to help the competitive position of beef producers? I perceive a notable lack of answers to that question. The reason is that this cost has made it much more difficult to meet any export markets, except that of the United States of America. It has forced the Australian Meat Board and Government spokesmen not only to go and look for new markets but also to find them. This is contrary to the remarks of the honourable member for Blaxland. New markets have been found- they are good ones too- in Israel and in Arab states. Sweden has been opened up as a profitable market. In a lot of risk markets the Meat Board has the job of trying to get incentives into all exporters in order to keep up the increasing rate of slaughter of Australian cattle and to try to do something to lower the rate of increase of the national beef herd today. One could go on. I think the honourable member, quite frankly, has forgotten that this Bill is only about carry-on loans. It has nothing to do with other forms of loans. It has nothing to do with loans to the States in an indirect sense. It has directly and it amounts to a total of $30m on top of last year's expenditure for beef producers. But this relates to the pure field of carry-on finance which, of course, is not applicable to some producers. So bad is the mess caused by increasing costs in the beef industry today that recently when I led members of the rural committee on an inspection of the brigalow scheme we ran into an appalling situation which I think, quite frankly, in many cases is way outside the totality of this Bill which we are debating today. In area 3 of Brigalow the total debt structure on land, stock and plant averages $108,500 for those who have been there for longer than 3 years. For those who have been there less than 3 years- with less time to put it up, one might think, but of course they missed the high beef price of that time- the total debt is $137,000. What hope have those people got? Across the general beef industry spectrum in States like Queensland, which has been favoured by this Government in the past with a higher loan limit than for other States, and now pastoral areas are going to be added on to the area of Queensland, I hope that generally these carry-on loans will be of great help.

I want to spend a moment on areas like the Brigalow, for which I feel a great deal of sadness and in some ways an emotional attachment. If one goes from farm to farm one can see people who are trying to make their way on the brigalow scrub, living in tin sheds, in timber houses slapped together pretty quickly, and in some cases in lean-to tents. One comprehends then the determination still in the Australian spirit to go out and try to carve an existence out of the scrub. It is very heartening to see. In relation to the Brigalow, there are odd areas and pockets in Australia, such as those in the Goulburn Valley where the Victorian Government is involved with the canning fruit industry, which are perhaps not typical of the overall agricultural well-being throughout the area. Where there is such a pocket, there is a responsibility not only on this Government to go and look at the problem and do what it can to help. There is also a responsibility on the State governments to pick up some of the load, and in this Bill they have done so to the tune of 50 per cent. But where there is a pocket which is going badly wrong, it must be and probably should be the responsibility of State governments to put forward propositions for help.

Examples of where this has been done before are legion. At present it is happening in my own electorate in the Riverland area, where the State Government is taking specific action to help the canning fruit growers. In the case of the brigalow, in reply to correspondence pointing out that the Queensland Government itself has a responsibility in these areas, I have replied consistently that if they come to Federal Treasurers looking for specific assistance for a particular area which through no fault of the blockers is going wrong, then I am sure that they will find Federal governments very sympathetic in relation to helping the State governments in particular ways. The honourable member for Blaxland is still imbued with the centralist tendencies of his own Party. He insists that this Government is responsible for everything that goes on. I have mentioned one case where we are not primarily responsible, and if we were, it would be because we had found finance- in some ways unwisely as a Federal government- to help develop the brigalow scheme.

Let me return to the Bill, which some honourable members might think is a pleasant change. The scheme provides low interest carry-on finance to specialist beef producers with a sound asset structure who have a chance of being viable when beef markets return to normal conditions; that is, if their costs after the last few years still allow them to be competitive. Up to 2 years carry-on finance will be provided with a loan limit of $15,000 a year. As I said before, currently that applies only to Queensland but it is now to be extended to all eligible producers in the pastoral zone who are on pastoral or similar leases. In his second reading speech the Minister stated:

Limits in all areas may be relaxed in special circumstances at the discretion of the loan administering authority.

I am hopeful that that particular clause will allow, even within the framework of this Bill which deals with carry-on finance, a certain amount of dispensation for those in the Brigalow scrub area, particularly in area 3. 1 like the wording of that clause, and I hope that the administering authority will take a fairly sympathetic view when interpreting the clause. I will finish on this note: In these areas, in spite of the degree of poverty, there is hardly a person who does not acknowledge the difficulty of the situation in relation to beef exports, a difficulty which the Government has undertaken to try to resolve. If one goes there today one will find that they acknowledge very much the great help given to them by the new child endowment provisions. In some areas they acknowledge the Government's action to allow unemployment benefits to flow to rural areas.


Mr Carige - It is very acceptable in that area.


Mr GILES -It would have to be in some of it, I am sure. The honourable member for Capricornia (Mr Carige) knows a lot about that. People there are waiting, as are many members of this House today, for the final agreements between the State and the Federal Ministers for rural industries, whom the honourable member for Blaxland attempted this afternoon in a rather amateurish fashion, I thought, to condemn. People are waiting for the public announcement on the final agreements on rural reconstruction in the broad sense, and that will be made in a week or so when the parties meet. I hope there will be some good news in that field to add to the Bill before the House today.

I have mentioned new markets. I have mentioned the fact that when industries go wrong oppositions find it easy to blame governments. When things go wrong in rural areas they sometimes look for a scapegoat, and I think that the Meat Board and the chairman of that Board are probably examples of people trying to find a scapegoat when prices have plummeted. To my mind, the rural committee has produced an excellent paper dealing with the restructuring of the Meat Board. I hope that before the end of the year we will have some news of that because I think it is the sort of action which is necessary to give further heart to people who have been hit by this dreadful downturn in world prices and, at the same time, by the huge increases in costs with which they have had to contend. I support the Bill.







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