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Thursday, 18 November 1976

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

The document read as follows-


Mr GILES - These statistics are important because anyone who reads my speech in the future will be able to perceive from the chart, that I will not have time to read in full, the fact that the consumer price index over the 3 years 1973-74, 1974-75 and 1975-76 shows, for instance, increases of 1 3. 1 per cent, 1 6.5 per cent, and 13.1 per cent respectively. But by far the majority of the farm cost inputs show a considerably greater increase than this. Might I mention one or two of them. The percentage movement in the cost of fertilisers for the 3 years I have mentioned were 13.8 per cent, 130.8 per cent and 17 per cent. In the case of fuel the increases were 5 per cent, 1 9.8 per cent and 30. 1 per cent. Increases in the cost of replacement parts were 7.3 per cent, 2 1 per cent and 20.2 per cent. In the case of machinery they were 10 per cent, 26. 1 per cent and 23.5 per cent. These cost inputs are the principal reason why we find such poverty in rural areas today. The farmer does not have access to an arbitration commission or a wage fixing authority. He does not have the capacity to increase his own end price. In fact, his share of the retail price is decreasing as the years go by. The farmers 'share of the retail price of beef in 1 97 1 was 60 per cent. In 1976 it was 37.2 per cent. One can look at the implications that the farmers' share of the price of bread has on the wheat industry. The same situation, with small variations, applies in respect of butter. In 1955-56 the dairy farmer received 82 per cent of the retail price of butter. But this percentage is down to 40 per cent today. The same general picture can be seen in respect of wool, lamb, canned fruits, and wheat, looked at in terms of bread. It is important to note that, because the percentage return received by farmers has been such a sore handicap, the rural sector has tried wherever possible to increase productivity. This has been very difficult. The history of the efforts of farmers in Australia to increase productivity is well known. Statistics prove it has been difficult to achieve. Farmers have had to cut input costs, including wage costs. The table that the House allowed me to have incorporated in Hansard makes that plain. The picture in many areas is that farmers who perhaps have had some help, temporary or permanent, over the years now have none. In war service land settlement areas farmers are trying to act as one-man operators frequently at the age of 50 years or more. Certainly, as members on this side of the House will know, they are showing signs of strain and it is problematic how long they can continue working the farms.

Farmers have also had to substitute labour for capital. The big problem has been to find capital which is cheap enough to serve their purpose. The actions of the previous Government principally forced this type of thinking in both the manufacturing sector and the rural areas. If wages are too high in relation to end prices there is no way one can continue to operate any type of labour-intensive enterprise. Throughout the nation people are moving towards the use of capital and capital plant as a substitute for labour in their enterprises. It is for that sort of reason that the Government parties are determined to force plans for a rural bank. The requirement for capital, particularly long-term capital, to allow rural industries to exist profitably makes that need quite clear. Other industries by comparison, have the capacity in some areas to increase prices and their workers have a wage-fixing authority to protect them.

I am not at this stage armed with figures on freight costs but this of course has been another area in which costs to the rural sector have increased to an appalling extent. In the case of all the increases I have mentioned today the prime influence has been inflation and its effects on costs and inputs. It might be important to compare the average weekly wage without overtime in America with that in Australia. In Australia in 1971 average weekly earnings were SUS99.34 and in 1975 they were SUS205- an increase of far more than double in 4 years. In America, by comparison, the average weekly wage was SUS125.7 in 1971. This rose to SUS161.04 in 1975. Those figures show that in export areasand this is especially so in the rural sector as my words have signified today- our competitiveness is decreasing. There is no way without a steadying of costs in which the many industries which affect our livelihood can be competitive in the future. I think this points to the real damage in the 3 years by the Labor Parry. I moved this motion some months ago now. As the months have gone past one could think on the one hand that the point of the debate has become less important. In fact I doubt that the Government realised the gravity of the situation as it emerged.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The time allotted for precedence ibr General Business has expired. The honourable member for Angas will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day under General Business for the next sitting.

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