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Tuesday, 7 December 1976

Mr SIMON (McMillan) - It was rather surprising to hear the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) assert that this Bill should not have been introduced in this session of Parliament The alternative is to delay the introduction of it for a further 2 months. That would hardly benefit the rural industry. As I think has been already conceded by the Opposition, the States Grants (Rural Adjustment) Act is a significant piece of legislation. It will be welcomed by the farming industry as a rationalisation of rural adjustment in that it unites 3 separate schemes- the rural reconstruction scheme, the dairy adjustment program and the carry-on scheme for beef producers. However, the Bill introduces a new concept, and that is household support assistance. Part 7 of the Schedule to the Agreement contained in the Bill states that the purpose of household support is:

To provide assistance for up to one year to non-viable farmers having insufficient resources to meet living expenses and who are in need of assistance to alleviate conditions of personal and family hardship while the farmer considers whether to adjust out of farming.

It is upon this form of assistance that I wish to concentrate my remarks. Why should the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia introduce this new concept of household support? On a number of occasions I have referred in this House to the depressed state of the dairy and beef sectors of rural industry in Australia, in 8 articular in the McMillan electorate of Victoria, in 13 January 1976 the Industries Assistance Commission issued a report on rural reconstruction. Part of that report was devoted to household support. The IAC stated:

Farm families can adopt a number of different adjustment strategies in order to stay on the farm under the pressure of declining net farm income. These include off-farm work, drawing on savings, or accepting lower incomes and living standards.

The IAC then gave an example of the first option-off-farm work. In quoting statistics prepared by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in a report on a survey of rejected debt reconstruction applicants in 1975 it was shown that 42 per cent of Tasmanians who had been rejected for debt reconstruction were working off the farm. A more recent survey this year, to which I have previously referred in this House, that of the Presbyterian Church of Australia in Victoria in a survey of farmers in central Gippsland, showed that 65 per cent of farm families find it necessary to seek work away from the farm for at least one member of the family. This social effect on the family is best demonstrated by quoting a number of examples which are contained in that report. These are separate individual examples from each family which figured in the survey. One said:

The worst feature of the moment is fact that while I'm out milking and my wife is working, who looks after the 3 young children until the wife gets home?

Another said:

My wife is almost full-time farm worker. This farm employed 3 men50 hours per week. Present employee is down to 40 hours. The children have to help quite a lot.

I quote a third example:

Our son has been working on the farm for 4 years but with the economic problem he has had to find work away and it means that his work has to be done by the younger children still at school. Also I have had to find work to support my family over these winter months. Before this we were able to run our farm as a paying concern but not now with such prices.

A fourth quotation is:

Without my wife's wages I could not afford to work on the farm.

Again I quote:

My son has for the last 2 years been running the farm on shares but owing to the price and the season we cannot make it pay and are both out working at the moment; needless to say our farm is being neglected.

Another quote is:

My father should not be doing heavy work as he recently suffered a heart attack, but because we cannot afford to employ anyone he is forced to do too much.

These are quotations from farmers, the people who are the basis of statistics which we so often quote in this House. I give another example:

I have 6 children, I have been unable to work my property because of a disability for 8 years. Wages paid have reduced my finances. My son was working for me but has had to seek other employment. I have 3 children under 14 years. Our position is desperate and causing a rundown in my wife's health.

The final example which I quote is this:

I am working away from farm, coming home only at weekends as there are few jobs available which I have been seeking for 3 months. My wife and family are milking, etc., as our income is at least $3,500 down and with student children, 18, 16 and 10 years, find it hard to make ends meet on a farm of150 acres milking 85 cows with low butterfat prices.

It may be of benefit in this debate to state why it is necessary even to consider the introduction of a household support system. I refer further to Bureau of Agricultural Economics statistics. On a per-farm basis, estimated income as at June 1 976 for the 1976-77 year was $7,750 in money terms and $3,6 1 1 in real terms. The Bureau released further figures showing the net farm income as a return for capital invested, management and labour, in 1974-75 at $9,672 net income per annum and $9,194 net income in 1975-76. Those figures drop to $6,545 projected net income for the current financial year. The decline in farm income has been grossly affected by lack of marketing opportunities overseas,. Equally significant were the rapidly rising farm costs. The worst year in the past 3 years was 1974-75, when farm wages rose by 37 per cent, fertiliser prices by 130.8 per cent and interest rates by 62.7 per cent.

The dairy farmer's economic position in the past 12 months has been savagely hit. The proportion of all dairy farmers without income- I emphasise 'without income '-has been estimated by the BAE to have increased from 15 per cent to 44 per cent between 1973-74 and 1975-76.I predict that the percentage would have increased again this year if one took actual farm income as the base, without reference to off-farm income received by the farmer or a member of his family. The IAC September 1976 report on dairy industry marketing arrangements summarises the current position of the dairy farmer in the following terms:

Dairy farmers, in common with all other members of the community, have been adversely affected by inflation. In particular, dairy farmers supplying manufacturing milk have been severely affected because the returns for processed dairy products exported have declined in real terms. Recently, farm costs have risen rapidly as a result of inflation and have been a major factor in causing the substantial decline in average net farm income which has occurred over the past 2 years.

The financial status of the beef farmer is no better. In fact, the beef farmer has been in crisis for not less than 2 years. Mr Ronald Anderson, writing in the Age on Friday last, 3 December, referred to an internal report prepared for the Australian National Cattlemen's Council in the following terms:

At today's beef prices, almost two-thirds of Australia's 50 383 producers dependent chiefly on beef have net cast incomes of less than $5,000 a year and are not viable.

And even if beef prices doubled, more than 12 000 beef raisers, or 43 per cent of those earning more than half of their farm incomes from beef, would remain non-viable.

Debate interrupted.

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