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Wednesday, 16 February 1977
Page: 102

Mr SHORT (BALLAARAT, VICTORIA) -Can the Prime Minister advise the House as to the ways in which the income equalisation deposit scheme can provide assistance to primary producers whose income for taxation purposes will be increased by the inclusion of proceeds of forced sales of livestock or of insurance recoveries for losses of livestock as a consequence of the disastrous bushfires that devastated large areas of western Victoria last weekend?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (WANNON, VICTORIA) (Prime Minister) -The income equalisation deposit scheme certainly will be of assistance to producers in the circumstances following the tragedy of the fires, but before indicating the ways in which that can occur I would like publicly to express sorrow and regret in regard to the very great damage that occurred. I think honourable gentlemen would know there was also some loss of life in the fires. The welfare people, the fire organisations and the Red Cross were all on the scene very quickly indeed and behaved magnificently. I, the Victorian Premier and others visited the town of Streatham, which was virtually destroyed in a few minutes, on the day after the fire. It had no power and no refrigeration. A good deal of dismay was obviously present. The Army was able to get a refrigerated van that same day to Streatham to provide some immediate assistance. That was one example of the ways in which I think everyone did what they ought to have done in the wake of the fires.

Quite clearly many producers will have a very significantly increased income in this year as a result of insurance collections, for example, in respect of livestock that have been destroyed as a result of the fires. That could put them in difficulty. They obviously cannot replace thenstock forthwith with those insurance proceeds. Half the time stock are not immediately available and in any case the producers concerned have no feed, because it has been burnt out, and fences have to be replaced. A great deal has to be done. If all that, in a sense, forced income through insurance purposes had to be taken into account in one financial year it would have the impact of breaking many producers. There have been for some time circumstances in which an unusual and forced income of this kind could be carried forward over 5 years, but the introduction of the income equalisation deposit scheme which enables producers to put up to 40 per cent of their gross proceeds into the scheme will obviously enable producers to spread their income further. The funds put into IEDs are not taxable in the year they are put in; they are taxable in the year they are put out unless of course they are withdrawn for legitimate tax deductibility purposes.

This scheme will be a very valuable addition to the facilities available to producers to enable them to recover from the great difficulties that have been caused. I might add that the Victorian Government and the Commonwealth Government have come to a very speedy agreement on some extensions to the normal disaster arrangements which were needed and which are particularly appropriate to this disaster. I announced these yesterday. The arrangements, I believe, are working smoothly. They cover the provision of fencing, the burial of stock and the provision of loans to people who were burnt out. They will cover the difference between insurance and what will be needed to actually get a building for the families concerned. Many would not have been adequately insured. Precedents had been set for that in the past. The Commonwealth Government and the Victorian Government certainly believe it was appropriate in this case. I have suggested to the Victorian Government that in the case of towns such as Streatham, and perhaps Cressy where 18 or 20 houses were destroyed, if it were possible to get a project builder into the towns, or under a housing trust or the Housing Commission, the houses might be rebuilt much more economically through a large contract than through each family having to pursue an individual contract. That is a matter for the State, but I believe it is a suggestion well worth pursuing.

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