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Thursday, 17 February 1977
Page: 182

Mr UREN (REID, NEW SOUTH WALES) -Has the Minister for Primary Industry noted in the publication of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Trends in Australian Agricultural Commodities; Farm Costs and Farm Incomes, issued in December 1976, that real income per farm will have fallen from $ 1 5,900 in 1973 to $5,700 in 1976-77. That is, this financial year real income per farm is anticipated by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to be only 36 per cent of what it was in 1973 and, by a long way, the lowest since that year. As the Minister clearly implied when in opposition that suitable policies would overcome the fall in farm income, will he outline what policies he has in hand to lift the seriously depressed level of farm incomes?

Mr SINCLAIR (NEW ENGLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Primary Industry) -I should like to thank the Deputy Deader of the Opposition for that question. It is one of the most intelligent observations I have heard him make in reflection on the deteriorating economic circumstances of people throughout rural areas as a result of the 3 years of Labor rule. The 36 per cent decline in farm incomes occurred as a result more than anything else of Labor's implementation of the Coombs report and its failure to recognise that the temporary upturn for rural producers in general economic circumstances in the early days of its regime was not a product of a government change but a direct result of a lift in overseas export prices. Tragically for Australian agriculture, dependent as it is on export markets, there has always been a cyclic pattern with times of very high prices and shortages of the commodities we sell, followed unfortunately by periods when there is an abundance of the products we sell. This has been reflected in the mountains of butter in the European Economic Community, the lakes of wine and surpluses of other commodities and, the consequential collapse in world prices.

Those realities of the market place might be a bit lost on the Deputy Leader of the Opposition but they are the realities upon which the first premise of agricultural survival in Australia depends. The second premise is that there has equally been a cyclic pattern in seasons. We have floods, droughts and bushfires. This cyclic pattern does not aid predictability of general patterns pf production. Policies on our side of the House have led towards a maintenance of the circustances of the economy of the agricultural industry to offset these things. Let me give an illustration. The income equalisation deposits within the farmer's individual capability provide an opportunity for insurance against seasonal or market change. This is a very worthwhile development. The individual farmer has the capacity to set aside money in a good year so that when markets collapse or seasons deteriorate he can reduce his dependence on government assistance because he has not paid tax during the year on the income equalisation deposits from his own resources.

We have introduced schemes of assistance in respect of individual commodities. I have said before that I regard the action by the Australian Labor Party when in government of reducing the wool price reserve as one of the most diabolic that any government has taken against the rural sector at any time in Australia's history. When we came into government we gave the Australian woolgrowers a 2-year guarantee- a guarantee which has been reflected in the continuing improving returns for them. I do not know whether the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, for example, realises that almost as a direct result of the Government's policy -

Mr Hayden - I rise on a point of order Mr Speaker. The official report shows income increasing by 4 per cent and costs increasing by 1 5 per cent this year. That is the substance of the question asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and to which the Minister is refusing to address himself. The rate of inflation is higher than it was in the previous year.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! There is no point of order.

Mr SINCLAIR -Is he shadow Minister for Defence or shadow Treasurer? I am not sure. The honourable member for Oxley must recognise that the product of inflation, as generated by Labor policies, was very much encouraged by the implementation of the Coombs report and the removal of those forms of assistance which formerly insulated the farmer against many of those inflationary -

Mr Hayden - Mr Speaker,I rise on a point of order. In fact, the inflation rate has been calculated by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics as moving upwards since devaluation last December.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable gentleman will be seated.

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