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National agricultural outlook conference opening address

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Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the early days of my portfolio, I said that the

rural policies inherited from the previous Government would

be examined and those considered worthwhile would not only be

continued, but wherever possible, improved0

In late 1972 the incoming Labor Government recognised

the immense value to farmers, marketing boards, academies and

agribusiness of regular outlook conferences„ It had no hesi­

tation in agreeing that the January 1973 Conference should go

ahead as planned0 The Bureau of Agricultural Economics has .

been encouraged to improve the Conference format, its depth

of coverage and take all possible steps to extend media,

coverage. '

The Outlook Conference has developed into a major

highlight of the rural calendar and the heavy demand for

conference places is evidence of its high standing.

This Conference is a positive attempt, commenced

by the previous Government, to broaden the flow of marketing

information and to provide as much guidance as possible to

the farming community on prospects for particular commodities

in the year ahead»

The Conference also allows a free exchange of

views and ideas between the interested parties present and

a chance for new and extended contacts between farmers and

those who market their products or service their industries.

A long term problem within agriculture is how to

achieve a satisfactory level of communication between

Government and farmers and farmers and Government.

2 .

I have been struck by a number of farmers I have met,

including some involved in the farm organisations, who apparently

understand little, or occassionally haven81 heard, of policies

announced long before »

The communications gap in marketing and policy matters

can be narrowed by a greater effort, certainly on the part of

the Government and also by the media, farm organisations,

marketing groups and service industries»

But it makes little sense to adopt, as many people

do, the attitude that some ideal can be reached where the

rural community almost to a man ts working at optimum

efficiency because farmers are on top of market trends and

understand the full implications of Government policies„

These same people believe that it is mainly

Government indolence that prevents the attainment of

this "Utopia"»

We should all. be aware of the vast geographic

isolation of the farming community that inhibits the flow

of information» Of the fact that farmers spend their

working days out of sight of the television set and out

of range of the radio =

Research has shown that many farmers are not

avid readers of technical journals and find it difficult

to apply information to their own particular farm


This is not a reflection on farmers as such»

Within any occupational group, you will find communication

problems, but a particular concern with farmers is that

they as individuals control substantial capital assets and

as isolated individuals, they make decisions which affect

not only themselves, but their industry and the nation»

' The * ideal* mentioned earlier cannot be reached, but

the gap can certainly be narrowed„ We must research in greater

depth the best presentation of information and extension advice

to farmers and at the same time, continue efforts to increase the

educational standards and managerial skills of farmers so that

information is not only readily received and applied, but .

actively sought.

It is a fact that those who seek information will get

more of it, and of a better quality than those who wait for it

to drop in their laps 0

This same dictum applies, to the press which, according

to a Melbourne University survey, provides the farmer with his

principal source of information. The farmer relying on the

press for agricultural news has severe,! handicaps.

First there is a general disinterest in rural stories

by some city newspapers. Further, most major regional dailies

rely on wire service groups for agricultural news. Few people

who work for these services are rural specialists. Some services

do a reasonable job, but the flow to the regional papers could

be substantially improved if top rural writers were to be


•We have in Australia a fairly unaggressive specialised

rural press. These papers are the major rural weeklies and the

regular journals of the farm organisations.

Only one such paper has a full time representative in

Canberra and several others have part-time representatives. Most

have little contact with Canberra apart- from receipt of press

statements and B.A.E. publications.

The enquiries to my Press Secretary for more details

on policy decisions, marketing trends or other issues generally

come from the same few journalists. Most papers rarely make

any contact despite the long standing invitation, repeated here

today, to do so. .

4 .

A bit more initiative would see a much wider and

detailed coverage of items of major interest and benefit to

farmers 6

The information flow between Government and the

farming community is a two-way affair. Apart from dispersing

policy decisions' and market intelligence throughout the rural

areas, any Government has the duty to try and understand the

problems of the industries it deals with and give such

industries the opportunity to present their case and make


\ Several initiatives have been taken to improve the

two-way information flow. First the Government established

the Rural Forum which in its two meetings, has enabled every

major farm organisation to have its case heard in public.

Last August the National Rural. Advisory Council

held its first meeting. Comprising thirteen intelligent

farmers from all States and a variety of rural industries,

it has already shown by its deliberations to be a valuable

source of communication between Government and farmers0

It's first major report entitled "Communication

in Agriculture" emphasises the importance the Council places

on this topic. The report contains valuable recommendations

for farmers, their organisations and the Government to vastly

improve the communications network.

The under active consideration by the

Government and we are taking the Council’s constructive

recommendations on Governments’ communications seriously.

The Council of course, in no way usurps the role

of the existing farm organisations„ . They remain my prime

source of contact and it is with them that negotiations on

industry matters are held.


Possible the most significant type of communication

between the farm sector and the Government are submissions

seeking some type of action or assistance« ,

The standard of submissions vary widely in quality,

some do nothing to support requests due to the lack of

information, depth and analysis. They are in effect a poor

type of communication and,; if I support the proposal, make

my job to convince the Government of its merit more difficult.

I am happy to say, however, that some submissions

are well prepared, easily understood and energetically


One that comes to mind was the submission by the

National Cattlemen's Council seeking an allocation of loan

funds for beef producers. The submission was convincing and.

energetically presented by the Executive Officer of the


How far good submissions sway a Government is hard

to say, but they certainly can help.

As a further effort to improve communications, my

Department now has a Communications Unit headed by Mr Neil Inall,

formerly of the ABC Rural Department. Its current strength is

three journalists. Not a lot you may say, but three more tha,n

existed when Labor came to power. .

The Unit's tasks include extending the distributions

of material, handling all mail and phone enquiries for information,

preparation of material to meet readership needs, advising the

Department of Agriculture on communication problems, taking part

in Conference organisations and determining ways to improve

communications with the rural sector.

Because this Conference is concerned with prospects

for the rural sector in the foreseeable future, it is appropriate

that I inform you of two vital decisions taken today by the

Australian Government.


The decisions I believe , will give a boost to farmer

confidence 0 , .

As you know, the Government has been considering for

some time, the imposition of a capital gains tax. This should

come as no surprise in view of the fact that many advanced

countries apply a capital gains tax, including the United

Kingdom, the United States, Canada and West Germany.

After long and detailed consideration of the capital

gains tax, the Government today decided not to proceed with it.

This decision will be well received by farmers who felt that

the survival of the family farm was threatened by such a tax®

Let me state quite clearly that it was never the Government's

intention to penalise the family farm through a capital gains


The aim was to deter the speculator and the greedy

who tie up scarce resources to the detriment of the rest of

the community in the hope of large and unearned financial

gains o

A close study of the capital gains tax proposals

clearly showed that the farmer and other .individual business­

men could be harmed and the family unit could particularly

suffer on the transfer of property on deatho

The other decision taken today concerns a full

reference on superphosphate to the Industries Assistance

Commission0 The Government's previous policy was that

references on super would apply only to particular regions

or industries that could present a ease showing that the

removal of the Superphosphate Bounty was harmful

When the decision to allow the Super Bounty to

phase out was taken, the Government was widely criticised

but there were, at the time, good reasons for the phase out.



. 7»

; The original objectives of the Bounty were to encourage

fertilizer use and to boost export income - these had been largely

achieved» The rural sector was on the crest of a wa,ve and con­

tinued Government assistance could hardly be justified when there

were so many.priority areas of public expenditure which had been

neglected for years,,

Circumstances have now changed, particularly for the

largest users of Super - the meat and wool industries and the

price of fertilizer raw materials has skyrocketed»

Accordingly, we have placed a reference before the

Industries Assistance Commission for a full searching public '

enquiry into whether there should be assistance for the

consumption of phosphatic fertilizers and if so the rate

of payment, its duration and basis of payments„ I am sure

you will welcome this move. It would not of course be

appropriate to reinstate the subsidy without seeking the

advice of the I»A.G. which was established for that very

purpose o

The I.A.C, has been requested to produce its full

report by 31st July 1976 and an interim report by 31st July

1975 to see if an interim subsidy should be paid pending

receipt of the full report, .

While on the subject of Superphosphate, the

Government will take every step possible to ensure the full

development of the large Rock Phosphate deposits in North

West Queensland. The development of these deposits will

ensure that Australia controls its vast supplies of the

basic raw material for Superphosphate in the future0 Through

such control, Australian farmers will, not be at the mercy of

overseas suppliers and fluctuating world prices. The Government

is currently working on plans, in co-operation with private

industry for the long term development of the deposits and

appropriate export and import policies on Rock Phosphate»

Finally Mr Chairman, I wish this Conference every

success and believe that the next two days will enable you

to learn a considerable amount about the market prospects

ahead» ;