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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1598


Mr TRUSS(9.11 p.m.) —-We are debating the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1991-92 relating to the Department of Primary Industries and Energy. Sometimes I feel just a little sorry for the new Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Mr Crean. Like me he is a new member who came to office at the last election--he is taking time to find his way around--but he immediately became a Minister. We watched him fumble his way through his first Bill and, after a fairly inglorious performance in his first portfolio, he has now been promoted to Minister for Primary Industries and Energy.

There are great expectations of our new Minister. There are some who see him as the mysterious third candidate who will come along after the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) have thumped themselves into oblivion. It is a difficult and complex portfolio, and he has found difficulty finding his feet as was quite apparent as he tried to explain wholesale sales tax as it applied to farmers, during Question Time; as he told the pineapple growers of Queensland that they should move their factory to Thailand; and as he told the Grains 2000 conference participants that they should all start growing navy beans and peanuts. Indeed, he has a lot to learn.

Of course, the Minister knows nothing about the portfolio. I know very little about organising strikes and pickets, industrial blackmail, lockouts and black bans and the like, and I expect I would have a fair bit of difficulty doing that job if I were asked.


Mr Anderson —-Perhaps you could swap.


Mr TRUSS —-I do not think I would care to swap, but I am sure I would make a better fist of Minister for Primary Industries than we are seeing at the present time. My sympathy for him rests also partly in the fact that the primary industry portfolio was delivered to him in a woeful state. Honourable members may have read some of the media reports that suggested his predecessor did a pretty good job. There are not many farmers who would agree with that kind of sentiment, if any. In fact, his performance was one of great dismay to everybody in the rural sector. The previous Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Mr Kerin, presided over the greatest exodus of farmers in the history of our nation. He destroyed whole rural industries--farm infrastructure has been largely degraded.

The previous Minister's reward for all the destruction that he wrought on primary industry has been a promotion to Treasurer so that he can do for Australia what he did for primary industry. It is interesting, of course, that he always used to blame the Treasury for what he could not achieve for the farmers of Australia. Now that he is Treasurer it will be interesting to see what he can achieve. Quite frankly, his first Budget was a pretty poor effort.

The current Minister's predecessor left behind a wool industry, a wheat industry, a beef industry, a sugar industry, a horticulture industry, a fruits industry and a grains industry all desperate, all very much worse than when he arrived. If all that is not bad enough, the new Minister now has to deal with perhaps the worst drought in our country's history.

It is disappointing that he is not in the chamber tonight to listen to this debate. I would have thought that this was the most important night of the year for the new Minister for Primary Industries as his first Budget proposals come under scrutiny. He could have learned something. He could have learned something from some of his own colleagues--for instance, the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay) and the honourable member for Hinkler (Mr Courtice). Even `no rural crisis Courtice' has finally discovered that there is, in fact, a disaster in the rural sector. I hope that the Minister will read that in Hansard at some stage.

Like the honourable member for Groom (Mr Taylor), I was pleased that the Minister has attempted to visit some of the drought affected areas. I understand he had a fairly unpleasant visit to the electorate of my colleague the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Bruce Scott), as he flew over some of the drought stricken farms in the area. I hope the unpleasantness was not just associated with the trip and that he also felt unpleasant and uncomfortable about the vacant fields beneath him, the dying stock and the tragedy that was clearly brought to his attention.

Sadly, we seem to be told far too often by this Government that it is all the fault of a corrupt world; it is all the result of the behaviour of the USA and the EC. Indeed, their behaviour is an international disgrace. The United States is behaving like a schoolyard bully, pretending to be whiter than snow and defending all that is good but, in the same process, damaging its friends and colleagues with seemingly callous disregard. The sale of wheat to Yemen, the beef quotas, and the cutbacks in sugar imports are all classic examples of the way in which the United States is treating those people whom it regards as its friends. What kind of a relationship do we have with the United States if we are the sort of people it calls friends? This total disregard for our needs and interests is deplorable and it is hardly the way in which good friends and good neighbours behave towards one another.

I believe the visit of President Bush to this country is critical. It provides an opportunity, which we must take strongly, to get the message across to him that what is happening and what the United States is doing is totally unacceptable to this nation. We must take that opportunity in every address. The Prime Minister must say so and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr Hewson) must say so--everyone who speaks to the President must say so. But we must do more than that; this will be a rare opportunity for us to get the message into the living rooms of American households. A plane load of media will accompany the President and we need to take every opportunity to ensure that the American television cameras also get the message of the great disquiet that Australians feel in this regard and realise the enormous damage that is being done to our relationship because of the United States' trading policies. We must hammer this point home strongly.

Australian farmers will also need to be present and make their views abundantly clear. To just sit diligently and quietly and rely on one or two meetings to get the message across will fail, as previous meetings have failed. It will be necessary for them also, no matter how difficult the circumstances may be--during harvest, drought and depression--to make sure that they are in the right places to get the message across in the most active and positive way possible.

A catastrophe is confronting Australian farmers. But it is not just the fault of America or the EC. The Australian Government has left its farmers defenceless and, what is more, added to their burden with increasing costs and the world's worst rural taxation regime. Recently, the Minister--who is not unaware of the problem--in introducing a Bill to provide a subsidy for citric acid to the giant multinational, Bunge, said:

. . . do. . . we ignore the fact that other countries are providing support mechanisms to their companies in this same industry? Is that the level playing field that they talk about--that we ignore it; we do not try to even up? . . . I do not think that anyone in this country believes that, if there is not a level playing field, we should be the dupes.

That is the Minister talking. I hope he will put that into practice in the primary industry area.

I have a couple of good examples where he could start. At the recent Grains 2000 conference, the Minister suggested that farmers should switch to chick peas, navy beans and peanuts as the boom crops of the future. Again, that is a trifle naive. The chairman of the Navy Bean Marketing Board for the last 25 years has been in the public gallery for much of today and I am sure he could have told the Minister quite a bit about the navy bean industry. In fact, I represent most of the navy bean growers of Australia. We produce something like 3,000 or 4,000 tonnes; the Australian requirement is about 6,000 tonnes. If 100 farmers were to swing to navy beans it would flood the market.

Woolgrowers cannot switch to navy beans, neither can wheat growers; they are a very specialised crop and are not likely to be the saviour of the farming industries of Australia. If all that is not bad enough, every time we try to export onto a world market where the prices are significantly lower than they are in Australia, we face enormous obstacles. America has a freight advantage over Australia in exporting navy beans to New Zealand. America can get them there cheaper than we can. That is a direct result of this Government's inability to do anything in areas such as industry structural reform.

What about Australia's problem with imports and those people who do not give us a level playing field? Hungarian baked beans which are sold in Australian supermarkets for 45c a can are sold in Hungary for $1.35. That is a clear case of dumping, yet Australia's dumping regime is so twisted and difficult that it would be impossible for a little industry such as the navy bean industry ever to get the case up. Even if it did, it would be unlikely to succeed.

The story is similar for the peanut industry, the other industry which was identified by the Minister. But here the Government has been even worse. It has actually moved to ease health restrictions to enable Chinese peanuts contaminated by chemicals to come into this country. A lot needs to be done for Australian industries to establish a level playing field. They do not want subsidies as Bunge did; they just want a fair go. (Time expired)