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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1601


Mr COWAN(9.21 p.m.) —-Until about a year ago, for the preceding seven or eight years, Australia was rather lucky because our seasons were reasonably good and our markets throughout the world were reasonably good for most of our agricultural commodities. It was then that the Government, with the support of the industries, attempted to deregulate most of the primary industries of Australia wherever it could and, at the same time, to take away much of the taxpayers' financial support for inspections of beef, for example. I can remember the industry saying, `Righto, we want to stand upon our own feet, because we are big enough and efficient enough to stand upon our own feet'. It was quite wrong. Being a bit older and being a practical farmer, and because I have been tied up with politics for a fairly long time, I know that history changes, seasons change and markets change, too. So we cannot give away everything at the one time. Yet that is exactly what this Government has done.

Tonight I listened to two Government members talk about the sugar industry and say, `Why did we deregulate it?'. These are the same people who, in this Parliament this year, supported a reduction in the tariffs on refined sugar. These people should go back to their sugar growers and tell them of their responsibilities and the things that they have done to them. I give the Government credit for the fact that through the Cairns Group, with the support of the Opposition, we have gone overseas and done our best to turn the minds of the EC and the Americans. But we are not going to do that very quickly; we have to realise that.

Every speaker in tonight's debate has spoken about the drought, the economy and the awful markets that our primary industries are facing throughout the world. We have seen our national debt grow over those seven or eight good years that I was speaking about. We have reduced support and we have deregulated. But what are the farmers saying today? I was interested to read today about Mr Ian Steele-Park, a member of the New South Wales Farmers Association, a very prominent and respected man. He admitted that we have made a mistake. We have done certain things over the years, because of those good seasons and the relatively good markets, and now we have to recognise that the primary producers of this country have to get some support.

I am not standing here tonight and saying that the taxpayer should just hand out money irresponsibly to the farmers. But for God's sake let us save our national herd--that is our responsibility--and let us keep up the quality of our soil. If a warehouse or building owned by a person who is running a business is falling down and there is a recession, at least that person tries to keep that warehouse or building in order for the better times. That is the case with almost all the farmers that my colleagues here tonight are talking about. Their buildings are falling down. They cannot afford to fertilise.

I had a phone call tonight from a farmer within my electorate who told me that the RSPCA came out with a veterinary inspector and the police and told him to shoot three head of stock because he was not feeding them. That man is a good farmer, but he is in the midst of an awful drought at the moment. He has no feed and cannot afford to buy any to feed the cattle. But he will not turn around and shoot the cattle; he is trying to keep them alive. Why should a man be troubled with this sort of action in the middle of the present climax?

What happens with the Greens and the pressure that we have today in the forestry industries? The honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Elliott) spoke tonight about water resources. Where are we building dams and encouraging our farmers to put in water storage to irrigate and grow their crops? Those things are being forgotten because of the pressures of certain people who do not want this country to survive.

We can do a number of things. Firstly, this Government, with our support, has to have a kind heart for those who are suffering and cannot meet their debts. I am not blaming the banks. They have been very kind to many farmers throughout Australia. They might have encouraged them to buy in better times. But we want the Government to have a kind heart and assist these people with the rural adjustment program, the assets testing problems, household support, the IEDs that the Government virtually wiped out, Austudy and family allowance.

This Government has to say, `We will extend these things to let these people have a decent standard of living and to give them heart to carry on so that they will keep their farms and be able to keep their herds of stock, be they sheep or whatever, and maintain the quality of their soil'. These are the challenges we have today in Australia and they are right at our doorstep at this very moment. The Leader of the National Party (Mr Tim Fischer) has been talking about this for many weeks in various parts of Australia. These are the problems that Australia is facing at this time. I call upon the Government to recognise what is happening.

Our farmers today have a large investment in real estate, stock and plant. They are not like a paid person who works at a desk or who goes into work in a shop or an industry. They are people who have had to invest heavily in their property to be able to make a living and to survive. Those people want to survive because they are decent Australians. They are the ones who will bring this country out of the economic mess that we are in; nobody else will. Only production can do this. Productivity off the farm and out of industry in this country is the only way that we will wipe our national debt, get the economy back and employ the million people who are out of work at present. That is what has to happen. That has to be the aim of the Government in any of its programs to overcome our present problem.

Recently, I went to South America and had the opportunity to look at the local primary industries, to go to cattle sales, to go out onto farms to see the situation and to look at some industries, such as the fishing industry. It is the countries in South America with lower costs than ours that are challenging us on the markets today. Not only the EC and the USA but also these countries which, through the Cairns Group of countries, have joined us. These are countries which we are in bed with but which are also our competitors. These countries will be our competitors in the years ahead, not only in the field of primary production but also on the manufacturing side. Our manufacturers in the car industry are moving offshore. I read a statement by the Manager of Toyota the other day--I think all honourable members have heard it--that there is a movement offshore because they can produce more cheaply.

This country has to meet a tremendous challenge if we are going to survive and if we are going to get our people back to work again. I appeal to the Government to recognise this fact, to come along and to be sympathetic and to have a kind heart. I also appeal to the Opposition because we have to support the Government. We have to make suggestions, and I am sure that the shadow Minister for primary industry, the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), can come up with an excellent program of immediate assistance to those primary industry people who are in trouble at the present time. The challenge now is not only to talk about this but to recognise it as well, and for the Government to be able to bring into being immediately policies that will be able to assist these people out on the land.

Only this morning, I received a telephone call from a fellow who has 673 acres. He previously worked in a mill. The country is rough. He was sacked because the mill did not have the timber to go with it. He was drawing a social security benefit of $400-odd a fortnight for the wife and himself. But because he had a property that was valued at $177,000 or a little bit more, his social security benefit was cut off. He now has to go cap in hand to the Department of Social Security and prove hardship. Such people are worried by these things, but if the policies were in place and they knew they could go into the Department in a reasonable way, in a fair way, and be able to get the support they need, they would be different people indeed. That is why I appeal to the Government to recognise these facts and to get away from the way it is carrying on at the moment. (Time expired)