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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1607


Mr NEHL(9.51 p.m.) —-Mr Deputy Chairman, I would like to be able to say that it is a pleasure to speak in this debate on the appropriation for primary industry, but I can assure you it is not, because we have reached a situation in this country where compassion is a dirty word. It is a dirty word because the people sitting on the Government benches have corrupted it, perverted it and distorted it. They make a great play of their caring and compassion but, I tell you, Mr Deputy Chairman, there is very little evidence of that to be seen in rural Australia. The reality about the people sitting on the Government benches is that they do not care. One needs only to look at the 1991-92 Budget and assess what it has in it in reality. There was no planning, no vision and no hope--and that was particularly so for the rural community.

The farmers of this country have long been correctly regarded as the most efficient in the world--and the most independent and hardest working in the world, too. But, for them, as well as suffering the high interest rates which have been crippling, the depressed commodity prices and the inflated value of the dollar brought about by the deliberate policies of this Government; as well as being the sandwich filling in the trade war between Europe and the United States--and it is a trade war; as well as trying to combat and be competitive with the vast quantities of imported foodstuffs which may or may not be dumped, but with the existing legislation and the way it is looked at that is very hard to find out; and as well as the difficulties that are thrust upon the primary producer because of the waterfront and the coastal shipping situation, there is the heartbreaking situation of one of the worst droughts we have seen in decades. Even in my electorate on the mid-north coast of New South Wales from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour, there are parts where there has been no rain for three months. That is a very long time, particularly for that coastal strip.

Even without the drought, those other factors have created an absolute disaster for the farming community of this country. Quite frankly, farmers have been bashed down to their knees. Other speakers tonight have told of the worries of individuals and the possibilities--no, not the possibilities, the facts--of suicide, because people are driven and pushed to absolute despair.

It is absolutely heartbreaking because the impact on those families--those men, women and children--will continue to be felt for many years to come. It is not something that is just going to run away. Being broke, having no money, not knowing where the next feed is going to come from in many cases, and having to take the children out of school, which has happened right around Australia, have a psychological impact. This is not a fairy story; it is a fact. These are our fellow Australians.

This so-called caring and compassionate Government bleats about what it is doing, but it is not doing very much. I hear every now and then the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Crean), talking about the 45 per cent of farmers who are not paying any tax. He tries to score a fairly cheap political point because he is looking at our forthcoming economic reform package which will totally abolish the wholesale sales tax, significantly reduce income tax and tackle the whole economy of this country. I believe that our package will be the salvation of the Australian economy.

The Minister says, `Forty-five per cent of farmers do not have any income and are not paying any tax, so the GST or tax deductions are going to be of no benefit to them'. Quite frankly, I reject what the Minister says. I am not prepared, and neither are the National Party and the Liberal Party, to accept a situation where 45 per cent--nearly half--of the farmers of this country can be abandoned, and the Minister says that tax cuts are not going to do them any good because they have not got the income. We need to have a complete reversal of our thinking. If people are in that situation, some financial support must be given to them. Quite frankly, the Government has not gone far enough. There needs to be additional support for farmers.

The assets test, in particular, is something that has to be looked at because if a farmer has no income and cannot sell his property what does he do if he does not qualify for some form of welfare assistance? That assistance has to be only temporary. It is not good enough to simply turn our primary producers into welfare recipients. Equally, of course, it is not good enough to have a million Australian workers unemployed.

We do not want the farmers of Australia to swell the ranks of the unemployed. The farmers of Australia want to work. They want to produce. They want to have some income and, believe it or not, they even want to pay taxes. Quite frankly, I think most of them would say, `The more taxes we can pay the better'. But what can the farmers expect? Absolutely nothing from Labor, which talks about the level playing field. Well, the playing field for Australia's farmers is pretty much uphill; it is not level at all.

It is interesting to look at what is happening in the EC. I had the opportunity of visiting Italy, France, Germany and England in June and July. I was actually on a farm near Munich in Bavaria and speaking to a farmer. I had always thought that, when people talked around cattle saleyards and other places about European farmers surviving and raising a family with five or six cows, it was a bit of a joke. But it is not; it is true. The reality is that what the EC is doing is providing social welfare in the form of farm subsidies.

I do not believe we should do that--no way at all--because what that does is oversupply and distort world commodity markets. I do not think we should necessarily get to the point where, for example in Germany, farmers are paid between 600 and 1,000 deutschmarks a year per hectare for a maximum of five years not to produce. That is roughly between $600 and $1,000 a year per hectare not to produce. But if they are producing, they can be paid 300 deutschmarks--approximately $300--a year not to fertilise which, of course, is to reduce the production. They also have some concerns about the quality of their ground water.

What we need is a complete turnaround of this economy. We have to have some faith, some vision, some hope and some creative activity; not a Budget like the one we had just last August which was like a sponge filled with dirty dishwater with nothing in it--no creativity. What we have to do is to turn around the whole system.

Micro-economic reform is a buzz word. Probably the average Australian, unless he or she takes a particular interest in economics, does not even know what that means. We have to get back to the basis where Australian farmers, Australian manufacturers and small businesses will not suffer under high interest rates and will not have to be ground down by depressed commodity prices and by an inflated value of the dollar. We need to be able to get out and freely produce and sell without that straitjacket of high interest rates and those other restrictions imposed by this Government. We have to deregulate our economy. We have to free it up and allow the Australian primary producer to get some value and some benefit from his production. (Time expired)