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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1608


Mr McGAURAN(10.01 p.m.) --As the rural sector and the community outside our major urban centres slide deeper and deeper into depression, one of the recurrent cries is that of the frustration of not getting the individual or collective voices of the rural people heard in this place. Consequently, in my contribution tonight on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) dealing with the appropriations for the Department of Primary Industries and Energy, I wish to read into the official Hansard record two letters from two constituents who have asked that I take this step. However, before doing so, I wish to place on the record some of the facts that highlight the enormity of the importance of the rural sector to the national economy.

Australian agriculture produces enough food and fibre to feed 50 million people annually. In the 1989-90 financial year, farm exports amounted to $15.3 billion in overseas revenue, accounting for 32 per cent of merchandise exports. The source for those statistics is the ABARE quarterly publication of December 1990. Farm inputs during the financial year 1989-90 totalled $19.9 billion. Four hundred thousand workers are directly employed by agriculture. The March 1990 report to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) by the Australian Science and Technology Council entitled Science, Technology and Australia's Future stated that agriculture and associated industries, not including transport and finance, employed 1.4 million Australians, or 20 per cent of the work force. The annual rise in productivity rate for agriculture has been twice that for manufacturing over the last 20 years.

Nobody, but nobody, inside or outside of this Parliament should underestimate the critical importance of agriculture to our standard of living. Consequently, any debate about primary industries must be closely followed by the Government. I have to say that for the last hour and a half we have had one solitary Government member in this chamber and that is the Minister for Local Government (Ms Fatin), who is on duty and required to be here. The disinterest in this debate shown by Government members is a hallmark of their treatment of the rural sector.

The first letter that I wish to read is on behalf of one of my constituents, Mr Jack Vanderland of 15 Farmer Street, Mirboo North. He received a letter from the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Crean) which is self-explanatory. I will read it to the House and then read some of Mr Vanderland's comments in reply. The letter to Mr Vanderland is dated 24 September 1991, and states:

Dear Mr Vanderland

I refer to your recent letter concerning the rural crisis and its impact on farmers. While noting the contents of your letter, I would like to respond in particular to your suggestion that food imports into Australia should be banned.

Increased competition from imported food products has been a topic widely reported in the press in recent months. While the Government is well aware of the serious challenges this has imposed on some industries, it is important that these imports, or the threat of these imports, be put into perspective.

There are many reasons why food products are imported into Australia. Many products are imported out of season or during periods of domestic shortage due to production failures, an inability to produce the commodity and/or production shortfalls relative to demand. Food imports form only a small proportion of total food consumption and do not represent a reliance on overseas producers for Australian survival.

Australian exports of food products greatly exceed our imports. In fact Australia exports a higher percentage and a broader range of agricultural commodities than any other country. We export over 70 per cent of all our agricultural produce and are very dependent on this trade as a source of income for our country.

As a major agricultural exporting nation, Australia has much to gain from the liberalisation of world trade and supports the need for a freer, less protected international trading environment. Australia cannot seriously seek the removal of trade distorting subsidies and high tariffs in other countries, however, without a similar system operating here. Clearly, a ban on imports would be a step in the wrong direction and would do Australia more harm than good as we strive to achieve freer world trade.

The Government is keen to ensure, however, that Australian industries are not subject to unfair market competition from imports. Following the announcement in the March 1991 industry policy statement, anti-dumping procedures have been strengthened. These changes will speed up processing of complaints by industry so that in most cases where there is injury to local producers, provisional measures will be available 40 days sooner than at present. Better access to the system for agricultural and horticultural producers will also be available in response to unfair trading practices in relation to the processed products of their industry.

Yours sincerely

SIMON CREAN

Mr Vanderland's reply is as follows:

Dear Mr Crean

Of course we need food imports, like tomatoes after we plowed tonnes back in the ground. Just like potatoes when every farmer has dumped them at the tip in Mirboo North. Of course we're short of them. And we are short of 7000 tonnes of cheese which is stuck in a storeroom at Allowrie Foods (frozen solid). We need fruit juice because the fruit fell off the trees before we can pick them.

Honourable members can see the irony, even sarcasm, of Mr Vanderland's reply to the Minister's contention that we need to import products because we cannot produce them ourselves. The letter continues:

Before I forget we need also frozen vegies because we don't grow them any more in East Gippsland because we've got sheds full of them. What a load of rot Mr Crean. You really think farmers are fools don't you?

Yours faithfully

JACK VANDERLAND

The second letter is from a small business constituent of mine, Mr Erich Zdrazil of Loch Sport. His letter is to the Prime Minister. It states:

Dear Mr Hawke

As an immigrant who fought to seek refuge, and a new life in Australia, and escape the Dictatorial Communist Government of my Homeland, SLOVENIJA, Australia was the land of sunshine, hope and promise, where hard work was rewarded, freedom of speech and association, a way of life. The picture East Europeans painted of Australia, was that of a GOD-fearing Moral People who believed in a good days' work for fair pay, and mighty unions to protect the Workers' rights against Opportunists, and Bureaucracy.

While I'd never forgotten that SLOVENIJA had been conquered, first by the Third Reich, and again by the Soviets, I noticed that the Country I had escaped to was rapidly becoming more Communist than Soviet Europe, it dawned on me that Australia was conquered from the ENEMY WITHIN, by a Communist Regime of `Peace Activists', and a `Green Army in the guise of Concerned Conservationists', with a library of Falsehoods and Nonsense.

I had worked hard, learnt the language, passed my trade examinations, later, married and started a Business, and all seemed right when the Children came along. I was self-employed and proud to be Australian, then the `Bombshell burst', first WHITLAM, then `the Green Communist Puppet', MR HAWKE took over, and You created a Communist Welfare State, where Businesses were the Enemy, and Socialism, the `saviour'.

Not content with destroying the Nations' strongest Industry, Farming, You MR HAWKE, manipulated interest rates, and created a Recession, and unemployment on a scale close to the Great Depression, and WHY? I knew when I came to Australia that the Aussies were tough, they'd fought at TOBRUK, and couldn't be subdued, they'd terrified the Third Reich and Rommel, and taught the Japanese scavengers that Oppression doesn't pay, yet, they'd been routed, and conquered by a crooked Communist Regime, a Wolf in Sheep's clothing, by a man who denied his own birthright and defamed his Father, and said his greatest regret . . .

I will delete the next section. Mr Zdrazil continues:

The Soviets are now gaining freedom from Communist Oppression, and my children are being indoctrinated in school with the dogma that I fled Europe to escape. I think you are a disgrace Mr Hawke, not only to the people who placed their trust in you, but the cowardly way you let your Communist buddies conquer this democratic nation. You should bow your head when an Aussie patriot walks past you, you're a traitor Mr Hawke. You have insulted the public and assaulted our children in the schools with Communist teachings, and fabian immorality.

That is a letter born of anger and frustration by Mr Zdrazil, who lost his business only a short time ago.


The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Nehl) —-Order! The honourable member should realise that he should not impugn anybody's reputation, even if it is in a quotation from somebody else.


Mr McGAURAN —-Thank you for that guidance, Mr Deputy Chairman. The point of reading out those two letters from constituents is to underline the mounting anger and the utter hopelessness that is gripping people in country areas, whether they be farmers, as in Mr Vanderland's case, or a small businessman, in the case of Mr Zdrazil. It simply points to the fact that the Government cannot afford to take for granted the stability and economic importance and input of rural areas as it has in the past. (Time expired)