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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1613

Mr BRAITHWAITE(10.21 p.m.) —-In speaking to these primary industry estimates in Appropriation Bill (No. l) 1991-92, I want to continue what is obviously the theme of tonight's debate by drawing the attention of this chamber to the dreadful state of primary industries at the moment. It might be said that it is the greatest crisis they have ever faced, particularly in some areas. Unless the pricing arrangement is changed and the drought desists, there will be such a crisis--and the depth of it is yet to be seen.

The drought situation in Queensland and New South Wales has not been helped in any way by a government that has no consideration for that part of our Australian constituency which is vital to our exports and also to our survival. In fact, the destiny of the famous Whitlam remark that was made in the 1970s is now being fulfilled. Honourable members might recall the comment that we do not need farmers and that we can import the food products that we want.

Mr Downer —-Who said that?

Mr BRAITHWAITE —-One of the Whitlams said that. I think it was Mrs Whitlam, but I am not sure. The destiny has been fulfilled.

Mr Downer —-A Labor person.

Mr BRAITHWAITE —-Yes, a Labor person said that, and it has been fulfilled by this Labor Government. Over the recent recess I had the benefit, one might say, of visiting quite a few parts of Queensland. One of them was Mount Isa. I visited areas throughout my electorate, particularly the township of Bowen. I also went to Charleville, just last week, as the banking inquiry was being held there.

To look around places throughout Queensland is rather revealing. There is a common theme, which is based on the grave natural disasters of droughts, floods and droughts again. That might seem to be an odd sequence, but that is the case with natural disasters on the coast of Queensland, particularly within my own electorate. We have had droughts right up until Christmas day and in the next four weeks had some 130 inches of rain. We have been in a drought condition now for the last four months. The State Minister says that we are not in drought conditions. He is not sure when a dry period extends into a drought. Coming back through part of my electorate last weekend, I noticed that the gum trees within the ridges were actually dying, and yet the Minister says that there is no drought condition.

One of the problems was the agreement between the States and the Commonwealth to de-list droughts as a natural disaster. There is no doubt in my mind that what Queensland and, I believe, some parts of Western Australia are facing now is a natural disaster. We also find that, as a result of that de-listing, the guidelines for the rural adjustment funds right across the States are inconsistent. The interpretation in Queensland through the QIDC may differ from that given elsewhere as far as household fund support is concerned.

It is interesting to note that the latest package of funds given in Queensland towards drought relief was less than the amount that the Treasurer (Mr Kerin) took off in tariff reduction for sugar this season. I talked about Bowen a little while ago. If one looks at a place like that where horticulture is predominant, it is interesting to see that what is hitting a place such as that is the recession down south, the imports of other goods and regulations forcing producers to label some of their products. However, at the end of the line, despite the extra cost, that does not mean very much at all. So there is a lack of consistency there.

I have a press release here which shows the concern of both the State Labor Government and the Federal Labor Government. The Queensland Minister for Primary Industries, Mr Casey, visited Bowen recently. He arrived about four hours late. It was described as a whistle stop. The comment made was, `Growers find scant solace in Mr Casey's whistle stop visit'.

Mr Lloyd —-Some stayed longer.

Mr BRAITHWAITE —-Some stayed longer and some did not turn up at all. People desperately need the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Crean) to go there. He has not turned up, despite invitations, although he can find the time to fly over the top to Mareeba. I am not sure what the problems are at Mareeba, but he did not turn up at Bowen.

However, the coalition shadow Minister has shown a lot of interest in this situation. He turned up at 4 o'clock one evening and stayed until 10 o'clock. I thank the shadow Minister for primary industry, the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), for his visit. He has shown that there is compassion within the National and Liberal parties. That certainly does not exist within the other parties. Other problems people have at Bowen are the training levy, the one per cent, the superannuation levy and the situation of their further inputs.

I want to look at the difficulties, quite apart from the drought and flood situations, of primary industries. Many of the products we have right across Australia--wheat, wool, beef, sugar, horticulture and rice--are being afflicted by Government imposed restrictions. Interest rates were kept too high for too long too early in the recession that we had to have. This has had a major effect on the costs of primary producers and has also decreased equity in their properties. We can talk about many of the businesses that have been bankrupted, which primary industry, as we found at Charleville last week, is facing. Interest rates are still too high in real terms. Our exporters feel desperately the effect of those interest rates in the exchange rate, which is pushing up the dollar. The value of our products on the export market has been diminished, and to a large extent it encourages imports.

In 1990, $34m worth of tomato products came into Australia--that is a market that Australians could quite well fill--and $27m came in during the year ended June 1991. Australia is importing many other products that Australia itself could produce if given the opportunities and a fair go by this Government. In 1990, meat and meat products were imported to a value of $22m; in 1991, it was $36m. Dairy products and birds' eggs were imported to a value of $105m in 1990 and $124m in 1991; fish and associated products, $425m in 1990 and $447m in 1991; and cereals and preparations, $94m and $105m. It is interesting to note that $17m worth of rice, which is one of the products I nominated, was imported to Australia in 1990, the figure being $16m in 1991. Vegetables and fruit were imported to a value of $415m in 1990 and $383m in 1991. Sugars and sugar preparations of honey were imported to a value of $51m in 1990 and $61m in 1991. This totalled, in 1991, $1,156m.

A tremendous amount is being lost to our own producers as a result of the many difficulties they are facing in trying to trade in this country. The coalition intends to apply itself to many of those problems: the cost of the centralised wage fixing system, the lack of productivity in wages and also the means of getting interest rates to more realistic levels.

One also needs to look at the common problem of the reduction of tariffs, with no effective anti-dumping mechanisms being put in their place. I have already mentioned that the tariffs on sugar were reduced unilaterally, even though there was no movement from the European Community or the US to reduce its corrupted subsidies when putting those products onto the world market. The other problem we find concerns the diminishing property values on farms these days.

Consideration interrupted.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Nehl) —-Order! It being 10.30 p.m., I shall report progress.

The Deputy Chairman having reported accordingly--