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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1615

Mr COBB(10.32 p.m.) —-During the last couple of weeks of the parliamentary break I travelled extensively throughout my electorate. In the southern part of my electorate, stretching from the Central Tablelands through the centre and to the north, I visited numerous towns including Forbes, Parkes, Wellington, Dubbo, Gilgandra, Coonamble, Nyngan, Girilambone, Coolabah and Byrock. I embarked on an extensive tour late last week with the Leader of the National Party (Mr Tim Fischer) through Brewarrina and Bourke and I travelled through my proposed new territory of Cobar and Tottenham. The weekend before last I attended a function at the little town of Tilpa on the Darling River, where only 32 people voted at the last election but 200 people turned up on the night I was there.

I mention this because I gained a great first-hand insight into people's problems and what has happened recently. The main problem occupying people's minds is drought, which is extremely serious at the moment, particularly in the northern part of my electorate. Many farms have had little or no worthwhile rain since the floods of last year and many people are claiming it is worse than the 1982 and the 1965 droughts. Stock is being turned in on many of the crops. In some areas, silos do not even bother opening. Of course, stock are in a desperate state despite the fact that it is spring--the time we usually associate with a maximum amount of feed. A number of farmers have breeding stock away on agistment, and at the moment they have no prospect of those stock returning because there is no feed to come back to. This is happening as we are moving into the heat of summer.

The continuing cost of having that stock away on agistment is probably more than the animals are worth. Some people have sent stock to Queensland, but the feed has run out up there and they are wondering what to do with the stock. In one exceptional case, a farmer I know has lost most of his cows even though they are away on agistment. The sheep, particularly those in the western division, are in a very weakened state. Many farmers cannot get them to the sheds to shear them and they are left in the paddock to die. Many sheep that have come to the shed die after shearing due to stress. Others are already dead in the paddock. One man I spoke to--Peter McClure at Tilpa--is losing about 50 to 100 sheep per day. When all of this is happening it makes one wonder where the greenies are. It would be a good chance for them to get out and show a bit of compassion by cutting a bit of scrub for these people. But, no, we never sight them unless they want to shut something down.

Even if the farmers could buy feed for this stock--and they cannot because no fodder is available in any quantity--they could not afford it anyway because it is being sold at such incredible prices. Aggravating all this is a chronic build-up of woody weed infestation in the western division of New South Wales, which means that there is less feed around than there normally would be. Woody weed invasion is probably the biggest long term problem facing the western division. I hope that the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Crean) will have a look at this at some stage.

On top of this we have a feral animal problem. There are millions of red, grey and black kangaroos at the moment. Rabbits are a big problem; one farmer told me that he had eradicated 38,000 in one paddock alone. There are high numbers of pigs. Only yesterday the honourable member for Riverina-Darling (Mr Hicks) cited a case where he had counted up to 500 emus on one crop. One feral animal that does not get much mention and that I would like to alert the Government to tonight is feral goats. They are out there in their tens of thousands eating not only what little grass is left but also the trees and shrubs. They are eating it up so high that the sheep cannot reach any green pick in the trees. That is aggravating the problem immensely. The goats are going so high that they are leaping off the ground and in some cases are getting their horns tangled in the branches and dying by hanging. We are seeing goats down on black country now, which is a rare thing; usually they stick to the red country.

On top of this gruesome scene we have a collapse in commodity prices. On the weekend I spoke to one superfine wool grower in the central tablelands who three years ago got a cheque for $121,000. The year after that it was down to $83,000. Last year it was down to $50,000. He has just got his cheque for this year and he is down to $21,000, even though he has wool down to 15.4 microns. He would have been getting 5,000c for that only a year or two ago and now he is only getting 300c or 400c. It is bringing less than his 19-micron wool because it is out of fashion.

Out in the western division, around Bourke, wool growers are selling bales of wool which, after taking out selling costs, freight, commission and shearing charges, are worth about $250 a bale. The average healthy sized farm in that area would have about 200 bales, which means that the farmer is getting about a $50,000 gross income to live on. If he had a loan of $300,000, the interest charges alone would take all that income. It means that he has nothing left to educate his children, because the Government has squeezed the Austudy charges and the isolated children's grants. Farmers cannot get the dole because of the unusual position they are in vis-a-vis people who live in cities and towns. They may have agistment charges which they cannot meet; they cannot afford wages for their farm workers; and they cannot afford to buy vehicles, let alone service the ones they already have. There is no money left over for fencing and machinery or to service their equipment--windmills, pumps and bores--let alone to put food on the table for their wives and children.

So it is not unusual to find a feeling of despair in the bush. There is enormous strain on finances and on the families. Frustration and anger are starting to build up and the farmers are starting to lash out at city-based politicians who, they think, do not know and do not care about what is going on out there. They are still being hit with high interest rates; 17 or 18 per cent is quite common. The Government is letting these high interest rates roll on so they can suck in overseas money invested to take advantage of high real interest rates. This is forcing up the value of the dollar. It is still hovering at around US79c or US80c. That means we are getting less for our commodities when we sell them overseas.

This is causing some anger when the farmers see the Government still funding a bunch of weirdo groups. It is sending hundreds of millions of dollars overseas to groups such as front-line states in southern Africa and throwing millions of dollars at the communist dominated ANC and groups such as this when the farmers cannot afford to send their kids to school and they cannot afford a satellite dish so they can pick up a couple of TV channels to get some quality of lifestyle. The land values around them are collapsing and that is destroying their equity.

One property called Tankarooka, south of Tilpa, went up for sale last week and was passed in at $7.50 an acre. That is an example of what is happening in the bush at the moment.

Rural adjustment scheme funding has been increased. That is very welcome, but it is still totally inadequate. Farmers really do not want welfare; they want government to get off their backs. Admittedly, several hundred farmers are applying for funding under this scheme but very few are qualifying for benefits. It seems that they are either too rich or too poor and cannot qualify anyway.

There is a great need in the bush for the Government to look at new measures. Perhaps members of the Australian Labor Party will look at reinstating the opt-in opt-out for the tax averaging scheme that they abolished when they came to power and at reinstating a proper IED scheme, which they emasculated when they came into power. They might also look at making proper provision for fodder conservation and soil conservation programs and granting tax deductibility in the year of installation for putting electricity on. It may surprise some honourable members to hear that there are farmers in Australia who still do not have electricity, even though they are generating perhaps $100,000 or $200,000 of export income for Australia and are living on a negative income themselves. These people still do not have electricity. In this day and age it is absolutely amazing.

The farmers would like to see the Government remove the tariffs on imports for things such as spare parts and the proper funding of roads. The Government has cut such funding by 30 per cent in real terms since it came to power. People in rural areas would like see the waterfront tidied up. It frustrates them when they read of wharfies working 27 hours a week for an average of $45,000 or $50,000 a year, getting dim sim allowances and shifting 13 containers an hour when our overseas competitors are shifting 30 to 40 containers an hour.

These are the things that members of the rural sector are up against. Their town pharmacies are closing down. The pharmacy in Brewarrina could close down shortly and the locals will have to get their prescriptions sent down to Nyngan, which is 200 kilometres away. Yet greenies are running around the country shutting down forest industries and putting pressure on farmers who are clearing scrub, et cetera.

No-one in the Federal Government in Canberra seems to care about it. If farmers thought the Government was having a go and was fair dinkum, they might be able to put up with their situation; but they have had a gutful. I would like to record some of these points tonight so that honourable members can gain an insight into what is happening and therefore act on these matters. (Time expired)