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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 658

Dr STONE (12:50 PM) —I rise to condemn the Rudd Labor government for failing to properly manage Australia through the global financial difficulties that have the potential to beggar the robust Australian economy and certainly to indebt generations to come. We have, of course, had a long record—it is almost a pattern of behaviour—of Labor governments putting the country into debt, and coalitions, or Liberal governments, bringing us out of debt. But it can take 10 years. It did the last time, with the $96 billion we inherited from Keating and Hawke. It looks like, with the new open cheque of $200 billion potentially, it is going to take the next coalition government even longer to bring the country back into order. Sadly, that will be at a huge price to the capacity of the country to invest in infrastructure, important services, to help those most needy and to stop the continued emergence of two different Australias: those in rural and regional Australia and those in the cities.

In particular, on behalf of rural Australia I want to express my extreme disappointment—I guess my disgust, too—at the attention given to the rural sector in this just-announced so-called Nation Building and Jobs Plan. Let me remind members that in this plan we were told that there would be a farmers hardship bonus. Some 21,500 would be eligible for this farmers hardship bonus of about $950. Only those on exceptional circumstances would be eligible to receive this amount. That is only 14 per cent of Australia’s farmers. Across the nation we have other farmers in distress due to not only drought but also flood. Some are coming through extraordinary times with low prices and high input costs so that it is very hard to make ends meet, but only 14 per cent of Australian farmers will be eligible for the farmers hardship bonus.

Meanwhile the same package gives an un-means-tested thousand-dollar grant to anyone who wants to have insulation in their ceiling. How can you equate those two measures in terms of justice, equity or just plain decency? The 86 per cent of farmers across Australia who have equally serious problems in terms of the global economic impact—in particular, it has affected producers of beef, dairy, wine, fruit et cetera—are not eligible for the farmers hardship bonus. I guess they can take some consolation in getting a thousand dollars worth of insulation! I can assure you that it will not be a compensation for them. All it does is rub salt into their wounds as once again they are overlooked. Primary producers are just that: they are employers; they are producers. They go out into the export markets of the world and compete against subsidised product. They have world-best product in so many cases. We have just heard how the European Union—and, soon to follow, the United States—is throwing subsidies back into the global dairy markets, which will make the recovery for our dairy industry even harder.

I want to put on record the problems of the export dairying sector, in particular those who produce market milk. They employ across the board a significant proportion of the 40,000 people in the dairy sector. At the farm gate they have something like $11.5 billion annual value. This is the wholesale value of their product. They are now being offered prices below the cost of production, particularly in northern Victoria. They are a sector of the rural economy that has had drought for 10 years. We have just had a talk from Fonterra, one of the major manufacturers from northern Victoria—though this is also occurring in other parts of Australia such as Tasmania and Western Australia—which has acknowledged that the prices it is offering in northern Victoria are below the cost of production. It cannot see how even its best producers will be able to survive with that.

Is there a mention of dairy farming or the dairy industry in this so-called stimulus package? Of course there is not a word. Dairy farmers are supposed to line up—some 14 per cent of them—for the farmers hardship bonus of $900-odd. That would not pay their fodder bills for a week. This package from the Rudd Labor government is an insult. It reinforces a notion that the rural and regional sections of Australia are out of sight and out of mind—that because Labor does not represent them in this place it does not have to care. Thank heavens we have the coalition—in particular, the Liberal and National Party representatives, including my friend here—who will continue to fight for the rights of rural and regional Australians. They just have to look at what is in this package to see that, with only 14 per cent being addressed, there is a real problem. (Time expired)