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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1389

Mr CLEELAND(4.14) —The question I want to ask the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Peter Fisher) is: Where was he in 1981-82 when the Fraser Government caused the highest rate of bankruptcy in business in this country? Honourable members opposite do not like being reminded. They do not like being told the simple fact that when they were in government they did nothing whatsoever. Their Government caused the highest rate of bankruptcies to small business in Australia's history and they sat back like little lambs and did nothing at all. Where were they when the Party they represent was putting closer settlement schemes in, when it introduced tariffs and when it destroyed the whole concept of free enterprise in farming? Where were the now brave speakers of the National Party when Sir John McEwen introduced tariffs and destroyed the economy of this country? Where were the brave entrepreneurs of the National Party?

Mr Ruddock —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The honourable member should address himself through the Chair and not in a provocative way to honourable members on this side of the House.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I call the honourable member for McEwen.

Mr CLEELAND —That is not a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The fact of this debate is that the very people who now stand up in this House suddenly seem to have found that there are farmers in Australia. They never read their history books. They never examine what disasters they have been in government and the great harm they have done to Australia's great farming industry. They do not want to talk about tariffs, although they introduced them. Now they want to blame this Government for tariffs. I find that the most amazing turnaround of all time. The honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) was in government when Sir John McEwen was unloading all those horrible things on this country, yet he stands up here now and says to Australian farmers that the Government has to get rid of tariffs. What sleight-of-hand and what great cynicism one must accept in the speech of the honourable member for Gwydir.

Honourable members opposite talk about the solution to the problems. The solution the honourable member for Mallee comes up with is that he would put more debt onto the farmers. He says that we should lend farmers more money. The problem honourable members opposite complain about in this discussion is the indebtedness of farmers and high interest rates, but the solution they have proposed today is to give farmers more money, and load them up with more debt when they do at least, to their credit, recognise that the terms of trade are a disaster and that the price of wheat is not the fault of the Government but the fault of distorted external practices. The Opposition's solution-every farmer should listen to it-is to let the farmers borrow more money, load up with more debt and have a greater crisis in the future. That is the only solution honourable members opposite propose in this House. And they wonder why we on this side of the House regard them as economic illiterates. They wonder why we regard them as a joke when any economic debate occurs in this House. Their history and their present attitude display no concern for farmers. They love working on the scare tactic and drawing conclusions which are not correct. I draw the attention of the House to a television program, which probably everybody in this House saw, in which a farmer, Mr Roger Maloney, was shown being evicted from his property. It was indeed drama. It looked to be a very poor thing to occur. What were the facts in this case? We were not told what the real problem with Mr Maloney was. I refer to the Age of Tuesday 24 March 1987. An article by Deirdre Macken reads:

By the time the television crews arrived at Roger Maloney's farm in Forbes, Mr Maloney had not made a payment on his mortgage for 4 years, he had not made a deposit at his bank for 18 months and had not been living on the farm for five months.

The morning the television crews arrived, Mr Maloney returned to his farm. He took his children out of school and told police he should be evicted. The cameras rolled, and another farmer and his distraught family were turfed off their property by an uncaring banker.

Let us not forget that there is tragedy in the bush, that there are farmers undergoing great crisis, but let us not be fooled by the sort of tomfoolery that we hear in this House when examples such as this are pointed to. We hear from National Party members an agricultural socialist view. They are typical Nat-agro-socialists. We hear from the Liberal Party, the Adam Smith free enterprise people. We sit on this side of the House and watch. The National Party, the agro-socialists, are interested in pouring everyone else's money into the farmers, and the Liberal Party, through its various spokesmen, talks about free enterprise and market force reality. It says that market forces should determine what happens. But we do not hear that from our friends on the cross-benches. They seem to think that the solution to the problem is to pour in more money. If there were no interest rate at all-the honourable member for Gwydir would surely agree with me-a large number of farmers would still be in massive difficulty simply because of the prices they are getting for their commodity, namely, wheat. It would not matter if they had not interest rate charge at all. Many farmers would still be in a grave situation because their farms are uneconomic and their production is too small for the land they have. They would still not make a living off the land, whether or not any interest at all was being charged. I do not think anyone would dispute that proposition.

The solution of the National Party, as stated by its spokesmen today, is to keep putting money into that farmer; to put that farmer in a worse position by lending him more and more money. It is not to let market forces or the reality of the world impinge upon the farmer. It is not to force that farmer to make a real economic decision about whether he or she should stay on the land or get off it. That is not the National Party's solution. Its solution is to pour money in and to keep that farmer on the land until such time as the bank is forced to foreclose. Then we will see more Maloneys and more television drama and we will have a real crisis on the land.

So the National Party solutions are a joke. They are not realistic. They are not based upon a real understanding of rural Australia and the crisis which is occurring. As the Minister rightly pointed out, it is not interest rates which are driving the crisis; it is prices which are driving interest rates. National Party members cannot seem to get that through their heads. The crisis which has been caused by the world trading situation, by the price for wheat, is driving interest rates. National Party members still cannot seem to understand, as the Minister explained, that if interest rates dropped today, if they were forced down, the end result would be that within 12 months world markets would price this country out of existence and interest rates would go through the planet. The very people for whom the National Party purports to have concern, the very people for whom it thinks it is the only people who care, would surely not benefit from such a stupid economic proposal. The National Party would do great damage to them. The great myth it seems to believe in is that people on my side of the House are enjoying the high interest regime. It seems to think that the Government is enjoying the fact that interest rates are very high. It seems to think that the Government is going to maintain high interest rates when they are a disaster for everyone concerned. There is a real reason for high interest rates-a real economic reason. It will not be changed by the sort of tomfoolery economics we have had today.

The reality of the effects of interest rates on farmers is quite simple. For example, less than 120 out of 160,000 farmers in the past year were foreclosed on. The Westpac Banking Corporation, with 45,000 rural clients, had 42 fore- closures in the past year. An Australia and New Zealand Banking Group executive has said that that bank, with fewer rural clients, had only six foreclosures last year. The percentage of farmers who are at risk consists of farmers who are at the bottom end. They are farmers with small lots. They are still losing 100 acres of topsoil, I think it is, for every so many tonnes of wheat they produce.

Mr Peter Fisher —Where did you get that figure from?

Mr CLEELAND —The honourable member can go and read the report himself if he does not believe me. He lives in the area and he does not even know that this is occurring. The farming practices of these farmers will destroy their capacity to grow wheat in some marginal areas in any event. There is nothing governments can do to stop farmers from farming in non-productive areas and using techniques which are non- productive and which will destroy the land from which they are trying to get their living. That will occur irrespective of interest rates and irrespective of the price of wheat overseas. There is nothing governments can do-nor should they do-to encourage people to farm in such areas.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mountford) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The debate is concluded.