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Wednesday, 13 May 1987
Page: 3098

Mr GEAR(3.25) —It is obvious today that in the fragmented Opposition--

Mr Tuckey —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: Surely, considering his oft expressed interest in bankruptcy, the honourable member for Charlton ought to be fielding this particular--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.

Mr GEAR —That trivial point of order sums up what I was about to say. The hopelessly fragmented Opposition has decided that it is the turn of the Queensland National Party members today to bring on a matter of public importance. As usual, the speech by the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) continued the trend that we have come to expect from the Opposition parties. The opening sentence of the MPI begins with the words:

The urgent need for changing Government policies . . .

Those listening to the debate today will find one thing missing. They will find missing what those parties opposite would do if they were in power. We have been waiting a long time, in fact for four years, for an Opposition taxation policy. We cannot find it. Is it any wonder? It cannot get its act together. We can shoot the matter of public importance down in flames easily. It is amazing that the Opposition has picked on a National Party member from Queensland to bring it on.

The matter mentions bankruptcies. Some of the statistics cited by the honourable member for Dawson came from the article he referred to yesterday. The Opposition operates on the fact that one looks through the papers to find something to hang an argument on. What do we find when we get down to the bankruptcy statistics for the first nine months of this financial year, from 1 July 1986 to 31 March this year? Let us compare the number of bankruptcies in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory with those in Queensland, where the honourable member comes from. (Quorum formed) The one good thing about quorums is that they bring intelligent people into this House and keep out the dopes. As I was saying before I was interrupted, if we compare the number of bankruptcies in Queensland with the number in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory for the nine months of this financial year, we find that New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, which has a population of 5.8 million, has had 1,283 bankruptcies. In Queensland, where the honourable member comes from, there were 1,295 bankruptcies for a population less than half of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Therefore, the rate of bankruptcy in Queensland is twice what it is in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Yet the honourable member has the gall to poke up his head on bankruptcies. The one thing that we know about bankruptcies in Queensland, is that the escalation started with the Joh for PM campaign, and has taken off as that campaign has gone down. Let me put that another way. In percentage terms, bankruptcies in Queensland have gone up by 43.5 per cent, while for the rest of Australia the figure is a mere 6.3 per cent. If the Opposition wants to put up someone to talk about bankruptcy, for heaven's sake, it should not choose someone from Queensland. The honourable member poked up his head and it has just been blown off.

In the matter of public importance, the Opposition also spoke about farmers. I did not hear the honourable member for Dawson say too much about farmers. We know that the Australian Labor Party represents farmers as well as every other Australian. We are here for all Australians. The Government accepts that a number of farmers are facing considerable financial difficulty, but there are a number of major qualifications. Firstly, only a small proportion of farmers are in this category. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics estimates that 5 per cent of farmers are at risk in 1986-87. That is a fall from 7 per cent in 1985-86. At risk is not the same as going broke, as the Opposition should know. At risk is defined as a farm with less than 70 per cent equity and insufficient income to meet living expenses and debt repayment.

Only 8 per cent of farmers considered at risk-that is, 8 per cent of the 5 per cent-actually leave the industry, and only a small minority of them are bankrupt. Most would leave with enough resources to establish themselves elsewhere. That is nothing new, it has been going on for a long time; some farmers are getting out of farming. There are very few farm foreclosures. Each major trading bank has advised that the number of foreclosures in any one year can be counted virtually on the fingers of one hand. Yet, to listen to the Opposition, one would think that there were widespread bankruptcies in the rural sector. The simple fact is that there are not, and the statistics prove that.

Secondly, there is a great diversity in the situation, according to commodity, region and individual. The proportion of farms at risk varies from virtually zero in sheep and beef-and in recent times, wool has hit 750c a kilo, a record price, so not all farmers are feeling the pinch-to 17 per cent in cropping, including 53 per cent in cropping in New South Wales. Those are the wheat growing areas that have been adversely affected by world trade.

That diversity demonstrates that the cause of farm problems does not lie domestically, but lies in the international agricultural trade war-our allies, the United States and the European Economic Community, are dumping their wheat on our markets. Prices have gone down because of our allies. The question that faces the Government is the appropriate policy response. That is something we heard nothing about from the honourable member for Dawson. The Opposition is always long on rhetoric and light on detail. We will never get an answer out of the Opposition. Tomorrow's exercise by the Leader of the Opposition will just be one more sorry episode in a long saga of blaming this Government for everything, but saying nothing.

As I said, the question that faces the Government is the appropriate policy response. As the international grain price decline is a major part of our terms of trade problem, the Government's entire macroeconomic policy, including this evening's economic statement, is directed at adjusting the economy to that reality-something the Opposition never did in 30 years in power. More specifically, the rural adjustment scheme has been wound up to record levels. The proportion of rural debt being funded under that scheme is now estimated to be 10 times the level of 1982-83. So do not say that we are not doing anything to help farmers at risk; this Party stands for all Australians, not just one section.

The other policies for the rural sector that the Government has implemented include reducing costs through fully rebating the diesel fuel excise, abolishing tariffs on machinery and reducing tariffs on chemicals. Those are all aimed at helping the man on the land. There have been increasing returns and improved marketing through our active trade policy, reform of the statutory marketing authorities, increased wool promotion funding and the establishment of market innovation programs. All that the Opposition failed to do, this Government is doing. It is helping the rural sector. We have secured the long-term resource base of the sector through upgraded arrangements and funding for research, soil conservation-the first government ever to do that-and fisheries and forestry management. I do not have to remind the House that the all-party delegation led by the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Cunningham) is leaving this weekend to put our case directly to the Americans.

The terms of trade collapse has exposed weaknesses in our economy that have not grown up during the period that we have been in office. It is the fault of the neglect of the conservative parties that ruled this country for a virtually unbroken period since the second World War. It sat on its hands and watched industry collapse around its feet, but its members now get up in the House and blame us for the problems.

The high interest rates that we are experiencing today are a direct result of the Opposition's failure adequately to give Australia the economy that it needed in the 1980s. It has been left to this Government to restructure the economy. What we are doing now is paying for the Opposition's past failures-and is not the Opposition glorying in that? It brings up mindless matters of public importance, yet it is really taking comfort in the misery produced by its past policies. It blames us for high interest rates, but it well knows that interest rates are going down. The thing that really sticks in the craw of Opposition members is that, at the next election, interest rates in the community will be even further down than they are now. Does the Opposition reckon that it will have a show next time? Everybody in the community knows that the Opposition is a joke, and the next time that the public has a chance to pass judgment, the Opposition will find itself further down the gurgler than it was last time.

It has been left to this Government to restructure the Australian economy, to ensure that the deficiencies that the Opposition brought into the economy do not last. I shall give some examples of some of the action that the Government has taken. It has floated the exchange rate to give farmers, our primary producers and our miners a decent return for their products. The former Government overvalued the Australian dollar, and we know what happened to industry. Not only did it cause the collapse of industry, but the farmers that the Opposition purports to represent were adversely affected.

We have deregulated the financial industry. It is now easier to obtain a loan for high risk ventures than it has ever been. There has been unprecedented wage restraint by the unions because we believe that working with people is a great deal more productive than working against them. The tax cuts that we have given to the population-and the honourable member for Dawson talked about the consumer having more in his pocket-have meant more in people's pockets. If they were ever mad enough to put the Opposition back into power, it would freeze their wages immediately. But do not worry, they are not mugs; they have woken up to the Opposition.

Whether talking about small or large industries, we should have a look at the imputation system that the Treasurer has brought into the House and which will operate from 1 July this year. Industry was on its knees. Out of every $100 profit, all the shareholders received was $22. Under our proposals, they get $51. That will mean more investment in enterprise that creates jobs and wealth for Australia, and not the paper-shuffling schemes that went on under the Opposition because there was no capital gains tax.

The May statement tonight is just another chapter in the fiscal responsibility of the Hawke Labor Government. It will be very interesting to see what the spotlight on the Leader of the Opposition will produce tomorrow. We all know what will happen. (Quorum formed)