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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 120

Mrs HULL —My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Would the minister advise the House of the level of support for the government's tax reform package amongst the rural sector and of the benefits tax reform will bring to people of my electorate, Riverina?

Mr VAILE (Trade) —Mr Speaker, may I congratulate the member for Riverina on her election to this place. The electorate of Riverina is that food bowl seat in New South Wales. Also may I congratulate you on your election to the high office of Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Before I respond to the honourable member's question, may I seek your indul gence to inform the House that I have been alerted earlier today that there has been a fire in the Edmund Barton Building on Kings Avenue, and staff of my department and other departments and visitors in the building have been evacuated. I understand that one person has been injured and taken to hospital. I have no doubt that all members of this House will share my concern for the welfare of all the people who work there.

Mr SPEAKER —Indulgence had not in fact been granted, but I am sure that every member of the House would concur that that was an appropriate intervention.

Mr VAILE —I apologise, Mr Speaker. It is a very relevant question that the member for Riverina raises, and quite obviously the people of rural and regional Australia support the government's policies by virtue of the fact that they have re-elected us to government. It is the coalition that is sitting on the government benches, not the Australian Labor Party. They quite clearly rejected the policies of the Australian Labor Party. People in rural and regional Australia obviously supported the economic management of this government over the last 2½ to three years, which has produced a low interest rate regime, low inflation and stability for the future. They supported that wholeheartedly by returning seats like those held now by the member for Riverina, the member for Blair and the member for Kalgoorlie back into the coalition fold, not to the Labor Party. You did not win those seats in regional Australia.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —I invite the minister to return to the question.

Mr VAILE —It is interesting to note the reason why the people in regional Australia have supported the coalition's policies, and particularly the tax reform package. Some very constructive research done by the Centre for Agriculture and Regional Economics out of the University of New England on our tax package indicated that there would be an increase in disposable income in all categories of the farm sector. On a beef or wool farm there would be an increase in disposable income of $5,800 per annum. On dry land cropping and mixed grazing properties there would be an increase in disposable income of $8,549 per annum. Interestingly, particularly for the Member for Riverina, on irrigated cropping and grazing properties—those that are located in the member for Riverina's electorate—there will be an increase in disposable income of $9,341 per annum.

That is a study that has been independently done out of the University of New England. That is the reason rural and regional Australia absolutely supported the coalition's policies that we have implemented over the last 2½ years to provide economic stability in that sector in this country and to build a foundation for the future of Australia. They have supported that.

That was supported by New South Wales farmers. What did the farming community say about the policies of the Australian Labor Party? The United Graziers Association in Queensland said:

The ALP tax package is of limited help to the bush.

The UGA President, Mr Noel Kennedy, commented:

We are disappointed that the proposal—

this is the ALP's proposal—

does not address the myriad of inbuilt taxes which affect our ability to compete internationally and I would call on the opposition to reconsider its proposals.

This was during the campaign. He went on to say:

In particular, there needs to be a review of the fuel excises which have a direct effect on the cost of freight and hence our competitiveness.

Most importantly—and the opposition should take note of this comment by Mr Noel Kennedy—he said:

We are also very concerned that assets acquired pre capital gains tax will become taxable from 1 January 1999 and that valuations will mean further expense for already cash-strapped graziers.

That was the policy that people in rural Australia did not like from the Australian Labor Party. They voted against it and they supported our policies. The NFF President, Ian Donges, said in a release:

On top of the current low interest rates, low inflation and current exchange rate a tax environment like this would make Australia's farm exports much more competitive. That means more jobs for salary and wage earners in the sector which provides as many as 32 per cent of jobs, mostly in rural and regional Australia, and a better standard of living for all of us.

Mr Speaker, that is why rural and regional Australia supported and re-elected the coalition government. That is why straight after the election there was a banner headline in one of the rural newspapers which said `The bush delivers to the coalition'.

Mr SPEAKER —I invite the minister to wind up his remarks.

Mr VAILE —The bush recognised that it was only going to be the coalition government that would deliver for them.