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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 2721

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(9.51) —I am somewhat puzzled by the amendment moved by Senator Vigor because he can achieve his end completely simply by joining the Opposition and voting against the Government's legislation. The effect of that would be to ensure that the payments which are made go to subsidising the consumption of fertilisers by farmers, including consumers of high analysis fertilisers in his home State of South Australia, to whom he referred in debate. Senator Grimes has raised a number of technical problems to Senator Vigor's amendment. It certainly appears to me to be absolutely beyond argument that one could not describe payments directly to farmers as a rebate in these circumstances. I would have thought that that was clearly so. Also, it would seem to be fairly obvious that when there are 170,000 users we would be setting off down a much more complex and hence expensive track if we did not use the mechanisms which have been in place for some years and which involve dealing with a relatively small number of manufacturers and importers.

I would not on the run-and in breach of Standing Orders-offer a legal opinion on the first point made by Senator Grimes about a bounty to end users being contrary to the Constitution. On the face of it, it is not an absurd proposition. I simply reserve my position because I have not had the chance to consider that matter before. I appeal to Senator Vigor to achieve his objectives by joining the Opposition to vote down this legislation. I agree with him that there appears to be a confusion of objectives in what the Government is seeking to do. It is trying to support the local farming industry on the one hand and manufacturers on the other. The subsidy has always been seen as giving a measure of assistance to the farming community. It seems quite clear that if the Fertilisers Subsidy Bill is defeated that assistance will continue to be available to the whole family-farming community. I have no family farm or family in farming I hasten to say after that slip. I have no vested interest whatsoever in this matter. Since we are getting into that area I should say that I have a brother who may be involved with a fertiliser manufacturer but since I am voting against his interest-if he has an interest-there is no room for criticism.

To return to the debate, I agree with Senator Vigor that there is some confusion in what the Government is trying to do. This subsidy is meant to be a subsidy to a consumer rather than to a producer. That is the view of the Opposition and the basis for its opposition to this legislation. Senator Vigor made the point that it is unfair to discriminate against high analysis fertiliser users. That point has been quite significant in terms of the Opposition's stance on this matter. I also agree with him that it would be Luddite to discriminate against high analysis fertiliser use in the sorts of circumstances that he has described. In view of all the doubts about his amendment and in light of the fact that it is an extremely complex way to get to the point he wants to reach I simply commend to him the rather simpler option of voting down this legislation.

Senator Vigor has expressed concern about an element of policy of the Australian Democrats which relates to not providing a subsidy for imports; that is, for overseas manufacturers. I say to him with great respect that once he accepts, as he clearly does from his amendment, that the objective of the expenditure of the $55m is not to subsidise manufacturers but to look after the interests of farmers who are, as he said in his speech, very hard pressed in 1986, he can with a clear conscience follow the course that the Opposition is proposing because, as Senator Grimes pointed out, the legislation contains clear provisions which require those who receive a subsidy-the manufacturers and/or importers, and in many cases they are the same people, as Senator Vigor pointed out-to use that money to reduce the cost to the consumer. That is a clear statutory obligation. In other words, the money must be fed back directly to the consumer.

The Opposition has some reservation about the capacity of any bureaucratic or legal framework to guarantee 100 per cent delivery of that subsidy to the farmer. We concede that some economic pressures may result in some of that being fudged, if one likes, or picked up by the manufacturers. The reality is that the Industries Assistance Commission examined that issue a few years ago and reported that the subsidy was going through to the farmers. There has been a proper examination of that issue by people who are not politicians with an axe to grind. In that examination the point that is the central concern of Senator Vigor is well dealt with. It is established that the subsidy gets back to the farmer. I urge that we not support the amendment moved by Senator Vigor but we vote down this legislation which will achieve precisely the effect that Senator Vigor has made clear that he wishes to achieve. It will ensure that the subsidy goes to the farmers, which is where it was intended to go, and it will not discriminate against high analysis fertiliser users and it will therefore not be Luddite. It will be administratively the simplest and cheapest way to achieve the objectives he is seeking. Therefore, I urge the rejection of this legislation and, of course, the amendment.