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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 2009

Senator VIGOR(5.14) —I commend this report, apart from the plant variety rights section, to the Senate. Once again, it is a most valuable summary of the problems of the agricultural and rural sector. I cannot stress too much the importance of the rural sector to Australia's economy. While the proportion of rural exports has declined to around 40 per cent of our total exports, rural export earnings are almost debt free. Rural producers owe very little money abroad and repatriate very little in dividends as the rural industry is for the most part Australian-owned, which is now a rare thing for industry.

Rural industry earns 60 per cent of Australia's net export earnings. Individual rural industries are at the moment very hard pressed, as Senator Watson said. The international trade in primary commodities, particularly rural produce, is depressed for a number of reasons beyond the control of Australian farmers. Wheat farmers-mentioned on page 29 of the report-are at the moment particularly hard pressed because of the price of wheat and the various trade wars which are being carried on by the United States of America `on behalf' of its wheat farmers. Rice farmers have also been hit by conditions in the world commodities market. Cotton farmers are facing disastrous cuts in income, while costs are escalating. Sugar farmers have already suffered for a number of years and there does not appear to be much light at the end of the tunnel.

The major problem is inability to meet debt commitments, which is exacerbated by falling values of land and consequent loss of security against borrowings. Wheat farmers face poor prices for at least a further two years, and as a result one farmer in five is likely to go to the wall. Yet Australian wheat farmers are still among the most efficient in the world. There is no mechanism for tiding them over financially or socially when crises hit. This Government is at fault in this area. Adjustment programs are built around debt refinancing, provided that equity and ability to pay are apparent.

The problem with people who moved, as the Whitlam Government forced some farmers to do, into one industry, such as the wheat industry, is that they have nothing to fall back on. There is no gearing of adjustment assistance to cope with individual needs, nor is current assistance an effective solution.

The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) promised last year that no Australian industry would be allowed to suffer unduly because of the international trade crisis. I ask the Minister: What is being done for the wheat industry? The citrus industry has been given some help through the dumping protection which has been introduced, but it is advantaged through being mainly tied to the domestic market. Export industries need alternative measures.

This cycle of boom and bust has been a feature of the rural scene for many years. It is mainly due to the vagaries of the international markets when subject to stresses of either acts of God or financial problems. It is hitting harder now that Australia has deregulated its financial markets and exposed us to the unprotected pressures of the international scene. Australia can now be manipulated by the large financial institutions. It is too small to provide its own market buffers, too small for free market forces to reach an equilibrium, and too small to resist market and financial manipulation. We must provide some regulatory barriers between our internal economy and that of the international scene if we are not to be bankrupted and then bought out for a song.

Senator Walsh —Who wrote this rubbish? A fairy told you that, did it? A fairy at the bottom of the garden!

Senator VIGOR —This Government must take action, Senator Walsh. Australian farmers and exporters cannot continue to carry the can for the Government's inaction and for the Government's inability to manage the economy.

Debate (on motion by Senator Kilgariff) adjourned.