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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2204

Senator NEAL —I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Has the minister seen the media release of 22 March put out by the shadow minister, Mr John Anderson, alleging that there is no point in applying for rural adjustment scheme support? Would the minister advise the Senate whether the figures quoted by Mr Anderson regarding the approval rate under the rural adjustment scheme are accurate?

Senator COLLINS —That particularly stupid press statement issued by Mr Anderson contains accurate figures. It is not like him to put out silly press statements, but this one is. He quoted the success rate of farmers applying for assistance under the very heavily funded rural adjustment scheme and then went on to say that this was justification for it not being worthwhile for farmers to apply for the scheme. His figures are correct. Of the over 18,000 applications received by RAS authorities, 6,314 were rejected, as Mr Anderson's press statements correctly states; that is, two out of every three people who applied for assistance under RAS got it. Those 20,000 farmers—and that is about the number that is receiving assistance under RAS—would be highly surprised to hear their coalition National Party representative in this parliament, who purportedly represents them in this important area, say that it is not worth applying, when two out of every three of the applicants, on his own figures, were successful.

  As at 31 December 1993, over 20,000 farmers were in receipt of support under this important scheme, and 9,971 farmers were still receiving assistance under the schemes that applied before the current scheme commenced in January 1993. This is in addition to the 11,077 successful applicants in 1993. Like any other scheme that hands out large amounts of government money for assistance, there are eligibility criteria attached to this money—and so there should be. If there were not, we would be in here getting our heads kicked in because we were not providing sufficient accountability to the parliament on how this money was expended.

  RAS is targeted at supporting those farmers who have a long-term future in farming and the potential to make an economic contribution to the farming sector, but who are going through periods of difficulty; in other words, they have got some prospect of becoming viable. The two main reasons for rejecting applications are that the farmer concerned does not need the assistance, or that the farmer concerned is not likely to become viable. In that case, as I know honourable senators in this chamber with rural constituencies know, there is a provision under RAS for re-establishment grants of $45,000 to be paid in those circumstances as well.

  Mr Anderson states that people keep on saying that there is no point in applying for RAS if they get knocked back. That being the case—I would like to hear National Party senators support it—we could have saved ourselves $185 million of public monies last year by not funding RAS at all if it is not worth applying for. I think Mr Anderson should reconsider the silly statement that he has put out. He should accept the fact that we have to have eligibility criteria—which I might add are administered on the ground by the state government authorities that implement this system which we fund. Mr Anderson should withdraw that statement and support this scheme, which is highly valued by over 20,000 primary producers in Australia who are in receipt of assistance under it.