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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 670

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction) (5.51 p.m.) —I will not delay the committee long. We have been round and round on this twice now, but I want to make a couple of points. I have to say that, after the stirling remarks made by Senator Boswell and even Senator McGauran, it sounded like I was up for pre-selection as a Victorian National Party senator. I would win with a landslide after the warm remarks they made about my sympathy, understanding and background—

Senator West —Pedigree.

Senator SCHACHT —And pedigree, in Gippsland. I do not want to diverge too much, but I did grow up on a soldier settlement dairy farm that the Cain Labor government in the 1950s established in Victoria. One of the reasons that my family voted Labor all their life was that they recognised that, despite the opposition of the then Victorian Country Party, it was the Cain Labor government that established the Nambrok-Denison soldier settlement area where we got a farm.

Senator Loosley —Was there an art house in the district?

Senator SCHACHT —There certainly was not an art house. But when I went back some years later I discovered that the McGauran pastoral company had purchased Widdis's estate, the big house on the hill that overlooked all us lower and smaller farmers. I find it interesting that that estate is represented now in the Senate by the McGauran family and that I, who came from the lower farms, represent the Labor Party.

  I have never forgotten that I am here because of my background on a soldier settlement farm in Victoria which came about because of the policies of the first Cain Labor government and not because of the policies of the Victorian Country Party—now the National Party. I have to say to Senator Boswell and to Senator McGauran that I understand this issue. I think I can still milk 60 or 70 cows in two hours, which is a reasonable rate.

Senator Burns —With your hands?

Senator SCHACHT —No, with machines in a six-unit shed. I have relatives who still milk cows. I do agree with Senator Boswell that it is hard physical work. The hardest physical work that I have ever done in my life is to milk 80 cows in two hours twice a day. I acknowledge that dairy farmers in particular have a particularly tough physical life. I have always thought that being a wheat farmer or a beef cattle farmer was an absolute cinch compared with being a dairy farmer having to milk twice a day every day of the year. So I appreciate the appeal to me in sentiment and to my knowledge of farming.

  I have never forgotten my background. However, I want to point out that where this assets test cuts in, at $700,000-plus for farmers, we think is a reasonable level. I know that some farmers would have an asset valued at greater than $700,000, with low liquidity and low cash flow. Many would have, under the present farming values, an asset valued at less than $700,000 on the small family farm and would, of course, not be affected.  I do want to point out to senators who have spoken—I appreciate their contribution—that it is true that, once we start fiddling with exemptions and giving exemptions, particularly to farmers or to primary producers, the smarties from Collins Street, King William Street or Pitt Street will find ways to move in—

Senator Panizza —St George's Terrace.

Senator SCHACHT —Or from St George's Terrace in Western Australia. Those who are not bona fide family farmers will find a way to rort to their advantage. I know that in the 1950s something that was always a bone of contention amongst the farmers in our community was that accountants and other professionals from Melbourne would buy farms purely to get the tax deduction that went with it and to hide their income accordingly, and they never came near their farms. That was always a resentment amongst the farmers in the community from which I came. So I have always been sympathetic to the view that we should not amend the tax arrangements that enable people who are not farmers to get an advantage. We have to be very careful about that.

  I also want to point out to Senator Bell that Austudy, of course, does not apply to just university students. It also applies to secondary and TAFE students over 16 years, so it is wider than just the shortages he mentioned. I think he acknowledges that the shortages are occurring just in places at universities.

  I believe that the government is correct in this position. We acknowledge our mistake. Senator Teague talked about the 100 people. They are the people who have already got the benefit because of the mistake. We are saying that we are not taking that off them. If they filled in the form back in February and have got the benefit, they will maintain it.

  Those opposite may well criticise us that those people will get an advantage that everybody else will not get, but we are not going to try to retrospectively take the benefit off them. The 100 people that Senator Teague talked about coming into the gallery with their families are not being—

Senator Teague —I hope they are really impressed on your mind.

Senator SCHACHT —No. What we are saying is that they already have it and we are not taking it off them. We are trying to stop the spread of this mistake to, we estimate, up to 2,000 people at an estimated cost of up to $10 million. I think that we ought to separate those 100 who, we estimate, already have the benefit and make sure that a fear campaign is not being run that they will now have it taken off them. That is not the case. I commend the bill to the committee. I certainly oppose this amendment. I believe that the House of Representatives will deal with the amendment as I have here today on behalf of the government.

  Question put:

  That the requests for amendments (Senator Teague's) be agreed to.