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Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 44

Senator CRANE (4.50 p.m.) —I support the matter of public importance proposed by Senator Brownhill. Its wording is very important because what was revealed in the comments by the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) when he was confronted with this issue was, first, that he did not understand it; secondly, that he had not been briefed properly; and, thirdly—and I listened to some of it on the radio—one could hear the contempt in his voice. It was not just the words; it was the way he spoke. Senator Collins read out the press cuttings and other things. When people are thrown a crumb, of course they are going to say thank you. But let us consider the things that were said afterwards. One report stated:

Grains Council of Australia President Mr Ian MacFarlane said he was disappointed by the Prime Minister's comments, and claimed Mr Keating had been poorly briefed.

We also see an interesting comment which explains why Senator Collins tried to put up the defence he did. At that time he was in agreement with the Prime Minister. The report states:

His comments were reinforced by Senator Collins, who said the Government's strategy was to plan for and manage droughts, which were `a cyclical and regular feature of the Australian landscape'.

Nobody argued against that in 1992, nor in 1986. In 1982, when we had a drought of similar magnitude, Malcolm Fraser's government put $400 million into drought relief and into the protection of the breeding stock.

Senator Burns —Because he was a farmer.

Senator CRANE —No, not because he was a farmer but because he understood what the problem was and the magnitude of it. I understand from the experts that this drought is worse than the one that occurred then. What came out of that was the fact that Australia kept in place 100 years of breeding of its merino sheep flock. It kept its cattle stock in place; it kept its machinery and a whole host of things. This government has had 11 years to put a strategy in place to handle drought. All the government has done is talk about it.

  Let us have a look at the report of the Standing Committee and at why I waved it around in question time today. We are getting the same evidence all over again. I particularly want to make reference to the so-called crocodile tears. People who gave us evidence in 1992—people who are still in a drought—broke down and cried, as the chairman of the committee which prepared this report knows. The chairman nurtured them through that. It was very heart rending. Senator Burns will remember that. Yet the Prime Minister says that crying crocodile tears about drought affected areas is not going to help people. The fact is that these people are emotionally and financially bankrupt. To now throw $14 million on the table shows that the government has very lately found compassion in terms of dealing with the drought.

  The restructuring of RAS in 1992—and the evidence keeps on flowing through to us—has been a failure. In terms of the exceptional circumstances of the wool industry, it has equally been a failure. To have discontinued the scheme last June when the vast majority of people in the wool industry—forgetting about the criteria—had not had the opportunity to get the improved wool prices demonstrates once again the callous thinking behind this government and its response. The people in the wool industry are now at about break-even point. The decision was a very poor and very sad decision that was made at that time.

  When we look at the figures we see that the percentage of people who applied, people who had been traditional and successful wool growers over a long time, and who could get that assistance was very small. The government wants to look very carefully and seriously at the way it has treated our great industry.

  In the rural adjustment recommendations of 1992 a lot of the issues have not been addressed by the government. We are hearing about the IEDs over and again—and we will deal with them when the new report comes out. In this current look at the rural adjustment scheme we are getting a re-run of what we got in 1992. That shows that, once again, in terms of long-term planning and dealing with a particular problem, the government has not responded. The fact is that the IED scheme, as it is right now, is a disincentive for people to protect themselves from various ravages. The great tragedy of the IED scheme is that it was withdrawn from 1985 to 1988 when wool prices reached very high levels. It was those people sitting on the other side of the chamber who removed that—no-one else. They took the IEDs away at a time when there were high incomes and when people could have put something away. The same applies with tax incentives, whether for fodder, water or conservation fencing. Those opposite took those incentives away. No-one else did it.

  It is no good pointing the finger at people on this side of the chamber and saying, `What would be your response?' We have said many times in this place, both in committees and as individuals, what the response should be; those opposite have not addressed the issues that should be addressed. They should hang their heads in shame. They can talk until they are blue in the face about self-reliance, but if they put in place a policy which stops people from moving to a self-reliant position, they have to wear it. They have to wear the fact that they kept interest rates jacked up for so long and just recently have put interest rates up again, which will cost the rural industry $120 million and the rest of the community a lot more.

  When those opposite look at their policy responses to these things they will see that the responses have been totally inadequate. What is required now is an easing of the guidelines for rural adjustment. What is required is for a lot more money to be put into rural adjustment.

Senator Sherry —How much?

Senator CRANE —I could not say how much, but a lot more on top of what is there. I would say it would be in excess of $100 million. I say that amount off the top of my head, but that is my response.

Senator Sherry —Where would you get it from?

Senator CRANE —Where the government gets the rest of its money. Senator Sherry should be quiet and listen because it is the government of which he is a member which has failed in terms of its policy prescription for dealing with these problems.

  The last matter I want to deal with now is education, the assets test and the income test. We had figures given to us today during question time that only one per cent of people were rejected because of the assets test. What those opposite forget about is the number of people who do not bother to put in a claim because, when they look at the myriad of forms, the detail they have to fill out and the intrusion into people's private business and what they own, they do not apply for Austudy. It is a real problem. What those opposite have to do is address the processes. There should not be the type of inquisitive inquiry into the personal side of people's lives, when dealing with the assets test for Austudy. For the rural adjustment scheme in some states there is a 35-page form to be filled out. I conclude by saying that this government stands condemned for its lack of response. (Time expired)