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Wednesday, 23 March 1966

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- I regret that the two speakers we have so far heard on the Government side have chosen to degrade this debate. In the first place, the Minister for National Development (Mr. Fairbairn) said that the proposal for the discussion of this subject as a matter of urgent public importance was a cheap, low stunt. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Kelly) called it-

Mr Kelly - A mean manoeuvre.

Mr POLLARD - A mean political manoeuvre.

Mr Kelly - That is right.

Mr POLLARD - So it would appear that if

All honorable members who have spoken on this issue in the Parliament have refrained until now from levelling abuse. Why have the Minister and the honorable member for Wakefield departed from that course of conduct? Is Kt that they realise that the Government is vulnerable in connection with this matter? Do they believe that they must divert attention from this important issue of water storages and supply by indulging in an attack on the New South Wales Labour Government for something it may or may not have done? Is it not a fact that the New South Wales Labour Government constructed during the last 10 years more water storages than were constructed in any other State?

Mr Robinson - No.

Mr POLLARD - Yes, it is a fact, and I challenge contradiction of that statement. Is it not also a fact that the party which the honorable member for Cowper (Mr. Robinson) supported at the last State election promised during the election campaign to alleviate the trials and tribulations of the dairy farmers of New South Wales by granting them a threepenny bounty on their butterfat, but has never paid that bounty? And how long is it since the last State election in New South Wales? I suggest, therefore, that honorable members opposite had better keep off that kind of issue.

The questions of water conservation and drought relief are of major concern in Australia at present. There is not one political party in any State that has not at some time or other advocated the provision of water storages, but by the same token there is not one State Government that has not from time to time found its financial capacity to construct water storages severely limited. These limitations have been imposed on them not because of particular political affiliations; they have been imposed directly by the Commonwealth Government, particularly the Liberal-Country Party Government over the last seven years, because of the inadequacy of the reimbursement to the States of income tax receipts and because of the power wielded in the Australian Loan Council by the Commonwealth. Are these not facts? Of course they are.

I am not one of those who say that the Commonwealth Government has done nothing. It has, of course, done something. Its major effort, of course, was to take up where the Labour Government left off in 1949 and to continue with one of the world's major water storage and power producing operations, the Snowy Mountains scheme. But there should long since have been an assurance given to the Snowy Mountains Authority, and to the various State Governments which have been pleading for the assistance of that Authority for a considerable time, that the organisation will continue - not in a restricted manner, but to be used in whatever part of Australia its great skills are required. This is essential. It must be part of a planned economy. This is agreed by the honorable member for Dawson, by his constituents who backed him, by the people of Australia and by the Press of Australia. Anyone who has read the newspapers during the last few weeks will appreciate that people are for from satisfied about the attitude of this Government. My colleague the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), has already quoted a number of newspaper headlines about drought relief and the problems of water.

The drought from which this country is suffering, with its consequent enormous economic losses, has been in progress from at least July of last year, and still the State Governments, still the Press of Australia and still the Opposition Party in this House are dissatisfied because no effective steps have been taken to assist the people who are suffering most. It is true that we have heard stories about cheap loans, about long term loans and the like, but what the people in drought stricken areas require is immediate cash relief. I have told this Parliament before about the 1946 drought and the problems of wheat farmers at that time, about the tribulations of drought stricken dairy farmers on the south coast, about the disastrous bush fires that occurred in Victoria and about the prompt actions that were taken at those times by the Curtin and Chifley Labour Governments. There was no talk of long term loans or of altering the income tax laws to grant a concession to a man who shore his sheep twice. That is the kind of solution we hear suggested now by Government supporters, who also speak about amending the legislation covering the Development Bank which this Government introduced in 1960 as the panacea for all the economic ills of the farmers.

What the Labour Governments did in earlier times was to make cash payments available promptly, without any necessity to undergo a means test and without any requirement for paying the money back. The aim was to put cash immediately in the hands of the people who had to deal with dreadful economic circumstances. The amount made available to wheat farmers alone in one year was £1,500,000, on condition that a like amount was made available by the State Governments. Having regard to the difference in purchasing power of money today, I should say that that amount would be the equivalent of £2,500,000 at the present time. Having in mind the magnitude of the present drought and the deterioration in the value of money, I should say that it would be a sensible and helpful gesture for this Government to announce that it would make available an amount of not less than £20 million. The Governments should make this announcement in all the journals to which members of the Country Party subscribe and which have during the last few months been complaining in their editorials about the inadequacy of the Government's proposals. As I say, the Government should announce to the people who are suffering the terrible consequences of this drought and who are in immediate need that an amount of not less than £20 million will be made available for their relief. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Kelly) gave us a lecture in economics. He pointed to what he has done and to the cost of dams. In a sense, dams are uneconomic but they are of enormous value to the Commonwealth. Imagine the effect of £20 million distributed amongst the hard pressed people in the drought stricken areas. I do not refer to people with freehold titles, plenty of money and adequate security for loans, but to people who are up against it. Put money into the townships and the banks. Put it into the pockets of the housewives.

Mr Robinson - The subject under discussion is water.

Mr POLLARD - Members of the Country Party are like a flock of cockatoos. As a matter of fact, cockatoos in that corner of the chamber would be more effective than its present occupants and would do more for the primary producers. We should put money into the pockets of the primary producers.

Mr Robinson - The honorable member has left the honorable member for Dawson high and dry.

Mr POLLARD - The honorable member should go back to the people whom he would not pay even 3d. per lb. for their butterfat. The Government should put money into the grocer's till, into the baker's till, into the garage and into the engineering workshop. It should provide money to have the drought stricken land cultivated and sown. Then it would get a stimulus in employment and a return, eventually, in income tax. It would have done something worth while. Action of this kind would do more to get these unfortunate people quickly en their feet than so-called low interest long term loans. I leave it at that. I hope that the Minister for National Development (Mr. Fairbairn) and the honorable member for Wakefield will refrain in the future from defending the Government's inaction by resorting to cheap political stunts. I hope that they will accept our suggestions in good faith. After all, tha Labour Party has a magnificent record. The suggestions that we make are made in the sincere belief that their implementation will assist the people of this Commonwealth.

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