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Thursday, 5 March 1970

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - The point at issue in this debate seems in danger of being lost. The point at issue as raised by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) is whether action should be taken to help meet the growing economic crisis in the countryside. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony), who has just resumed his seat, replied to the honourable member for Dawson. The substance of his speech is that there is no real urgency about the problems in the country areas, that all we on this side of the House are doing is calamity howling, that the Government's programme has been fantastic and that all of the help that has been given to primary industries by the Government for 20 years has been - I use his word - gigantic. So I gather that all is well and nothing further need be done.

The Minister referred to his ride into Jerilderie. I am glad he mentioned that, because I was delighted to see him in the Riverina. But he rode into Jerilderie wilh a very simple message. He addressed a meeting of nearly 2,000 people, which was sponsored by sixty local government and other bodies to discuss the very crisis that he now denies should be a cause of concern to this Parliament. He said: 'I have every sympathy with you, but I feel that all possible help has been given. However, if you are in trouble, for goodness sake keep quiet about it.' That was his message. I recognise that the Minister has his warm supporters, but despite them the rank and file of the people of Jerilderie would have preferred a visit from the other historic character who rode into the town some years before and who at a time of crisis did something positive by burning up all the mortgages he found in the Bank. I am not suggesting that should be done now, but there is a contrast between the one who arrives with tea and sympathy and the other who was stirred to do something more than say 'Keep quiet'.

As the Minister has mentioned the meeting at Jerilderie I think we ought to examine what was said. The people at it asked the Parliament here and the members who represent them to consider the problems they posed. The President of a Riverina graziers organisation, who is hardly a roaring radical but is a gentleman of great substance and standing whom I respect, told the meeting that the crisis in the countryside was an immediate problem for the Government. He said: 'Our competitors secure a wide range of support from their governments. Our farmers were encouraged to expand production and now they are being dumped.' The Minister is fond of quoting the support he receives from the spokesmen of rural industries. The President of the United Farmers and Woolgrowers Association of New South Wales put his finger on wool as one of the keys to the rural crisis. He said in one of his rare bursts of radicalism: 'Let the Government do something now about the price of wool'. Another wool industry spokesman said that the returns to wool growers were down by 14% but the profitability for the people who were between the grower and the consumer was up by 11%.

The dairy industry spokesman did not seem satisfied at all. He said it was a paradox that the farmers who were second in efficiency in the world and who were receiving the least support in the world were in fact under constant attack and had not been getting anything other than tea and sympathy. The Chairman of the Rice Marketing Board, in a discussion about the help that is being given to primary producers by way of subsidies, put his finger on the key point when he said: 'Help for whom? Of course, subsidies are mentioned in the city Press and it looks as though every primary producer in the nation gets a cheque in the mail.' I might say, Mr Speaker, 1 only ever met one who received a cheque in the mail. When I told him I had never met any he said :'I got one. I used to have chooks and when I went out of business they gave me a rebate on the hen tax. Here it is - $2.10.'

In fact the Government has made large sums of money available to the fertiliser complex, $5 1 m, but what happens? What is the result of this? The manufacturers receive the assistance and the growers get an increase in price, as it ultimately comes about. There is no direct subsidisation in the fertiliser field at all.

Let us look at this business of whether there is validity in our submission today, which was put so well by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), that there is a crisis in the countryside. In Victoria in recent weeks 3,000 people have gathered together. The Minister for Primary Industry went to one of those meetings, I might add, and probably had something to say about the crisis in addition to what he said today. These 3,000 people were gathered together by a gall'ant little band of people from the little town of Edenhope. The burden of their message was that they were in trouble; that there was a crisis and that it had to be tackled by the Government. This is what 3,000 people said. There is to be a march of farmers up Collins Street in Melbourne - upset farmers, concerned farmers. The Minister said we should not be raising these silly things in the national Parliament; that we have more important things to do. What is more important than the survival of the rural areas of the nation? The Minister recounted what the Government had done for 20 years. It was all right for him to do that but he was not expressing the view of rural Australia at the present time. If he was then what are farmers doing marching up Collins Street? Then we have Sir Henry Bolte, that well-known radical, saying: 'I think we ought to support them'. Therefore if we of the Opposition are all wrong we are in extraordinarily good company. The smiling face of Australia, as seen by the Government, does not exist in rural1 Australia.

Of the crisis in rural industry about which we are talking there was not a hint in the Governor-General's Speech. According to that address, everything is well and the economy is strong. It has a new resilience and has overcome all the problems created by drought, international tensions and financial tensions. The Government says there is no crisis anywhere. Yet rural poverty is getting worse. This has been documented - it is known. It is known to the Minister. If he has any doubts about this I am sure that if he looks at the statistics he will see exactly what is happening in regard to rural poverty in his own part of the world.

It is pretty obvious, Mr Speaker, that the motion moved here today by the Opposition is one that is desired across the nation, in every State, and it should have been treated in a responsible way. The Minister went back over 20 years and said that everything that could be done had been done; that there were no new avenues to be explored. It would seem that that was his reply. I have attended meetings at which everyone says that the Government is in sympathy and that the Opposition is in sympathy. If this Parliament thinks that everything that can be done has been done, then obviously for 20 years there has been nobody present here with any responsibility at all for the rural industries now being in trouble.

How is it that the rural areas are in trouble? Is there a denial today by the Minister that in fact there is a crisis? Is there a claim made that Australia has a national agricultural policy? There was a reference made by the Minister to the need or desire to dictate to the farmers. That is not the case. All that the farmers have asked for, all that the rank and file have asked for, at every gathering convened in the last half year, is for some guidance from the Government.

Here we are now within 6 weeks of sowing wheat and the farmers do not know what they should do, what they can do or what they will be paid for. The Government has lost control of the situation to such a degree, Mr Speaker, that we will never know how much wheat actually was produced in 1969-70. The Minister at one stage said that there was no real worry about the black market. No worry! No concern! The Minister was prepared to concede that there would be a percentage of wheat which would be sold on the black market. The estimate is 20m bushels. It is an estimate; it is a guesstimate. We will never know. Here we are at the present time with some wheat on the farms, some quota wheat not delivered. Other farmers have delivered over their quotas and do not know what over quota wheat they will be paid for. Is it suggested that there has not been an abdication of Government responsibility in this direction? When the matter is raised with the Minister he says that this is a matter for the industry or a matter for the States. Yet it is here in the Commonwealth Parliament that the fiscal responsibility lies and this is where responsibility should lie for a national agricultural policy. Despite all the activity by the Government in the past 20 years, we face this crisis now. There is a clearly defined need for a national agricultural policy to give the producer an opportunity to rise to the challenge. That is what the producer wants.

So far as the seriousness of the situation is concerned, 1 have pages of documentation concerning my own area. Let me just cite one town as an example of the situation and of this crisis which is real and cannot be denied. I refer to a town in which every business house and the co-operative gathered together and announced in the local Press that all credit had finished, that it had ended, that it had to be cash or nothing because of the crisis confronting primary industry. These are not people seeking a pretty apology for a parry record. These are people who are in trouble. I might say that they are not terribly interested in party politics at the present time. They are not terribly interested in politics. But these people have made their protests. They are protesting now. They demand action because there is a crisis in primary industry. What is more, the honourable member for Dawson has done a national service by raising this matter today and I am happy to stand with him.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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