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Wednesday, 3 June 1970

Mr STREET (Corangamite) (1:33 AM) - I should first of all like to compliment the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony) on the persistence and patience he has shown over a long period in getting this legislation before the House. It is certainly not his responsibility that there has been such a long delay between the time when this reconstruction scheme was first foreshadowed and the actual presentation of the legislation that we have today. I think everybody agrees that reconstruction is a vital necessity in the dairy industry. It is a matter of concern to many of us that a great many hard working Australians arc not sharing in the general prosperity of this country. According to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, over half the dairy farmers in Australia are earning less than $2,000 per annum. Of course, this affects some thousands of farmers and their families.

We have heard a great deal over the years of the alleged inefficiency of the dairy industry. This term 'inefficiency' can be used in many ways, but in popular usage it is not always used in the strict economic sense. There is an implied criticism of the farmers themselves. 1 think that in the main this charge of inefficiency when applied to the personal standard of performance of the farmers is generally unfair. Undoubtedly there are pockets of this type of inefficiency in the dairy industry, just as there are in practically every form of industry, both primary and secondary. But judged by objective criteria, the efficiency standards of the Australian dairy industry are high. In fact, they are very high. They are exceeded by only one dairying industry in the world, that of New Zealand.

The main trouble that the dairying industry faces, as has been mentioned tonight, is the difficulty of competing on world markets, which have their prices gravely affected by the quite extravagant price support programmes of the European Economic Community. These policies are outside Australia's control but I think it should be pointed out that whether they are outside, our control or not the dairying industry will continue to have to face these cost price pressures. Clearly the long term objective for the industry must be to try to concentrate it on the land most suitable to it because only then will we get the most efficient use of resources and a dairying industry better able to remain competitive and to resist the pressures to which it will continue to be subjected. This legislation is aimed primarily, of course, at the difficulties of the small producer, but in talking about the difficulties of the small producer - in this case particularly the dairy farmer - I think there are lessons to be learned in looking at the situation of small producers generally, because the increasing difficulties of the small producer are not restricted to primary industry. With advances in technologies leading to revolutions in manu facturing processes the world picture of production of all kinds is changing more rapidly than at any time in history. One thing is certain, and that is that any nation which does not recognise this fact and adapt its industries of all kinds to deal with it will be left behind and will lose its competitive position in world trade.

As one of the great trading nations of the world we just cannot afford to find ourselves in this position and, as I said on a previous occasion in this House, Australia must keep up with the world because the world will not slow down for us. Because of these changing economic circumstances I feel that the Government has an obligation to develop policies to make some provision for those farmers who find themselves in a situation where they have no prospect of earning an adequate income. This legislation recognises this fact. But it is also vitally necessary for the Government to encourage in the country economic and efficient primary production. It is necessary not merely for those concerned in the industries but because for the foreseeable future Australia will depend on the export earnings of primary industry to remain nationally solvent. Even with the latest projections of earnings from minerals and manufactures, the proportion of export earnings represented by primary industry will still be critically important for many years ahead.

With the current difficulties facing many primary products to find world markets there is an urgent need to identify the products for which a market can bc expected. 1 would like to congratulate the Minister for Primary Industry on his recent announcement of the expansion of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics designed to improve the Bureau's capacity to issue production and market forecasts to help farmers to make decisions on their future production. Obviously Australian farmers will have to be increasingly flexible in their approach to farming. I think one of the main aspects of this legislation is to try to deter farmers away from the production of butterfat, for which the land has been used in the past, into some alternative form of production. But it would be very difficult to identify which form of production to enter unless adequate information was available. I welcome recent expansion in the Bureau's activities in this regard.

It seems to me that the Government has two problems which are largely separate. The first, as I mentioned earlier, is to make reasonable financial provision for those who find themselves in the situation where they wish to leave an industry because they no longer have prospects to earn adequately in it. The second is to enable those who remain in primary industry to earn a living commensurate with that of the rest of the community without becoming a perpetual and an increasing burden on the taxpayer. To solve these problems I bel'ieve that separate and distinct policies will be required, but the problems must be tackled. Not only the future prosperity of primary industry is at stake but, for the reasons I have just mentioned, the soundness of the Australian economy itself is also directly involved.

While I congratulate the Government on this realistic and progressive legislation, I am seriously disturbed that at present only farmers in Western Australia and, 1 understand, Tasmania, will be able to benefit from it. It is an unfortunate fact that there are dairy farmers in other States who would welcome the opportunity to have access to the funds provided in this legislation but because of the lack of co-operation at the State level they will be denied access to them. I sincerely hope that the introduction of this legislation will encourage and act as a spur to the other States to join Western Australia and Tasmania in helping the small farmer to obtain a reasonable standard of living because after all that is what the legislation is designed to do.

I also trust that the realistic and constructive attitude to both the social and economic problems facing farmers and many primary producers of all kinds which is evident in the legislation will be applied (Mr Malcolm Fraser), share my great concern at the current financial situation of wool growers and would join me, I feel sure, in expressing the hope that in recognition of the similarity between the problems faced by the wool and dairy industries the Government will initiate policies on broadly similar lines to attack these problems and that the wool industry too will have access to long term finance at reasonable rates of interest as provided in this legislation.

In the meantime 1 have much pleasure in supporting this Bill and welcoming it as a constructive effort to deal with the rapidly developing problems of primary industry which finds itself competing for resources in a rapidly developing industrial economy. I think that this kind of approach will serve us well. I hope that it is the precursor of more legislation of this type in other branches of primary industry.

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