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Thursday, 16 September 1971
Page: 1421

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - -I rise to second the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). While I welcome the principle of a rural retraining scheme we must reject the context in which it was put forward by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) and also because it is inadequate as far as we on this side are concerned because it does not take into account all the people in the rural areas whose occupations are directly dependent on the viability of farming, such as those people engaged in local businesses or country town works who will also be unemployed. This statement made today by the Minister was without prior warning although 1 did have a little message in regard to it - I thank the Minister for that - shortly before it was presented to the House. As the honourable member for Dawson pointed out we have not had sufficient time to examine what is a most important measure. I repeat that the context of this statement has to be rejected because the context of it is completely inadequate. One of the things that must be said is that this statement and scheme comes forward at a time of national scandal of unemployment. Even in the most prosperous rural centres at the present time there are reports of a 50 per cent rise in unemployment. We have the situation in country towns, including some towns which 1 represent, where young men are ready, willing and able to undertake employment but they are denied the opportunity. We have the situation of family men having to evacuate like refugees moving to the city because of the rural situation created by decisions of this Government.

I think I must address my remarks to the context of this proposed scheme. The Minister said that the scheme was in the context of the Government's assessment of the rural crisis and the rural reconstruction scheme. The rural crisis is an incredible example of Government mismanagement at a time when there is a boom in Asian countries for primary products. But not only is this boom passing us by, it seems to have the opposite effect as far as our rural sector is concerned. What the Government is in effect saying is that there is very little hope for the rural sector based on primary production. Therefore we have a rural reconstruction scheme which, if it is allowed to take place in its present inadequate terms and on this pernicious basis, will banish one million people to the cities in this decade. Let us have a look at the scheme. It has been suggested that it will be an effective means of assisting in the present rural crisis. We have in New South Wales, for example, . more than 1,000 applicants for rural assistance. We have a serious situation in most of the hard hit areas in the West, yet only two applications from that region have been approved this year. This is no reflection on the State Rural Reconstruction Boards which are faced with a queue of people and which in New South Wales have only $4m for the entire year wi:h which to satisfy the needs of these people for debt adjustment finance to carry on. How can any supporter of the Government or any member of this Parliament accept that situation in the present context I do not know because it is ludicrous.

We also have the situation where there has been very little movement or application for a build up of farms, and the reason is fairly obvious when one looks at the fact that the Government is determined to make a profit out of rural misery by imposing a high rate of interest which means, in effect, that a- return of between 9 per cent and 10 per cent has to be obtained before a successful build up scheme can be carried on under the present financial basis. This is again absurd. What does it really mean? It means that the scheme is not reconstruction; it is, in fact, the destruction of the rural sector and has been described as such by Liberal Party Ministers in Victoria and by Liberal Party members in New South Wales. I commend them for their forthright condemnation of a scheme, which is, at best, a farce and, at worst, a considered attempt by the Government to close down the rural sector. This is the context of the scheme which was proposed today and which must be rejected.

The honourable member for Dawson said that there should not be a series of isolated ad hoc decisions which do not complement each other at all. The situation will rise under the rural reconstruction scheme where a primary producer who has been engaged in his occupation all his life arid who has done a particularly good job, because of a series of Government decisions will find himself non-viable. Through the great generosity of this Government, under the rural reconstruction scheme, which is supposed to be complementary to this rural retraining scheme, he is said to be able to apply for a resettlement loan of $1,000. Was ever a more insulting provision presented to a great body of people in our nation? As has been pointed out, this loan is less than the assistance which is available in the industrial sphere, but it must be looked at in the context of this particular scheme.

As I have said, the principle of rural retraining is something that the Opposition accepts because in every decade there will be probably 10 per cent of the farming members of the nation who will need some retraining. That 10 per cent could be 15 per cent at this time but certainly no more than that. In the natural order of things, this is brought about by technological change and by the need for human adjustment. This would be normal in a dynamic age such as even we manage to live in in misgoverned Australia. This problem is always with us. In my opinion, from now until the end of the century, at least 10 per cent or at the very most 15 per cent will need to be retrained. Of course, if we accept the Government's context, as it is called, of rural reconstruction that percentage will be doubled immediately but without reason and justification.

Having accepted the fact that there will be a need because of technological and human reasons, we must apply ourselves to the details of the scheme. Unfortunately, as was stated by the honourable member for Dawson, the Opposition has not been able to apply itself to the details of the scheme because it has not had the opportunity of examining them. However, Opposition members have immediately discerned that the scheme does not cover all the people who are affected. An important point to be made here is that when the primary producer is forced out of the industry, other people who are part of rural production will be banished with him. This is happening now. The Opposition maintains that any rural reconstruction scheme is incomplete unless it takes info account all the people who are affected. The great question mark lying against this scheme and the Government's attitude generally to the rural crisis is: Where is it envisaged that this retraining scheme will take place? Is it intended that the retraining should be part of a movement out of rural areas? I point out that at a time of rising and serious unemployment across the countryside, people are standing around unwillingly and impatiently and receiving only 20 per cent of their normal earnings as a social services handout. This situation exists when at least 100 years of work is necessary in most areas to correct deficiencies in roads, hospitals, schools and public facilities which are, generally speaking, substandard in so many areas. The Government has people standing by idly - a spectre of the 1930s that our fathers and grandfathers knew. This is ridiculous and unnecessary. The Opposition asks the Government in relation to this scheme: Will these people be retrained to get out of the industry and to evacuate rural areas like refugees, or will it be part of a scheme to ensure the continuing viability not only of the individual but also of the whole community? I have serious doubts about the Government's intentions because only last evening the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin), who is a senior member of the Liberal Party, made a statement in relation to the countryside of the State in which I happen to live. He said:

The people of New South Wales - and New South Wales means the people of Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong, and to hell with the rest-

Dr Patterson - Who said that?

Mr GRASSBY - -The honourable member for Mitchell, who is a senior member on the Government side. In case there was any thought that he had been carried away and did not really mean what he said, some time later he repeated this concept when he said:

As I said before, New South Wales now stands for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong. We should either divide up the rest and make it into 2 States or give it back to the Aboriginals and ask them to try and do something with it.

That statement was made by a responsible and senior member of the Government back benches; a man who, I might say, is a senior spokesman on the wool industry. He has been telling us exactly what we must do with the wool industry, how we must not interfere with the forces of free marketing, and must not implement that dreadful Labor policy of acquisition, appraisal and orderly marketing. He seems to have let a cat out of the bag when he makes statements of that nature which have gone unchallenged. Not one member of either of the Government parties has dissociated himself from them. I hope they will take the opportunity to do so. But when the sort of thinking is being put forward in a debate in the House of Representatives that a State should be given back to its original inhabitants, presumably because of a failure to persevere and a lack of interest, it causes members of the Opposition to be seriously concerned about the philosophy and intentions of the Government as they touch on the primary industry sector at this time.

Local government bodies representing parts of my electorate have made representations to the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon), the Treasurer (Mr Snedden), the Minister for Works (Senator Wright) and have seen the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony). They have come forward and have said: 'We have this unemployment problem' and have asked for help. So far, they have received no help at all. The problem remains; action is suspended. It has been said that this scheme will help eligible farmers to undertake some retraining and receive some personal assistance. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the Opposition accepts the principle of rural retraining although not in the Government's context and not in relation to the philosophy which was enunciated on behalf of the Government by the honourable member for Mitchell but in the context of normal technological change which takes place across the countryside in a dynamic situation.

I should like to make 5 points in summation. Firstly, the Opposition rejects the inadequacy of the Government's proposal as it leaves out so many of the people with whom we are concerned and who are affected at present. Secondly, the Opposition accepts the need for technological change and human adjustment which in any decade could affect 10 per cent of the farm force and at present would affect no more than IS per cent. Thirdly, we would welcome a rural retraining scheme on a sound basis and in a sound integrated context. Fourthly, the Opposition would want the provisions of the scheme widened to cover all the rural people who are involved in hardship. Finally, the scheme should be brought forward in the context of an overall rural development programme designed to remove the present scandal in the rural heart of the nation - a depression in what has been claimed by successive Treasurers to be one of the most prosperous and rich nations on the face of the earth.

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