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Thursday, 16 September 1971
Page: 1452

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) - The first comment that I want to make is that 1 am rather surprised that the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) should refer to prominent identities being backbench members when he himself and so many distinguished members of his Party, including the honourable members for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti) and Cunningham (Mr Connor), were themselves dumped from the Opposition front bench. We are fearful that this could happen to a man whom we all like very much - the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly). We would despair if we saw this happen to him.

I suppose it is to be expected that a Budget speech should deal with national issues and avoid matters of local importance. What I propose to submit to "this House and to this Government admittedly concerns the electorate of Kennedy but let me state quite decisively that their application very much involves the stability and the future of this nation. What is more important they are issues affecting the financial security, the contentment and the daily lives of our people, and generations who may follow them. When one considers the many characteristics, the demands, the dramatic development, the diversity of industries, the deep and cruel economic conditions afflicting certain areas of a 250,000 square mile area such as Kennedy, one rather wonders where to begin. Quite obviously where people are facing appalling financial difficulties they are the ones to suffer most from what I consider to be certain most unacceptable features of this

Budget. I appreciate that the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) had tremendous difficulties, perhaps unprecedented conditions, not only on the domestic scene but that he was faced with producing a balanced economy for this nation at a time when international finance was reeling under the battle for currency supremacy. Overall, he has done a good job, but certainly not in regard to matters I now propose to discuss.

As I have said in this House time an again, the survival of the wool industry was not just a matter of concern for the wool grower and all who depend on him, not just a matter of an exodus from dozens of inland towns throughout Australia, and not just a matter of personal tragedy to those graziers, small businessmen, shearers, station hands and others who pioneered and stood fast with this industry and poured into the Treasury billions of dollars, establishing the financial lifeblood which made, sad to relate, wealthy men of many who have never seen this country and who would not know a min min light from a jackaroo. No, it goes far beyond this disaster; it is a calamity for this nation. If I am over dramatising this matter, let the great city based economists look up from their books, take time off from their computers and answer one question: Is it, or is it not, of importance to preserve an industry which earns from $550m to $850m yearly for this nation, and which represents 20 per cent of our national overseas earnings? What is their suggestion as to how these funds may be replaced?

Against this background of disaster in one of our rural areas there are great difficulties in many other sections. We have $6m less for the dairy industry, the tapering off of the cotton bounty and greater or lesser difficulties in many other rural sectors. Against this background, Post Office charges were raised. Telephone charges, particularly penalising rural subscribers, were increased. Television and radio licence fees were raised, again hitting in a special manner country people who may, in many cases, receive only one Australian Broadcasting Commission radio station and view one national ABC telecast, frequently both subject to interference because of storms or distance. However, far more serious was the rise in the price of petrol and other fuels. Not only do farmers and graziers have to carry this extra burden with vehicles, implements and equipment which are operating almost continuously, but the family man, the worker, the garage proprietor and contractors also have to drive long distances over bad roads for normal travelling and overland on vacation.

These rises and others in similar categories come at the worst possible time for country people. What can be done about this situation? I urge the Government immediately to give consideration to zoning rural areas for exemption from these charges. I consider this the most effective way to offer immediate relief.

I am reluctant to cast any doubts on the effectiveness of the newly introduced operations of the Wool Commission and the added assistance given by the deficiency payment. We had, by every possible means, urged the Government to grant a guaranteed average price of 40c per lb for wool. This did not happen but under certain conditions 36c was approved and generally speaking this was appreciated by the growers. But I have stated time and again, no support for this industry is worth a damn unless it is based on 3 essentials. Firstly, enough finance for commonsense restocking and getting a grower back into business; secondly, bonus payments to be made on the basis that they will not be made immediately in full to the financial house to which the grower is indebted, leaving nothing to get him back into business; and, lastly, he must have long term finance at the lowest possible rate of interest, and when he commences to earn again, taxation payments must be spread over a period to permit him to reconstruct his economy.

Most important in these considerations, let us not forget the others - the businessmen, the shearing contractors, fencers, tank sinkers and so many others and those who work for them. They are the small forgotten people. If debts are to be settled, let them get first consideration. None of them has financial reserves and I should know because I am one of them.

I said a little earlier that I do not want to knock in any way the present efforts to assist but I have come to a clear conclusion on what must be done if these efforts do not improve the market situation. I am completely convinced that the world still wants wool. Last year, for instance, the United States of America had on hand 30 million to 40 million articles carrying the woolmark and I was assured that the greater proportion of them would be sold. This is the situation in one country alone and if this condition exists and the market is still flattened, we must acquire the entire wool clip. It is a gamble of $300m to decide once and for all whether this industry is to survive. To my mind it is no gamble at all - we must win.

At the moment this nation relies heavily on the beef industry. My inquiries, through sources I established in Washington and elsewhere whilst at the United Nations, convinces me that the market prospects for beef are bright and will continue to be secure into the foreseeable future. One current difficulty, of course, is to fill our United States quota. I feel we could be at some disadvantage in future quota discussions if we fail to do so, but the general feeling in the industry is that we will make it. It is interesting to note that during the financial year just completed our exports of beef and veal were valued at $305m. It was suggested by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development a few years ago that there would be a possible deficit of beef amongst member countries - that is, Western Europe, North America, Japan, New Zealand and Australiaof 189,000 tons by 1975, falling to 145,000 tons by 1985. More recently, however, the World Bank submitted that there could be a shortfall in Western Countries of beef supplies of 117,000 tons by 1975 increasing - not falling - to 173,000 tons by 1980, not 1985. So the future looks secure, and will be much more so if we probe into other areas away from our traditional sources.

Before I turn to other matters, let me make one plea and offer one profound criticism. When, so help me, are we going to learn that this is a drought prone country? There are provisions in this Budget to give further assistance to Queensland for drought relief. This is much appreciated. We know that the Government has established a special drought committee but not one cent appears to have been allocated at this stage for constructive drought mitigation methods. I would point out - and here again I must specifically refer to my own electorate of Kennedy - that the Government gave magnificent support to the construction of the Fairbairn Dam - it is very pleasing to see the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairbairn), whose name has been given to that dam, sitting in the House at this time - and soon the Emerald irrigation area will be the centre of a flourishing, expanded, prosperous farming and grazing community. Hopes are high in the central highlands. But what I want to stress is this: Never let it be forgotten that one of the primary considerations when the Dam was approved was that this area would be the fodder bowl for the huge inland grazing areas of Queensland. This must be organised and planned to give this at least as one source of income to the farmers who are there. J speak not only of those who are there but also of those who will be coming in shortly. They must have this assured income. So much for the grazing industry and the need to provide fodder for these inland areas.

Let me now deal with 2 other industries affected by the Budget - dairying and cotton. I deal first with dairying. There has been a general decline in the size of the dairy industry in Queensland in recent years. Of rural holdings with 20 or more dairy cows there were during the period 1965-66, 11,708; however they declined to a point where during the period 1969-70 there were only 8,372.

Butter production similarly declined from 33,200 tons in 1965-66 to 18,500 tons in 1970-71. Although producers' unit returns for butter produced in 1970-71 may show considerable improvement on previous years because of lower Australian production and improved export markets, this must be evaluated in the light of a profit return which has been seriously affected by constantly rising costs and years of drought. The marginal dairy farm reconstruction scheme has been well accepted in Queensland. Under this scheme provision is made in the Budget for payments to States of $ 11.5m, a rise of $8.4m compared with last year. Expenditure on butter and cheese bounties this year is expected to be almost $40m, about the same as last year. Export prices on current trends may well be higher in 1971 than in 1970. With the announced bounty this will mean stability in producers' returns on expected production of 210,000 tons of butter and 76,000 tons of cheese. In Kennedy many of our people in the Burnett Valley are very much affected by the fortunes of the butter industry and associated dairying activities. We could well see Monto and similar areas become the food bowl for the great developing coalfields of Moura and Blackwater. 1 urge the Government to continue to do everything possible to assist those who have continued on in the industry and who are so important to preserving our rural life and characteristics.

I turn to the cotton bounty. The Government has considered my representations and those of others in this House who represent cotton areas as well as the industry itself. These representations have called for a continuation of the cotton bounty for another 3 years and that it be increased to about $3m. The original cotton bounty legislation was introduced in this House in 1963. It is true that in the crop year from 1964 to 1971 a total of some $24.8m will have been allocated by the Commonwealth to the support of this important industry. In 1969, the Government announced that from the end of February 1972 the bounty would cease. The reasons given were that the cotton industry has expanded, lt has made good use of bounty and it has now reached self-sufficiency. But is this really the case? I have many growers in the Theodore, Wowan and other adjacent areas who would not agree, and who will provide me with further information which I hope will convince the Government that it should again review- the question of a continued bounty.

For years, Mr Deputy Speaker, both in and out of this Parliament I have pleaded with representatives of successive governments to give consideration to the fact that pensioners living in remote areas have to meet the additional financial burden, the extra cost for foods and services which apply in the country and they do not receive an extra cent to help in this matter. They are the only section of the community so treated. Industrial awards provide site allowances, northern and western allowances, and other concessions to help our workers, in part at least to meet the extra cost of living created by freight charges and other factors. Why not the pensioners?

I will repeat what 1 have so often said in this House: Pensioners in country and remote areas have additional upsets in such matters as having to leave their homes to travel great distances for special attention. Admittedly such services are free to them, as is their travel, but what about meals, taxis, accommodation and the general anxiety of leaving home? 1 plead with the Cabinet to give very special consideration to a special zone allowance.

I now turn to the giant mining industry to consider some aspects of how this Budget affects the lives of the people who are involved with it. Here in many cases we have a great new group of pioneers in areas such as Moura and Blackwater. We have the city of Mount Isa, no longer a scattered community of transient workers but now a proud city with a permanent population of 20,000 to 25,000 inlanders, including national groups of people who have come from other countries and who have blended in with our rugged westerners to produce a new and richly endowed character - the 'Mount Isan'. We see the traditional coal mining families, who have remained loyal to an industry and their small town of Blair Athol, when they could have moved on to better homes and to much improved amenities. I hope they are rewarded when the projected development of Blair Athol occurs; no one is more entitled to recognition.

I realise that State and local governments have their finances strained most severely and we all know that our own Federal Government only has so much to spend. But in my book of rules it is a matter of 'first things first'. Where we have people supporting industries that have helped save this country from what might well have been a great financial crisis, with drought and troubles in the wool and other industries and where we have them going to remote and isolated settlements scattered right across this nation, despite what might be provided by the companies concerned, governments - particularly the Federal Government - must earmark special funds to assist. They must ensure that adequate medical services and housing are available as well as water and roads and all the other things that go with good living in these areas.

Earlier in this speech I referred to the increased telephone charges. What 1 now wish to discuss is a most serious situation which has arisen in both the rural and urban areas of my electorate and other similar areas throughout Australia. Many of our graziers and farmers, particularly in the newly settled brigalow areas - young men with young families - are told that it might be 2, 3 or 4 years or longer before they have a telephone. The city of Mount Isa is bursting with development, providing this nation with employment for thousands of our people and producing wealth which is greatly assisting Australia to balance its Budget, yet we find the unbelievable situation where businesses cannot get off the ground because once again those prepared to invest in and provide services for our community are told that they cannot get a telephone in the foreseeable future.

Amongst the many situations placed before me recently, there is none more serious than the possibility that within the next few weeks the majority of the doctors in private practice at Mount isa will be in a building without a telephone because, I am told, there is no cable in the vicinity. This is intolerable. This situation must be corrected without delay. Apart from making constant representations in this matter together with my colleagues, the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) and Senator Lawrie, I had full-scale discussions with the Deputy-Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Brisbane recently. He pointed out that lack of finance and the non-availability of technicians are responsible for this serious situation. So I have asked that this crisis be discussed at Cabinet level. I have asked and urged, and I do so again on the floor of this House, that special funds be raised, by an overseas loan or, by an approach to the World Bank - an extreme measure perhaps - but we have an extreme situation on our hands. And if there is a genuine shortage of technicians the Government should act to advertise overseas as has been done time and time again to attract schoolteachers, doctors and others.

Now let me for a moment place before this House, and I cannot count how many times the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) and others have done so before, a situation where people having few enough amenities available to them have waited now for 15 years for television. The people I represent in the central highlands and the central west of Queensland are fed up to the teeth with the months and months of delay which have passed since it was announced that they were to receive television. They have seen private companies such as in Blackwater provide translators to boost the television signal. Again I am told it is a matter of finance and planning - no technicians. Four channels are available to the cities of Australia; none to most of our people in the areas I have mentioned.

It is proudly claimed that over 95 per cent of the people in Australia now receive television. Let me say that the remaining 5 per cent have over the years produced a great portion of the wealth and paid more than their share in taxation which helped foot this bill and surely after 15 years they are entitled to the same amenity. Perhaps I have been critical in this address. I do my job as I see it. People must come first. But I would be more than unfair if I were not to conclude my address by asking people to closely examine the record of the Opposition - the mock Labor Party - and recent utterances, conduct and attitude towards people away from cities. It is such that the only man in their ranks who in any way genuinely understands rural problems recently cried out almost in anguish that the performance and decisions at the recent Launceston conference were such that it would be difficult for the Australian Labor Party members in marginal rural seats to bold them at the next election. Do not gloat in this matter. I commend the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) for his courage.

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