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Thursday, 7 October 1971
Page: 2058

Mr COLLARD (Kalgoorlie) - One section of the estimates we are debating relates to the Department of Primary Industry which is involved in the decisions and also the policy of the Government in relation to agricultural prospects and aspects. Prospects for a large number of people in rural areas, who are both directly and indirectly concerned, are certainly very grim at the present time, and very little chance of improvement can be seen under the dilly-dallying, hit or miss methods adopted by the Government. The fact that the Government has introduced the rural reconstruction employment training scheme is proof in itself that the Government does not expect to solve many of the problems facing rural industry and that it expects that many farmers and other people will be obliged to move away from their normal means of obtaining a livelihood.

The seriousness of the situation in Western Australia is obvious from the fact that, according to the statistics, to March of this year some 4,000 farmers, share farmers and farm workers were obliged to seek some other form of livelihood. Of course, since March many more have been obliged to look elsewhere for employment. Unfortunately this movement cannot help but continue unless something positive is done by the Government. Very few farmers have received any worthwhile assistance under the proposals that the Government has introduced, and indeed in a number of instances the assistance has gone more to people who are in better circumstances than to those who are desperately in need of ii. Also, those who are in desperate need are finding it difficult to qualify for assistance, or if they do qualify, the amount they receive is nowhere near sufficient. It appears that this is largely due to the Government's failure properly to examine or evaluate the probable effects of its proposals before it introduced them.

In at least one section of rural industry the Government, by its own deliberative action, has caused quite serious financial problems which would have been avoided had the Government adopted a more responsible and reasonable attitude. I refer to what has happened to cotton growers on the Ord River. In March 1969 the then Minister for Primary Industry - the present Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony), who is at the table - introduced into this place a Bill which was designed to phase out the cotton bounty over a period of 3 years. The time has arrived when no more bounty will be paid unless something is done to reintroduce it. The Minister's announcement, prior to the introduction of the Bill into the House, caused consternation amongst not only the growers themselves but also many other people who were concerned in various ways. The growers most seriously affected by the decision are those on the Ord River who are actually the pioneers of the cotton industry in the northern areas of Australia. They are the people who, in the initial stages of the project, had been led to believe by both the Federal Government and the then

Liberal-Country Party Government in Western Australia that their efforts and willingness to establish a cotton growing industry would always be recognised as a very valuable contribution to the development of the north.

Those farmers were encouraged to go into this area and to invest their money in farms on which in the initial stages they were obliged to grow cotton, whether they considered it to be the best crop or not. While there was nothing by way of a written or verbal agreement relating to future financial assistance, I suggest it was accepted generally that these farmers would be protected as far as possible. But this Government adopted the reverse attitude and removed the protection which the farmers enjoyed. When the Bill to phase out the bounty was introduced into the Parliament the Australian Labor Party proposed an amendment which included the following 2 provisions: That an immediate review of the economic position of the raw cotton industry be made with the object of providing adequate financial assistance to those areas which were still in need of the bounty and which had not had time to become established viable economic units, such as the Ord River and the Queensland Irrigation areas, and that 'special payments to assist the developing areas to become established viable economic units be implemented within section 96 of the Constitution'. The Government rejected our amendment when every Government supporter - Country Party and Liberal Party members alike - voted against it.

During the debate a member of the Country Party said that I was being quite unreasonable in proposing that the bounty should be raised to such an extent that it would make cotton growing on the Ord an economic proposition. I freely admit that it was my intention to allow the Ord farmers to operate on an economic basis - and surely they are still entitled to do so. The then Minister for Primary Industry said that cotton growers in Australia, other than those on the Namoi, lacked efficiency, which was a very unfair statement, particularly considering the situation on the Ord River. However, that was said in 1969 and I do not want to pursue it further. My reason for raising the whole subject today is because of the difficulties which growers will face because of the complete loss of the bounty from now on, and also because it is now claimed that a new type of cotton is being tested at the Ord and that as a result of the testing growers, in 3 to 5 years, could produce cotton on a profitable basis without receiving any bounty or any other kind of assistance. It is reported that trials so far carried out at the Kimberley Research Station have proved that cotton hybrids yield up to 22 per cent more than the commercial crops of more recent plantings have yielded. The report claims that trials using African and American plants are considered to be perhaps the most important development yet to take place with cotton in the Ord area. It has been stated that the hybrids have yielded 400 lb more lint per acre than normal high yielding commercial varieties, which means an additional $120 per acre to the grower.

This is certainly important and encouraging, but unfortunately cotton growers in the Ord area, who will receive no bounty payments at all between now and the 3 to 5 years required to develop the new plant, will find it very difficult and perhaps impossible to survive. Certainly any decision to suspend cotton growing on the Ord during the intervening years also would create difficulties and no doubt cause very serious further economic loss, and may not even offer any solution at all. Anyway, because of the possibilities which this new plant offers, it seems a reasonable suggestion and in fact a very good reason why the Government should immediately reexamine the bounty situation with a view to reintroducing the bounty. What now appears likely to occur in relation to this hybrid and its economic potential certainly highlights the wisdom of our 1969 amendment, in which we said that a review should have been carried out and that while that review was being carried out the bounty should be continued.

As regards the re-establishment of the bounty for a few years or, if that is claimed to be unconstitutional, the granting of some other form of assistance, I should like to remind the Minister for Trade and Industry that during the course of the debate in 1969 he referred to the possibility or even perhaps gave a promise of making a review of the situation if the industry got into difficulties. I am aware that the Minister qualified what he said by adding that he was referring to the industry and not just to a section of it. But nevertheless, considering that a section faces serious difficulties, the possibilities now being offered for the future and also the area in which the industry can be developed, there is a very good reason why the position of this section of the industry should receive special attention. If it is claimed that the bounty cannot be applied to one section without including the whole industry, then there is certainly no obstacle to prevent the Commonwealth from making a specific grant to the State, to allow the government of that State to provide the required assistance. So I ask the Minister for Trade and Industry whether he can give any assurance now that the Department of Primary Industry will inquire into these new possibilities, if it has not already done so, or otherwise whether he will raise with the Cabinet the question of granting additional assistance to the industry.

In conclusion, and to show how ideas or views must change with the times, while reading the speeches on the Raw Cotton Bounty Bill in 1969 I was interested to see that the then Minister for Primary industry ridiculed the idea of giving a subsidy to wool growers. He was trying to find fault with our amendment which was designed to continue the cotton bounty. He suggested that if the Parliament followed Labor's ideas in relation to granting assistance to exporting industries, we could have the ridiculous situation in which someone said at some time in the future that the wool industry should be subsidised. The Minister asked: 'Where do you finish if you follow that sort of policy?' Does the Minister remember that? Anyway, we know what the situation is in that regard today. So any decision to reestablish the cotton bounty could not be rubbished in that way, as it was on the last occasion.

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