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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4419


Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - I rise to support the amendment that is before the House of Representatives. Of course, anyone listening to the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) would be forgiven for forgetting exactly what we are debating because he debated everything but the issue that is before the Parliament at this time.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I hope that because I corrected the honourable member for Riverina in one of his errors, he is not reflecting on the Chair.


Mr GRASSBY - No, Mr Speaker. I understand that the obstruseness of some members is difficult to follow. I would not in any way reflect upon the Chair at any time. The amendment, of course, is designed to do one particular thing, namely, to ensure that there is some effective action before the Christmas period. This is the whole intent of this amendment. The Commonwealth Parliament has no business going into recess for2½ months unless there is a definite assurance of action to stimulate the rural economy before Christmas. I am unimpressed with the dedication of the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) to this matter because, although it is his statement we are debating, we have not seen him. Indeed, for the most of this debate there has been one sole survivor of the Liberal Party ministry in the chamber and the most junior Minister, with due respect to my distinguished friend at the table, the Minister for Supply, Mr Garland. Even he was missing from the chamber for most of the time that the honourable member for Mallee was speaking. I do not blame him for that at all. I am pointing out that very little weight is being given to this matter of getting some action in the countryside before Christmas. There have been many interjections which I am quite interested to hear from the members on my left who comprise an interesting tribal rock musical and who say in chorus that there are no problems which are not being tackled and not being taken care of. I do not see it this way, and neither does the Deputy Leader of the Opposition or any other member of the Opposition.

Last week in this House the Prime Minister and his team debated a motion that was designed to deal with the economy. We were assured for most of that day that there were no real problems with the economy; that there was nothing which was not being attended to or taken care of. We had question time 2 hours before the Prime Minister came into this chamber to make a statement on rural unemployment. In answer to a question at question time the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) indicated that there were no real worries and no real indication of any action being necessary. In fact, he specifically indicated that no action would be taken. But 2 hours later the Prime Minister sneaked in, unheralded and unannounced after the suspension of the sitting for lunch, and made a statement which, of course, was welcome, provided that it achieves something. But let us also be clear that all it really does is to provide some finance at some time in the future - perhaps in the new year - which will give jobs to one in four people who are employed in the country areas. That is all. If honourable members on my left are happy and content with that, then I wish them well when they go home for Christmas. When the statement, was made by the Prime Minister, I immediately sought an assurance that this House would not go into recess without debating the statement. I made it plain that my attitude on leaving the question of unemployment grants as unfinished business until next year was totally unacceptable to me and the colleagues with whom I sit on this side of the chamber. I might say that the only response we received was that perhaps arrangements might be made to debate the statement. So the motion, or the actual amendment, to be more precise, Mr Speaker - and I am always grateful for your guidance - that we are discussing today is the amendment which has come forward from the Opposition.


Mr SPEAKER - For the benefit of the honourable member, might I put the position in the right perspective? We are now discussing the amendment and the motion together.


Mr GRASSBY - Yes. Of course, Mr Speaker, you are exactly correct. I was referring particularly to the motion. When we come to discuss the motion and the amendment together, let us be quite clear that if it had not been for the demands of members of the Opposition this matter would not have come before the House at all before we adjourned. I want to draw attention to the realities of the situation as they exist at the present time. The Premier of New South Wales has been insistent that there should be a conference before Christmas - -before the Commonwealth Parliament adjourns and before the State parliaments adjourn - because he has said that in fact there is an urgent need for finance to relieve unemployment in New South Wales rural areas. He made that statement after the wheat crop virtually had failed. He made it as a plea, and he has not apologised for doing so. In this instance .the Premier of New South Wales had the unanimous support of the New South Wales Legislative Asembly - all members of all Parties; the Liberal Party, the Country Party and the Australian Labor Party. So it is an indisputable fact that they are concerned but, of course, honourable members on the Government side in this Parliament do not seem to be concerned at all. The Premier of New South Wales has indicated that there is an urgent need for this sort of action.

Let us just see what the Prime Minister said in his statement. He indicated that in co-operation with the State governments the Commonwealth already had provided massive assistance. Every State government in the Commonwealth has contested the Prime Minister's assessment of the situation. Every Minister in charge of rural reconstruction already has decided that the rural reconstruction scheme is in a hopeless situation and has halted. They have said that we need an urgent conference to get it going again. Do not forget that what we are referring to is rural unemployment. We are referring to a rural situation which is real. Honourable members opposite say that all that the members of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament are doing is drawing attention to difficulties. The difficulties have already been drawn to their attention without success at the present time, by every State government and by all the Ministers responsible for rural reconstruction, but all that honourable members opposite have said is: 'You are wrong and only we are right.' What an incredible situation.

Let us refer to the Prime Minister's statement and to what prompted us to move this amendment. This is what the Prime Minister said:

On the assumption that these proposals will be acceptable in principle to the Premiers we shall require to bring forward to the House early, in tho autumn session legislation to authorise the necessary grants to the States. Meanwhile, however, temporary arrangements will be made for the financing of the scheme in the interim.

There is no undertaking as to what is to be done before the end of the year, before Christmas, and of course we are dealing with people and families who are suffering hardship. Those are not abstractions. This is not a sordid political party ploy. We are dealing with the realities of hardship and difficulty at the present time. The majority of the Premiers have called for action before Christmas. The Ministers in charge of rural reconstruction met in Melbourne. It is of interest to note that the Victorian Minister for Lands, Mr Borthwick, complained bitterly about the inflexibility of the rural reconstruction scheme and the difficulties associated with it. This was said. It is not suggested that the Government of Sir Henry Bolte is a radical Labor administration. The Victorian Government is complaining because even it concedes that there are really serious hardships at the present time. I have referred already to the position in New South Wales. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has spoken of the difficulties in Tasmania. In every State of the Commonwealth we have these problems, and of course they stem from the rural crisis.

The interesting thing is that not only the Premiers and the Ministers in charge of rural reconstruction but also some of the really enthusiastic long term supporters of the Government are concerned about this matter. Let me quote what was said by Sir Norman Giles, who is head of the Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort complex. He is a long time supporter of the present administration. He said that the rural reconstruction scheme is becoming 'a dangerous flop'. The situation is that we face this crisis of confidence and collateral which the Prime Minister has done very little to dissipate. Let us also be clear that not only did he promise us some pie, inadequate pie, in the new year - only enough finance to provide jobs for one in four of the unemployed people in rural areas, and no date as to when the assistance will be provided has been given to this Parliament - but he also appeared on national television on Monday night of this week and announced and unveiled his plan for the future of the countryside. It should be mentioned today that the Prime Minister is going to move up to 14,000 wool growers which, of course, means that, including their families, 40,000 people will be affected. On the ratio of 1 to 4 in terms of producers to the people who serve them and support them in country areas, the number of people affected will approach 100,000. This is the number which the Prime Minister of this nation has decided should move out of rural areas. As a matter of fact, I put on the notice paper today a question in which I asked the Prime Minister whether he intends to move these people out in special refugee trains. I asked him, in particular, not to use sheep trucks because this would be adding insult to injury. I asked him whether he is going to set up refugee camps in the capital cities, because do not forget that all he has offered is a loan of $1,000, on terms to be determined, for those wool growers who have to go. This is the programme which the Prime Mini*ter unveiled last Monday night. If honourable members opposite like it, I say to them: 'You wear it'. But as far as we are concerned, we reject the Prime Minister and his philosophy.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It is too little too late.


Mr GRASSBY - Of course, that is a compliment to the Prime Minister. He has not yet arrived. The next thing I must say is that we are talking of a crisis which is worse than it has been since the depression days.


Mr O'Keefe - Oh!


Mr GRASSBY - The honourable member for Paterson indicates that there are no difficulties in his electorate. By way of example let me refer to the city of Wagga Wagga. The total number of people registered as being unemployed in Wagga Wagga at the present time is 638. This is the highest figure in New South Wales, and I might say that it is the highest in 2 generations. I must also say to honourable members opposite who do not seem to go home very often that in many areas of New South Wales, in particular, there are no offices of the Department of Labour and National Service at which one can register as being unemployed. There are no offices at all between the Mumimbidgee and the Murray. So the unemployment figures have been underestimated quite dramatically. We have a situation where, at the end of this day, we are being asked to go home to our various electorates which have been in more trouble than for 2 generations as a result of this Government's policies and say to our electors that the Parliament was a bit too busy. The Prime Minister could not enter into the debate. He is not here. He has been missing. I do not know where he is. But certainly as this is his statement he should be here.


Mr Giles - He does not . have to tell you.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - He is counting his money.


Mr GRASSBY - Perhaps he is. I am sure that the right honourable gentleman will have a pleasant Christmas at home with his family, though he is only temporarily employed. I think that this is a very poor expression of the concern of the national Parliament. It shows that we at this time have little regard for this problem that is a real and harsh one. It seems to me that we live in a world of unreality. Supporters of the Government deny that any of these real problems exist and say that there is no reason why we should express our concern. I would have been ashamed to go home not having expressed my concern and not having asked for some action to be initiated before Christmas and before the end of the year. We will not meet until 22nd February of next year. But the unemployment-


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - A wicked shame.


Mr GRASSBY - My distinguished colleague says: 'A wicked shame.' That is right. The people who will be unemployed will be saying just that. We are to be left suspended for 2b months. We have had soothing tones from the Government as to what may or may not be done. But we have had no assurance


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Why do we not have 3 weeks holiday, the same as the workers get?


Mr GRASSBY - I and my colleagues would be happy to sit the whole of next week to find out exactly what is intended, what we intend to do and what the plans are. Let us discuss them again. During the last 24 months, I have listened to some unholy rubbish debated over a long period in this Parliament. It was rubbish that is irrelevant to the realities of our national situation and the situation in our electorates. I resent the fact that tuy time was wasted. I resent the fact that we have not tackled the Teal problems of our community as they exist at the present time. The problem of the unemployed is not a passing one. The problem is not one that we can laugh at, joke about or pass off with little smart comments about what we may have done or we may not have done. I may say that this amendment was not introduced in a sense of carping criticism of the Government-


Mr Foster - It should have been. The Government should be kicked out for what it has done.


Mr GRASSBY - My honourable friend from Sturt is a very blunt and forthright member. This is what he has said to me personally: 'I regard this proposal as totally inadequate. I do not stand with it at all'. What. I say to him is this: We have accepted it. He has accepted it. We have accepted it as a gesture. In conclusion, I say this-


Mr Turnbull - 1 take a point of order. Mr GRASSBY- The Prime Minister







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