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Tuesday, 15 May 1973
Page: 2144


I ask the honourable member for Wannon to make sure that he keeps within the terms of the Bill.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - I will certainly do what you have asked me to do, Mr Deputy Speaker. I can well understand why the Minister for Northern Development does not like what is being said. It is because he is one of the few people on the other side of the chamber who would understand what is being said. The point that is relevant here is that the Government has cut its support for wool research and promotion; that it has imposed increased levies on the growers and that it has done so without any consultation. I have shown that that is typical of a whole series of actions, and my drawing attention to those actions is, I submit Mr Deputy Speaker, relevant to what is happening in this area.

But this is not the only area where the promotion of wool industry funds and the use of wool industry funds show the attitude that the Government has adopted. Not one primary industry organisation in Australia wants a referendum on the merino embargo. The Australian Wool Industry Conference does not want one. But the Government is determined to have a referendum, again because the doctrinaire people in the Australian Labor Party who know nothing about this subject say they want a referendum. The Victorian Farmers Union, the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation, the Graziers Association and the Wool Industry Conference - none of them want a referendum on this issue. This again shows that the Government is determined to act without any advice from or consultation with the wool industry leaders. The honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) has made a specific habit since he has been a member of this House of attacking the membership of the Australian Wool Corporation.

Mr Whan - I did it before I was a member.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - And the honourable member has done it since. He did it before he was a member of this House and he has done it since he has been a member. In attacking the membership he has been clearly laying the ground rules for being able to say that the recommendations of the Australian Wool Corporation, when they are available, ought to be thrown out and the doctrinaire back room views of the Australian Labor Party put in their place. I believe that it is an utterly disgraceful way to behave, unashamedly to attack honourable and reputable people and name them in the Press, as he has done. This has been done in terms which are designed to discredit a Corporation which is going a great deal of good for Australia and which I believe will come forward with recommendations that will be exceedingly useful to the wool industry but which would have been more useful if the proposals of the previous Government had in fact been supported rather than the proposals of this Government.

We have another example of this Government's attitude to primary industry when we look at what it tried to do about the meat industry. It threw that hot potato to the Department of Primary Industry, which could not come up with any recommendations, and then to the Treasury, which could not come up with any recommendation. The Government then threw it to the Australian Meat Board. I believe that the Meat Board is going to be restructured because it did not get the Government off a particular hook. There will be moves to change the personnel of the Board, that will fit in with the pattern of what the honourable member for Eden-Monaro is attempting to do with the membership of the Australian Wool Corporation.

Other matters which indicate the completely anti-rural attitude of the present Government include the electoral redistribution proposals which would make seats on the outskirts of Melbourne and Sydney smaller than my seat, smaller than the electorate of Kennedy and smaller than the electorate of Dawson or any of the large rural seats in Australia. Again, the Government is doing nothing to control inflation. It is going to put up interest rates, which in the present context will only put up costs. There is a complete catalogue of proposals which are hostile to rural interests. The increase in interest rates will affect primary industry, which is struggling to reduce rural indebtedness. Primary industry is being attacked by the actions of the Government of increasing a levy by 70 per cent on the one hand and reducing a Government contribution by a third on the other. This can only make life harder for those engaged in primary industry. It will make it harder for more farmers to reduce the large burden of rural indebtedness which otherwise they would have been able to do. The Government is in fact seeking to milk primary indusutry to pay for promises in other areas. I believe that that prediction ill become all the more clear as time unfolds.

One of the worst disservices done to primary industry, including the wool industry, was a speech by Senator Wriedt in Paris. It was in fact the most important speech that he had made since becoming Minister for Primary Industry. It was made not in the Senate and not in Australia. It was not even made to an Australian Press conference. It was made to a group of representatives of foreign countries. There can be only 3 implications derived from a careful reading of that speech. The implications are that he believes that many Australian primary industries are inefficient. He did not indicate whether he thought the wool industry was one of those industries. The Minister for Primary Industry also indicated that he believes that there has been too much production because previously there had been too much government support. Is the wool industry one of the areas where he thinks that that is so? He knows that there is a world shortage of wool yet that is clear implication of the speech he made. The Minister also made it plain that he thinks there has been too much subsidisation. He talked about an end to open ended commitments. He said:

We have no doubt that a movement towards a reduction in supports given to agricultural production would be in the long term interests of all countries.

The Minister for Primary Industry has shown what he wants to do and he is moving to do it in the first instance in relation to the wool industry. I believe that it will cover a number of areas. One of the worst things about that speech is that when we come to knock on the doors of the Common Market countries and say that we want them to open their doors to, or remove their barriers on products from, Australia they will be able to quote that speech back at us and use it against us. They will say: 'Why should we take from you the surplus products of what you have admitted are your inefficient industries?' I think that was a disastrous thing for the Minister to have done. It ought not to have been done.

The Opposition would have liked to oppose this legislation, but if it were to oppose it in this House and in the Senate that would mean that there would be no research and promotion funds for the next financial year because the Government has made it plain that it will not support the proposals that we negotiated with the industry and announced last year. The consequences of opposing what is now being suggested are too serious for the industry. Therefore that cannot be contemplated. Instead of doing that, therefore, I move on behalf of the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party, as an amendment to the motion for the second reading of Wool Industry Bill 1973:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words In place thereof: whilst not refusing the bil] a second reading, this House deplores the fact that the Government's decisions were made without proper consultation with industry leaders, the fact that a 3-year program has been cut to a one year program, making forward planning virtually impossible, and thirdly, the fact that the present Government has broken an undertaking given by the previous Government to the Australian Wool Industry Conference.'

I have covered the ambit of these 3 parts of the amendment in the words that I have spoken. I emphasise again that decisions have been taken without consultation with primary industry leaders. That is not surprising, because during the revaluations that took place twice the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) and his Department and the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry (Dr J. F. Cairns) and his Department were not consulted. If they were not consulted when there was a junta or two governing this country how can primary industry leaders expect to be consulted by the Government itself when the Government does not even consult its own experts in particular fields when decisions are being made that will have a significant effect upon certain industries? To encompass a revaluation, not once but twice, without any discussion and without any reports from the Department of Primary Industry and the Minister for Primary Industry shows, I believe, the disgraceful and shameful attitude of the Government in relation to primary industry.

The fact that the 3-year program has been changed to a one-year program is making forward planning virtually impossible. One cannot operate a successful research program if finance is provided on a year to year basis. One cannot operate a successful promotion program which involves liaison and co-opera tion with manufacturers, textile firms and, at the same time, commercial stores, if one can operate only on a one-year basis. That is what the Government is proposing.

The present Government has broken an undertaking given by the previous Government to the Australian Wool Industry Conference. That is breaking a general tradition and convention between governments that publicly announced commitments entered into by one government with a industry, with a group or with another country, are supported by an incoming government. The Government has broken a long-standing convention of decent behaviour by one government taking over from another government. The Australian Wool Industry Conference had a perfect right to expect that the present Government would honour those commitments.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Why do you ship your wool through Melbourne instead of selling it at Portland?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - I think it would be better if you went back where you came from. The Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party will vote for this amendment but will not oppose the passage of the Bill. The Bill ought not to be in the form it is in. It ought to be honouring the commitments that the previous Government had entered into, but I am afraid that we could not expect anything better of this particular Government. What the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) and the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) think of these particular matters must be hard to judge because when Senator Wriedt is overseas neither is allowed to be even Acting Minister for Primary Industry. It is a common secret that both wanted to be Minister for Primary Industry and it is a common secret that both were vying with each other to be Minister for Primary Industry. It is also well known that neither is Minister for Primary Industry because they are the only 2 members on the Government side with an interest in and a concern for primary industry.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order!Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Sinclair - I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Debate interrupted.

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