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Thursday, 18 October 1973
Page: 2379

Dr FORBES (Barker) - Almost for the first time I find myself in substantial agreement with some of the sentiments expressed by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby).

Mr Staley - You must be wrong.

Dr FORBES - I take that point. I remember an honourable member of this House, long departed and now dead, who in a different context talked about straddling a barbed wire fence and the sorts of problems that caused. The honourable member for Riverina, from the point of view of his Party and the difficulties he had in his own electorate, tonight showed consummate skill in doing just that. The honourable member for Riverina is a member of the Government. He is a member of the inner Cabinet of 27 as opposed to the outer Cabinet of 93. One of the things on which we, the people in the country and the honourable member's constituents should reflect is not so much the words and sentiments which he expressed tonight but the contrast between those sentiments and the sentiments expressed by his senior colleague, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden).

I interpreted the honourable member for Riverina as saying that if any primary industry goes to this Industries Assistance Commission with a good, sound case it will be in no difficulty. I happen to agree with that statement.

However, that is not what the Minister for Social Security said. He came into this House and, except for a few saving words for political purposes at the end of his speech, made it perfectly clear that if he has his way every single bit of assistance which has been provided to the primary industries of this country will be withdrawn. Nothing could be clearer from the words he used. He used expressions, which outside the Parliament would be libellous, about the way in which my friends and colleagues in the Country Party conducted themselves in government. On this particular measure I am opposed to my friends in the Country Party and I intend to support it.

But I would like to make it perfectly clear that I disagree with the Minister for Social Security and throw back into his teeth everything that he said about my colleagues in the Country Party in regard to the way in which they operated in relation to primary industry when in Government. I was a member of that Government myself for 9 years. I took part in the decisions about which the Minister spoke. If I ever had any disagreement with my friends in the Country Party in Cabinet it was that they did not provide enough by way of legitimate assistance to primary industry in the circumstances in which it was placed. But I could understand that. During the whole of the time I was a member of the previous Government, Country Party members had the portfolios which carried the main responsibility. They consulted the people. They had the experts. They had the responsibility to provide the responsible advice to the Cabinet. I cannot remember over 9 years one single instance in which after searching my conscience, after consulting my own constituents and knowing a great deal about the industries which operated in the electorate I represent, I found myself in basic disagreement with the responsible recommendations which were made by my Country Party colleagues in relation to assistance for primary industry. I throw back into the teeth of the Minister for Social Security the accusations made by him.

I ask the honourable member for Riverina, in good conscience to his own constituents, at some stage to place in print in the local newspapers in his electorate the speech which he made tonight side by side with the speech made by the Minister for Social Security in order to show the contrast. I invite his constituents to consider just how much weight he will carry, as one of the few representa tives in his Party of rural areas in Australia, against the heavyweight Minister for Social Security who is the fourth most important Minister in the Cabinet and who is backed up by a vast array of Ministers, almost threequarters of whom come from the metropolitan cities of Australia. I ask the honourable member for Riverina to publish those 2 speeches in the newspapers-

Mr Grassby - I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am interested in the challenges made by the honourable member for Barker and, of course, I accept them. But I would like you to ask the honourable member to come back to the Bill and discuss the subject matter of the Bill. I do not mind discussing Riverina; it is a great province. But it has nothing to do with the Bill.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order!There is no point of order. The honourable member for Barker is rebutting the previous arguments.

Dr FORBES - Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let us leave this lightweight in the inner Cabinet of 27.

Mr Wentworth - He is a fruit-fly weight.

Mr Grassby - Thank you, Bill. Charming.

Dr FORBES - Let us be clear on what we are talking about in this debate. After carefully reading this measure and after taking into account the amendments which we on this side of the House propose, what is basically in question and what is basically proposed, as I understand it, is to extend to the primary industries of this country the same system of examination of requests for assistance as has previously been applied by the Tariff Board to secondary industries. I know that tertiary industries are included but I think the primary debate at this stage, as would be recognised by both sides of the House, is that this is what is involved. 'I have for years advocated strongly the case for Government assistance to the primary industries because I believe that the arguments for Government assistance for the primary industries are unanswerable and unassailable, and basically - and this has often been said - because the costs which are met by the primary industries in Australia are determined locally in Australia on the local market. Prices for the bulk of our primary products are determined on world markets. These costs determined in Australia are heavily influenced by national policies pursued by governments - not only by this Government but also by previous governments - being such things as economic growth, full employment, the diversification of industry and the pursuance of a high scale of immigration. All these things add to the Australian cost structure and place a burden on the primary industries which are much higher than they would be if natural economic forces were left to work themselves out.

If resources flowed naturally without interference by governments to the most economic and the most productive sectors of the economy, I have no doubt that - if that theoretical situation applied the primary industries in Australia would have no difficulty whatever in standing on their own feet without assistance at all from governments. But it does not apply, and I do not quarrel with its not applying. I support these national objectives which have lead to an increase in the cost structure. As I said, primary industries have natural advantages and resources would flow to them if a free market applied; and as I also said, if this were the case they would not need assistance. But this is not the case, and as a result those sections of primary industries which export have to carry the burden of policies designed to achieve national objectives. There is no doubt in my mind, and there is no doubt in the minds of any of the knowledgeable and responsible people connected with the primary industries, that the assistance which those industries have received in compensation can be more than justified in these terms; and yet there is a marked reluctance - and this was mentioned by the honourable member for Riverina - on the part of people outside the primary industries to accept the argument that this is valid or even to give it serious examination. Here I refer to a number of our great metropolitan newspapers which consistently carry leading articles about the necessity of the primary industries having to stand on their own feet in circumstances in which, as far as I can find out, nobody else in Australia stands on his own feet unhelped or unaided. Very few sections of secondary industry stand on their own feet without assistance and unaided. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) himself talked about $200,000m in protection to manufacturing industries as opposed to, I think - taking his phrase - a few hundred million dollars to primary industries.

Mr Cohen - How much?

Dr FORBES - I said $2,000m. Look up your own Prime Minister's speech.

Mr Cohen - You said $200,000m.

Dr FORBES - Several thousand million dollars.

Mr Cohen - That is not what you said.

Dr FORBES - I apologise if that is what I did not say. What the Prime Minister said - and it makes my point valid - was that assistance to the rural sector involves several thousand million dollars a year. But despite this there is a tendency in many quarters to talk about handouts for political and other purposes. There has been reference to primary industries standing on their own feet, as I say, in circumstances in which nobody else stands on his own feet. The manufacturers do not stand on their own feet. The wage earners of this country do not stand on their own feet; they do not operate in a free market; they operate under legislation which provides them with a minimum remuneration. Looking around the Australian community, it is very difficult to find anybody who does not receive protection by one means or another. Yet the people to whom 1 am referring - the newspapers and the many critics and pundits in many quarters - constantly talk about these handouts to primary industries, this assistance to primary industries, and the necessity for them to stand on their own feet. They say to primary industries: You are no good. You must go to the wall. You must be reconstructed if you cannot get on without help'. How often have we heard that sort of expression from quarters which should know better? I despair from ever reaching the situation in which this matter will be properly examined by the people about whom I am talking and proper credit given.

To me, the advantage of this Commission is that it will cut right through this cant. I am convinced, and so is the honourable member for Riverina, that it will either provide as much or more assistance, or make recommendations, having the capacity to look at the spectrum as a whole, and be able to determine that in relation to secondary industries and primary industries - it has also a responsibility for primary industry - and to the burden that it imposes on those industries, it should make an equivalent cut in tariffs on secondary industry so that there will be no requirement, or a lesser requirement for assistance to primary industries. In other words, there will be an interrelation or an interaction between the various types of assistance. That is my first reason for supporting this measure. I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that primary industries will do as well, if not better, as a result of going to this Commission because they have an unanswerable case.

My second reason for supporting this measure - 'and this was alluded to in the excellent speech made by the honouarble member for Corangamite (Mr Street) - is that I personally regard this measure as a protection for primary industries against the predatory citybased Labor Party. The Labor Party has demonstrated in a very short 9 or 10 months in office that it does not care a damn about primary industries and country people, and the speech of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) tonight was a good demonstration of that. Without something like this Commission, I am quite convinced that every bit of assistance provided to primary industries by the previous Government will be quickly dismantled without the slightest consultation with the industries concerned. The present Government has done a pretty good job of that already.

Take the dairy industry. To my mind the case for the retention of the dairy industry subsidy is unanswerable. If this Commission had been in existence it would have been illegal for the Government in one stroke of the pen without consultation to take the subsidy away. The Government would have had to refer such a move, the leaders of the dairy industry would have been able to put their case and in my considered opinion in those circumstances that subsidy would still be there. It would not be gone. We also should consider all of the other things - the taxation concessions and so on - that were contained in the last Budget. We have to live with the reality of a Labor Government which is opposed to primary industry and country interests. I would infinitely prefer the approach in this Bill to that of the Coombs approach in which the Government hands over to a small group the job of sifting through all these schemes which we set up after careful examination and after receiving expert advice, and then without consulting with industry removes them with one stroke of the pen, without consultation and without giving the opportunity for the industry to put its point of view.

Basically it is for these 2 reasons - firstly, because I believe that the primary industries will do just as well under the Commission as they do at present and secondly, because the Commission will protect them against a preda tory city-based anti-primary industry Government - mat I support this measure with the amendments that we propose.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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