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Thursday, 23 March 1961

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Monaro) . - One answer to this city Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) on what is happening in the country comes from Sir Herbert Hyland, leader of the Victorian Country Party who, speaking in the Victorian Legislative Assembly the other day, described the extent of the injury being don.e to the primary producers by the current squeeze as equivalent to the damage from a fire, a flood or a drought. To the extent that I have time I will quote statements by the trading banks, primary producers' organizations and individual farmers as to the injury the man on the land is suffering while this Government stands idly by. We do not need to go outside this Parliament in order to obtain evidence of the existing situation because every representative of a country electorate who possesses the confidence of his constituents will already have received a flood of letters from rural organizations setting out the effect of credit restrictions being imposed in country districts.

Mr Turnbull - I have not received such letters.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I said that -every member who possessed the confidence of his constituents has received them. Who would bother to write to you? Other members will have received letters from individual farmers describing their own experiences in their rejection by the banks of their normal requests for credit. It is true, as the Treasurer said, that some Government supporters became a little restive recently. They ventured to complain to the Treasurer in the party room, but when he administered some soothing syrup to them they went to sleep again. The Treasurer said that not one Government supporter had brought to him one complaint. But in this House the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and other members of the Opposition have brought details of specific desperate cases to the notice of the Treasurer, but not one word of reply and not a hint of action has been received in reply, although all details of the cases have been given.

The Treasurer has quoted a letter in which the Reserve Bank asserts that the trading banks are fully carrying out the directive of the Government. The Treasurer therefore exonerates the trading banks from blame. Where, then, does the blame rest except on the Government of this country? The farmers are being squeezed. The Government agrees that the trading banks are not to blame; that they are carrying out the Government's directive. Therefore the responsibility rests solely on the Government. Neither the Development Bank nor the trading banks are to-day financing the requirements of primary producers. The farmers themselves are bringing this to attention every day. The banks themselves are admitting it - I will quote their own official statement - but the Government is doing nothing but talk. Government supporters are sitting silently by and betraying the interests of their constituents.

What about the proposal of the chairman of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, Mr. McDonald, that the Government should give the Reserve Bank discretion in the application of restrictions to the Development Bank in the present time of economic stress? The Treasurer was asked about this the other day. He said that if Mr. McDonald had any proposal to put before the Government and if he put it in a formal and proper way it would, in due time, receive proper consideration. At a time when the position of the primary producer is desperate, the Government should be examining immediately any proposal to alleviate it. What about the statement on behalf of the trading banks that the deliberate Government policy of discouraging them from long-term financing was having a disproportionate effect on primary producers and was definitely against the interest of individual farmers? That statement was made a week ago on behalf of the trading banks by Mr. R. B. Prowse, their official spokesman.

What about the continued rejection by Federal Cabinet of proposals for an extended credit system for grain shipments? The Australian Wheatgrowers Federation has been continually urging upon the Government the need to agree to such a scheme, but nothing is done. That is the whole record of this Government - nothing is done. I defy any member of the Australian Country Party or the Liberal Party to deny :that primary producers, both now and over the next few months, cannot hope to obtain from the banks any finance beyond that which is necessary for bare carry-on purposes. And they are not in the race to obtain finance for any expansive purpose or, indeed, for any purpose in excess of the scale of their usual programmes.

Mr Anderson - That is not true.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - All right, it is an official statement made on behalf of the trading banks of Australia to the executive of the Graziers Association ten days ago; and they added also that not only is this so, but unless the Government acts in a way in which it has so far shown no disposition to act the credit position for farmers must continue to grow worse up to the end of this financial year. That was the official statement of the trading banks of Australia in March of this year. It is unquestionable that the blame and the responsibility rests with the Government which could, if it chose, make available the additional credit to prevent the current setback to primary production. Will any honorable member deny that?

One course for the Government to follow would be to free specially for advance to primary producers some of the deposits at present held in the statutory reserve. Is there any one in the House who will deny that the primary industries to-day are in need of immediate financial assistance which they cannot obtain and that the extent of the rise in costs and prices which they are enduring constitutes both a burden and a threat to primary producers throughout this nation? That is part of the official submission by this Government, made through its counsel, Mr. Frost, only a fortnight ago to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission at its inquiry into the basic wage. The advocate for the Australian Council of Trade Unions has made it plain that it is no part of the union's case before the commission to deny that the position of the farmers in Australia has severely deteriorated. That fact is admitted on all sides. The present position of the farmers is due to various aspects of Government policy, including its failure to cope with inflation and its application of the credit squeeze. Yet the Government stands spathetc and idle, and country representatives on the Government side do nothing to force it into action.

I quote again from a public statement made a week ago by the Research Director of the Australian Bankers Association. He said -

The free enterprise banks are doing what they can to help the man on the land who is creditworthy. But national credit policy is placing a severe limitation on overall bank lending, and this is reflected in a reduced amount of finance available for capital purposes, property purchases, and so on.

Secondly, I quote from " Muster ", the official organ of the Graziers Asosciation, of 15th March, which states in an editorial -

It is surprising indeed, not to say disappointing, that the Government's thinking has apparently not progressed to the stage of evolving plans to improve the prospects of primary industry.

Mr Barnes - Quote the Graziers Council.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would you repudiate that statement?

Mr Barnes - Quote the Graziers Council.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The article continues -

Two avenues lay open for action here, first the direct one of incentives, the second, the indirect one of measures aimed at reducing costs in the main sections of primary industry. The Government has done nothing constructive on either of these lines.

I am glad to see the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser) giving a little attention at last to the interests of the primary producers . whom he has consistently betrayed, living a life of indolence and luxury, instead of representing them, ever since he came into this Parliament. The Government provides incentives for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited to export, but no incentives whatever to the primary producers to assist them to export. I have here the despairing resolution of the annual conference of the Graziers Association in Sydney early this month, appealing to the Government, in its attempts to correct the present situation, to stop employing restrictions which are hindering and retarding primary industry. What has any Country Party member to say about that?

The same story comes from all over the State. Farmers have grass to spare, but cannot get finance even for the purchase of store stock. Store cattle are being sold by graziers to meet the demand of the banks that they must reduce their overdrafts, where normally such stock would be carried through to fats. Bankers are refusing to finance the sale of property. Even some of the fringe banking institutions are refusing any longer to operate in country districts. That, then, is the position. The farmers cannot get the money and the banks submit they cannot provide it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I declare that the responsibility rests on the Government; but the farmers have been betrayed by their elected representatives in this Parliament.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! Once again I say from the chair that when an honorable member is told that his time has expired he must resume his seat immediately,

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