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Thursday, 5 March 1970

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - The interest of members of the Australian Country Party in this matter is quite obvious from the attendance of its members in this chamber. Of course, we completely dissociate the honourable member for Hume (Mr Pettitt), who is interjecting, from any semblance of sense when it comes to the discussion of a matter of urgency in relation to primary industry. Look at the attendance of Australian Country Party members. Members of that Party had the hide to interject even before I started my speech, but I can see only four of them on the Country Party benches, and this number includes the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony). This is the height of hypocrisy. Although we are now engaged in an important debate on primary industry the paucity of the attendance of members of the Australian Country Party is a revelation. Of course, the Minister for Primary Industry, who is interjecting, does not like what I am saying. When the old Parliament rose 5 months ago it was quite obvious that many important sectors of primary industry, particularly those producing for the export market, were in a serious financial state; and due to the dictatorial attitude of the Government in prolonging the recess for 5 months we saw during that period not one vestige of leadership given by the Government to solve this problem. We have heard plenty of speeches from the Minister for Primary Industry and others on what should be done and the tough attitude that they are going to adopt. But what we want and what the primary industry organisations of Australia want is action. The consistent refusal of the Government to give a positive lead and positive leadership to primary industry problems must be recognised as one of the major reasons why the economic condition of primary industry is deteriorating. Mounting evidence from agricultural districts throughout Australia shows quite clearly that primary producers are becoming grossly disillusioned with the negative and stalling attitude of the Government towards the serious problems of primary industries, particularly those producing for the export market.

The Government refuses to take the initiative - and this is the main essence of my argument today - to introduce constructive measures that are urgently required to halt this serious recession in primary industry, particularly in the wool, dairying and wheat industries. The Government - and particularly the Australian Country Party section of it - takes the view that it can ignore the serious problems of primary industry because the primary producers themselves will continue to support it at elections. This is a very dangerous assumption to dwell upon because, as I have said before, it is becoming obvious that even powerful primary producer organisations such as the United Graziers Association of Queensland are fast becoming fed up with the lethargy and complacency of the Government in solving the serious problems confronting this country. As economic desperation spreads throughout the major primary industries of Australia this feeling against the Government is heightening. Primary producers realise that this Government - no one else - dominated by the Australian Country Party has been responsible over the last 20 years for the formulation of policies which are now wrecking the economic dependence of small farmers throughout Australia in particular.

The Government's lack of leadership in the field of primary industry is analogous to or resembles that of a ventriloquist's dummy. The Government adopts the view that it will not initiate action until it receives firm recommendations from an industry itself. We hear such a cry on wool year after year. The Government says that it will not take any action because the industry leaders will not take positive action in respect of prices, for example. The Government should take positive steps and do the job people elected it to do. This is so in respect of major industry organisations such as the wool industry where there is severe, intensive factionalism and agreement cannot be reached. But the Government does nothing. This has been the history of the wool industry since the recommendation by the Australian Wool Industry Conference on the reserve price plan. I was amazed to hear on Tuesday the admission of the Minister for Primary Industry that it had been known for 5 years that the wheat growers were heading for very serious trouble. This information was given in in answer to a question asked by the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard).

Mr Anthony - I do not think it had been known for 5 years.

Dr PATTERSON - I will quote what the Minister said. He said:

Anybody who has been associated with the expansion thai has taken place in the wheat industry in the past 5 years must be well aware that the wheat growers were heading for very serious trouble . . .

Mr Anthony - That is completely different from what you are saying.

Dr PATTERSON - As I said, and I will repeat it, the Minister knew 5 years ago that the industry was heading for trouble, because he was associated with the expansion. That is what I said, and Hansard will show it. I am amazed that the Minister had the temerity to make such a statement, because it was only last year that we in this Parliament received the first inkling of the serious trouble that the wheat industry was in. when the Government appealed to wheat producers to reduce production. Why did the Government not give them notice 5 years ago to reduce production? Why did the Government not take positive action and initiate legislation, complementary to State, legislation if necessary, to avert these tremendous problems in the wheat industry. Look at the members of the Country Party. They could not care less about the plight of the small wheat grower. This is very well known. As 1 said before, it was only last year that the Government admitted that the wheat industry was in trouble. The Government is guilty of gross neglect not only of the wheat growers of Australia but of the taxpayers also for not informing us 5 years ago of this serious crisis towards which the wheat industry was heading.

The Government's refusal to implement the reserve wool price programme is an example of its refusing to take the initiative. Here we have a glaring anomaly. The Australian Wool Industry Conference, the so-called parliament of the wool industry, recommended a reserve price plan, but because powerful people in the wool industry objected to it the Government would not take the initiative and introduce it. The plan was put to a referendum and rejected. By contrast, look at the lifting of the embargo on the export of merino breeding stock. That was a different proposition. The Wool Industry Conference recommended that the embargo be lifted, and the Government raced in to lift it. But when an objection was raised, what happened? The Government put its tail between its legs again and did nothing until after the election. This is the Government which is supposed to give leadership to the primary industries.

The Government's dismal record in refusing to implement a positive policy to minimise the recurring devastation of drought is just one more example of leadership weakness. Its policy is simple. It hopes - and it might be right - that there will never be another drought. But what sort of policy is this? lt says that if there is another drought it will wait until the drought reaches devastating proportions and it will then give the primary producers concessional rebates for fodder transport, etc. This is the extent of the initiative taken by the Government with respect to one of the most important problems of this country. It is over 3 years now since we heard of the great plight of the dairy industry when the farmers asked for the reconstruction of the industry. What has this Government done? Every time a question is asked inside this Parliament or a question is asked outside the Parliament by producer organisations, the Federal Government blames the States. This is another example of passing the buck. While these stalling tactics continue the Treasury prospers, because in the last 2 years there have been allocations, admittedly only Sim, for the implementation of a scheme for the reconstruction of the dairy industry, but of course nothing has been spent.

Let me now deal with an industry in which there are not many votes. I refer to the cotton industry. Here we see the Government taking the initiative. There are not many votes in the industry, but in terms of the number of people in it it is just as important as any other primary industry. What has the Government done in this industry? It has ruthlessly stated that it will take away the cotton bounty in developing areas. W \t a contrast! Here it does give leadership - leadership that is completely unjust. Let me turn to the sugar industry. The honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) should be concerned about this industry, because this year there are all the earmarks of a very large surplus of sugar production in many of the major producing areas of Queensland. But what is the Government going to do? Is it to wait until the crushing has almost finished and then say that the mills cannot take any more cane because the quota under the International Sugar Agreement is only approximately 1 million tons, or will it implement some positive programme and show some initiative to stop the destruction of cane in some areas where the harvesting cannot be put off?

Mr Anthony - What is the honourable member's answer?

Dr PATTERSON - Under the International Sugar Agreement there is some provision for storage arrangements, but we want to see some leadership shown by the Government to the growers, particularly those in the sugar areas of the north where we will have very large surpluses of production. The Government's approach to the problems of the primary industries seems always to crystallise in one thought - subsidies. 1 give the Minister credit because he is not thinking in terms of subsidies for the dairy industry. The Opposition has stated time and time again that this is one industry that needs reconstruction. But in the wool industry and in the wheat industry - if it gets this way - subsidies will have to be considered very seriously, because it Ls useless to continue payment of subsidies to an industry, whether it be a primary or secondary industry, if we are to have increased surpluses which cannot be disposed of. particularly on the export market.

The Government's lack of leadership in primary industry, however, is in somewhat stark contrast to its attitude on tariffs.

There do not seem to be any delays in granting tariffs to secondary industries, particularly to some of the more uneconomic secondary industries. But when it comes to giving assistance and leadership to some of the primary industries which are in serious trouble we have these interminable delays. In the dairy industry there has been a delay of 3 years, and in the wool industry it is 4 or 5 years since the AWIC brought down its recommendation for a reserve price programme.

Mr Anthony - The wool growers voted it out.

Dr PATTERSON - The Minister says that they voted it out, but why not give the merino producers an opportunity to vote on the lifting of the embargo on the export of merino rams? Then we saw a wonderful exposition of the new policy of the Country Party after a special meeting of its parliamentary members here some weeks ago. The headlines throughout Australia reported that the Country Party would get tough to help the farmers. One newspaper said:

The Australian Country Party will adopt a 'get tough' attitude in an attempt to get governmental approval for policies designed to ameliorate the plight of primary producers.

In the parliamentary session to begin on March 3, it will apply 'a new measure of determination and boldness in following measures of support' for primary producers.

The Country Party has been in power in this nation for 20 years. It has been responsible for the formulation of every policy on primary industry. Is it any wonder that the economic position of primary producers today in real terms is probably at its lowest ebb? But the Country Party has said it will get tough. Let it get tough. Let it introduce some legislation into the Parliament. If we in the Opposition think that any Country Party proposals will benefit the primary producers we will support them. But what do the members of the Country Party do? They race round the electorates of Australia criticising the Liberal Party, but look at them when they come into the Parliament. They are meek and mild like defeathered cockatoos. Is this the sort of attempt they will make to get tough?

The Country Party, with its numbers here, now has a chance to get tough. I repeat, if the Opposition thinks that any proposals of the Country Party will give a fair deal to Australia we will support them. Let the Country Party introduce some Bills and see what happens. But will they introduce them? Of course they will not. This is the new policy of the Country Party. It will be the same policy that has been witnessed in this House every year for the last 20 years. Unless the Minister for Primary Industry gives leadership to primary industry it will go down further.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

Sitting suspended from 12.40 to 2.15 p.m.

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