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Wednesday, 23 May 1973
Page: 2490

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) (Minister for Immigration) - 12.35) - I am not sure what gave birth to this matter today. It certainly was not the conditions of the countryside. Of course it might have been the Victorian election, which indicated that the Australian Country Party vote in Wimmera, for example, was halved and that there was an increase in the Australian Labor Party vote in Dundas, Portland and Kara Kara. In fact, the rural vote for Labor in Victoria was up, so this perhaps is a signal that something should have been done by the present Opposition when it was in government. It is rather interesting that in relation to long term planning the Opposition could not even plan the speakers' list. On the Opposition side the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) was to be followed by the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) but we had the interpolations of the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), who was not even on the list, and I have here a copy of the list.

Mr Malcolm Fraser - I rise on a point of order. The total misrepresentation of the Minister is evidenced by the fact that the 2 Labor members in the areas about which he was talking, Portland and Dundas, lost their seats.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! If the honourable member for Wannon deliberately wastes the time of this House with facetious points of order again I will name him.

Mr GRASSBY - It is difficult for the Parliament or the nation as a whole to take seriously this casually introduced matter of public importance referring to the present Government's lack of concern for the countryside. It is surely a smokescreen introduced by the past Government, the present Opposition, to hide its years of failure which culminated in a rural recession that was in existence when we took over government on 2 December. The former Government actually reduced the Australian farmer to penury for the first time in a generation and, as I say, the countryside to a rural recession. The policies of the past Government, the present Opposition, caused that recession. Australia was the only country in the world that had the distinction of having a rural rcession when everyone else was moving ahead very nicely, thank you.

Let us just see what was the position when we took over. The previous Government had been preaching rationing, restrictions and reduced production. Its policies of cut back brought us to a whole series of crises. It rationed wheat production. Now the industry is rationing customers. The previous Government was so pre-occupied with cutting back that it brought us within a week of having to import butter. The past Government's policy to protect the wool grower saw prices drop to 29c per lb for wool from parts of my electorate. What the former Government did was too little too late. It allowed bankruptcy, it allowed hardship and it did not even apologise for them. Let us have a little look at the help it gave. To whom in the main did it give help? It was to the banks and the brokers. The members of that Government are the people who have come forward with this matter of public importance today.

It is interesting to see what the previous Government did even for the fruit industry. Honourable members opposite were talking, with great indignation, about currency adjustments. There were 2 currency adjustments during the Prime Ministership of Mr McMahon. The adjustments resulted in a serious problem for the canned fruits industry. When we took over government we found that there was no Treasury allocation to meet those adjustments and in fact there was not even provision to discuss the actual provision of such finance. A discussion was not even listed. Nothing had been done at all. When one takes over the books one can look to see exactly what the position is.

Then, just to make sure that there was no industry that was not in trouble the previous Government imposed a wine tax - the height of stupidity. The result of this was to make sick an industry which was previously healthy. What happened to land values? They dropped to the lowest level in a whole generation. Land values were down. There was no rural credit because the taps of credit had been turned off. In New South Wales the rural reconstruction scheme was broke for months under the previous Government. It had no money. It was writing to people saying that it had no funds. Yet the Opposition says now - 5 months later: 'Listen, all these problems of the past are really your fault.' It is very interesting of course to have this sort of thing coming from members of the Country Party. The other day I got a copy of the Platform and Policy of the Australian Country Party. I notice that there are 2 or 3 interesting points in it and I think that they are very good. I will just read one or two of them. One reads:

For a period of not less than 10 years, payment of incentive guaranteed minimum prices to producers to ensure continuity of production.

That is excellent. It has been in the Country Party's platform since 1949. This is another really good one:

The Commonwealth Bank to be free to enter into competition on a competitive basis with private banks in all banking business.

That has been there since 1949.

Dr Patterson - It is like the rural bank.

Mr GRASSBY - Yes, just like the rural bank. Another one reads:

No settler shall be asked to commence repayments to the Crown until the property could reasonably be expected to be in profitable production.

That is very good. It has been there since 1949. The copy of the platform which I have is dated 1949. What has happened? None of those things were honoured in any shape or form. I turn to some of the policy promises. This one is very interesting because it is one on which the Country Party came into power. It 'says: 'a pounds worth of purchases for every pound spent' - rates of direct and indirect taxation steadily reduced. . . .

That promise was made when the Country Party first became part of the coalition government. What happened? The rate of inflation did not slow down and the rate of income taxation increased at all levels. That was an interesting one. There was another very interesting policy speech in which it was said that the cost of petrol is to be no more than 4c a gallon above the city price anywhere in Australia. That is an interesting point. Have honourable members opposite forgotten about that one? Perhaps they ought to have a look at it.

Let us see what the present Government has done in 5 months. We rescued the rural reconstruction scheme from bankruptcy. We offered $38m - not a small sum - with an additional offer on a dollar for dollar basis to the States if it were needed. Then we gave the wheat growers their first increase in 15 years in the first advance to $1.20. These champions opposite are a little bit late. Then we provided millions for isolated children, the most neglected children in the whole of Australia. They had been neglected for a whole generation. Honourable members opposite sat back and did nothing. What did we do? We found some millions for these children and they are getting help for the very first time. Then we abolished the iniquitous wine tax - the ultimate piece of stupidity by the dying Government as it was then.

As far as new lending facilities are concerned, my friend the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) will deal with the Government's record but we will shortly be announcing a new initiative on new lending facilities. We have had a dedication and we have had it for 50 years to provide long term low interest finance. I can remember on one famous occasion going with the leader of the Country Party to Condobolin to talk about the rural recession. I said that we had a commitment to long term low interest finance. I said that it was in our platform and that it was there for several purposes. It ranged from 3 per cent. I said that we could make it available as had been done by a New South Wales Labor government by government guarantee. I gave an example and 1 said that under that system there could be made available an amount of $500m at 3 per cent interest using a government guarantee and the only call on the Treasury would be for an amount of $15m to service the interest rate and to subsidise it. I think that is a very good example of what can be done. It is one of the things that we have been looking at.

In 5 months we have made considerable progress in establishing priorities for what must be done. I make no apology for giving examples of the sort of thing that can be done. In 5 months we have done many of the things that we set out to do. But there are other things that remain to be done. Going back to the platform and policies of honourable members opposite and also going back over their policy speeches, I say that if we cannot do better in the next 23 months than they did in 23 years of governing the countryside I for one will be bitterly disappointed and disillusioned. I think it is pretty obvious that the reason why this matter has been brought on for discussion is that there is a need to make a noise following an obvious trend. The trend is pretty definite. It is borne out by the divisions which exist which are pretty obvious. 1 cannot say that I blame the divisions for occurring because it is obvious that there are great disagreements among the gentlemen on the Opposition as to what they really should be doing in the future.

The Prime Minister made clear in his policy speech the commitments for immediate policy to which honourable members can refer. He made them loud and clear. They referred, among other things, to rural finance. All of the things which he set out to do he has put in train. If honourable members opposite are suggesting that we have not in fact implemented all of the promises in our platform in the first 5 months of the first new government for 23 years, of course the suggestion is correct. But to bring on for discussion this matter of public importance at this time is absurd and it is a waste of the time of the national Parliament.

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