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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2741

Mr HALLETT (Canning) - The estimates before the Committee - those for the Department of Customs and Excise, the Department of Primary Industry, the Department of Overseas Trade and the Department of Secondary Industry - cover a very wide field. I was rather intrigued by the previous speaker, the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie), who stated in the beginning that the primary industries were better off today than they had ever been before and then proceeded to launch on to the great problems in the dairy industry and the disaster that will be brought upon it if there is a rise in the price of butter. I did not realise that the honourable member for Wilmot had done his research in relation to the butter industry. But let us put the facts straight. He read out the facts from

Hansard; but the facts are these: The Australian Labor Party 30-odd years ago introduced the butter subsidy. It was not asked for and it was not wanted by the dairy industry at that time. It was introduced because the C series index was about to rise because of a rise in the price of butter.

The government of the day introduced a subsidy to the consumer, not to the producer. That is the record. Since its introduction the subsidy has been built into the dairy industry system. But the first thing the Labor Government does when it comes into power some 30 years later is to remove the subsidy and state that it was introduced for the benefit of the dairy industry. They are not the facts of life. The subsidy was introduced because of the C series index and now that it is to be taken away we are left with a position where possibly there will be a rise in the price of butter. But the dairy industry should not be Blamed for that. Let us consider the total history of it. That is one of the facts of life that have emerged. In the estimates that are before us today, the appropriation has been reduced by $10. 5m because of the phasing out of the subsidy. But the remaining amount has been provided for the consumer. It is no good saying that the dairy industry in Victoria has received most of the subsidy. That is not the fact of life at all.

Mr Duthie - They are the facts.

Mr HALLETT - The honourable member still cannot get the message that the Australian consumers - they are the ones we have to look at - were the people who received the benefit, not the producers. If honourable members really looked at the facts of life they will see that that is the position. That is just one of the items with which I want to deal in considering these estimates.

In these estimates debates I have listened to many honourable members saying that since the Australian Labor Party came into office the primary industries have never been better off. Farming is an industry which must be considered over a long term. It is not something about which something can be done in 5 minutes when things are wrong or when things are right. The things which the Labor Party is doing through this Budget will not have any immediate effects. It will be a long term process. The fact that the position is good today is because of certain aspects in relation to the world situation in the grain trade, the meat trade, in wool and right across the board. There have been over a number of years very adverse seasonal conditions in the northern hemisphere. Those who watch the situation hope that this is not a permanent pattern. However, there is great concern in the northern hemisphere because of what has been happening in the monsoon areas. That is the reason why we have a world grain shortage right across the board. There is tremendous worry about the weather pattern in the northern hemisphere. I will not talk about it. No doubt information on it can be gained from various documents. But this- has emerged in the last few years and it is mainly because of this that there is this shortage of grain throughout the world.

Australia has also had in the past, of course, some adverse seasonal conditions and this is one of the reasons for our problems in the past. But recently at this time we began to enter an era - this is part of a cycle in Australia, and no doubt we will enjoy some better years - in which primary industries would be in a position, because of incentives such as the taxation arrangements which have been put on the statute book over the years, to move in and take advantage of the trends and assist the world by producing great quantities of food. I believe that because of our unique position in the world we have a responsibility to do this. For that reason we should at this time be encouraging primary industries in this country to take up this slack in relation to other parts of the world which are not so important in terms of production.

Much has been said about the movement of people in this country. The movement of people in the field of farming industry, not only in this country but around the world, is very interesting. Let us have a look at one or two examples. In Britain, which produces only a small percentage of its total food requirement, 10 years ago 6 per cent of the work force were employed in the field of primary industry. Today in Britain only 3 per cent of the work force is employed in that industry. In that country hundreds of thousands of acres of the best arable land is being taken up by the construction of roads, schools, homes and factories and so on. When I was in Holland a number of years ago looking at the development in that small country an engineer who was showing me around turned to me and without any comment from me about primary industry whatsoever said: 'I hope Australia has plenty of foodstuffs because at the rate we are developing and taking up our agricultural country we will want to import a lot of food'. Let us look at the position in Canada, a country which is comparable to Australia. In Canada 10 years ago 11 per cent of the people were employed in primary industry. Today the proportion is down to 8 per cent. The same figures apply in Australia. Ten years ago 11 per cent of the people in this country were employed in primary industry but only 8 per cent are employed today.

Broadly what is happening around the world is that there are countless millions of people moving from the various agricultural areas into the cities. This is happening not only in this country, it is happening all oyer the world. This imbalance is dangerous - I will use that word 'dangerous' - because there are far too few people producing food. Taking into consideration the serious situation in relation to the northern hemisphere and the weather pattern there which scientists are watching very closely, it is dangerous because there are not enough people in the country areas around the world producing the food requirements for the rapid increase in population and to cope with the movement of people into the cities. In other words, in food production the balance of consumers as against producers is something which this Government and every government in the world should be looking at.

What worries me in these estimates is that at this stage of development - and I am not talking about just Australia; I am talking about the world as a whole - we have had introduced a budget which takes away incentives. This is a great problem in this country and I believe it will have serious repercussions in the future. If the world wants food - I have said this in this place before - the people of the world have to pay for it. But if the world wants people to go back into country areas, or if it wants the younger people and the not so young people to stay in country areas then we must have these incentives. These are the sorts of things that the previous Government over many years placed on the statute book. This has put us in a position where we could when seasons were good move in and buy new machinery and so forth to enable us to produce the goods. Then when the producers got into the other situation, that is the troughs - in this game there are the peaks and troughs - they would be able to go through the bad years because they had built themselves up with the good machinery and the other things required to produce the goods. The incentives have been taken away under this Budget and that is a dangerous situation. These people will not be able to replace their old machinery because tax has to be paid on the money invested in new machinery.

There is a second string attached to this. Coupled with this drift of people from country areas to the cities is the fact that the average age of people on farms in the country today is moving up rapidly. In Italy the average age of farmers is 55 years. Ten years ago the average age in Australia - and I am quoting these figures off the cuff, taking a cue from the honourable member for Wilmot - was a little over 40 years and it has moved up to a considerably higher age. I have given those figures according to my memory. In every country that is the pattern and that is the danger as I see it.

Sitting suspended from 6.11 to 8 p.m.

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