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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2745

Mr O'KEEFE (Paterson) - I should like to take part in this debate on the estimates for the Department of Customs and Excise, the Department of Primary Industry, the Department of Overseas Trade and the Department of Secondary Industry. I should like to support the remarks made by honourable members on this side of the House particularly in regard to the diminution of funds for the

Department of Primary Industry. The appropriation shows that there is a decrease in the allocation of funds and expenditure for this Department for this year. Provision is made for- ari expenditure of $50,391,000 as against an expenditure last year of $58,831,768. An examination of the figures indicates that in practically all sections of the Department of Primary Industry there has been a cut in expenditure. This, of course, is in line with the policy of the present Labor Government. It has made a raid on the great primary industries in no uncertain manner, irrespective of what its supporters have endeavoured to say in this debate this afternoon. Government supporters have said that conditions have never been better. This is not by reason of action taken by their Government; it is by reason of the wonderful season that agricultural and pastoral pursuits are having in Australia. The Government has had nothing to do with it.

Over the last 4 years severe drought conditions have occurred and the indebtedness of the rural industries to the banking institutions has been of the order of $3,000m. At a time when these great industries have the opportunity of getting good prices, plenty of products and rehabilitation we find that a raid has been made on them by this Government. The figures I have indicate that the raid has been of the order of $300m. I refer to some of the increase. There has been a 5c a gallon increase in the price of petrol. We cannot move in our rural areas without an abundance of transport. This increases the costs of goods coming in and going out. There has been a reduction of the depreciation allowance from 20 per cent a year to 15 per cent or 221 per cent. The primary producer has the option of taking either percentage. The initial capital allowance has been discontinued which has meant that with the poor seasons for the last 4 or 5 years producers certainly need assistance of this nature.

I deal now with the dairy farmers. Milk to the value of $l2m has been taken out of the kids' mouths by this Government. The Government had to make an assessment of whether the health of the children of this nation is more valuable than $10m or $12m. The Government has gone for the money instead of the health of the children. The wine industry has been socked to leg. It is an industry which has stood on its feet ever since it was formed. Supporters of the present Government screamed to high heaven last year when the Liberal-Country Party Government placed a tax of some $10m on the wine industry. The tax was watered down to $5m. Now the wine producer is being socked to the extent of $20m due mainly to the Government's method of valuation of stock. There was an arrangement prior to this present legislation that wine producers could value their stock at 15c a bottle. Now they have to value it at cost or market price in one particular year. Some of the valuable vignerons will be thrown out of business. The amount of $7m has been allocated for the eradication of tuberculosis and brucellosis. That program has to be paid for. The petroleum products equalisation subsidy was brought in by the previous Government to assist people living in the far Hung parts of Australia. Now this will be eliminated and probably will cost another 2c a gallon for petrol for people living in these areas.

An amount of $20m has been lost by the equalisation of telephone rentals. Telephone rental is now $55 a year in the country areas of Australia. I asked a question today about pensioners. They have been socked with this new rental in the country areas of $55 a year - a 100 per cent increase. These are all matters with which we are concerned. We appreciate at the present moment that the primary industries in Australia are gaining ground. There are good markets for our meat overseas, good markets for our wheat and good markets for our coarse grain.

Mr James - Where will you sell your wheat?

Mr O'KEEFE - All over the world, not only to your friendly China. They have just popped up again. When we look at our trade figures we find that the latest figures for our exports up to 30 June 1973 run into $6,220,148,000. Of this amount the great primary industries were responsible for $4,597,400,000 representing for the first time 77.4 per cent of the export income of this country. What do we find about the manufacturing and secondary industries. The amount for them is down to $1,205,006,000. Why is it down. It is down because there is a shortage of essential consumer goods in this country brought about by strikes. One cannot buy No. 8 or No. 10 ordinary fencing wire, barbed wire or even steel posts. I am referring to our own consumer market leaving aside our manufactured goods for export. So, unless this position is rectified we are in for problems.

I have not yet mentioned the allowance for clearing country properties that has been practically discontinued. A lot of land in Australia still has to be cleared. There should be an incentive for primary producers, the men on the land, to clear this country and bring it into production so that our exports can be increased and the economic stability of Australia improved. We have great opportunities but we are being led by a government that has no regard for primary industries. It is a matter of fact that 'primary industry' is a dirty expression in this Parliament and it should not be.

This afternoon I listened to a speech by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen). As far as I could make out he did not speak to any of the matters listed in this debate. He seemed to be talking about the affluence of the retail trade. He knows of this because he is one of the biggest retailers on the posh northern side of Sydney. He was saying that the tariff cut of 25 per cent is a great benefit to the primary producers. We do not believe this. If this 25 per cent tariff cut had taken place some years ago it might have been of more benefit but at present we are subsidising tractors manufactured in this country and they are main items of machinery which are imported. The tariff cut is of very little benefit to the primary producers. One of the things said by the honourable member which concerned me was that the tariff cut would be of benefit to the primary producers. It could throw hundreds of thousands of people out of employment in Australia. The textile industry employs 120,000 people in this country. With the flowon from this tariff cut of cheap Asian textile goods the employment situation will be very seriously affected. The honourable member for Robertson said that the retailing industry and business had never been better but, mark my words, when these cheap Asian goods come into Australia - goods which are produced by cheap labour countries, where labour is employed at 80c an hour - our textile and our manufacturing industries will be affected unless quantitative restrictions are placed on them.

The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Kerin) began his speech this evening with a poem which some honourable members thought was nice but which some of us did not think could be described in that way. The honourable member is a former member of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. It is a pity that the Bureau of Agricultural Economics did not send to this Parliament men with more practical experience in primary industry. Members of the Bureau certainly can quote figures and trends, but the practical application of what they say does not always work out in the way they suggest. If we do not get behind our great primary industries and encourage them, our failure to do will be to the detriment of this country.

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