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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1694

Mr McVEIGH(10.27) —The 1979 wheat marketing legislation of the Sinclair-Nixon ministry has been described by the industry as the zenith of Australian wheat marketing since the formation of the Australian Wheat Board. The legislation introduced by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) could be better described as the 'last supper'. Were it to be implemented this nation' s wheat producers would no longer have an industry. It would be bankrupted through the non-assistance burden placed on it by the Hawke Government. Courtesy of the Minister, it would belong to and be controlled by the Hawke Government.

Over recent days I have exposed the blackmail and the treachery of this spineless man, who promises one thing to a person's face and then does not even put it to the Cabinet. I have exposed him for what he is-a socialist and a weak reed who cannot win an argument anywhere. Above all, he has no manners. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be interested to know that tonight in the passageway I exchanged a few words with him but he did not have the courtesy to tell me that he was going to introduce amendments to the legislation in the Parliament. I have been a Minister myself, and on all similar occasions I indicated to my shadow Minister the nature of any proposed legislation. Honourable members will understand that I had a rather wry smile on my face because I had a copy of the amendments in my pocket.

The Minister has backed down. He sought to put the blame on us for denying Australian wheat growers a first advance, but because of our action in exposing his blackmail tactics he was forced to admit that the tables had been turned and that he would get the blame. I remind the House of the Minister's words, recorded in the Hansard of 13 September:

But I remind the Opposition that this is a package of legislation and, if it is held up, growers will not be paid.

I understand that the legislation will be changed because it has been pointed out to him what a stupid statement that was. The Australian people have a right to be informed of and to have placed on record in this Parliament the Labor Government's obscene perversion of and complete disregard for the Westminster parliamentary system in its dealings with the wheat industry legislation before the House. Let me impart to my uninformed colleagues opposite the information that the basis of the Westminster parliamentary system is the right to opposition and to adequate debate. That is the cornerstone of continuing democracy, although this socialist government has taken it upon itself to abolish those very principles of democracy on which Australia was made a great nation.

I have drawn the attention of the House to the Minister's statement. That statement is blackmail, and blackmail of the most cowardly kind. By blackmailing the Opposition this Government, through its lame-dog Primary Industry Minister, is attempting to blackmail Australian wheat growers. In consultation with industry representatives the Opposition has several amendments to propose to the legislation. However, the Minister, intent on prostituting the Westminster system, has ensured that there can be no meaningful amendments to this legislation without denying growers their $2 billion of harvest payments. For a responsible Opposition intent on protecting the interests of wheat growers, this course of action would have been a disregard of our responsibilities to this nation's wheat growers.

Under the previous plan the guaranteed minimum arrangement gave producers a known price for their product, with the Commonwealth Government bearing a meaningful risk. The high delivery payment allowed producers to repay production costs in the immediate post-harvest period. This cash flow situation was of great economic and social benefit to surrounding communities through increased industry confidence. The GMP will now be calculated on the average of estimated market returns for the subject year plus the lowest two of the preceding three years. I recognise that removing the higher priced year from the calculation does not reduce the level of underwriting where it is justified, that is, where it protects growers from a sharp downturn in the price of wheat. However, the level of payment at harvest will be reduced and this reduction of cash flow will occur at a time when growers can least afford it.

Why does the Minister do this when he knows the profitability of wheat growing is declining? The intent of the Labor Government in using the split method of paying the 95 per cent guaranteed minimum price is clear. It ensures that the Government's underwriting liability will not be triggered. Once again the Labor Government slides out of its responsibilities towards a key export industry. I pledge that the coalition will be fair to wheat farmers and, in meaningful consultation with industry-that means we will not go out and promise the world and not deliver-we will provide an honest formula, unlike the Minister's formula which seeks to limit the Government's guarantee to the lowest possible combination of returns.

I now turn to the Wheat Finance Fund. It is an indictment of this Government's shameful treatment of Australian wheat growers, when, having wound up a grower sponsored fund, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Treasurer (Mr Keating) refused to give back the money for a further 12 months. According to the Minister the money could not be returned because that would have added to the deficit problem. Honourable members, as we all know, farmers are familiar with deficit problems. They have them every year, unlike those seaboard union members earning up to $60,000 a year in fat overtime cheques at the terminals. This Government, by withholding urgently needed money to touch up its lousy book- keeping, lets the industry know where it stands with the Hawke Government-that is under the heel of the Treasurer and under the boot of the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins).

It is ludicrous that whilst the accounting principles of the Australian Wheat Board have been attacked in recent years it is the obsolete accounting principles in use by Consolidated Revenue that are preventing the return of money from the Wheat Finance Fund. More importantly, I ask the Minister to explain to Australia's 90,000 wheat growers why his Government cannot return their $100m. This money was levied from growers and remains their property. I ask the Minister-if he can tear himself away from small talk with the Treasurer and show a bit of interest in the wheat industry-when the industry will be informed as to where the money is. If this money is invested-we presume and hope it is-where is it invested, who is doing the investing and at what interest rate ? What provisions have been made to counter the negative effect of Australia's inflation rate and decreasing dollar eroding wheat growers' money? Well may we ask: Where is the money, Mr Minister?

The Prime Minister is less than honest to the rural sector as he squawks about recognising the importance of the rural sector to the national economy. I regret to inform the Prime Minister that he cannot seduce this nation's producers with slick public relations when he passes policy after policy that kicks them down and out. Producers are hard headed, intelligent operators who quickly analyse the effects of Government policy. As the World Agricultural Report put it, the honeymoon Australia's socialist Labor Government enjoyed with farmers is fast coming to an end.

The legislation before the House has failed to address an area of crucial concern to the Australian Wheat Board. The AWB is an organisation with a turnover of approximately $2.5 billion. It is a marketing organisation competing daily in the international market-place. It is an industry supplying 10 per cent of export revenue. Highly qualified staff are vital to the Board's performance. However, staff are continually being lost to private sector corporations which, not having to pay regard to Public Service Board guidelines, are able to offer more realistic lucrative inducements. The Minister for Primary Industry tells the AWB that it has to adopt a more corporate structure, yet he cuts it off at the knees by ignoring its pleas to employ staff without regard to Public Service Board guidelines. To enable optimum commercial operations it is a matter of urgency that the Australian Wheat Board be put on an equal footing with private sector companies in competing for available expertise. A clear indication that this Government has long failed to understand where the dollars really come from in Australia is the fact that, with the wheat growers losing $66 a tonne due to unnatural and ever-increasing burdens imposed on them by the system, the Labor Government continues to impose further taxes and charges. Approximately $35 of this burden can be attributed to income lost through tariff and quota protection of other industries.

Through failure of this legislation to clarify the margin to be added to the average of Australian standard while export prices in determining the price for domestic consumption, wheat producers will continue to subsidise wheat processors who buy their wheat. This is a gross perversion of market justice. I am amazed that the Minister, a former Bureau of Agricultural Economics economist , has refused to recognise this added and inequitable burden on growers.

The flour milling industry in particular derives substantial benefits from the marketing arrangements, including the value of interest foregone by growers in the terms of payments by flour millers, the guarantee of supply and the ability to purchase from selected silos. The Opposition does not support the calculation used for domestic consumption pricing unless the margin over export parity ensures growers do not subsidise domestic buyers. Under the Government's legislation the margin is not reviewed annually. Therefore, whilst the Minister talks about the need for industry response to market signals, he takes no action to ensure legislative provision when it would be a favourable signal to growers.

The coalition rejects out of hand the Minister's plan to socialise, through government control, the Australian Wheat Board by a reduction of two to one in grower membership, thus giving the Minister overriding ability to stack the Board with his own Yes, Minister appointees. The Minister's master plan for agriculture is now revealed. Firstly it was revealed through his blueprint for the meat industry and now through his proposals to restructure the Australian Wheat Board, which fortunately, bowing to our pressure and the pressure of the Australian Democrats, has been temporarily suspended. Clearly, the Minister wants to nationalise major commodity boards which pose a sinister threat to the existence of those highly efficient producer control boards now running the rural sector. I remind the Minister of his attendance at the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation's 1983 conference in Adelaide when he stated that he did not think there was a need for restructuring the AWB because its performance was satisfactory. That is typical of him. He fronted up in front of growers, agreed with them, congratulated them, patted them on the back, got out the door and then said: 'I conned them'.

Mr Fisher —Double standards.

Mr McVEIGH —As the honourable member for Mallee says, those are double standards . It is great to know that the Australian rural people have finally woken up to this con merchant. The Minister said to the face of members of the AWB that the Board was great but now he wants to restructure it. I cannot understand it. At least he should try to be consistent. We know he is consistent in his failures. I call upon the Minister to inform members of the Board publicly and to their face, with none of this cosmetic nonsense that he so favours, what aspect of their performance has declined to such an alarming degree in such a short time- in about 12 months-that he now feels compelled not only to modify its structure but also to remove producer control of its affairs. Obviously he thinks now is the appropriate time to reveal that he is a socialist.

I request the Minister to provide growers and their organisations with the terms of reference to be used in the Board membership review which will supposedly take place next year. How will it all happen? How much input will grower representatives have? It is shockingly clear to the Opposition that the Minister has used, as the Australian Democrats have stated publicly, this review purely as a fudge for election purposes. We have exposed him. It is obvious from the originally proposed legislation that the Minister was going to disregard completely the review and carry out his intentions as expressed in the legislation.

The Opposition formally warns the Minister and the Government that it will oppose any review which does not give the industry 10 growers and a workable majority. We will use every means at our disposal, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, to prevent nationalisation of the Australian Wheat Board. The Minister has to come clean. He has to tell us what will be the terms of the review, who will be on it and what will be its charter. There is no need for him to try to hoodwink us. We insist, and we want the Minister to comment on it, that the review be conducted by people who are experienced in the industry-representatives of the States, representatives of national farmers federations and people who have expertise rather than a degree in bureaucratic nonsense.

I want the Minister to respond to these points and give assurances that the review will be conducted. A sunset clause will be included in the amendments which I have in my pocket and which the Minister will move later. As I indicated to the honourable members, he did not have the courtesy to let me know that. Unless all the circumstances are completely made known to us in that review we will make it very difficult for the Minister to pass that legislation.

Additionally I give notice that, if circumstances change and the Prime Minister decides not to call an early election, we will move amendments in the Senate to effect the changes, in addition to the membership situation, which the industry desires and which we support. We will expose, even to the extent of allowing the Bill to be used to invoke a double dissolution, the socialistic ideas and the anti-rural bias of the Minister and his Government. We will not deviate from this. Agricultural marketing and policy making are not the prerogative of a socialist government. That must remain where it has remained for many years and that is in the hands of those who produce the commodity.

The grain industry is a vital cornerstone of this nation's continued economic stability. Wheat growers are called upon to subsidise inefficient manufacturing industries, yet they battle on in the world market largely unsubsidised. Being a price taker, the industry has had to be responsive to market signals and is currently lean, hungry and competitive in world markets. If the Labor Government continues its anti-rural bias the wheat industry will crumble against ever- increasing tax and excise on fuel, sales tax on petroleum products, tariffs and rail freight charges. This will negate all gains made in productivity. With an economically short-sighted Government, the public must make a realisation that it is in the interests of the whole nation to stop swings out of our major industries because of the massive impact on all other industries, overseas earnings, tax revenue and social dislocation.

It is necessary to clarify the position of the coalition on the wheat industry legislation to ensure there is no misinterpretation or misconstruing of the grave and complex facts surrounding this matter. If this Government would sit out its full term instead of opting for an expensive premature election the coalition would be able to exercise its Westminster right of opposition and oppose the socialisation of Australia's second largest export industry. Due to the Minister's totalitarian mentality, the wheat legislation, which the coalition requested the introduction of three months ago, has only now been introduced. It is now clear that the legislation will not have time to pass back from the Senate to the House of Representatives before the House rises.

As I said previously in a matter of Board membership, we forced the Minister to his knees, to swallow his pride. Remember the words of this man of straw: 'If you reject this legislation in any way, growers will not be paid'. He tried to pass the buck to us. He is a bad passer because it did not hit us. He failed to realise that the Senate has an equal say in the legislature of this country. We need to explain fully our reason for not wanting to adopt our approach of exposing the Minister. I draw to the House's attention the fact that should the proposed legislation be blocked, the present legislation would continue with growers delivering and the Board carrying out its activities. Section 49B of the present Act states:

(1) Where the guaranteed minimum price for wheat of a season exceeds the net pool return rate for wheat of that season, there is payable to the Board an amount equal to the amount by which an amount in respect of all wheat of that season acquired by the Board (whether under this Act or a State Act) calculated at the guaranteed minimum price for wheat of that season exceeds the net pool return for that wheat.

(2) In this section 'season' does not include the season commencing on 1 October 1984 or the next succeeding season.

There would be no underwriting whatsoever, which is the very essence of this legislation. Given that there is insufficient time to debate democratically, which is a ploy cunningly adopted by the Minister, any amendment carried by the Senate would have the opposite effect to that intended. The Board would then be forced to find somewhere over $2 billion to meet the first advance at a higher interest rate with stringent terms of repayment. It will be the growers who will bear the extra cost incurred through the Minister's dictatorial desires.

In anticipation of the legislation being passed, the Australian Wheat Board already has a borrowing program in place to fund the first advance but it cannot proceed if the legislation is held up through the successful carrying of amendments in this House and the Senate. Its borrowing program will be in jeopardy. Underwriting, which is the basis of this legislation will cease. The effect of this would be that underwriting, marketing and payments to growers would have to be renegotiated. The Minister would have the power to set an abysmal first advance and naturally the buck would be passed to the Opposition.

The Minister told the Opposition in this very House last session that with the legislation operating as a package, should any Bill be held up, wheat growers would not receive their first advance payment. After inordinately lengthy consideration in both the shadow Cabinet and the joint party meeting, the Opposition made a difficult decision to act in no manner whatsoever that may endanger the first advance payment to growers. Furthermore, it is with a great deal of pride that the coalition puts on record that it has placed the financial welfare of Australia's wheat growers ahead of stooping to the gutter tactics of the Labor Government. We were not prepared to use the wheat industry like the Minister has, as a political football. The coalition further places on record its absolute contempt for the cowardly action of the Hawke Government in denying the right of the Opposition to oppose through amendment by threat of stopping grower payments.

The coalition took the position that the legislation, although obnoxious in certain areas, should be passed, as the alternative-that of return to the old Act but with deletion of its real strength, which is the section 49 underwriting guarantee-is totally unacceptable. The coalition position on the wheat marketing legislation and the reasons for that position have been conveyed this morning to the President of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, Mr Trevor Flugge, who agreed with the Opposition that there appears to be no other alternative at this time but to pass the legislation to ensure protection of the financial interests of the wheat growers of Australia.

Finally, prior to formally moving the amendment circulated in my name, I make a solemn pledge that on our return to government we shall immediately consult the wheat industry at national and State level to amend the legislation in line with the statement of principles involved in our second reading amendment. I now move that amendment to indicate our statement of principles. I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

'whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading the House is of the opinion that:

(1) the Board should be composed of:

(a) a chairperson, who shall be a wheat grower at the time of his appointment, appointed by the Minister;

(b) two wheat growers from each of the States of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia and representing the wheat growers of their respective States; and

(c) not more than four other members appointed by the Minister because of their special skills or expertise in relation to the marketing of wheat;

(2) all moneys standing to the credit of the Wheat Finance Fund be paid to the board as soon as practicable; and

(3) in determining the price per tonne for standard white wheat for human consumption in Australia, the Minister should, in addition to the matters stated in sub-clause 32 (2), be required to consider any extra costs to the wheat industry in handling, storage and caretaking of wheat provided to the flour milling industry.'.

It is no great pleasure to the Opposition to have to put up with the dictator attitude of the Minister. He sought to pervert the Westminster system and to deny us the proper opportunity to debate by bringing in legislation several months after it should have been introduced. We should have debated it, and the Senate, an equal partner in the parliamentary system of Australia, should have expressed a point of view which could have been meaningfully considered by the House of Representatives. It upsets us very much to find out that the Minister used that most obnoxious threat in this bastion of democracy, this House of Representatives. I shall quote it again, because listening Australia and farming Australia must be made to realise that this Minister is a socialist; he is a dictator. He wants to control by power and by might. He is not interested in consensus or in a fair go. These were his words:

But I remind the Opposition that this is a package of legislation and, if it is held up, growers will not be paid.

I have to note this man has lived up to his reputation of being a person who says one thing and means another, who bends to pressure, who sways around in the breeze like a weak reed. As his colleague the Premier of New South Wales, the Hon. Neville Wran, said: 'Let us see how good he is when we put the blowtorch to his belly'. We have just given him a small touch of the blowtorch and he came to his knees. I am grateful for that because the Australian wheat growers, on account of the pressure exerted by the Opposition and the Australian Democrats, will be assured of receiving a first advance. We hope that when the review is conducted it will result in people being given a fair go to present their point of view. I assure the Minister that when the matter comes into this Parliament when we are in government, the people of Australia will get a fair go. They will know that they have a government which is sympathetic to their point of view and has the ability to understand the situation. As the Minister said in Adelaide in 1983, it is a great Board, a very competent Board. A few days later he denounced it but gave no reason for doing so. It is about time that that type of activity was exposed, and the Opposition has exposed it quite fruitfully and quite well in the last few days.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Fisher —Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, I second the amendment.