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Tuesday, 26 March 1985
Page: 901


Mr HAWKER(3.22) —In supporting the Deputy Leader of the National Party, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), I begin by making a couple of observations about what the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) has just said. He started by making a lot of noise about State divisions, but he completely ignored the fact that the States agreed on the eve of the Victorian election, he just wiped that. He talked about taking tough decisions, but it is one thing to take a tough decision and it is another to take the right decision. He went on about the differences in price being received by some farmers. One almost gets the impression that he would like all dairy farmers to be getting 5c a litre for their milk. The Minister in his Press statement of Friday of last week talked about the new dairy plan that he is trying to bring in. He said, in part:

This is consistent with the position adopted by the Government in relation to other industries . . . and is consistent with the approach adopted by the National Farmers Federation in its discussions with government.

Frankly, I think that is a load of rubbish. Is it consistent to talk about the effects of the protection that has been given to secondary industry at a level of 25 per cent when the level of protection to primary industry is about 10 per cent? He says that it is consistent with the National Farmers Federation approach. Has the Minister forgotten about the submission the National Farmers Federation made to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) earlier this month on farm costs? Is he ignoring the points that were brought out in that submission? The costs imposed by the protection of secondary industry alone are estimated to be burdening every farmer with an annual charge of about $16,000 which, I might add, is probably more than twice the average income of most farmers. Does the Minister ignore the effect on farm costs of the rigid wage fixing? He is talking a lot about market reality. Market reality and rigid wage fixing are two diametrically opposed things. Apparently it is all right to talk about market reality for farmers but when he talks about the natural constituents of the Labor Party it is a different matter; it is one thing for farmers and another for them.

Until this Government is prepared to reduce its assistance to secondary industry to a level similar to that of other industries, until it frees up the wage fixing system, until it reduces the burden of tariffs costing every farmer $16,000 and until it reduces the level of government charges on primary industry and all government on-costs for farmers, how can the Minister, in all seriousness, suggest that his approach is consistent with the approach of the National Farmers Federation? It is a load of garbage. I suggest that this Minister cannot ignore the submission on farm costs. This dairy plan is certainly not consistent with that approach.

The other side of the problems that are being faced by the dairy farmers includes the depressed world market and, as the Minister touched on, export prices. But the Minister also should remember that this is an industry earning export income of over $350m a year. The problem is that the European Economic Community has heavily subsidised dumping in all our export markets. Are we supposed to walk away from this? We can look at the local market situation. Again the Minister is very quick to run away from that. We can look at what happened in Victoria. The price of market milk was frozen for two years. It was altered only when the Cain Government suddenly found itself on the eve of an election and thought that maybe it ought to give a miserable increase of 2.2c. Imagine this Government turning to the unions and saying something similar.

I say to the Minister that until this Government reduces the assistance to secondary industry, frees up the wage fixing system, reduces the effects of tariffs on other industries and shows that the world market is indeed a free market-free of subsidised exports-he has no right to throw the dairy farmers to the wolves. In other words, until the Government takes its foot off the neck of farmers it cannot abandon this vital sector of the Australian economy. Any suggestion that the Minister's approach is consistent with that of the NFF is garbage.

The Minister is expecting the industry to bear the brunt of deregulation plans. It is one thing to talk about deregulating the industry, but what about deregulating its costs? I think the two must go hand in hand. There is no way that this industry can be expected to take the brunt of deregulation without being given the chance to reduce its costs. When we look further in the Minister's Press release we find what the real reason for this Government's plan is. The Minister for Primary Industry says:

The consumer and the nation's economy will benefit through lower prices . . .

I think this is what the Minister is really on about. He is not the Minister for Primary Industry now; he is the Minister for the consumers. He is more interested in getting cheaper milk for the consumers than he is in giving the farmers a reasonable chance to make a living. I quickly point out: Is the price of milk expensive when one compares the price of a litre of milk with the price of a litre of soft drink? Which is cheaper, which is more nutritious and which is healthier? Milk wins every time. I suggest that this Minister is abrogating his responsibilities for primary industry. We find that there might be another reason for this plan when we look at a minute put out by the Standing Committee on Agriculture, presumably for the Australian Agricultural Council meeting held on 11 February 1985. It was headed 'Future Dairy Market Arrangements'. It stated:

The Commonwealth also had in mind that with the progressively closer integration with the Australia/New Zealand economies it will be necessary for the Australian industry in the longer term to compete against New Zealand imports.

In other words, he wants to force Australian dairy farmers to compete with New Zealand. New Zealand, I might add, is a country which, because of the devaluation of its currency, has considerably lower costs. If the Minister was consistent-I come back to this point-would he suggest that Australian labour should compete with the cheap labour costs of South East Asia? Is he going to be consistent on this matter?


Mr Cowan —He has made a deal with New Zealand.


Mr HAWKER —He might have done that too. When one looks at the closer economic relations agreement one finds in the memorandum of understanding on dairy products between the Australian and New Zealand dairy industries the following:

Both sides recognise the Trans-Tasman trade will be liberalised progressively under the CER in such a way as not to result in unfair competition between industries or disruption to industries of either country.

That is a very important point. Is the disruption going to come from this side to our own farmers? The agreement, in part, goes on to state:

Governments in Australia have the right to set domestic prices and also the right to prevent these prices falling at times of depressed international prices.

In other words, CER is not something the Minister can hide behind. It spells out quite clearly that he has a responsibility to the dairy industry. As the Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia has already highlighted, this Minister went into a most shabby deal with the Cain Labor Government in Victoria. Two days before the election all the States agreed to a marketing plan, and this Minister stood by and said: 'Okay, that is your agreement; let Cain go to the Victorian people with the headlines'-as the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) has already pointed out-' ''Cain wins new deal''.' Some deal-a two-day wonder to try to win an election.


Mr Lloyd —A con trick.


Mr HAWKER —It was a complete con trick. I think a better headline might have been 'Cain conned Victoria', or was it 'Kerin cons Cain'? The Victorians were completely misled.


Mr Howard —I think it was Hawke cons Kerin.


Mr HAWKER —Maybe it was Hawke cons Kerin. We do not know who is conning whom, but they have a lot of fun over on that side. We know now that Cain cannot be trusted, and I do not think this Minister can be trusted either. It is a most shabby deal, and I think he should be thoroughly ashamed of what he did. In conclusion, I think this Minister has been party to a gross deception of dairy farmers and in particular the Victorian dairy farmers. He has deliberately allowed the Premier of Victoria to completely mislead the electors of Victoria.


Mr Hunt —I did not think he would do it.


Mr HAWKER —We never know what will happen with this lot. This Minister deliberately allowed the Premier of Victoria to mislead the Victorian voters so that he could just scrape in. Now we find that as soon as the election was over this Minister did a complete backflip and changed everything to his own little pet scheme. This will cause incredible disruption and hardship to the dairy farmers in my State and others. A lot of dairy farmers will be forced out of the industry. This Minister can sit there and say that obviously he is there only for the-


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.