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Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1900

Mr HUNT(9.56) —by leave-I move:

(1) Clause 2, page 2, lines 20 and 21, omit paragraphs 3 (d) and 3 (e).

(2) Clause 2, page 2, lines 27 and 28, omit paragraphs 4 (d) and 4 (e).

(3) Clause 2, page 2, lines 34 and 35, omit paragraphs 5 (d) and 5 (e).

Under clause 2 of the Bill the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) is empowered to set a limit to equalisation payments for particular seasons. The Bill reduces the maximum proportion of equalisation payments to average export returns to 15 per cent for each of the three dried vine fruit varieties for the season starting on 1 January 1990. I repeat something I said this morning about this industry, because there is a perception that it is one of those small, unimportant industries. The industry involves 4,000 growers and their families, and employs 17,000 people. The product prices for dried vine fruits over the years have been broadly in line with the Consumer Price Index, although there is a consumer transfer, as the Minister has suggested. The equalisation payments have been funded by a levy on the growers. The industry has earned export income of between $50m and $80m per annum, and the payout in 1983-84 was of the order of $1.3m. I gather that there will be no net payments in 1984-85. It is a significant industry in terms of labour utilisation.

While the Opposition does not totally oppose the decision to limit the difference between the rate of equalisation payments and the average export income, to 27.8 per cent for currants, 23.6 per cent for sultanas and 47.2 per cent for raisins for the season commencing 1 January 1988-our bicentennial year-that decision will apply to the coming three-year period. We seek an Industries Assistance Commission inquiry to report on what should be done in the light of changed circumstances from 1 January 1989 and the years following. The reasons why we are not prepared to go along with a five-year recommendation reducing the level of assistance to 15 per cent are the uncertainty of world market conditions and the uncertainty of currency movements. We believe it is essential for the IAC to review further the economic situation facing the dried fruits industry in 1988 and to report on what measures should be taken to help strengthen this industry further to meet competition from such countries as Greece, Turkey and the United States of America, where there is a very high element of subsidisation. There is consumer transfer, but we have a highly regulated society, particularly on the wages front. I think it is very crude and very difficult to talk in terms of free market forces when we compare the prices that apply on a corrupted world market with what the prices in this country might be or should be. If we followed this philosophy right through with all our industries we would reach a situation where we would successfully export jobs in practically every sphere and signal to the European Economic Community and the United States that we are going to desert one industry after another and let them take over from where we left off.

I think it is about time we started to wake up. I think we are being managed by people who perhaps have good economic theories but who do not take much account of the longer term requirements for productive capacity and the ability of an industry and a country to earn export income to try to repay the ever-growing national debt and the interest flowing from that. In 1988 it will be interesting to see what the government of the day-whatever government that may be-is prepared to do in respect of freeing up the wages system. It will also be interesting to see how far the government of the day is prepared to go in reducing the level of tariff protection on the secondary industries in this country.

I have been concerned that despite a substantial reduction in the level of effective assistance to agricultural industries, from 28 per cent to 8 per cent in the last 12 years, there has been a fall in the level of assistance to secondary industries from 36 per cent to only 25 per cent. Therefore, the effective assistance to agricultural industries is falling twice as fast as it is for manufacturing industries. Why is that? It is happening because no government seems to be prepared to put wholesale masses of people in cities out of work. However, out in the country where the numbers are not great the Government can experiment with its economic theories because on polling day it knows that those people might not make a great deal of difference to the outcome of an election campaign.

There is no way that the farmers of this nation can continue to have their levels of assistance and protection removed at such a rate while the level of assistance for secondary industries remains as high as it does for secondary industries and whilever we have a rigid institutionalised wages fixation system that is bloating the wage and on-wage structure in this country. There is no way that this can continue to happen. I do not think it is on in social terms; I do not think it is right in economic terms in the long term.

I think we need to get our priorities right in a country that has come to rely so much on agriculture. The city of Mildura has been built on the dried fruits industry. It has been built on the hard work and sweat of small farmers who have worked around the clock and given more than people who work for wages are prepared to give. The industry is highly dependent upon employed labour. It provides a lot of jobs for a lot of people who cannot get work in the bigger cities. I just wonder where we are taking this country to by adopting these attitudes. All right, one can look five years ahead. But who is to know whether the government of the day in five years time is going to have the courage to take decisions that are necessary to equate with the decision which is inherent in this proposal for the dried fruits industry?

The wages regime has an enormous bearing on the welfare of the dried fruits industry which is labour intensive. In fairness, no one in this Parliament, no one in this nation and no one who is advising governments either in the Bureau of Agricultural Economics or elsewhere, should endeavour to single out the dried fruits industry or any other industry to be punished with medicine which is not being dealt out, or which any government is not prepared to deal out, to other sectors of the Australian community.

The Opposition puts this amendment to the House in good faith because it does not run away from the basic principle that the Government has adopted. It follows the recommendations of the IAC to 1988. All we do is plead with the Minister and the Government, just as we will plead with the Australian Democrats and with Senator Harradine, to support what we are trying to do. We are trying to give them another chance so we can see whether the Victorian and New South Wales governments will put up $1 for every $2 that the Commonwealth has offered to pull the vines out roots and all in Sunraysia.

Mr Milton —You are agrarian socialists.

Mr HUNT —We are not agrarian socialists. We are prepared to stand on our own provided Government members and their mates are prepared to stand on their own. We will do so and we will do it well. Government members should not utter a word of protest if they are not prepared to deregulate wages, and they would not dare. They would not even get pre-selection. It is as simple as that. The Government has an opportunity to show whether it has one ounce of concern, one ounce of humanity for hard-working people and their families--

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Mountford) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.