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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2489

Mr SIMMONS —I ask the Minister for Primary Industry: Is he aware of the pre-Budget submission to the Government by the National Farmers Federation and can he advise the House of the implications for farmers of the Government introducing such a package?

Mr KERIN —I am a little reluctant to answer questions about the NFF because what I say might be interpreted as being political, unlike the statements of the NFF. I have had occasion to expose the politics of the National Farmers Federation in this House and they are becoming, if they have not already become, a pale echo of the Queensland Premier who has wrecked the former gutless coalition which did not have enough policies or principles, consistency or continuity to resist the ambitions of a 76-year-old man in the early stages of senile dementia. That is how good the coalition was; no wonder it split.

Last year the NFF was severely embarrassed because the Government's Budget was in line with its suggestions on freezing spending and reducing the deficit. This embarrassed the NFF because it exposed its hypocrisy when, as usual, it criticised the Government. The NFF has now put in a submission to the Government on its views on desirable fiscal policy this year. By going completely beyond the pale it has made sure that there will be no repeat of last year's embarrassment. When it was announced that there would be a May statement, the NFF called for cuts of $10 billion. Des Keegan and Katharine West then said that they wanted cuts of $20 billion and so the next call by the NFF was for $20 billion in cuts. Not long after that $5.6 billion in fuel excise was added, and that is from the national priorities project for the Centre of Policy Studies at Monash University. The last bid was $28 billion-that is a $24 billion Budget surplus-which Mr McLachlan made recently in a speech. I would have thought that that figure was going a fair way along the road. The National Farmers Federation has put out a Press release calling for $11 billion in Budget cuts-the figure is closer to $12 billion-and it is still adding the $5.6 billion cut in revenue.

The main suggestion in the NFF submission is the total abolition of all Commonwealth health expenditure-hospitals, medical, pharmaceutical, the lot-with the only exception being for pensions. The NFF suggests that the savings so created should be used to abolish the excise on petroleum products. One of the three Opposition primary industry spokesmen in this House-the honourable member for Gwydir-has supported this proposition. Perhaps the other two-the honourable members for Hume and Maranoa-should indicate their position as well.

The implications of this policy to farmers would be disastrous. Apart from increasing poverty, such a policy change would do three things. Firstly, it would increase inflation. Contrary to the NFF's claim, the abolition of fuel excise would have a direct effect on the consumer price index of under 2 per cent. Even after allowing for all indirect effects, the total effect would not exceed 4 per cent. By comparison, such an increase in health costs would directly increase the CPI by more than 4 per cent. The net result would be a significant increase in this country's inflation performance.

Secondly, the abolition of fuel excise would also mean, under hypothecation, abolition of Commonwealth road funding. As my colleague the Minister for Transport can confirm, everywhere one goes around Australia farmers want more money for roads. I wonder how the NFF reconciles these two positions. It even says that we could take $128m off road funding in any case. That is what the honourable member for Gwydir stands for.

Finally, the abolition of the fuel excise would end the Commonwealth's cost recovery policies with respect to air transport. Again I wonder how the National Party's shadow spokesman on primary industry, who has waxed so eloquently on air transport issues in this House, reacts to that. Overall the NFF in a letter to me-I think this is contained in its Press release-says that this is all politically feasible, that one can have $5,000 per head university fees, and one can get corporate sponsorship of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation straight away. Basically, it wants to wipe out the ABC and the Special Broadcasting Service, and it wants to take a billion dollars from the States-dead easy; a nice round figure. This is supposed to be politically feasible. So we have gone from the years and years of misrepresentation of the farmers by the National Party; the National Farmers Federation is now misrepresenting the interests of its constituents.