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Tuesday, 7 August 2001
Page: 29299

Mr CAUSLEY (3:29 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Is the minister aware of the latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Australia's trading balance? How has the agricultural sector contributed to this excellent performance? What are the economic factors which are helping Australia's primary producers perform well on the international stage?

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the member for Page, whose farmers are amongst those around Australia who have contributed mightily to Australia's balance of trade surplus over the past 12 months. They have been able to do that because this government has delivered the sort of policy framework and environment under which farmers can prosper.

Quite a lot of statistics have been released over recent times, including ABARE forecasts about likely returns to the farm sector in the year ahead. There is a lot of good news for the farmers in the electorate of Page and indeed right around Australia from those statistics. The net value of farm production is forecast to rise by 16 per cent in 2001-02, and that follows a 34 per cent rise in the previous financial year. The gross value of farm production will be up, due largely to improved prices for commodities such as wheat, beef, oil seeds, sugar and, in spite of what you might read in the media, most dairy products. The prospect for improved prices for farmers is certainly quite bright. The other good news is that, for the second year in a row, farmers' terms of trade are predicted to improve—in other words, the difference between the income received by farmers and the prices that they pay. This sort of good news simply could never have happened under Labor. This improvement in farmers' terms of trade—their lower cost rises—has been achieved very much by the policy framework put in place by this government.

Just look, for instance, at interest rates. Interest rates are half what they would have been under a Labor government; half what they were under Labor—a very substantial saving to farmers. Four billion dollars have been taken off the taxes paid by our exporters as a result of tax reform: it could never have happened under Labor. What about the freezing of fuel excise and the reduction in excise prices? It is interesting to note that 1 August this year is the first time since Labor that there has been no increase in the fuel excise. Fuel excise did not go up. This government froze excise, and we also reduced significantly the cost of the taxation on a whole lot of transport fuel, the fuel used by farmers. That could never have happened under Labor.

What about, for that matter, the competitive dollar? That could never have happened under Labor's high interest rate policy. What about, for instance, the improvement on the wharves? There has been a significant cost reduction to our exporters because our wharves have become much more efficient. That sort of thing could simply have never happened under Labor. Then there is the fact that this government has helped industry take control of its own destiny in industries like wool, pigs, grain and horticulture as well. All of that has helped farmers take control of their destiny and improve their terms of trade.

None of this could ever have happened under Labor because Labor do not care about a productive rural sector. All they are interested in from farmers is higher taxes. Labor want unions controlling the waterfront so that produce cannot get to our vital export markets. They have no interest in the rural sector. Farmers need a coalition government to deliver continuing improvement in their terms of trade.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, on that highly appropriate and accurate note, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.