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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6551

Mr GRAY (Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia) (12:27 PM) —by leave—I rise to speak again on the Farm Household Support Amendment (Ancillary Benefits) Bill 2010. We get it wrong in agriculture when we fail to take hard, pro-business decisions. So I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution Dr Henry Schapper made to the great agricultural industry of Western Australia through agricultural economics, public policy, farm management and strong business practices in farming. Dr Schapper was an articulate and determined man who lost his battle with illness on 27 April this year. He fought his battle in the same way that he lived: with strength, integrity, courage and a grumpy sense of self-reliance and self-assurance.

Dr Schapper was an extraordinary man often known for his sceptical views, which he put forward in a frank, provocative and compelling manner. He had been a farm labourer, a clerk and a factory hand when at 25 he began studying economics in order to better understand society. This decision paved his future path and led to the significant contribution that he made to agricultural economics.

Dr Henry Schapper introduced agricultural economics to Western Australia in both policy and farm management business accounting. He often incensed the agricultural community with his direct and confrontational manner. In spite of this, he made sure people discussed, thought about and frequently acted upon what he was saying. In the Western Australian wheat belt, success was made through the application of science, chemistry and capital. Farmers went from subsistence to prosperity through science based farming and rational business practices. This made Henry Schapper a household name in the Western Australian wheat belt. Whether the direct and confrontational manner I have referred to was Dr Schapper’s natural style or simply a means of ensuring his logic was heard is for others to determine. It was successful as a tactic because people certainly listened to what he had to say.

We need to remember the message he had: the need for the application of hard, dry, market-driven policy in agriculture. It was largely anathema to postwar agriculture anywhere in the developed world. Subsidised agriculture was then the norm; indeed, in Europe and the United States featherbedding continued to be the mainstay of agricultural policy for decades. Dr Schapper’s logic was neither populist nor particularly welcome in many circles. Dr Schapper had concerns about traditional agricultural extension programs—such as the former Premier Sir Charles Court’s land release policy of a million acres a year—and how such schemes diminished attempts to control land value, salinity and good farm practices. This policy was overturned by Labor in 1983 and has not been restored since.

Henry’s views may have been confronting and somewhat controversial, but they became the basis for building the most competitive agricultural industry in the developed world. There is no doubt that Dr Schapper was a tremendous advocate for the agricultural sector in regional Australia. He played a major part in setting up some of the first farm management groups and mentored them through the Farm Management Foundation to make sure they were effective. Dr Schapper used antiprotectionist thinking, which emerged after the Depression, to communicate with farmers. By bringing modern thinking to Western Australia, he made farmers aware of the importance of managing their affairs.

Dr Schapper was also a champion for Aboriginal development. While undertaking a study of investment in the Kimberley cattle industry, Dr Schapper was aghast at the conditions the Aboriginal people were living in there. He found it ironic that Australian agricultural economists travelled abroad to advise on rural development when one of the most intractable development issues in the world was not being addressed by them at home. It led him to publish Agricultural Advancement to Integration in 1970. He continued to press strongly for Aboriginal development thereafter.

A lecturer at UWA from 1959 until his retirement in 1984, he made an excellent Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and left a lasting impression on many students, including Professor Mike Ewing, the Deputy Director of the Future Farm Industries CRC; David Morrison of the Department of Treasury and Finance; Dr Ross Kingwell, senior economist with the Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia; Dr Brian Martin, a private consultant and former Head of the Division of Marketing and Economics in the Department of Agriculture; Sally Marsh, a research assistant professor at the University of Western Australia; John Salerian, Assistant Commissioner of the Productivity Commission; and, of course, Alan Robson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Australia.

He also made a significant impression on political figures, such as former finance minister Senator Peter Walsh, former agriculture minister John Kerin, former WA agriculture ministers Kim Chance and Julian Grill and former Minister for Forestry and Conservation and later Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government Wilson Tuckey. All have achieved great things.

It is only right to honour his ability to encourage students to think critically for themselves. In 1999 Dr Schapper was recognised when he was awarded a distinguished fellow by the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society. In April 2006, Dr Schapper’s commitment to agricultural economics earned him a place in the Agricultural Hall of Fame. This is a significant achievement—one we should not overlook. Although always humble about his role, Dr Schapper’s commitment and dedication to the agricultural community and regional Australia was absolutely outstanding. He was an exceptional economist and has left a firm imprint on the farming community and agricultural sector in Western Australia. He has left his mark.

Dr Schapper’s perseverance, courage in life and dedication to the community and his students is inspirational. I am reminded that in the condolences book at Henry’s funeral the following words were written: ‘The only thing that matters is love.’ Derek, Henry’s son, wrote in reply: ‘Why is it that we only receive this late in life?’ My thoughts go to Dr Schapper’s family, including his feisty, assertive and pugnacious daughter-in-law Alannah MacTiernan, the Labor candidate for Canning. He is survived by three children—Kathleen, Paul and Derek—six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Dr Schapper’s experience is a reminder to us all that we should evaluate arguments on their merits, listen to alternative views and challenge our own perhaps comfortable traditional positions. Dr Schapper showed through his career that we must be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. The bill we are debating today is a new way of thinking about exceptional circumstances, EC. It is time that the government reviewed the appropriateness of current arrangements and created a better system—one that Dr Henry Schapper would have been proud of. I hope he would be proud of us today. I commend the bill to the House.