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Thursday, 10 October 1985
Page: 955


Senator COLLARD(10.18) —The Opposition will not be opposing these Bills. The Wheat Tax Amendment Bill is pretty well a routine one and, although the Grain Legumes Levy Bill introduces new levies, they are along the same lines as those in the research Bills that come through this chamber annually. The rate of wheat tax, which is levied to fund industry research, is being increased from the current operative and maximum rate of 30c per tonne to a maximum rate of $1.10 per tonne. The Australian Wheatgrowers Federation has indicated that it seeks an initial rise from 30c to 35c per tonne. I understand that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) has not yet indicated agreement to that 35c operative rate for the current season, but I understand that that should be forthcoming shortly if it has not hapened in the last few days. Australian wheat growers would like that finalised pretty shortly so that they know which way they are going.

The Grain Legumes Levy Bill and the Grain Legumes Levy Collection Bill are new Bills. They currently pertain to lupins and field peas. These are fast becoming crops in their own right within Australia rather than just rotational crops used specially for nitrogen replenishment. The legislation provides for an initial levy rate of 75c per tonne and that rate may be varied to a maximum of $2.60 per tonne. In all instances expenditure will be met with a dollar for dollar subsidy from the Commonwealth Government.

These research moneys are vital, particularly in the case of the wheat industry where the fund has run down because of drought in most of the major wheat producing areas. It is necessary that that fund be replenished. Research funds are used very much in the wheat industry, one of our great export industries; to identify and treat different types of soil deficiences. Research is carried out into disease, insect and rodent damage, plant breeding techniques, different plant varieties, storage, transport and so on. It plays quite a vital role in identifying problems and indicating treatment. It has the wholehearted support of the industry.

I point out that currently very little has been said by this Government about one of the `diseases' affecting all primary industry; namely, the current high interest rates. They are higher, possibly, in real terms than they were in the Depression and they are possibly the highest since Federation. It was quite ironic that at the weekend the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) made a statement which was much publicised, particularly throughout rural Australia. In question time on Tuesday he alluded to the fact that he was in Western Australia at the weekend and met the rural Press. He said that the Hawke Government had given more benefits to farmers than any government for decades. That statement reeks of another famous statement from a previous Labor Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, which has gone down in history in rural Australia. He said that the rural industries had never had it so good.

With all the financial measures introduced by this Government-financial statements, mini-Budgets, Budgets, tax statements and all the rest-not one of them has not disadvantaged the rural sector in some way, shape or form. It is ironic that the Minister for Finance would make such a statement and expect the people in the rural areas to believe him. It must be said that if, as the saying goes, the people in rural areas were living off the fat of the land, they could expect to pay more towards the common good. The fact is that they are not. It is also a fact that they are contributing up to 45 per cent of our export earnings while we are running a current account deficit of around $10 billion. I suspect that an industry such as that should be shepherded and looked after a little rather than be treated harshly as it has been treated in every financial measure that has been brought down by this Government. Apart from that little homily, the Opposition supports these rural Bills. They are necessary. They are routine Bills. As I said, the grain legume Bills are new, but they are in the same vein as Bills relating to other rural industries.