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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1316

Senator BLACK —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. Has the Minister seen recent Press reports indicating that a farm rally in support of the National Farmers Federation fighting fund is being organised at Gympie, Queensland, for 25 October by a Mr Guenter Kath? Further, has the Minister seen Press reports indicating that Mr Kath's property at Wilwarrel, known locally as the `slave labour camp', pays farm workers $10 for a 95-hour week and is run along similar lines to the Hitler Youth movement, a movement formerly supported by Mr Kath? Does the Minister believe that Mr Kath's attitude to his workers fairly reflects the attitude of the National Farmers Federation to the rural work force?

Senator Boswell —Good question!

Senator WALSH —It should be noted for the record that Senator Boswell said: `Good question'. According to a report in the Courier-Mail of 2 October, a major farm rally in support of the National Farmers Federation fighting fund will be held in the showgrounds at Gympie on 25 October, as Senator Black said. According to the same report, one of the organisers is Mr Guenter Kath, of Wilwarrel, Gympie, who also chairs a regional fighting fund support committee. This is evidently the same Mr Kath who was reported upon in 1979 in the Melbourne Truth, which is not normally regarded as a journal of record, but I understand that in other interviews Mr Kath has confirmed what was published in Truth at that time. On 26 May 1979 that journal had an article on Mr Kath, who was managing director of Wilwarrel and ran a farm near Gympie which Truth described as a slave labour camp. It also reported that Mr Kath was a former World War II German Army officer and a supporter of the Hitler Youth movement and that he paid young people as little as $10 for a 95-hour week. One other comment I could make is that, if that is correct, action should be taken under State law to do something about it.

As for the attitude of the NFF, one cannot be entirely certain whether the Federation supports Mr Kath's wages policy or supports the Hitler Youth movement. But I note with some alarm a statement by the Deputy Director of the NFF, who earlier this month listed the objectives of the NFF fighting fund as including opposition to any capital gains tax. That, of course, is a different way of saying that the National Farmers Federation does not believe in a crackdown on tax avoidance, because a capital gains tax is essential to an effective crackdown on tax avoidance. It also means that the Federation either is culpably ill informed or is more concerned with looking after the interests of people outside agriculture. As anybody who knows anything about it knows, real agricultural land prices do not in the long term increase.

There is an excellent letter in today's Bulletin that draws attention to the fact that the very policies which the NFF is supporting-that is, the perpetuation of taxation shelters and the expectation that tax can be avoided through land purchases-is highly damaging to genuine farmers, whether they are existing farmers who want to remain farmers or genuine potential farmers who want to become farmers. The existence of those sorts of practices makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for genuine farmers to compete with the Pitt Street, Collins Street and other tax avoiders who are entering agriculture not for the income which they believe can be earned but for the tax avoidance potential which they believe it contains. I might refer to the then director of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics who, back in 1978, made public statements expressing the same conclusions-that is, that such practices were not in the best interests of agriculture; that any taxation laws which attracted capital investment solely for the purpose of taking advantage of the taxation shelters were not in the best interests of agriculture, let alone of the economy as a whole.

Even more alarming probably-and again from Mr Farley's statement-is the National Farmers Federation's commitment to promote discussion with the objective of moving towards a flat tax. That is a formula for increasing the tax paid by the majority of farmers, because a majority of farmers, at least at this stage, have quite low taxable incomes. The NFF also proposes to support a wage freeze without giving any indication of how that would be achieved. The statement commits the NFF to a campaign to reduce farm costs and to remove anti-dumping duty on di-ammonium phosphate fertiliser. I do not know what the reaction of the honourable member for Corangamite to the proposal is, because he is also a director of the Pivot fertiliser co-operative--

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister is clearly debating the matter now. I suggest that he stick to answering the question.

Senator WALSH —Certainly, Mr President. That co-operative applied to have the anti-dumping duty imposed.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the Minister to answer the question.

Senator WALSH —In short, for as long as the National Farmers Federation advocates flat taxation, the perpetuation of taxation shelters and opposition to a capital gains tax, one would seriously have to question whether ordinary farmers are being betrayed by their leadership-a point to which my colleague Mr Kerin addressed himself very well in a Press release issued on 10 October.