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Tuesday, 12 November 1985
Page: 1962


Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Has the Leader of the Government in the Senate seen the statement by the National Farmers Federation that the recently awarded wage increase of 2.6 per cent to workers under the pastoral industry award and the 3.8 per cent national wage rise mean that for every employee working under the station hands award, farm employers will have to pay an estimated wage increase of $14 a week? What action does the Government intend to take to assist the farm employers to meet these additional costs in view of the fact that this Government removed the freight equalisation subsidy on fuel, which has meant increased transport costs for all employers and, indeed, all people who live in rural Australia, particularly as there is a forecast fall of 26 per cent in the net value of rural production next year following the 19 per cent drop in 1984-85?


Senator BUTTON —I do not know why I am honoured with this question. I suppose it is because it links two matters which are totally unconnected and I have to answer in some sort of portmanteau role which-


Senator Bjelke-Petersen —That is right. You are so capable.


Senator BUTTON —I thank the honourable senator. These flatteries will have to stop. I am grateful to Senator Bjelke-Petersen for advising me of the wage increases that apply to the pastoral industry award. I accept her calculations about what that may mean in terms of a wage increase for pastoral industry employees. It is very easy to single out any particular rise in costs and associate it with the general problems of the rural community of Australia. Those problems which are represented by the figures which she referred in relation to declining farm output, are, of course, very much related to Australia's capacity to continue to supply in export markets which have been, to some degree, foreclosed from us. With the greatest of respect, the two things are very different problems. I understand the skill of the National Party of Australia in putting all of these matters together. However, this really makes it a very difficult question to answer. I do not intend to try to do that in the terms in which the question has been asked.

We have been very conscious of the question of farm costs because of the situation which is revealed in the production figures. On a number of issues the Government has met with the National Farmers Federation and has made some commitments about farm costs. It will continue to address those questions. However, in the context of the national wage case, the farming community cannot be exempted from a centralised wage fixation system which in the broader perspective we believe brings great benefits of stability and continuity to the wage fixing system of this country, which we have argued about in another context. Yes, we are aware of the problem of farm costs and we are aware of the problem of farm exports, and in a wide range of matters the Government will continue to address these problems.