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Thursday, 19 August 1993
Page: 380

Senator SHERRY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (6.16 p.m.) —Before I turn to the motion before us, I take this opportunity to congratulate Senator Chris Evans. I am particularly pleased to see a continuing theme of interest on industrial relations, particularly on our side of the house, and a continuing new stream of thought into this chamber in that regard. Even though I only came into this place some three years ago, I know that Senator Chris Evans will be an active contributor in debates. I understand that, although he has not been officially informed yet, he will be replacing me on the Select Committee on Superannuation. I also wish him well in that regard.

Senator Crane —That will be an improvement.

Senator SHERRY —The informed comments on industrial relations on this side of the chamber stand in stark contrast to the fringe, right wing, fanatical nonsense we hear from those opposite. Turning to the motion before us today, I note that those opposite have not improved their thought processes as a result of the election. I must say that I have some regard for Senator Brownhill, but every time I see motions like this put before the Senate, my regard declines somewhat.

Senator Brownhill is on the front bench but I notice that he is sitting on the back bench; perhaps that is typical National Party logic. This motion refers to the alleged:

. . . total lack of consideration and understanding of the rural sector demonstrated in the 1993-94 Budget . . .

In my contribution to this debate I will be pointing out to Senator Brownhill and other opposition senators that if they had bothered to read the budget—obviously they have not—there are at least 31 positive commitments by this government to the rural sector in this budget.

Senator Tierney —Name them.

Senator SHERRY —I will be naming them. If time permitted I would go through every damn one of them but, as usual, those opposite do not want to listen. Of those 31 promises and commitments, 10 are election promises. That is contrary to the constant theme we hear from those opposite that we have not kept our election promises.

  I will just read a list of the positive initiatives in the budget for the rural sector and then deal with some of them in some detail. The list of 31 includes: improvements to the rural adjustment scheme; programs to enhance agribusiness; boosting the clean food export program; assistance to isolated children; increased funding for the rural counselling program; upgrading of rural telecommunications; tele-centres; rural development; and Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service improvements. That is an issue about which almost every farmer I have met in the country in the last six months—and I have met a lot of them—has complained; and we get no recognition by those opposite of the reform of that organisation. The list also includes: the Australian Geological Survey Organisation; efficiency gains in the department; cost recovery for the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics; savings in the Bureau of Resource Science; cost recovery for management of Commonwealth fisheries; Australian Fisheries Management Authority staffing; national residue survey; commitment to energy and greenhouse issues; the national Landcare program; the Murray-Darling Basin natural resources management strategy; a commitment to New South Wales flood mitigation; and a range of other initiatives including, for my own home state, the Tasmanian wheat freight subsidy scheme.

  Those opposite have the gall to come into this chamber and claim that there is absolutely no consideration or understanding given to the rural sector. It is no wonder that those opposite still sit on that side of the chamber when they continue to believe this sort of nonsense. They are fresh out of an election that they have lost, yet again. I suggest, quite humbly, that they go away and have a good think about why they lost the election. One of the reasons why they lost the election, aside from their ludicrous policies, is their ludicrous claims in this chamber. They simply go over the top in their ludicrous assumptions and claims that the government lacks an understanding of the rural sector.

Senator Brownhill —What did you say about the wool industry?

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston)—Order! You have a new boy in the chair.

Senator SHERRY —With due respect to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I am surprised that you consider yourself a new boy in the chair. I will now outline some six of these positive measures in some detail, because they are issues that have been raised with me constantly as I have travelled around the country in my capacity as parliamentary secretary.

Senator Tierney —Tell us about the wine tax—it will do a lot for the wine industry!

Senator SHERRY —Just calm down opposite; you have another three hard, long years to the next election. Do not get excited too early. Build yourselves up for the next election and get ready to lose it again.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Sherry, it might be wise to direct your remarks through the chair.

Senator SHERRY —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. There are six issues I will turn my attention to, firstly in my own home state. We had a lot of nonsense being driven by those opposite from Tasmania about the proposed abolition of the Tasmanian wheat freight subsidy scheme. They claimed that this would be abolished in the budget. If we read through the budget, we will see it there: a $2.7 million commitment to the Tasmanian wheat freight subsidy scheme—a good example of this government's continuing commitment to the state of Tasmania.

  For the edification of all honourable senators in the chamber, but particularly those not from Tasmania, the Tasmanian wheat freight subsidy scheme provides essential support to maintain a reasonable level of price for wheat in Tasmania. That is essential in Tasmania for the price of bread and the price of eggs. It is also essential for some of the exports from Tasmania, because wheat is an essential commodity in the processing of glucose and paper production—a commodity on which Tasmania relies to a significant degree. It is also used in value adding for the feeding of beef and other animal stocks. So, contrary to the claims by those opposite from Tasmania, the Tasmanian wheat freight subsidy scheme has been retained.

Senator Brownhill —What are you saying?

Senator SHERRY —If Senator Brownhill wants to claim to the contrary, he should go to the budget or to his colleagues from Tasmania and they will inform him otherwise.

  There are five other programs I will address briefly. The first is the rural adjustment scheme. Because of the continuing poor level of prices that farmers are receiving for most of our rural commodities, with the exception perhaps of dairy, fat lamb and some other commodities, the vast majority of the rural sector is indeed facing very difficult circumstances. That is overwhelmingly because of the very poor price in the international commodity market for what we produce and a variety of other reasons, including access to countries such as the United States and to trade blocs such as the European Economic Community. So they are the basic problems affecting the pricing of our rural commodities.

  Because of the continuing concern the rural sector is facing, we have increased the funding to the rural adjustment scheme in this budget. Some $406 million will be provided over the next four years to the rural adjustment scheme. Indeed, this coming financial year, we were to provide $117 million; that will be increased to $157 million. The following year, only $25 million was to have been provided; that will rise to $92 million. At the end of the four-year period, we were to have spent $180 million, but that is now being increased to $406 million—and yet those opposite claim that there is absolutely nothing in this budget that assists the rural sector. Well, here is one very substantial and concrete measure.

  Secondly, we have the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. I will certainly concede this: there is a great concern in the rural and exporting and importing communities about the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, particularly its charges. In my duties as a parliamentary secretary, I receive more correspondence on this issue—and I know those opposite do as well—and more complaints about the AQIS charges than probably any other issue at the present time that goes across rural policy. What is this government doing in this area? It is taking what I think is very major reform of the quarantine service. It will involve substantial staff reductions over the next three years—some 500 staff out of approximately 2,000 staff. That is a very substantial reform in anyone's definition.

Senator Brownhill —That isn't reform; it's retrenchment. It doesn't get to the heart of the problem.

Senator SHERRY —If Senator Brownhill does not believe that is reform, I suggest he go and talk to the Farmers Federation about this one. I had a meeting with some of its representatives two or three weeks ago; they certainly believed that the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service should have a much more efficient structure. As a result of these changes, the government has decided that AQIS should be reducing these cost burdens on industry. Existing charges will be kept at current rates and reduced over the next four years, and industry will be receiving a benefit of approximately $10 million.

  This is a very substantial reform of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. At the same time, because of the adoption of quality assurance, so-called QA—which is a process whereby industry takes a greater level of responsibility for the quality throughout the continuing production or the processing cycle—we believe that we can carry out these fundamental reforms to the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service without in any way reducing the standards of inspection that are so necessary to ensure that the quality of food that we export from this country is of the highest possible international standard and that the food that we import into this country is not contaminated in any way.

Senator Brownhill —Hear, hear!

Senator SHERRY —I hear Senator Brownhill saying, `Hear, hear'. I am glad that Senator Brownhill has admitted there is at least one initiative in the budget that he agrees does improve the rural sector. If, in fact, he believes that, he should have reworded his motion, which refers to a `total lack of consideration'. So, with the rural adjustment scheme and the quarantine service, we have two very significant structural changes occurring which are being funded by this government.

  There are a couple of other programs I would like to refer to. Firstly, there are the programs to enhance agribusiness. There is no doubt that the future of this country lies in enhancing our export trade. As part of that, we need to improve our agribusiness exports. This government, as part of its election commitments I would emphasise, has decided that we should adopt three programs.

  Debate interrupted.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.