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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 346

Senator CRANE —I refer the minister for Minister for Primary Industries and Energy to statements by ABARE's Executive Director, Dr Brian Fisher, at the Outlook conference this week that, firstly, the value of rural commodities is expected to fall in the current year by two per cent; and secondly, the rural adjustment scheme will not be sufficient to cope with the 20 per cent of farmers hopelessly struggling from the effects of Australia's worst recession. In the light of those statements by Mr Fisher, can the minister inform the Senate what value of the Australian dollar against the US dollar was used in the preparation of ABARE's gloomy forecasts? Can the minister tell us what steps he intends to take, as the new minister, to address the inadequacies of the rural adjustment scheme?

Senator COLLINS —I will ask ABARE to provide me with the details of the methodology used. Contrary to Senator Crane's assertion that ABARE provided gloomy forecasts at the conference, the facts are quite the reverse. As has been noted widely in the rural press and in the industry publications that have been reporting extensively the proceedings of the conference, for the first time for some time, rural Australia does have grounds to be cautiously optimistic about the future. I think rural Australia is starting this year on better grounds across the board than for some years, certainly in the recent past.

  The issue of commodity prices generally across both the resource and agricultural sectors is firming up. The situation even with industries such as wool—an industry with which Senator Crane and several other active primary producers who are also senators are involved—is positive. Senator Baume, of course, does not think that Labor members of parliament should have any interests in primary production. Senators would know that the outlook for cattle, for sheep production, for wool, for industries such as the dairy industry and the wine industry—one of our most rapidly growing value added export primary industries in Australia—is very positive. The general message being delivered at the ABARE conference is not one of pessimism at all; it is one of cautious optimism. Underlying that, of course, is the significant achievement of the completion of the Uruguay Round.

  As I said at the conference—I say it again here; I am sure that most people in the primary sector would agree with me—an enormous amount of work now has to happen in terms of cementing the detail of that round and getting it operational. The benefits that will be received from it will be gradual and will need a great deal of vigilance by the Minister for Trade and all other ministers to ensure that our trading partners fulfil their commitments under the round. I conclude by saying that the outlook for rural Australia in both the resource area and the agricultural area is probably looking more optimistic now than it has for some time.

Senator CRANE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I think it is very sad that the minister for primary industries obviously does not know what Dr Fisher's forecasts were with regard to agricultural commodity prices.

Senator Collins —Yes I do, Senator.

Senator CRANE —No, the minister does not. They fell by two per cent. The minister talked about optimism. Can the minister confirm or deny that the position of ABARE has changed so that the rural adjustment scheme will now be used to provide more aid for farmers to leave their farms rather than debt reconstruction to allow them to return to a position of viability? The loss of viability is the result of the worst recession in the history of this nation—a recession created by his government.

Senator COLLINS —The level of support that is being given by this federal government to rural Australia is unparalleled. It has reached levels that would never have been achieved by those opposite. We are implementing schemes that those opposite were proposing be closed down. The level of support for the scheme that Senator Crane has mentioned has increased to in excess of $400 million. That is a level of expenditure in terms of assisting the reconstruction of rural Australia that the coalition would never have delivered.