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Thursday, 21 March 1968

Mr GORTON - I think the House will recall that the Government has, in relation to the provision of drought relief, made very considerable sums available to the States. It has made them available for such things as the provision of rebates on the transport of starving stock out of areas of drought; for the provision of loans at low interest rates where other credit has not been available to producers; and for the provision of grants to local authorities for public works to minimise the effects of the drought in particular areas. In the case of Victoria, at least Slim has already been granted by the Commonwealth as what I could call direct drought relief, amounting to $7£m, and $3m to offset the effect on the State Budget of the drought which has occurred. I am informed that the Government, in the past - and this refers to a question recently asked by the honourable member for Bendigo - in order to help the State of New South Wales, has also made arrangements through the Australian Wheat Board for the provision of wheat on 12 months terms at 4i% interest where other credit was not available.

My recollection, although it may be a little astray, is this: A week or a little more ago we informed the Premier of Victoria that the Government was prepared to make the same arrangements for Victoria - that is, to arrange through the Wheat Board for the provision of wheat on 12 months terms at 4i% interest - but with the difference that that wheat was to be made available to all graziers, not merely those having difficulty in obtaining credit. The Victorian Premier has recently indicated that he is prepared to make further assistance available to drought stricken farmers in the declared drought areas of Victoria. Those are districts which have, perhaps, the heaviest stocking rate of any farming areas in Australia. They are heavily stocked with breeding ewes, the retention of which is so necessary for the time when the drought breaks. We have considered this matter in conjunction with the Premier of Victoria and we are prepared to make to that State a further grant of up to $lm provided that the money is spent on drought assistance in those drought declared areas, and provided that the assistance already made or promised by the State is not reduced.

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