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Wednesday, 14 October 1970

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - I rise particularly to echo the sentiments put forward by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) in relation to this measure. It has been said by the Government that this is a temporary additional bounty to local manufacturers currently producing bountiable tractors. The Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) in his second reading speech described this bounty as an urgent short term measure. He also indicated that the Government bad received from the 2 Australian manufacturers of tractors eligible for bounty evidence which indicated that the industry was facing serious damage from import competition. Of course, he a|so added that investigations carried out by the Government indicated that there had been a substantial downturn in total sales of agricultural tractors in Australia. Of course this was a recognition of the crisis which exists in the countryside at the present time, lt was an acknowledgment of the difficulties which are being experienced internally. While I support the measure, a question that has to be posed to the Government tonight is whether it is satisfied that this measure will restore some stability to the Australian agricultural machinery industry.

In view of the fact that it is a component of rural industry and that the crisis in the countryside has now spread to the cities, we should place it on record in this debate that the Australian agricultural machinery industry faces the retrenchment of 14,000 men this year as a result not only of imports but of the continuing rural crisis. In 1967-68 28,000 people were directly and indirectly employed in the agricultural machinery industry, together with 12,000 country dealers and representatives or distributors. It is estimated by the industry that in the current financial year only 9,000 will be left of the labour directly and indirectly employed, and that 7,000 dealers and their individual representatives may well be out of business. This is an incredible situation. We are looking at the possible demise of the Australian agricultural machinery industry against a background of history in which this industry led the world in so many directions. It led the world in its evolvement of new machine parts, new machines and new approaches. Yet if the present crisis is allowed to continue it could mean the complete extinction of the Australian controlled agricultural machinery industry.

I say that with due weight and seriousness, because the components of the industry have said that they are feeling the Weight of the crisis in the countryside and they are feeling the weight of interests that would be quite happy to take them over Australia exports nearly $8m worth of agricultural machinery. Australian production overall last year amounted to $131,808,000, but this year it will be cut by half. The contribution that agricultural machinery has made to agriculture generally may be gauged by the fact that the value of the machinery on our farms amounts to more than $400m. This gives an indication of the size and importance of an industry which today comprises 7 local manufacturing companies of major size - I stress that - and 8 overseas companies. They are the national figures. When one examines the machinery firms across the nation one finds, as I have found in one centre in the south west, a situation where there has been a firm which regularly has been the major factor in employment in that town. Its turnover has always been adequate to maintain a work force on which the town has relied to a major extent. Today its turnover is down by half and its work force is rationed as far as employment is concerned because of the situation and the crisis which exists in the countryside.

The challenge to end the crisis in the countryside is clear and urgent, as my colleague the honourable member for Dawson has pointed out, not only in the interests of the countryside itself but in the interests of city workers and city industries such as we are talking about at the present time. This opportunity must be taken by the Government. The Minister carries the burden tonight of showing whether he believes that this measure is adequate to prevent the extinction of an independent Australian agricultural machinery industry. That is the issue before us at the present time, not just tractors and not just imports.

I would enter a plea, on behalf of all those who are concerned, that the Government might now examine urgently the plight of Australia's agricultural machinery industry with a view to extending a further helping hand to prevent it being bought out by overseas interests.

As I pointed out, the rural crisis is hitting not only the farmers but country businessmen and employees. It is now also hitting city based workers in industry. I submit tonight that the battle for survival in the countryside, however it may be bedevilled by party politics and pettiness in some respects, is vital not only for country people but for all Australians. If the countryside empties then the vacuum will inevitably be filled by overseas interests. So I submit that this is not just a rural crisis. It is a national crisis. The question to be posed to the Government tonight in relation to this measure and in relation to the agricultural machinery industry generally in our country is: Is the Government telling us tonight in relation to this measure that this is enough? Is it suggesting that this will meet the crisis in the agricultural machinery industry and the nation? If it says yes, I suggest that the Government has been misinformed. 1 would suggest that it confer with the industry to learn the facts of the situation and to take firm and strong steps from this point, and this measure, to ensure that this nation does not lose its agricultural machinery industry, because that is the challenge in the position that we face at this time.

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