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Wednesday, 28 October 1970

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Monaro.9.41) - I want to see this Bill passed and I want to see it have a useful effect in the ruinous situation now confronting so many wool growers. I speak with knowledge of the position in my own electorate of EdenMonaro. I support generally the position taken by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) in opening the debate on behalf of the Opposition. I particularly support his reference to the reserve price scheme which was defeated 5 years ago. He has correctly described that defeat as a tragedy for the woolgrowers. It is important to record that it was defeated, as the honourable member for Dawson has said, by a campaign to mislead and confuse the growers, which was carried out by a combination of some Government members of the Parliament and of the powerful forces outside the Parliament which both control and support this Government and keep it in office. There is no question but that that the scheme was defeated by a combination of those forces from the Government side and from outside backers.

The reason why I stress this is that a similar campaign is now being engaged in and is, I am sorry to say, largely supported by members of the Australian Country Party, once again to mislead the wool growers of this country about the steps which are necessary to restore economic health to the industry. Everyone will hope that the new machinery to be established by this legislation will be effective. But surely no-one can deny that its effect will not be unlimited. Indeed, it will have a limited effect. The exaggerated predictions made by some Country Party Ministers, some Country Party members, and notably by the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) tonight, as to the effect of the Commission on prices and the future of the industry are absolutely deplorable. Why have they sought to reassure and placate growers with such statements when they have only to consult any of those people who are really knowledgeable in the industry to be told that there is no basis whatever for such exaggerated hopes.

This should be the moment of truth for all Country Party members in this Parliament. Every honourable member who has taken part in recent debates or who has listened to recent speeches knows that until just the other day members of the Country Party in this Parliament have constantly sought to minimise the difficulties of the wool industry. Until recent days they have refused to agree that there is any serious problem at all. I refer particularly to the speeches by the honourable member for Hume (Mr Pettitt). He and other Country Party members have risen in their places and dismissed statements from this side of the House as to the gravity of the situation in the wool industry as being - I quote the words of the honourable member for Hume - 'the utterances of prophets of gloom which ought to be disregarded'.

Mr Pettitt - In an attempt to restore morale.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Those members have dismissed the warnings as being unduly pessimistic, designed to create panic and lower morale, as the honourable member for Hume admits. They have urged the rural community to forget its troubles in the hope that they will go away. Indeed, Country Party members in recent days in this House have urged wool growers to concentrate not on the troubles in their own industry but on the dangers created by youthful demonstrators in the community. They have urged them to rally round the Country Party banner, not on the cry of the needs of the wool industry but on the spurious cry of law and order and now, in one further desperate attempt to mislead their own supporters, on the mythical story of the 35-hour week. When those cries have fallen on deaf ears, as they are doing now, Country Party members must face the facts.

Every speech made by a Country Party member on the issue of wool in recent weeks was swept aside exactly a week ago today when the Leader of the Country Party (Mr McEwen) described the position of the wool industry as a national disaster.

I do not know whether he was, in the words of the honourable member for Hume, attempting to reduce morale, but he said it was a national disaster. Indeed it is. Every Country Party member now has to fall into line with his leader. The Leader having made that admission, they are stripped of any excuse for their failure right up to this moment to take any steps to exert pressure on the Government to adopt the measures necessary to cope with the national disaster. Not one Country Party member in this Parliament has demanded that the Government take adequate steps to cope with the national disaster. The first measure in any national disaster is to provide immediate and massive financial assistance. That is the immediate need of the wool industry now.

Many growers need full relief from the interest burden of debts which is crushing them. It would be easily within the power of this Government to pay the cost of an interest holiday for wool growers and then for the next few years to pay the difference between 8 per cent interest and 3 per cent interest. 1 have not heard one Country Party member threaten the Government that unless it takes that course he will withdraw his support from it. Many other growers must have adequate cash assistance now, simply to enable them to survive. The men who are the alleged representatives of the wool growers and the primary producers have been silent when it comes to the question of threatening the Government with the loss of their support unless it will provide the cash assistance that these primary producers must have to stay upon their holdings. These are the immediate steps to be taken. They must be followed by long term measures which would have a general effect on the whole of the rural economy throughout Australia.

Country Party members in this House sneered openly the other day when I proposed that the Government should now provide $100m of assistance to the wool industry. They would not have sneered if it had been proposed to provide that amount crf assistance for secondary industry. Secondary industry today, largely because of the work of the Leader of the Country Party, who is the spokesman and main support of the manufacturers in their demands for ever increasing protection, is receiving from the Australian community direct assistance equal to $l,500m a year and, counting indirect assistance, up to $3,000m a year. Yet Country Party members sneer when it is proposed that the Government should provide SI 00m of immediate assistance for the wool industry Is the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) saying: 'That is not right*? I did not hear the honourable member for Mallee say one word in support of that proposal. In fact he is still silent. He is now only whispering in bis beard.

Mr Turnbull - I did not sneer.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I did not hear the honourable member sneer. I did noi hear him say anything. I did not see him do anything. The honourable member for Corangamite earlier tonight expressed the hope that this measure win create 'a new era for the wool industry'. Everyone would hope for that, but I cannot imagine thai anyone who knows the problems of the industry would pin his hopes on this measure alone creating such a new era for the industry. He showed his recognition in, 1 thonght, a few very eloquent words of description of the present ruinous state of the industry but he expressed the hope that this measure will restore that situation and create a new era for the industry.

Mr Deputy Speaker,the expression by the honourable member for Corangamite is irresponsible optimism carried to dangerous lengths, and it has pervaded, until tonight, all the expressions of the rural members on the Government side of this House. No-one who has studied this legislation - even though he may believe and hope that it will have a limited effectiveness - can see the basis for such expressions of hope as that. A great deal more than this is most urgently needed now, and the member of this Parliament who blinds his own eyes and attempts to blind the eyes of his constituents to those measures is performing an ill service to those whom he represents in this Parliament. Rural industry must itself demand - and must have representatives in this Parliament who will demand - that in its need assistance should be given to it comparable with that which is given to secondary industry. It is absolutely useless for reactionary representatives of rural industry to hope that their problems will be solved by demanding now a stoppage of the arbitration process of providing just wages and conditions for Australian employees. In fact, every trade union that has expressed itself on this matter of the problems of the wool industry - and many have done so - has expressed the view that country dwellers equally with city dwellers are entitled to an Australian standard of living and to equal measures of protection and assistance to enable them to maintain that standard of living.

It is no use members of the Country Party deluding their supporters into the belief that this can be achieved by attacking the standards achieved in secondary industry. They must get out to achieve such standards for their own people. This is not achieved, of course, by driving the small farmers off their properties and into bankruptcy, as I have heard advocated in the last few days by members of the Government side of this Parliament and by previous members of the Government side of this Parliament. It is not to be achieved by allocating the whole of the land to great financiers and to great land holding companies, as I have heard advocated in the last few days by present members of the Government Party in the Parliament - some of whom are here tonight - and by members who were On the Government side in previous parliaments. I shall quote some of these statements. One was:

It is nonsense to talk of the needs of the little man* in the wool industry.

Another statement was:

Purely economic forces show that the small man is doomed . . . that aggregation into large holdings should be allowed.

What a gospel of despair. Does the honourable member for Mallee support that?

Mr Turnbull - Are you quoting from Hansard?

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No, I am quoting from statements made outside this Parliament in the last few days by present members of this Parliament and by past members of this Parliament from the Government ranks.

Mr King - Who made the statements?

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Wait and the honourable member will (earn. Another statement was:

The 24,000 farm units in the 'pastoral' area of New South Wales should become 3,000 units. . . Graziers should forget unity. How we can survive as individuals is now the important question.

The final statement was:

The vote among graziers as to what policy they should pursue should be taken on a vested interest basis, that is, the significance of the vote should depend on the size of the herd or the size of the wool cheque.

We hear sufficient from the metropolitan areas without hearing this kind of talk from the alleged representatives of rural industries. It is amazing and most audacious to read the demands made through the metropolitan Press, that the rural areas must adjust to the price that the buyer is prepared to pay or else go out of business. That would mean the closing down of country towns and men walking off their farms and joining the ever increasing trek for employment at the factory. It is incredible to me that some country representatives are accepting and echoing that when those who raise that cry - the cry that the country producer must accept the price that the buyer is prepared to pay or else go off the land - those metropolitan interests which are spreading that cry would themselves shriek in horror if it was suggested that they should sell their products at the world buyers' prices. Of course they do not and of course they should not. They are part of the protective system of this country which has enabled secondary industry and the employees of secondary industry to maintain Australian standards of living while the standards of the rural producers, under their benighted leadership in this Parliament, have constantly fallen.

I said in this House recently that of the many causes of the present plight of rural industry and of the wool industry in particular, inflation is among the chief causes. Inflation in Australia has been caused, first, by the deliberate failure of this Government to take measures to cope with it; secondly, by the acquiescence of members of the Country Party in allowing that failure to continue; and thirdly, by the operation of the processes which protect secondary industry and its employees - the tariff boards, the arbitration courts and so on. How can rural industries or their leaders put the case that rural industry should absorb all those ever increasing costs and at the same time be prepared to sell its products on the world market without assistance?

The final point I should like to make is that even now the Government is showing its complete contempt for this Parliament and for the legislation which it is introducing, by depriving the Parliament of any opportunity to deliberate on this legislation, to examine it and to decide where and in what sense, if any, it needs amendment to give the very best results. The Government instead has so little regard for the wool industry, its need and its prosperity, that rather than allow this Parliament time to examine this legislation, it will force the legislation through the Parliament in the small hours of the morning so that the Parliament can go into recess until next February or March.

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