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Wednesday, 28 October 1970

Mr KIRWAN (Forrest) - The humility of the modest honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) is touching. He reminded me a little of a forerunner of his whose quality was humility, when he came to the side of his friend Latimer. I wondered whether the honourable member was in the prison to do his penance when he spoke so feelingly for the Australian Country Party. This was something that I found quite unusual and I wondered whether the honourable member was setting an example to show that we also should be penitent and that penitence was good for us all. I do not wish to deal to a great extent with what the honourable member said. However, he said that we must accept that necessary changes will take place, that we are going through a period of transition and we ought to recognise this. If what he said is correct and if the Government recognises that it is so, the Government ought to state it in clear terms and should devise policies to be put into effect in those circumstances and make it quite clear why these policies are being introduced and implemented. The Government ought to tell the people involved in the industry its plans, its functions, what it is doing, why it is doing it and involve these people in the change. The Government should take this course of action instead of allowing as many people to be hurt as are being hurt at present because the Government has not decided what it intends to do under the circum stances. The Government has not given any hope and direction to the people. In fact, in Western Australia it has quite culpably failed the farming community.

Mr Grassby - The Minister has not told us how many farmers the Government wants to go.

Mr KIRWAN - In Western Australia the Government has not only not told us bow many farmers it wants to go but the Government has been opening up about 1 million acres of land in Western Australian for people to grow wool and wheat. The Western Australian Minister for Agriculture, who is a farmer and a member of the Country Party, was asked the other day on a Four Comers' programme why this had been done. He said it was done because people were demanding land and when this happens you must give in to those demands and open the land up. He was asked: 'Under the present circumstances was that not a wrong decision?' He said: 'No, you must yield to what the people are demanding'. Of course it was a wrong decision. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony) said earlier this year that anyone who had anything to do with the wheat industry could have foreseen 5 years ago what was going to develop. If the Government bad foreseen this, surely the responsible thing to have done was to take the necessary action to see that as few people as possible suffered or that the number of wheat growers was pegged at a certain level to avoid the over-production into which we have run at present. That would have been responsible government. One would have thought that if the Country Party was supporting people on the land and if the farmers were told what was the right thing to do the present situation would not have eventuated.

Because of the limitation of time to speak in this debate I want to direct my remarks mainly to the wool industry in Western Australia. Firstly, I want to try to set what I have to say in perspective and illustrate the situation that has caused the Government to act. That situation has not developed suddenly but has been developing over the last 5 years and perhaps longer. I want to refer to the situation which has induced the Government to introduce this Bill. The Bill was introduced last night, allowing only 24 hours in which to examine it. We must ask ourselves: Why this terrible haste?' Of course, the answer is that a Senate election is approaching and the Parliament is to rise at the end of this week. When I was speaking on the Budget I said that the holding of elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives separately is a waste of money. It costs the country about $l+m to hold the elections separately. However, on this occasion I think the benefits to the wool growers may be even greater than this amount. It is certain that this legislation would not have been introduced and dealt with if the Senate election was not upon us.

I would like to quote from an article which appeared in the 'West Australian* of 11th September 1970. The article stated:

About 3,000 West Australian grain and sheep fanners now appear to be in a near hopeless financial position and are almost certain to have to leave their farms in the next few years.

About one in five wheat and sheep farmers is unable to pay debts and earn a reasonable living. They cannot borrow more money.....

These farmers are scattered through all agricultural areas, with concentrations in higher rainfall areas such as Rocky Gully, Jerramungup, Ravensthorpe, Bridgetown, Boyup Brook, the Midlands and parts of Esperance.

This is a very scattered section of Western Australia. The article continued.

There are also considerable numbers in the traditional wheatbelt areas.

There seem to be at least 500 new land farmers with virtually no chance of continuing in farming.

These are the people who have been encouraged to take the new land which has been opened up by the Western Australian Government in recent years. Their plight is appalling. The article continues:

Consideration mav have to be given to abandoning some of the areas recently opened up and resettling the farmers elsewhere.

Up to another 5,000 farmers are in no immediate danger of being forced off but are having trouble servicing debts, which average about $30,000 a farm and run up to 570,000 to $80,000.

The total rural debt in WA is now more than $200 million owned to banks, stock firms, insurance companies, hire purchase companies and other lenders.

These figures, which do not include dairy and horticulture farmers, are based on discussions with government officials, representatives of lending institutions and farm leaders.

Farm values are estimated to have fallen 20 to 25 per cent in the past 18 months.

Not only have the debts of these farmers risen at a tremendous rate and to frightening proportions but they are in a position where there are so many farms for sale that it is virtually impossible to sell them and prices for farms have fallen as rapidly as farmers' debts have increased. Only recently I had the gravity of this situation brought home to me by electors in Western Australia. One gentleman came to me very concerned one day. He had no debts and he owed the machinery companies or the stock firms nothing. However, he owed the man from whom he was purchasing the land $14,000. He went to the Commonwealth Bank and asked for a loan of $14,000 so that he could pay out the owner of the farm. The bank manager told him that to obtain that money he would have to put his farm on the market at a reasonable price and would have to understand that the sum of $14,000 as an advance was the limit of the money that he could borrow from the bank. He was in the position where he had to agree to this proposition. He finds now that his farm is being advertised by stock firms and that the bank manager concerned has zealously gone among his neighbours to tell them that the place is on the market and to inform them of the price. He may find himself in the position of having the farm sold over his head.

The other day, I was speaking to some people who come from the border of my electorate. They had come originally from the eastern States only a few years ago. They had been wool growers. They sold their farm in the east - I am referring to 2 brothers- for quite a good price and were able to buy land at a cheaper rate in Western Australia. Therefore, they had money behind them. Now, these brothers have had to lease their farms. They are going to work in the iron fields at Mount Tom Price. The wife of one of these men will have to return to school teaching. Countless numbers of farmers must leave their farms now, take up jobs in towns and send their wives out to work.

This is the situation that has caused the Government to act. Yet it has acted only at this late stage because a Senate election is around the corner. The Government would have been content, in other words, to allow this situation to continue for at least another 2 years until the next House of Representatives election is due. This is the situation.

I do not know how this has come about, but the time that has elapsed since it became apparent that the Government ought to take action of this kind and the presentation of this measure is approximately the same as the time that elapsed between the statement by the Government that it would take action to assist marginal dairy farmers and the occasion when the marginal dairy farms legislation was introduced, that is, 4 years to 5 years.

Of course, in the case of the legislation relating to marginal dairy farms, it must be remembered that the Act will operate for 4 years only. The legislation will mean only $l.Sm per annum to each of the States involved. The introduction of that legislation was held up ostensibly because the States would not agree. The legislation was introduced with agreement from one State only. The Bill could have been introduced in the first place because that same State had agreed to the scheme after the proposal was first made. So, the result was the same.

So too could this legislation have been introduced earlier. Better legislation, with more thought given to it, and with better drafting, could have been introduced 4 years ago and the wool industry would have accepted it in the same way as the earlier legislation to provide assistance for marginal dairy farms was accepted by the States and the farmers concerned.

The Opposition looks forward to moving amendments to this Bill during the Committee stage. We are hopeful that this will be the first step on the way to introducing our own wool proposals which we believe are eminently more suited to the conditions and to the needs of the wool farmers of this country. We hope to see great care exercised in the choice of the chairman and members of the Commission. We would hope to see increased grower representation on the Commission.

We hope that the disintegration that has taken place within the ranks of the parties opposite together with the rebuff that they will suffer at the Senate election which is approaching will force any early general election so that it will be a matter of only 12 months or even less before the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) stands on the opposite side of the table to which he stood this evening to present to the Parliament the Bill which will include the proposals of our Party for the wool industry.

Sir, weare not opposing the Bill. We support it as being only partly desirable, that is only insofar as it compares with our own proposed legislation. We look forward to the time when we shall have our proposals accepted in this place for the benefit of those people whose suffering and whose financial difficulties are of the greatest concern to us.

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