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Thursday, 29 October 1970

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) The time has passed midnight but I rise to speak on this matter with no sense of apology because to me and to half the nation it is a pretty important one. We have the incredible situation where half the nation is showing a situation of buoyancy and presenting a shining face to the world, with some exceptions. The other half of the nation is in trouble. I want specifically to pinpoint 2 factors associated with this measure. As indicated by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Hughes) in his second reading speech:

The purpose of the Bill is to remove any obstacle that the Bankruptcy Act may present to the operation of compositions or schemes of arrangement entered into under State or Territory legislation providing for assistance to farmers in respect of their debts.

I have heard my distinguished colleague from Dawson (Dr Patterson) and the other Queensland member who has spoken, the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett), talk about the situation in respect of Queensland legislation and the position of that State. A state of crisis exists in the drought areas of Queensland.

I rise to put to the Attorney-General (Mr Hughes) who, I am delighted to see, is here for the debate on this Bill, that we have had operating very successfully in New South Wales for 2 generations the Rural Reconstruction Board. The Rural Reconstruction Board in the State of New South Wales has brought about a revolution in the countryside, where it has been needed. It has been a revolution of reorganisation and of restructuring - all of the modern terms - but in fact the Board brought about such changes as were revolutionary and were successful. The Board was successful in the south-west reconstruction scheme in New South Wales. This scheme is a model for farming reconstruction wherever it may have to be implemented in our country or in any other country.

Now, as a member of the House of Representatives, I find a Federal Act being proposed through a Federal Bill which seems to be saying: 'We will validate that legislation'. This is a cause of surprise to me. I would like the Attorney-General specifically to direct his attention to the statutes which have established the Rural Reconstruction Board in the State of New South Wales, under which it has operated for 2 generations and is operating now. I hope that he will comment and perhaps particularly will indicate why this legislation may be necessary in relation to those statutes and what effect if any this legislation will have on those State statutes touching on the Rural Reconstruction Board of New South Wales.

This is a most important matter for New South Wales. 1 must admit that, as a layman, I have examined the Bill and I have not been able to relate what it says to what I know of the State Act and the State statutes. I would be grateful if, in his reply at the conclusion of the second reading debate, the Attorney-General would direct his attention to the State statutes governing the Rural Reconstruction Board and pronounce his opinion on them as the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia in relation to this legislation and the legislation which has existed for 2 generations under which the Rural Reconstruction Board is operating so successfully in New South Wales. I make this almost as a plea at the committee stage of consideration of this Bill, but I know that we do not wish to prolong the proceedings after the hour of midnight. So, I put the matter at the second reading stage so that the Attorney-General may apply himself to the queries I have raised and clear them up.

Having posed that question, I direct attention to a broader matter in relation to bankruptcies or potential bankruptcies that was raised by the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Askin. Now, Mr Askin is not a man who is in touch at all with the rural scene. In fact, he is distinguished and famous for a statement that he once made very early one morning - and I forgive him for it, I suppose, on the basis - when he was telephoned and asked to comment on the fact that 2 inches of rain had fallen in the Sydney area. At a very early hour in the morning he said: 'Oh, this is a wonderful thing. It is a tremendous thing. It will mean millions to the countryside'. I think that by the time he got out of bed and reached Parliament House he had realised that the rain had not extended past Parramatta. I forgive him. He is a suburbanite. Two months ago in the New South Wales Parliament he was asked by a colleague of mine the honourable member for Murrumbidgee, Mr Gordon, whether he would apply himself to the needs of the Rural Reconstruction Board and whether he would take note of the fact that the Board was no longer able to meet the requirements of the situation in the countryside. The Premier replied: 'All is well. There are no problems because there has not been anyone who has applied who has been refused.' I am sorry to say that the

Premier was misinformed. I do not say that in any political carping sense.

As a matter of fact, I am reminded that the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) in this House possibly 12 weeks ago addressed a question to the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) about the state of the countryside. He asked: 'Has the Prime Minister directed his attention to any requests from the State of New South Wales for assistance?' On that occasion the Prime Minister said: 'I have not had any requests. When I get one I will consider it.' I hope I have not done the honourable member an injustice.

Mr Hunt - The Prime Minister added: To my knowledge'.

Mr GRASSBY - The Prime Minister said that to his knowledge he had not received a request and therefore he was not in a position to give a reply to the honourable member who asked the question. Tonight we meet under different circumstances. The Premier of New South Wales, after saying that there were no real problems and that no-one had been refused, now says: 'We are in a considerable difficulty because of the crisis in the countryside. We are in need of money.'I confirm that statement with all the sincerity that I can summon up at this hour. It is true that there are possibly 100 unsatisfied applications at this moment. Another 100 people would be in the queue. There are people who desperately need the expertise and the money which has been available in the last 2 decades from the Rural Reconstruction Board of New South Wales. At the moment the Board is not in a position to satisfy the needs of the people from every part of New South Wales who are standing in that queue. I did not hear the interjection made by the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess). I will be delighted to deal with it if he speaks up a little later on.

Mr Cope - He was bouncing. He had meat rissoles for tea.

Mr GRASSBY - I am always glad when a man has eaten well.

Mr Jess - That would not apply here.

Mr GRASSBY - It may not be well but it is sufficient. At the present time there are families who wonder whether they are going to eat at all in the future. They are wondering about the needs of their children. We have reached the situation where the Rural Reconstruction Board which has been a magnificent instrument in the countryside of New South Wales for 2 generations has reached the end of its resources. It is not in a position to open the door and admit further people. Where the New South Wales Government and Public Service are involved obviously the Director of the Board and the servants associated with it cannot invite a man in, sit him down, listen to his needs and say: 'I am terribly sorry. We are broke. We are bankrupt ourselves. We cannot help you.' They have a formula. They say:'We are not in a position to assist you because of your relative needs.' This does not mean anything. It is a good formula for saying: 'We have first, second and third priorities. We are not in a position to assist those following the people who are first in the queue.' I do not blame the Board or the Director, but a request has been made to the Commonwealth by the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Askin, who, asI say, is a well known suburbanite who has now at least recognised that there is a need in this sector for this agency.

On behalf of all sides of the Parliament. I ask the Attorney-General, who is tonight with us, to take to the Prime Minister this message which I am putting forward. I am sure that it is not an exclusive message. I am sure that if the Attorney-General doubts me other people from all sides of the Parliament will rise and say: 'Yes, this is a valid message'. I ask the AttorneyGeneral to go to the Prime Minister and say that the Premier of New South Wales has asked for assistance because the Board has run out of money. It is a crisis situation. I make a sincere appeal to the AttorneyGeneral, as the representative of the Prime Minister in the House tonight, to take to the Prime Minister the plea thatI have made on behalf of a lot of people - not one Party or another - who are in trouble and ask that the applications be dealt with as urgently as possible so that the work of this Board can be revitalised. It is a wonderful instrument. I am sorry that Queensland does not have something similar.

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