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Wednesday, 13 October 1971
Page: 2241

Mr GRASSBY - Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware that the Rural Reconstruction Board in New South Wales has already exhausted its funds for this year and has heavily committed itself ahead for primary reconstruction purposes since the Commonwealth legislation was introduced just a few months ago? Have the Minister and his Department received repeated requests to clarify whether he and the Commonwealth Government desire a liberal interpretation of the requirement that applicants should have 'reasonable prospects for success'? If so, will the Minister, firstly, tell the House whether or not he wants a tough policy administered in relation to applicants, and secondly, what steps he is prepared to take to stop rural reconstruction degenerating to a mere lottery because of a chronic lack of funds?

Mr SINCLAIR (NEW ENGLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Primary Industry) - I have had some communications with the New South Wales Government about the level of finance available for reconstruction in that State. As I understand it, the New South Wales Government has been given a very substantial percentage of the funds for this financial year that it requested for reconstruction - the total funds to be made available over 4 years. At this stage it has not spent all that money. There is, of course, a basic requirement that as far as possible the allocation should be divided between farm build-up and rural reconstruction. It is known that there have been difficulties in the determination of eligibility for reconstruction funds and I understand that in New South Wales, where the administration is somewhat more advanced than in other States, the difficulty of meeting the criterion is probably more apparent than elsewhere.

As to the basic reasons for reconstruction, I think that during the debate in this House when the whole of the reconstruction proposals were under examination it was accepted that the objective should be to try to enable farmers and rural producers to be given some additional assistance which could only be justified if it were to enable them ultimately to become profitable and to operate in the normal community. At the moment there are very real difficulties for rural industries in Australia and it is those difficulties which, of course, beset those charged with the responsibility of operating a rural reconstruction scheme. I believe that it could well be that within the terms and conditions of the agreement between the Commonwealth and the States, there will need to be some changes and these are to be discussed between Commonwealth and State Ministers in the review to which the Government is committed before the end of this financial year. At the same time, I do not believe that it is possible to come to too early a judgment on how radical these changes might be. This is a matter which must depend on the way in which the scheme is administered in every State. This year the Government has introduced, through the budgetary allocation, $40m of the originally intended amount of $100m, which, was to be allocated over 4 years and I think that in this way it can be shown that the Government is demonstrating its serious concern that this rural reconstruction scheme should be effective.

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