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Wednesday, 30 August 1972
Page: 961

Mr KENNEDY (Bendigo) - I will not go into too much detail on some of the points raised by the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman). I always find it curious when conservative members of Parliament who send their children to some of the wealthiest private schools come out and gush and pine about the wealthy school? and say that they are doing all they can to provide the best facilities for the nation. It is almost ludicrous. It is incredible. One really wonders whether they live in the same world as most Australian people when they talk about subsidies to the rich private schools being aimed at ensuring that the children of all income sections of the community are able to go to these wealthy schools. After all, what are they talking about? They are talking about schools that charge anything up to $1,000 a year in fees. One can just imagine the tumult from all those children from working class and migrant families when Melbourne Grammar drops its fees from $1,050 a year to $1,025 a year or when Geelong Grammar drops its fees from $1,000 a year to $950 a year. Of course, those are the schools they are always worrying about! I am sure that the honourable member for Deakin who has just resumed his seat is one of those people who has displayed his lack of confidence in the state education system by sending his children to the schools he is so busily financing here today.

However, I am primarily concerned about life in country areas and, in particular, about the very serious problem of unemployment that has been created by this Government's policy and that is being deliberately left untouched by this Government's policy. I can see nothing in this Budget that is aimed at relieving the very severe problem of unemployment in country areas. I can see nothing in this Budget about decentralisation that is aimed at producing a whole programme for reviving country areas. There is nothing like that in this Budget. In recent times unemployment in country areas has been getting very severe. For example, in Victoria the number of people registered as unemployed in non-metropolitan areas increased by 31 per cent this July over July of last year. The number of registered unemployed rose from 6,865 to 8,996. The number of people receiving unemployment benefits also reflected a very dramatic increase of 53 per cent from 2,824 in July last year to 4,321 in July this year. Of course, those figures themselves do not disclose the actual situation because the Government has disguised unemployment by its rural unemployment relief scheme. I am not criticising that scheme. If one tries to create unemployment, as this Government has done so effectively and on such a large scale, then at least one does something when one gives people some sort of a job - even if it is only a pick and shovel job that is given to one in every 5 of the people who are unemployed in rural areas.

The point is that basically this Government, by providing this money, has tried to buy votes and to disguise unemployment which this Government has created. If we include the number of people who are getting unemployment relief work with those registered as unemployed, the situation is far worse. On that basis the number of registered unemployed rose from 6,815 last year to 11,564 this year. In other words, there is a disguised unemployment level in country areas. It has increased by 68.4 per cent over the last 12-month period. That is something of which the Government is not at all ashamed and it is something about which this Government is going to do nothing. We have some assurance that rural unemployment relief will continue because, after all, the conditions which have created the need for it will continue. But for how long will it continue? This is a cynical Government. Supposing that this Government is returned to office in November, how long can we guarantee that this rural unemployment relief scheme will continue? At least it is giving work to one in 5 of those people who are unemployed in country areas.

In my own electorate I feel this unemployment very seriously. People come to my office in Bendigo time and time again and ask me: 'Can you get us a job?' I ask them: Have you been to the Commonwealth Employment Service in Bendigo?' They say: Yes, of course, but there are hundreds on the waiting list there'. This is typical of the situation in country areas throughout Australia. There is nothing that I can do. I try. I try to make contact with the employers. I try to make contact with the Employment Service, but there is no work. We have a desperate situation.

For example, in Bendigo about .25 per cent of the people who are receiving unemployment benefits are people who have been receiving them for more than 6 months and these are people who are just left to rot in the countryside. There is no hope of rehabilitation for them. They cannot go to the city, which is the only place where they can get the retraining necessary. So they are asked to lie around the countryside with no work - which they want to have - to live on this miserly unemployment benefit and to keep their families living in poverty just because they cannot get jobs.

Nothing has been done about decentralisation. The situation in Bendigo is that there has been a rather dramatic increase in unemployment over the 12-month period from July last year when there were 608 registered unemployed to July this year when the number of registered unemployed was 814 - an increase of 34 per cent. There has been a 59 per cent increase in the number of people receiving unemployment benefits from 258 people last year to 411 people this year. That is an indication of continual unemployment.

In another part of my electorate, the Seymour employment district, there has been a 92 per cent increase in the number of people receiving unemployment benefits. This is a very serious situation. There is nothing in this Budget, as I see it, that will restore confidence among the people who make the basic economic decisions in this country. Most importantly of all, there is nothing in this Budget that will seriously tackle the chronic lack of credit facilities which rural producers need. Until the large scale problem of rural indebtedness has been tackled there will be no revival of the countryside. It is a most disturbing situation. In my opinion rural credit is the key to rural stability. This has been found in western European countries, in the United Kingdom and in North America. But in Australia we are still fiddling around with election eve sops tossed out in the form of $20m to the farmers on the pretence that the Government is doing something about rural stability and the chronic problem of rural indebtedness when in fact it is not doing any such thing.

Mr McLeay - There was no problem like that when Noel Beaton was in, was there?

Mr KENNEDY - It has been there for years and it is getting worse under your Government. Let us take a look at the rural reconstruction scheme. What a sham it is! It was introduced in May 1971. It is going very badly. Large numbers of farmers are being rejected when under a better financing system they would be regarded as efficient and viable farmers. Some of them are very good farmers who have fallen on very bad times and fallen into a situation where the availability of credit is artificially limited by the strings that this Government has attached to the grants to the State reconstruction authorities. For example, in Victoria there is now only enough money left in the State's reconstruction fund to reconstruct the debts and build up the farms of about 400 farmers. That is in the entire State of Victoria. When those 400 farmers have had their debts reconstructed and their farms built up by acquiring other properties, all the money will have run out. What will happen after that we do not know. I suppose there will be another meeting. There is a meeting every few months because the scheme was never planned as an effective and continuing programme.

At the present time the Victorian Government has something like $29. 8m to use for reconstruction purposes in Victoria. Already $19. 6m has been used. The money is so short in Victoria that at the end of July about 74 per cent of all farmers who applied for debt reconstruction were being rejected. In other words, for every farmer who was lucky enough to be accepted for a loan for debt reconstruction 3 were being rejected. This is the worst situation in the entire Commonwealth. I have done some calculations which suggest that by July 1973, on the funds available at the present time, the Victorian Government will have helped about 1,200 farmers under the Commonwealth rural reconstruction scheme. So far it has helped about 800. In other words, the great achievement of this Government is to give financial assistance to 1.5 per cent of all farmers - owners, lessees and share farmers - in the State of Victoria. The assistance that will have been given by July next year will have helped to cope with 7 per cent of the $41 lm debt which was the gross rural debt as calculated in 1970. Honourable members on the other side of the House say that this situation is due to the change in the electorate representative. In fact it has happened because there has not been a change of government.

The situation throughout Australia is a serious one. At the end of July about 64 per cent of all farmers who applied for assistance with debt reconstruction were rejected. Of those who applied for assistance in the States for farm build-up, 59 per cent were rejected. So far the State governments have committed $76m or 61 per cent of the money that is available to them for this purpose. About $ 124.5m is available. In other words, there is not a great deal of money left to meet the needs of farmers. How many more can be helped throughout the Commonwealth of Australia? I calculate that, on the present basis of an average $24,000 debt reconstruction loan, about 1,833 farmers can be assisted. Probably about 444 farmers can be assisted with farm build-up. In other words, by the middle of next year, when all this money has been expended, a total of about 5,000 farmers will have received assistance under the Commonwealth rural reconstruction scheme - about 2.5 per cent of the nation's 200,000 farm owners, farm lessees and share farmers.

No significant impact is being made on the colossal problem of rural indebtedness, which was calculated to be about $2, 100m as at the middle of last year. The money that will have been made available by the middle of next year will cope with only about 5 per cent of that debt, which is one of the basic reasons why there is this continuing stagnation in the countryside. Yet the Commonwealth Government is pouring this money into rural unemployment relief, although one would have to say that on the whole it is not being used as efficiently as it could be if it were put into reconstructing the debts of farmers so that they could return to viability and so that they could get the economy of the country areas moving again. Money is being wasted for the purely dogmatic and political purposes of this Government.

Mr McLeay - Will you tell us what the Labor Party would do?

Mr KENNEDY - We will come to that. The honourable member might like to join in the debate. He might like to come out in public and debate the point. If he did, he would be the first one on that side of the chamber to do so. A few more aspects of the rural reconstruction scheme are most disturbing. The rehabilitation part of it is supposed to have been a major social welfare step in rural reconstruction. It was supposed to have been a great achievement of this Government. Apart from lengthening the period of the farm build up loan the sole achievement was to increase the amount available for a person for rehabilitation from $1,000 to $3,000. That move in April last was quite an achievement. All that Mr Borthwick, the poor old Victorian Minister for Lands - a Liberal - could find to say about the changes made in April was that the new S3.000 loan goes further to recognising a social problem. What an achievement! In Victoria by the end of July 3 farmers had been offered rehabilitation loans of $3,000 each. I suppose that is quite good for the Liberal Party. Throughout the Commonwealth, 51 farmers had been approved for rehabilitation assistance of $3,000, yet we know that in Victoria alone hundreds of farmers are being forced off the land. Throughout the Commonwealth thousands of farmers are being squeezed off their properties. What is happening to them? They are getting no assistance from this scheme.

Let us have a look at another of the Government's fundamental approaches to the problem of reconstructing agriculture. I refer to farmer retraining. By July this year about 70 farmers had been approved for retraining throughout Australia. In Victoria the number rose dramatically to 23. Earlier this year when the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun) and I raised these problems the Minister, said that everything was going very Well. So it was going very well - by this Government's standards. Only 23 farmers were approved for assistance in Victoria yet there are abou.. 200,000 farmers of various kinds throughout the Commonwealth. A study of the Budget papers will show how much was allocated for 1971-72 for the retraining of farmers and employees. Only 9 per cent of the amount allocated was actually spent in 12 months. Yet this Government is going to the farming population and saying that it is genuinely concerned about their needs.

This Government is based purely and simply on materialism. It has no concern for the social and spiritual welfare of the people of this nation. It is continuing the disastrous series of blunders and mistakes. One that comes to mind is the women's retraining scheme. In Victoria after the scheme had operated for 18 months 111 women were being retrained. What a fantastic effort! Probably about 20,000 women should have been eligible for retraining. Let us look again at the retraining scheme for employees who have been superseded by technological change. When the honourable member for Kingston raised this matter a few months ago he discovered that the amazing number of 2 employees throughout the entire Commonwealth bad been offered retraining under this scheme. Is the Government really serious? What does it care about? Does it really care about the human wellbeing of the people it is supposed to represent? Of course not. It cares only about profits and prices. It is based on utter and undiluted materialism.

Let us also consider the new programme to deal with rural indebtedness. This is the Liberal Party at work. The sum of $20m is all that it can offer so far to the Australian farming population to tackle the fantastic problem of rural indebtedness totalling about 8200m. One can only conclude that it is a hoax on country people aimed at dressing up a last minute election gimmick. It is not a genuine solution to the chronic problem of rural indebtedness. In fact, that $20m is the only sum that has been guaranteed for assistance to farmers. When it is shared out amongst the States Victoria will receive about $3.3m. At present the average debt reconstruction loan in Victoria is about $25,000. In other words a few simple statistics show that this scheme in Victoria will provide assistance for about 130 farmers. Perhaps this is not so unbelievable because it is par for the course for this Government.

I repeat that the only guaranteed sum available so far is $20m and of that amount Victoria's share is likely to be about $3. 3m. On the current rate of loans in Victoria for reconstructing farm debts under the rural reconstruction scheme this trifling sum will provide loans for only an extra 1 30 farmers in the entire State. In Victoria so far about 1,600 farmers have had rejected their applications for reconstruction of their debts. Unless further moneys are added the sum guaranteed will provide loans for only 8 per cent of the 1,600 farmers who have been rejected so far. To cater only for the 1,600 farmers who have already been denied debt relief would require not an extra $3. 3m, not even the sum of $20m provided for the whole Commonwealth, but an extra $40m for Victoria alone.

The new programme will not get within a bull's roar of tackling the problem, but of course it is not really supposed to do so. lt is interesting to study the politics behind the scheme. It is an election eve gimmick dreamed up the night before. Things are not done in haste in the Liberal Party - the conservative party. They are done 2 months before the election. That is the measure of its concern for the welfare of the farmers. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony) made a statement and later the Liberal Party made a statement. Obviously some very bitter divisions exist within the coalition parties over this matter. For example, the Deputy Prime Minister has been publicly advocating a new and separate bank while the Prime Minister is insisting that the money should be provided through the Development Bank. The Prime Minister has said that if there is to be a new bank it should be the product of co-operation between the private trading banks, the pastoral finance companies and similar bodies. But Mr Anthony wants to have a glittering new institution for the farmers that he can call a rural credit bank.

This proposal for a new bank will go the same way as the Government's 1969 election promise to set up a rural loans insurance corporation to guarantee more long term low interest rate loans. Few honourable members will recall that offer in 1969. The proposal was scrapped after the election and has not been heard of since. I believe that the Commonwealth Bank should be strengthened and expanded to provide more facilities for farmers. A national reconstruction authority should be established so that there can be co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States in a joint planned programme of reconstruction and rehabilitation for the whole of the countryside. Until we tackle the basic problem of rural indebtedness I do not believe that there will be any significant move towards abolishing the disturbing level of unemployment in country areas.

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