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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 1981


Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - 1 desire to refer to 3 matters under the combined estimates before the Committee - wine excise, drought relief and the wheat situation. Wine racketeers in Australia are harming the industry and fleecing the customers. The Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) have a joint responsibility to see to it that Government decisions and intentions are in fact implemented. 1 refer to the fact that the Government imposed a disastrous excise on wine which proved to yield little to Government revenue but which dealt a severe blow to the prosperity of one primary industry which had not been in trouble. Pressure from the industry and pressure from the Opposition resulted in the Government retreating before the storm of justifiable protest, and it reduced the excise from 50c a gallon to 25c a gallon. I want to report to the Committee what has hap pened and I intend to quote from a letter sent out to his customers by a so-called Sydney cellarmaster. This illustrates the problem. This is what he wrote:

Dear Customer,

Following the recent decision of the Government to reduce the duty on wines we have reduced the price of all our wines accordingly and enclose a new price list.

Great cheers. We can lift a glass to that. The next paragraph reads:

Unfortunately due to cost increases over the last 2 years, we have been forced to revise our prices.

He goes on:

As from 1st July all prices will revert to their previous level.

Surely this calls for an inquiry into whether it is proper for private individuals to pocket an excise. The Ministers for Customs and Excise and Primary Industry should immediately carry out an investigation to establish the facts of the situation. An investigation will show that some wine racketeers, in Sydney and Melbourne particularly, put 300 per cent on a bottle. One of the nation's leading wine makers told me the other day that he ordered in Sydney a bottle of his own product which should retail for $1.30 and found himself billed for $3. He was not in a place where the wine price was supposed to pay for the song and dance. In fact, there were not even soft lights and sweet music, only a bill. This kind of action harms the wine, industry as a whole. I ask for an inquiry to be made under the auspices of the 2 Ministers concerned to expose the racketeering. I make a further request that the remains of this regressive and damaging excise be scrapped in the interests of the industry and the consumers. The prediction of the Government's own advisers and the. Bureau of Agricultural Economics as to the harmful effects of the tax has been demonstrated. The tax should be removed.

I want to draw attention also to the. serious threat posed by the spreading drought in our country and the tardiness and inadequacy of the Commonwealth Government response. In New South Wales limited drought concessions have been implemented. They have been desperately needed but the concessions are not enough to stop the hardships and losses which face us in so many areas, not only in New South Wales but also across the nation. Mr Crawford, the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture, has exposed the Commonwealth Government's turning its back on drought areas and refusing to grant reasonable State requests for aid. I think the Commonwealth Government should accept the responsibility of meeting the cost of essential drought relief measures as it has done in the past. I suggest that the Commonwealth Government is treating the drought areas of Australia like distant territories calling for tea and sympathy. It has given no real help. The indictment of the Commonwealth in this matter is made by the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture. In a letter addressed to me on 11th September 1972 he referred to the unsatisfactory Commonwealth aid arrangement to assist New South Wales in providing drought and other natural disaster relief. He wrote:

It is correct that since 1970-71 the Commonwealth has determined that expenditure for this State on natural disaster relief, on a fiscal year basis would be $5m. This means that after this State expends this amount the Commonwealth carries all further eligible expenditure.

However, because of this State's serious deficit budget situation in the last 2 financial years, New South Wales Treasury Officials have pointed out as far back as the Third Meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture's Consultative Committee on Drought in March 1971, that this figure is far beyond the financial resources of this State.

The Premier wrote to the Prime Minister in these terms on 8th July 1971, but the reply indicated that the Commonwealth was not prepared to vary from this $Sm trigger figure approach.

Following further consideration of this matter by the Consultative Committee on Drought, Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Australian Agricultural Council, as a compromise a further letter was written to the Commonwealth on 9th November 1971, proposing a 3-tier financial arrangement for natural disaster aid. Under this proposal, in any particular financial year, this State would accept responsibility for meeting the initial expenditure of Sim, the next $8m being shared equally by the Commonwealth and State, with all further expenditure being met by the Commonwealth.

In view of the serious drought situation that developed in New South Wales during the autumnwinter of this year, and the fact that the Commonwealth had not indicated their acceptance or otherwise of this 3-tier proposal, the Prime Minister was again written to on 5th July 1972.

In his reply of 7th August 1972, the Prime Minister indicated that the Commonwealth was not prepared to vary from its policy in regard to natural disaster aid for this State, that is, the $5m trigger point.

Because of the seriousness of the drought situation in this State and notwithstanding our budgetary difficulties, during the month of August, Cabinet approved of the introduction of the following drought relief measures: SO per cent rail and road freight concessions on the drought movement of fodder and livestock within the State, SO per cent road freight concessions on these same movements beyond the State borders on interstate movements; SO per cent rail freight concessions on the South Australian Broken Hill-Peterborough line; and the drought loans scheme, including loans for the purchase of fodder, 'carry-on' and restocking.

It will be noted that nothing has been done in the field of unemployment drought relief, as was the case in the 1965-68 and 1970 droughts. The reason for this is that unemployment was always considered to be a Commonwealth matter with this State purely administrating such schemes when the Commonwealth provided the finance, as in the case with the current non-Metropolitan Unemployment Relief scheme.

On present indications, expenditure on the drought relief measures implemented is expected to be at least $3m and could well exceed 55m, and as the matter now stands, the Commonwealth Government would not provide any assistance until the cost of such measures exceeded the latter figure. Further, this State is faced with the very serious situation of having to find up to $5m for this purpose. Therefore, the Premier again wrote to the Prime Minister on 21st August 1972, asking that the Commonwealth accept the responsibility of meeting the cost of the 'essential' relief measures implemented to alleviate the current drought in this State, as it has done on occasions in the past. As a second alternative, the Commonwealth has again been requested to at least support the 3-tier proposal.

That indictment is not by members of the Opposition but by the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture. It is obvious that the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) is playing Scrooge. As he jets between Canberra and Sydney he must divert his eyes from the scars of drought below. I ask him to look from his Olympian height and agree to the reasonable request made by the New South Wales Government and reply to the correspondence which has been addressed to him.

As part of the drought relief programme it is obvious that we should be looking at ways to make wheat available at more reasonable prices than at present. I want to say to the Australian Wheat Board that its gesture in holding wheat stocks in drought areas of the countryside to be drawn upon by local producers is much appreciated. But we are still pretending by the continuance of quotas that we have over production of wheat. It was mentioned by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) and has not been challenged by the

Government that Australia faces a 50-mil- lion bushel deficit to meet our needs at home and also to service our markets abroad. Against this situation we still have the fiction of quotas being maintained. It is obvious that if we are going to avoid giving a major fillip to the black market, which took nearly a third of all the internal wheat sales in Australia last season, we should suspend quotas for this year as a matter of urgency and announce it. We should make sure that all wheat produced across the countryside is delivered into the Board system. There should be a programme of active encouragement for everyone to do that, otherwise we will see the institutionalisation and the spread of the black market, which in the long run will do nothing but harm to the growers and the industry. It is time for urgent action to be taken on the matter which I have raised today, particularly by the Prime Minister who has a responsibility as head of the Government to reply to the head of the Government in New South Wales, to the plea which has been made and has not yet been answered.







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