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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2751

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) (Minister for Immigration) - I do not blame the the honourable members of the Australian Country Party who sit in what I call the sectional corner in this chamber for being upset. Obviously, when the Australian Farmers Federation in solemn conference rejects them and rejects their point of view and the newspapers of the nation have such headlines as Country Party is Fooling Fanners' and Farmers Rebuff the Country Party', they are embarrassed because what they have been saying over the last few months to the people in the cities is that the countryside is still in the state of recession it was in when the Government changed. I just remind members of the Country Party and members of the Parliament generally that last year across the Australian countryside there was a recession which had been created by the previous Administration and sustained by it, and we inherited that situation.

In the last few months we have been attempting to get the countryside moving again.

We have instituted a series of measures. But there has been a continuing program to suggest that the Australian countryside at the present time is still somehow slumped in recession. I took note of some of the words that were used by Country Party members. As a matter of fact we heard so many of them. We heard such words as 'savage' and 'brutal'. It is incredible the number of expressions that have been used to describe what is happening in the countryside at this time. Of course this was not the story when hardship in fact existed in the Australian countryside. At that time the members of the sectional group sat silent. They said nothing. They voted against measures to alleviate the situation once faced in the countryside. When the Government changed, no credit was available, there was very little hope and there was the greatest queue of bankrupts we had seen in a whole generation. But now that the Government has changed, suddenly with the prosperity that there is now in the countryside, the Government comes in for criticism, presumably because of the prosperity. It is interesting to see what the farm income is likely to be for the financial year 1973-74. It is estimated that it will rise to $2,885m, a rise of 52 per cent since the change of Government.

What has happened is that the members of the Country Party are trying to paint a false picture, but what concerns me about these sectional gentlemen is that they are giving the impression to the Australian people, who are mostly in the cities, that the currency of protest has been so debased that no one from the countryside can be believed in the future. How can a man, when his income is better than it has ever been before, complain that it is not? How can we pretend that there is a recession, that there is a depression, when in fact there has been the greatest recovery that we have seen for years? What concerns me is that members of the Country Party are making fools of the people in the countryside, not of course in their own eyes in their little rural ghettos, but in the sense that they destroy the chance of helping a genuine case of hardship when it is put forward. Of course there are pockets of hardship; of course there are problems to tackle; of course there are things to be done. But after hearing the debasement of the currency of protest by the extravagant language and the inadequate expression of opinion that we hear from members of the Country Party on minor matters, we find that the genuine case has already been destroyed because of their being extravagant and being in fact the worst propagandists since Dr Joseph Goebbels met his untimely end, or perhaps it was a timely end, in the bunker in Berlin. Frankly, I thought that Goebbels was without offspring, but I must say to the members of this Parliament that I believe his children are well represented, all of them, in terms of propaganda, because really the performance of the Country Party in the last few months has been pathetic.

We have talked about rural credit. As a matter of fact a member of this Parliament stood here today and said he was having difficulty getting credit. I do not want to mention his name, because he might be having difficulty, but that is because of his own particular situation. At the present time rural credit is available, whereas it was not before. Let us just have a look at what has happened. After 15 years the first increase in the first advance payment on wheat has been granted. The former Government was in office for the whole of the 15 years during which there was no increase in the first advance payment. Then there was acceptance of our proposal for a national storage reserve for wheat for the first time. So of course we circumvented the repressive quota wheat rationing system of the former Government, which incidentally the State governments still retain. Of course, the first independent inquiry into wheat freight rates ever held is now being undertaken by the Bureau of Transport Economics. We have released further funds for rural reconstruction. There have been bankruptcies, of course. The Rural Assistance Board in New South Wales was itself in need of rural assistance. It had no money; it had not had any for 6 months when we came to office. The Board has money now. An initial sum of $4 8m has been made available, with an offer to provide more to the States on a $1 for $1 basis if the States feel that it is necessary. This has been done.

We have released in addition $20m for farm credit through the Commonwealth Development Bank, again as a first instalment of further new initiatives for rural credit. We did this. We provided the first assistance ever granted to isolated children in country areas. The former Government had been in power for a quarter of a century, but those who are now bleating about the isolated people did nothing for them. Over the years members in this House talked about how iniquitous the tariffs were, how dreadful they were and how burdensome they were, but the former Government never did anything about them. We did. We reduced them across the board by 25 per cent. I heard one honourable member in the sectional corner say that the tariff reductions would put thousands of people out of work, and then he thought that perhaps there are not thousands of people out of work right now but that they will be out of work. Actually I think only 22 people have sought assistance following the cut in tariffs, so the honourable member to whom I refer should do his homework a bit better. Then of course we have set up the machinery to investigate cases where the tariff benefits are not being passed on to primary producers who purchase imported items.

That has been done but of course any publicity of this fact has been suppressed in the countryside because it is not in the interests of sectional groups to have the people they are supposed to represent know what has been done and know what their rights are. We have introduced these measures but members of the Country Party have suppressed information about them. Of course, we also saw for several years the idea of repressing production. We talked about clip management of wool - that was a little euphemism for in fact bringing in rationing of wool. That is what we will have - similar to what was done with wheat. The Opposition did not stay in Government long enough to bring the proposal in. If the Opposition had been in Government long enough we would have had wool rationing as well as wheat rationing. I suppose then that when the Labor Party took over the administration they would have slid gently from under; but thank goodness they were out of government

Honourable members opposite have also referred to their wonderful record. They were in government for many years. In that time a tremendous number of people moved to the cities - even between the last 2 census takings 100,000 people moved to the cities under the previous administration. This Government has made available $33m as a start on decentralisation. It is the first time that any funds have been voted from the national Parliament for decentralisation. Do members of the Opposition think that this is a good move? Do they think that it should be done? Members of the Opposition do not even have the honesty to support that. The Government was anxious to give a new deal to local government bodies in New South Wales by bringing them to the Loan Council - bringing them to the carve-up of tax revenue. So what do Opposition members say: 'Oh no, we cannot have that*.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Scholes - Order! I ask the Minister to come back to the item of the Estimates under discussion.

Mr GRASSBY - Yes, Mr Chairman. I wish to mention one other item before I come back to a particular point I want to make in the time that is available to me. The Government has negotiated long term stability for the wheat industry by the magnificent and successful negotiations with China. That has been done and these are matters for the record. None of these facts has been acknowledged by Opposition members. They have been very carefully suppressed. These facts have been suppressed behind a barrage of the most primitive abuse that I have ever heard in this Parliament. As a matter of fact, I have been thinking of asking the Speaker to circulate to the sectional group in the corner a book of unparliamentary terms because their terms are becoming repetitious. I think those honourable members to whom I refer could use some new terms. Unfortunately I do not have the time to answer all the interjections, but may I say that the tribal rock musical continues unabated.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! If the interjectors keep interjecting I will answer them and they will not hear my answer.

Mr GRASSBY - In conclusion, it is time that we had a look at the consumer price index. In the 60 seconds available to me it is not possible to put forward a considered case on this matter but I suggest that it is not totally relevant to the cost of living and it certainly does not reflect the realities of the situation. I draw attention to the fact that when the potato and the onion are given a status which they do not really reserve in the national diet, it is time that we had something a little different from the present consumer price index.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The Minister's time has expired.

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