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Tuesday, 6 April 1971

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) - The Senate and the House of Representatives met on 16th February. All of us were aware that there were grave problems to be solved in regard to inflation and particularly in regard to the rural crisis. Even allowing for the amount of time taken up by alterations within the Government, I cannot let the opportunity pass without expressing my keen disappointment at what I regard as an almost total failure to deal with important issues relating to the rural crisis. I would have expected that the Government would have taken strong action in regard to rural credit for both farmers and storekeepers. In many instances storekeepers have provided credit assistance which the Government should have given. The whole situation is briefly summed up in extracts from 2 letters I received today. They are typical letters, because I have received a lot of similar ones over the last 12 months. The first letter states in part:

I have a first and second mortgage on this grazing property with a finance company.

The name of the company is mentioned. The writer continues:

The second mortgage is at 15 per cent which I was forced to take. They want, to throw me out in 2 weeks' time. I have auctioned the place with no buyers. I have applied to the Rural Finance Commission, but how long it may take is unknown. The first mortgage people at 7½ per cent are pretty decent but they say they need the money too. Senator, is there a moratorium act that I could apply to to save my farm.

Prior to the Senate election I advocated that there should be a moratorium. I thought a farmers' debt adjustment body should be set up to try to assist farmers pending consideration of their cases. Nothing of that sort has been done. There have been some attempts or suggestions by the Government for certain activity. At times they appeared to be bogged down because of relations between the Commonwealth and the States.

The situation today is that a large number of people in Australia are losing their properties because of an almost complete failure to meet the situation.I turn now to the second letter which is in these terms:

We have a general store, and the way things are going with no help from the banks or other agency we have a good chance of losing our home and store after 20 years in business. We are not an isolated case among country storekeepers by any means. We have security which should cover our overdraft but the bank manager says No' and tells us that this crisis in the rural areas could go on for years. If that is the attitude, there will soon be no country stores left in small towns.

I repeat that many a country storekeeper today is almost bankrupt because of credit which he made available to farmers. He has received little or no assistance from the Government and he is going to the wall because he has fulfilled a need that some governmental agency should have fulfilled. The Parliament is going into recess at the end of April and what have we done? Let us be honest. We have done next to nothing this session.

Senator Georges - Do not look at us. Look at honourable senators on the Government side.

Senator McMANUS - The honourable senator is a contributing factor. He is a member of the Opposition. Everybody must accept some responsibility for it.

Senator Devitt - The honourable senator must accept some responsibility for it.

Senator McMANUS - Yes. and the things done by the PaTty to which the honourable senator belongs maintain the Government in office. If his Party exercised any common sense as the Opposition the Government would have been out of office, but the Opposition has been the Government's bestfriend because of the way in which its members have carried on within their own Party. Let us forget the inter-Party bickering and look at the situation of the people who will lose their properties. The Parliament will go into recess this month for 3 months and the people will be left to themselves. I make my protest. We should be ashamed of what has happened in this Parliament in the past 2 months in the face of the rural crisis and of inflation.

What is our position? We have today the highest bank rate of any comparable Western country. Great Britain has dropped her bank rate to 6 per cent, the United Stales to 5 per cent and the other day West Germany dropped her bank rate to 5 per cent. When this matter was raised in the other place and it was pointed out that oversetts interests are now bringing large sums of money into Australia because they get a straight out bonus of 2 per cent or 3 per cent by investing here, the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) replied that we should be pleased that Australia was so attractive to overseas investors. I repeat what I said before. I am completely ashamed of what this Parliament has done in the face of the rural crisis and of inflation.

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