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Address to the Melbourne Rotary Club, Melbourne



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ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER FOR PRIMARY INDUS TRY .AID DEPUTY LEADER. OF TUE

AUSTRALIAN COUNTRY PARTY

TUE HON. J. D. ANTHONYg M.P.

TO THE

MELBOURNE ROTARY CLUB

MASONIC CENTRE

EAST MELBOURNE

8TH JULY, 1970,

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I recall another fairly recent occasion when I was invited to

come to Melbourne to address a much bigger audience than this one. 'I think there were about 10,000 in that audience, and I was taken to task pretty severely for not being there - in the Treasury Gardens °- to speak to the farmers who had earlier marched through the streets of Melbourne. I hope farmers won't get me wrong when I say I think that, in some waysD its more important for me to speak to groups such as this one, than to

speak to farmers themselveso

It is important for me to speak to farmers, and I do so very frequently. I must get their views, and give them mine and the Government. ts. But I believe that, in the farmers" own interests, it could well be more valuable for me to speak to you, on their behalf.

I say this because the simple fact is that fanners are a minority group - and a declining minority - in the Australian community, and in the world community. And they have some unique problems, which I will describe to you todayo

If farmers are to receive the sympathy and the understanding and the help - of the community, then the community must be told what is going on in the farm sector. The Community must be told of the tremendous changes that are taking place in agriculture, and of the very significant economic and social impact these changes are making on the people engaged in agriculture,

That is happening in agriculture - not just in Australia, but around the world? Let me give you as broad a, picture as I can, in as few words as I. can.

First, despite the fact that the world =s population is likely to double in the next 30 years, it seems clear that the worlds farmers have the capacity to feed all these new mouths.

In fact, they probably have the capacity to produce more food than will be needed. The agricultural reserves of the world have been tapped to nothing like their real potential using today ts technology.

Of course, it is true that, at present, there are very serious local food shortages in parts of the world, and there are many millions of people whose diet is qualitatively deficient. That is, they do not get sufficient protein, minerals and vitamins,

This is a major international problem and, at the same time, one which has intensely personal implications.

The problem of providing sufficient protein for the world is not so much one of producing it. Some experts say the world already is producing three times as much protein as it needs, but a great deal needs to be done in providing more effective distribution, and in reducing the

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excessive waste of protein which occurs at many stages of food productions handling and processing.

The untapped potential of the world to produce food becomes clearer when you realise that, of the world's 350 million farmers, something like 250 million work with hoes or primitive wooden ploughs. Ninety million use iron ploughs drawn by animals, and only 10 million or

so have the use of tractors.

Only a relatively small part of the worlds arable land is used for growing food, and only a small percentage -- perhaps less than 1O - of the available water is used for food production.

Change little felt in Australia

A further phenomenon of world agriculture today is that increasing quantities of food and fibre are being produced by a diminishing number of people, due to changing technological and economic factors. There has been a great deal of discussion in Australia in the last two or

three years on this phenomenon, but the changes in farm size and rural population here have been almost negligible compared with what has been happening in other parts of the world.

These changes have been taking place here only quite recently, compared with the rest of the world. Indeed, we tend to forget that what we call "adjustment" in agriculture isn't something new at alL Agricultural adjustment has been going on for as long as there has been agriculture, and agriculture began when men found they could plant seed and get a crop from it, instead of moving about in search of food.

In fact, it could be said that the coming of agriculture marked the beginning of civilisation, because men found they had to stay in one place while their crop grew, and so communities of people sprang up in that place.

So world agriculture is changing rapidly, and this change is affecting people who are less accustomed to change than most What is more, the change is often quite fundamental, But this change has been little felt in Australia. This is because we are relative newcomers on

the agricultural scene and we haven't been afflicted with, for example, the countless "mini-farms" of Europe.

While our newness on the world farm scene has enabled us to avoid the situation that has developed over centuries in older agricultural nations, it also allows us to be all the more proud of our achievements in agriculture in what is, after all, a fairly short time.

I'm prepared to claim that our farmers are among the most efficient in the world. Some of them are the most efficient in the world.

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Others of them who are branded as inefficient - most often our dairy farmers - are nothing of the sort. Very few countries - probably only Ne' Zealand - can take the honours from us. But we are not faced with the European situation, where half a million people are leaving the land in.

the E.E.C. countries alone every year. This is producing, or is the result of, a social and political nightmare for Europe.

There is a need for adjustment in Australian agriculture, but on nothing like the scale in other places.

We've had a quick look at world agriculture. Let ts turn to

Australian agriculture, and see how it fits into the Australian sceneo

Ten per cent of the male workforce in Austr Z a is engaged in agriculture. They provide 10% of our Gross National Product,: 90% of our domestic food and fibre needs, and about 50% of our export income.

The performance of the primary producers of this country can only be given the highest praise. In the last 10 years they have achieved a rate of production increase one and a half times that of Western Europe and two and a half times that of North America. It has been estimated that the Australian farm worker feeds and clothes 55 to 60 people at home and abroad. The comparable United States figure - the United States which is often held up as the acme of efficiency -- is 45 people.

Farmers not sharing AustraliaQs prosperity

The tragedy - and it is a tragedy - is that this performance today is not being rewarded to the degree those responsible for it are entitled to expect. The rural sector is not sharing in the prosperity being enjoyed by most Australians. Some rural industries have been in this position for some years, while with others the situation has become difficult fairly recently. In some industries, and in some sections of some industries, the position can be described as nothing less than desperate.

This is so, despite quite substantial Government assistance -assistance, let me hasten to add, that is lchickenfeed compared with the assistance given by some overseas Governments to their farmers, and assistance which Australian farmers don't hesitate to compare with the protection and assistance some of our manufacturers receive.

There is real difficulty in the farm sector. There has been difficulty before. There always is, because farming is not an easy or predictable life. But farmers today are worried. And they are worried not just because things are tough at the moment. Things have often been

tough before. There has been drought before, and there will be again. Returns have fallen before. Costs have nearly always been rising.

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The difference between today's situation and that of earlier times is that, previously, the farmer could see his way to the other end of the paddock, no matter how hard the going might be before he got there. But today, many farmers feel they can't even see the other end of the paddock. They feel there

ts a real possibility they mightn't get there

at all.

It's this long-term concern about the future that has so many of our farmers worried today.

The difficulties occur differently and with varying severity in different industries. With wheat, the problem is one of Australian production levels out of line with market opportunities which have been undermined by world-wide over-production. Australian wheatgrowers have voluntarily, though reluctantly, imposed a very severe discipline on

themselves by cutting their deliveries by about 40% in two seasons, This has caused a great deal of difficulty, and in many cases considerable hardship.

With wool we have a situation in which prices have dropped to their lowest level in 22 years.

The Special Advisory Committee of the Wool Board, in a report given to me yesterday, pointed out that approximately 40,000 woolgrowers this year had a net farm income under $2,000. From this he has to maintain his family and service his capital.

The Committee said the low wool price was due to a number of factors, but principally because of the new competitive price level of wool in relation to other types of fibre. Economic conditions in the major wool-consuming countries have, I believe, temporarily reduced

the price below the normal trend of expected prices. But one must be realistic and recognise that prices under ordinary conditions cannot be expected to improve by much more than ten to fifteen per cent.

The wool industry must now concentrate on making its product more attractive, and. on reducing costs, especially in the areas of handling, marketing and distribution,

The dairy industry is facing very serious difficulties, brought about by the virtual dumping of highly-subsidised butter on our traditional markets. If Britaints bid to enter the*E.E.C. succeeds, our position will be made much worse.

With massive stockpiles of butter in Europe, the Australian dairy industry knows that it must act urgently to adjust itself. The industry already is taking steps to control its production voluntarily in the short term, and is seeking more permanent longer-term measures to gear itself to the realities of the market.

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,These huge butter stocks have been produced in Europe under policies of support estimated to cost the community $2,770 million in 1969/70, plus a further sum of more than $2,000 million in structural payments.

You will see why I used the word 'chickenfeed' when I referred to the support we give Australian farmers*

The one major industry that is relatively free of marketing problems in the price sense is the beef industry. It is doing fairly well at the moment, although it is plagued by problems related to standards of processing meat, and hampered by difficulties of access to markets.

Cost rice squeeze common to all

So, although each industry has its own problems, it can be said that the underlying problem common to all of them is that they are caught in the cost/price squeeze at the same time as they are facing insurmountable barriers in getting their products onto the market. At the same time also, they are affected by decisions made

outside this country on agricultural policy - decisions over which they or the Government have no control.

You all know what the cost/price squeeze is, and you all have felt its effects. May I explain briefly how this squeeze has affected Australian farmers over, say, the last 15 years?

In that time the farmer's costs have more than doubled, but the prices he receives for what he produces have shown virtually no change. In some cases they have fallen, and are lower now than they were 15 years ago. This is a terribly serious matter, and even more so when you realise that the rural sector is in this difficulty despite considerable Government assistance.

The farmer, of course s. has not been inactive in trying to cope with the cost/price squeeze. He has tried to beat it by lifting his production. In fact, he has lifted it by two-thirds in the last 15 years. He has increased his export volume by 80%.

The trouble is, as the wheat industry, the dairy industry and the sugar industry now know, there is a limit to the effectiveness of this method of tackling the problem. All of them have placed a ceiling on productions

Now you will say that every producer in the community faces this problem; that he has to adjust to changing economic circumstances; that he must gear his output to his markets, and so on This is quite true. But I think there is a very real and important difference between

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the position of the farmer and the position of most other people. It seems to me that he is virtually the only person, except for those on fixed incomes, who does not get a more-or-less automatic adjustment in his income as his costs rise.,

For example, the factory worker has his wages adjusted by the Arbitration Commission, whose members have their salaries increased from time to time.

Then the manufacturer, though mindful of his competitive position, may adjust his prices following the wage increase. The professional man can raise his fees. The retailer can charge higher prices. Even some of the people on fixed incomes (social welfare) do receive some

adjustment in their incomes periodically.

Rural problems cannot be dismissed

One of the few people left out of this income adjustment process is the farmer. He cannot be part of it because he is bound hand and foot to world markets from which he cannot, except in special circumstances, extract a higher return.

In this situation, what is our response?

Do we say the Government, the community - that it's really no concern of ours? Do we say we're sorry for the farmer, but if he wants to be a farmer, then he must put up with the problems that are part of farming? To a point there may be some reason for taking this attitude. This is a free enterprise economy. A man can use his initiative to get into or out of whatever kind of enterprise he likes or dislikes. But I don't think we can dismiss the problems of the rural sector as easily as that.

I think it would be tragic if the Australia which for so long has prospered largely as a result of the hard work of its farmers over many generations were now to turn its back on them when they are running into trouble.

I say this for several reasons.

The first is that I believe our farmers have earned the right to look to the rest of the community for understanding in this time of difficulty. I believe the farmer and the things he produces are important to this nation. His contribution to our capacity to earn foreign exchange has been in past years of vital importance, and today is still of very great, though diminished, importance. Wool is still

our biggest single export earner. This capacity is of significance to every Australian,

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Our balance-of-payments position in recent years can hardly be claimed to have been secure when so much has depended on capital inflow

If we are to keep on balancing our international books of account, then all exports are important, and none more so than those which provide the bulk of our foreign exchange - the products of our farmsa

I am one - and I know there are others °- who does not allow the glare from our vast mineral resources to dazzle my vision of the realities of our situation.

I wholeheartedly welcome the contribution minerals are making, and will make, to our foreign exchange earnings, but I think anyone who believes minerals or manufactures can fill the gap in our foreign exchange needs in the near future is sadly mistaken.

The farmer and his industries are important too in their decentralisating role. This is a cause I and my Party see as being not only in the interests of rural people, but in the interests of the whole nation. I can think of nothing more prone to sap our national

financial strength and waste our precious resources than a big city.

If we're talking about the efficiency of farmers, perhaps it would be interesting to examine the efficiency of the city, with its insatiable appetite for money.

In passing, I might mention that last week in New Guinea it was a striking fact that the further one got away from the towns, the happier were the smiles and the waves along the road. Perhaps"there's a lesson there for all of us.

I do not say that our primary industries must be kept in, the structural conditions they are in at the moment. There is a great need for structural change, and for adjustment to changing conditions. The farmer himself must change. But the process will be hard, and he will need help. I believe he is entitled to look to the community he has

served so well, and to receive from it the help he needs.

The traditional picture that has always been painted of the typical Australian has been that of the tough bushman, the farmer. Today the picture has changed and we see a new picture - that of a man driving along a crowded city freeway from his suburban, home to his city office or factory. I hope the smog that blurs his view of the city will not prevent him from seeing what is happening beyond the city limits.

I hope it will not blot out his vision of what is happening out in the country, where the people who have made such a magnificent contribution to the growth of this nation are now finding the going pretty tough.