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Address to the inaugural meeting of the Perth Press Club



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IJ

PERTH PRESS CLUB

Ins uSur .l Meeting

Address 'oy the Minister for Primary Industry and Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party, Hon. J.D.

Anthony.

27th July, 1970.

F or rlesse, 30^m , A, E. S . rn. ,

Mondry. . 27th_ Ju ly 9 1970 .

When Geoff Paddick asked me to talk to you today, I

wondered what to talk about. I asked myself just who I

would be talking to, and decided that it would be that group

of people who have the job of representing the point of view of the people of Western Australia, and reporting to the people of Western Australia on what is going on in the

community.

Then I asked myself how I, as a person whose official

job is to both represent people and to report to them on why

certain things are happening, should use this occasion.

I decided that, as one with special, responsibilities in the field of primary industry, I should try to convey to you a picture of what is going on in the primary industries across

Australia.

And I do it in the hope that you, in turn, will convey at

least some of the picture to the people to whom it is your task

to report.

Because this is the inaugural meeting of the Perth Press

Club, perhaps I could indulge in a bit of philosophising on

what I see as the role of the journalist, particularly as he reports on matters relating to primary industry.

His responsibilities are always heavy ones, but I think

they are even heavier at times, such as the present, when there

is a great deal of doubt, uncertainty and even despair in the

minds of many farmers.

I believe it is your duty to report what is said about primary industry by public figures. But further than that, it is your duty to examine critically what is said.

When things get difficult, as they are now, there always seem

to be people prepared to make statements that do nothing to help

the situation, and that possibly do harm.

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For example, you have a serious situation in the wheat

industry. Someone comes out with a statement about wheat quotas, referring to the scheme as "the Commonwealth Government's

delivery quotas scheme". This has happened over and over again.

Now, you know, or you should know, that this statement is

incorrect as to fact because the scheme is an industry scheme.

Do you publish the statement without question, knowing that it

is going to cause confusion ?

Do you think carefully about the prominence you give the

statement, knowing it to be inaccurate ? Do you make some comment on it in your editorial column drai+ing attention to its inaccuracy ?

There can be no question of interfering with the right of a person_ to express an opinion, but I think we have every

right to insist that what he says for publication is factually

correct.

Of course, you can't always be sure of all the facts, but I

think you must always be on your guard to ensure that as accurate a report as possible is presented. And this must

apply to everyone.

If I say something vihich you think is 'off the beam', I

expect you to tell me so. For preference, I would like you to question my statement before you print it, rather than

afterwards.

I think there must be some responsibility resting on the

media, not to censor what is said, but to make sure, as far as

possible, that what they publish is correct as to fact, no

matter who says it.

If someone carries a banner, or makes a statement saying ...

"Export Anthony; keep the rams", then that's O.K. by me. He's expressing an opinion, and he's quite entitled to do so and

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you're quite entitled to publish it. In fact, I sometimes

think it would be a jolly good idea.

But if he says 50 million bushels of wheat is being traded

across State borders, when this is quite clearly not so, then such a statement, which can cause a great deal of uncertainty

and do harm to an already troubled industry should not be

accepted as factual without question.

There is uncertainty in the rural industries. But I hope

there isn't panic, because that won't get us anywhere. I

believe there is a sound future for farming, but only if we

recognise that change is needed; that change is inevitable.

There seem to be two widely separated schools of thought in

vogue at the moment about Australian agriculture. One is summed un in the slogan "get big or get out" -- a slogan I have

never used (and that will surprise a lot of people who see me as Australia's agricultural arch-villain, trying to drive all

the small farmers off their land).

And the other school of thought is that which calls for radical changes in our whole financial and economic structure, apparently with a view to so changing the economic climate that

every farmer will be able to stay on his land, no matter what its limitations, or the limitations of his market opportunities.

My own views come somewhere between these two extremes. I

haven't used the slogan "get big or get out", but I have said that the choices facing the farmer in today's world will come

down to two: either he must get with it, or, eventually, leave

agriculture. I believe that statement to be true, and I make

no apology for repeating it here today.

There is just no denying the fact that there must be changes

in the structure of our agriculture. Adjustment in agriculture

has been going on ever since there has been agriculture.

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We are lucky that until now we haven't had the need to

adjust brought home to us. But now it has been, and while it's natural for us to resist change, and in some things it is

important that we do, I think we would be foolish to resist it merely through a stubborn unwillingness to accept and adapt to the inevitable.

This isn't to suggest that we capitulate, or throw in the

towel, but that we take a long, careful, clealra-eyed look at our situation, try to assess what the future will demand, and then throw ourselves into the job of building the soundest possible basis of activity in each of our rural industries.

This is exactly what the dairy industry is beginning to do;

this industry that's the butt of most of the criticism and the charges of inefficiency, backwardness and lack of foresight.

The dairy industry has been the first to recognise the need

for adjustment. It was the first industry to come forward with a reconstruction scheme for low-income or marginal farms. Now it's taking urgent steps to adjust its production levels; to gear itself to market demand.

Whether we like it or not. this is going to be the pattern for other rural industries. The wool industry is talking

seriously about reconstruction of low-income farms. There have been suggestions of it in the wheat industry. The fruit industries and grape growers have said they want the same sort of thing.

I believe the people who are thinking this way are being

far more sensible and realistic than those who demand a complete

re-orientation and reconstruction of our economic system.

Too many people in the community think that everyone can

keep on operating on the same basis as the man who makes the mousetraps in Sydney. You may have seen a report about him on television recently.

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He makes mousetraps with an ancient, clanking home-made machine built from scrap, has them assembled by a team of

grandmothers, sells them for five cents each and, according

to the Australian Consumers' Association, they're the best mousetraps you can buy in Australia.

Now, if your product is the best of its kind on the market;

if your costs can be kept down; if there is no substitute for

your product; if there is no surplus of your product flooding the market; if you can produce in volume -- if all these things apply, then perhaps you can go on without adapting to the

inevitable changes and expect to make a reasonable living. But if these things don't apply, you can't.

The simple facts are that costs are rising -- not as much

in Australia as in many other countries, but they are rising and will keep rising.

Prices being received by farmers for their products are low.

For some products they are lower now than they were 15 years ago. For some products prices have been static for some time.

For some they are falling. Wool dropped 16% this year to its lowest level in 22 years.

And the fact is that there is over-production of some

commodities: -wheat and butter, for example. Sugar production has been brought back to a sounder level. There is over-production in Australis, and world-wide. Substitute products are being developed that can take the place of some of our

agricultural items.

There are almost impenetrable barriers that block our access

to some markets. There are quite unfair practices adopted by some countries in the world marketplace -- practices that make

it almost impossible for us to compete,

For example, recently the E.F.C. was selling butter on the

world market at the ruling price of 320 U.S. dollars a ton.

But the exporter has been guaranteed a return of 1,420 dollars

a ton, so the Community makes up the difference of

1,100 dollars a ton -- a subsidy of 1,100 dollars a ton.

This costs the E.E.C. about 320 million dollars a year.

Price support policies are estimated to have cost the Community 2,770 million dollars in 1969/70 plus a further sum of more than 2,000 million dollars in structural. payments.

Now, what do we do in the face of all these difficulties ?

The first thing we do is admit that they exist, and-that they won't

just go away; that many of them are here to stay. But we don't sit down and do nothing about them.

We know the problems. The hard part is to find the answers.

To try to find some answers for wool, the Wool Board appointed an Advisory Committee to conduct a comprehensive examination

of the problems of the wool industry. Many woolgrowers are in a desperate position, especially in areas where drought has

accentuated their problems.

The Committee submitted its interim report to me, with recommendations covering such matters as short-term assistance, a single marketing authority, integrated wool-selling complexes, farm and debt reconstruction, drought policy and objective measurement research.

The report is being considered by the Commonwealth, so I

can't make any comment on it.

Again, the wheat industry, the dairy industry and the sugar

industry have tackled their problems of surplus production.

All of them have placed a ceiling on output.

Undoubtedly this has caused and will cause difficulties and hardship., but nothing like the hardship and chaos there would

be without these measures.

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What else do we do ?

We continue, as we have been doing for a long time, to

argue in every available international forum for more sensible and fairer policies. We keep on negotiating commodity agreements like the International Grains Arrangement and the

International Sugar Agreement, and like the new agreement on

milk powder that has lifted the price more than $30 a ton.

We continue to help farmers offset their rising costs by paying them bounties on some of their inputs; by giving them

the benefit of taxation concessions. Why ? Because there's

no Arbitration Court for farmers; they can't raise their fees, put their prices up; demand wage justice or pass on their

rising costs, despite their very heavy capital investment and, in many cases, debt.

We continue to help farmers achieve stability in their

industries through orderly marketing arrangements and

stabilisation plans. We keep helping them find and secure new markets. We keep on providing funds for research to help them do their job better and to produce better products at the lowest possible cost.

Why do we do all these things ? Why don't we forget about our rural industries and depend on Western Australia's minerals

to solve our balance-o£-payments problems of the future ?

We don't do that because we can't. We're going to need every centoC foreign exchange we can get, from every possible source.

Our farmers and the things they produce are important to

this nation. There are no more efficient earners of export income than our farmers.

We have few greater and more constant material needs as a nation than overseas earnings from export, and the need will

become greater every day. True, the contribution of the rural

sector has declined relatively in recent years. But it is still of very great importance.

Vast areas of this State and every other State, with thousands

of country cities, towns and villages are dependent on rural industry for their existence. I don't think anyone really wants

to see Australia become even more centralised on a few big

cities than it is .ow.

I'm telling you these things because I believe the farmers of this country -- farmers who are among the most efficient

in the world -- are under attack.

They're under attack not only from the workings of their

economic environment and from the unfair policies of other

nations, but they are under attack from Australian public opinion.

And public opinion can very easily be directed against farmers

by the kind of easy criticism that sneers at the help given to

farmers, but ignores the help given to other sectors of the

economy -- help which many people see as being far more substantial, and help which makes the farmer's burden even heavier.

This criticism ignores the importance to Australia in the

past of our rural industries. It ignores their continuing importance, and the importance they will have in the future.

The high standards of living which most Australians enjoy

have been made possible by our capacity to export. And our capacity to import has come from our capacity to earn the money

to pay for our imports.

For their high standard of living, the people of Australia can largely thank the woolgrower, the wheat grower, the dairy

farmer — in fact all the primary producers.

Far from the popular image of the man on the land as almost

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a parasite living on the rest of the community, the picture could well be turned around the other way. The Australian consumer of imported and luxury goods should realise that he has these things because, to a very large degree, our farmers over many years made possible their import, or the import of the things they are made from or manufactured with:

The alternative to the exchange-earning power our primary producers have given us must have been strict controls over imports, making them more expensive and less competitive with goods produced in Australia.

A further alternative would have been a weakening of the value of our currency. An economy that depends on capital inflow to the tune of a thousand million dollars a year to balance its international books of account is hardly one that

can afford to airily dismiss the exchange-earning abaility of its rural industries.

I'm telling you these things today because I see it as a big part of my job to tell Australians, the vast majority of whom live in the cities, what is going on in the country, what the farmer's problem is, why we need him and why we must help him solve his problems.

I hope loll have your help in trying to help our needy farming community.