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Thursday, 7 October 1971
Page: 2087

Mr HURFORD (Adelaide) - In discussing the estimates for the Department of Customs and Excise, the Department of Primary Industry and the Department of Trade and Industry, I hope very briefly to cover 3 subjects. The first subject is the rural crisis. A member from a city seat has very few opportunities to talk on this subject as there are others from country electorates to take the opportunity to speak on Bills which affect rural areas. The second topic which I wish to mention is the European Economic Community. We have not yet had an opportunity to discuss this subject which is most important to this country. If I have time, the third subject with which I will deal is tariffs.

Firstly, I want to congratulate the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) for raising a subject which 1 think must be of interest to all of us in this house. I am aware that he has information which allowed him to bring up this subject immediately, almost on the same day as the tabling of the tariff reports. This is information which is not in the hands of the rest of us yet. But very properly the honourable member has used this information to question the Government. I think he would agree that the case is non-proven but it is quite proper that he should raise it. We all recognise that the honourable member is acting on a minority report and that there are other members of the Tariff Board who have a different opinion and who have not signed that report or those criticisms. We want to hear that side of the story before any of us make up our minds. We do not have a party view on this but the honourable member is-

Mr Anthony - Every member of the Board has signed the report.

Mr HURFORD - They all signed the report but they have not signed the minority report or the criticisms of it. What I am suggesting is that it is proper that the minority view should be raised in this Parliament for those who have the responsibility to answer the questions being raised here. That is the point I am trying to get across. I congratulate the honourable member for raising this matter but I want it known that he is not necessarily putting forward a party view on this at all. We want to know the answers to the questions he has raised before making up our minds on it.

Let me turn to the rural crisis. There are 2 points that I want to make about this matter. One is that we should recognise that for 20 years now we have been the lucky' country in regard to selling our primary products on the world market. If we look at the United States of America, the United Kingdom or Western Europe, we find that all of those countries have had to undergo very serious rural reconstruction. If we look at our own country we find that our great product, wool, has been one of the few primary products in the world for which the production cost has been less than the price on the world market. For reasons 1 shall come to and for some other reasons that none of us know the price of that product has now dropped in such a way that we are in the same position as those in the rural industries in the United Kingdom, the United States and, to a great extent, Western Europe. We are grappling with this great problem of reconstruction.

This brings me to the second point - that is, that we are suffering from a government whereby the Australian Country Party interests are the tail that wags the dog. The result of that has been that we have had a government which has been operating in a complete vacuum. The Government has not got out and led this country; it has not got out and instituted those rural policies which are in the best interests of the whole of this country. The Government has been waiting for the industry on each occasion to make up its mind. This is just not good enough for this country.

The Government's behaviour affects not only those many thousands of people living in the rural districts but also people who are living in electorates such as mine. This is my excuse, apart from the fact that I had my upbringing in country areas, for talking on this subject in the Parliament. My electorate, the city electorate of Adeaide, is being affected by this rural crisis. We are all being affected. I do not want anyone on the other side of the chamber to get up and say that I have no right to talk about this matter. I think I am an informed observer and, as I say, I was brought up in the rural districts of Western Australia. I am sick to death of suffering a government - and so are the people who I represent - which has waited for industry to make up its mind.

We have had referenda at which decisions have gone against the Government, where every informed person has known that the referendum should have been passed and there should have been a yes vote rather than a no vote. We have waited and waited for decisions to be made; we have arrived at the situation that we have today. So my one short message in the short time at my disposal is: Let us look at the way in which the United Kingdom, Western Europe and the United States have had to grapple with the subject of rural reconstruction. These countries certainly did not use the sort of policies that we are seeing in this country at the moment. I refer to policies concerning a wool commission, and a rural reconstruction scheme which is doing nothing but scratch the surface. We have to grapple with the problem. We have to go out and show and tell the people that 30c per lb for wool is probably the maximum that we will get in the foreseeable future. We should do this instead of hoping like Charles Dickens' character Mr Micawber for something to turn up and not get on with the policies which ought to be instituted in this country.

I now come to the second subject - the European Economic Community - because here the story is much the same. For years we have seen that Britain was likely to go into the European Economic Community. Yet, today and yesterday we have had in our midst in this Parliament Mr Les Huckfield, the member for Nuneaton in the British House of Commons who is trained in this economic field and who has told us just how we have missed out in relation to what New Zealand has done in the negotiations for Britain's entry into the European Economic Community. There may be excuses because of the terrible time the Government has been suffering with its clash of personalities; whether the Prime Minister would be the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) or the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon); and whether the right honourable member for Higgins would survive as Minister for Defence and so on. But while these things have been going on we have not had a proper voice of government in the negotiations which have taken place in Europe. As a result we have found ourselves being sold down the drain by Great Britain in her negotiations with Europe.

We have had a government that has not even known what it has wanted in these negotiations. Industries, such as the vine fruits industry in my own State and indeed the sugar industry in the State of my colleague, the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), are now facing an even greater crisis than they would have faced in the present rural crisis for other reasons of prices on the world market.

I had the opportunity earlier this year to be in Brussels, the capital of the Community. I also visited the House of Commons in London where I talked to those who have been involved in the negotiations in Europe. It was clear then that, whatever Australia's interests were, Britain would go in. Indeed at that time in January and February when I was in England it was still not clear what the term of entry would be. That was the time when the really strong representations should have been made on these subjects by Australia in Brussels and London. Indeed there was no-one to speak at that time with the strong voice of government. We have been sold down the drain by this Government in the negotiations and we now have to pick up the tab - and it is not a very nice tab we are picking up - in all the reconstruction that has to take place. 1 want to move briefly to the subject of tariffs. I congratulate those honourable members from my party who have spoken on this subject. However, I want to point out what they have pointed out - namely that in this plank of our platform on the subject of tariffs we are absolutely sold on the idea of having an independent Tariff Board to examine each one of these industries closely. We recognise that full employment is the No. 1 plank in our platform. We all know that there is nothing more degrading for any community than to live in a country in which there is unemployment. At the same time, we believe that this Government has allowed industries which are inefficient to grow where strong action would have made sure that employment was maintained, that a ceiling was put on employment in those industries and that the resources of and employment in our country were transferred to other industries where there would be greater economic growth.

Unfortunately, this is a vast subject which is far too long to cover in 10 minutes.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Hallett) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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