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Thursday, 14 October 1971
Page: 2661

Mr FitzPATRICK (Darling) (3.15) Mr Speaker - (Quorum formed.) I was very surprised to hear the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) go to so much trouble to tell us what would happen if the members of the Australian Country Party left the coalition Government. It seems to me that it is a sign of the times. I do not think that they have very long to go, whether they stay with the terrible Liberals or not. But there seems to be a lot of difference of opinion on rural affairs amongst various members of the Country Party. I happened to notice an article in the 'Riverina Grazier' of 2nd July 1971. Under the heading 'Government rural policies are under attack: Double standards and double talk' it states:

If anyone in Rural Australia, -be they country or town workers or businessmen, farmers or graziers, still believes that the Federal or State governments have done or are doing anything significant to reverse the rural depression, then it seems that perhaps they should have their 'heads examined' as well as their bank balances, comments Mr David Houston, of Budgewah, Hay, Chairman of the Hay Branch of the Australian Country Party . . .

That will give honourable members some idea of the difference of opinion which exists among members of the Country Party. I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) because it makes some provision for the taxpayers' money to reach those people who are most in need of assistance and most entitled to it. It also contains some concrete proposals to put the marketing of wool where it should be. Of course, it must be admitted that this Wool (Deficiency Payments) Bill is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately for many capable and hard working graziers it is too little and it comes too late. I am speaking of the 1.800 Western Division leaseholders who are mostly in my electorate.

One of the unsatisfactory provisions of the Bill is clause 9 which gives every protection to people authorised to receive the deficiency payment on behalf of the producer but which makes no provision for the producer to use the money in the way he thinks is to his best advantage in his particular circumstances. Clause 9 states: (1.) Subject to this section, the person entitled to receive a deficiency payment in respect of wool is the producer of the wool. (2.) Where-

(a)   a deficiency payment has become payable by reason of a sale of wool or the exportation of wool for the purposes of sale outside Australia; and

(b)   if the deficiency payment were part of the proceeds of the sale, or of a sale of the wool outside Australia, as the case may be, a person would be entitled or authorised to receive, or a person being the registered person by whom the deficiency payment is payable would be entitled or authorised to retain, the whole or a part of the deficiency payment by virtue of a security assignment, direction or authorisation given by the producer or a right of set-off. that person is entitled or authorised, as the case may be. to receive or retain the whole or that part of the deficiency payment.

It is well known that producers in the Western Division are heavily in debt to the brokers and the wool houses. It would seem to me that in these cases this clause of the Bill makes it quite legal, and even gives it a touch of respectability, for the broker, who has already taken the greater part of the proceeds of the sale, also to take most, or all, of the deficiency payment. As a result of this clause the shopkeeper, the petrol supplier and the shire council will get nothing because in many cases the producer will get nothing. At present many producers are being allowed only a small living allowance and, in fact, are so much in debt that they do not own anything on the lease. Such a producer is the cheapest labour that the wool broker and the banks can get to manage the property. Already stock and station agents and brokers have refused to extend any more credit to many of these people. For many of them the only source of income is to catch goats in the hills and offer them for sale. Sometimes they have to use them for meat.

Towards the end of his speech the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) called for a number of measures to be taken to support the deficiency payments scheme. He said:

The Government recognises that the present crisis in the wool industry calls for a number of measures which in aggregate represent a concerted approach to the urgent problems affecting woolgrowers. The deficiency payments scheme should be viewed in the context of this total approach. . . . marketing, research into industry problems and farm reconstruction are being pursued with all urgency. . .

This all sounds very good, but does the Minister mean it? Honourable members on this side of the House keep reminding the Government that country shire councils, country stores and petrol firms are all a part of the industry and pressures applied in one area affect the position in other areas. In every town in the Western Division of New South Wales there has always been the big store which, over the years, has assisted lessees to carry on. Over many years these firms have adopted a credit system that has helped graziers in bad times, in the knowledge that when the season improved - mostly in a year or two - the stores would be repaid what the graziers owed. I have been approached by the owners of many of these stores and asked what assistance from the Federal Government's proposition will reach them. They have told me that many graziers owe them as much as $12,000 or SI 4,000.

If the Government really wanted to help the wool growing area it would make some provision to ensure that banks and broken do not get the greater part of these deficiency payments; it would make some provision to ensure that the extra finance supposedly going into the wool industry reaches some of these country business houses and shire councils because they are the bodies that are providing employment for many of the bard pressed graziers' sons and daughters as well as for many other people who in normal times would be directly employed in the wool industry. If these employment opportunities are allowed to dry up it will affect the wool grower just as much as it would if the Government reduced the deficiency payment. Many of the banks and brokers seem to be getting out of it scot-free because they are rapidly moving away from their connections with the country towns. Of course, the Bill does not make any provision to ensure that anyone other than the bankers and brokers gets a cut out of the deficiency payments. Instead, it seems to me to head in the same direction as does the New South Wales legislation which makes provision for large companies to control vast areas in my electorate, [f this practice is allowed to develop the smaller towns will soon disappear.

The Minister for Primary Industry must be congratulated for being big enough to have another look at the list of types of wool to be excluded from the deficiency payment. He will probably remember my asking him a question on this matter. It would have placed many wool growers in my electorate in a hopeless position if some adjustment had not been made to the list. I have no doubt that the honourable member for Gwydir, the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt), also used his influence to have this adjustment made because it is no secret that his electorate would have been affected as much as, if not more than, mine. I cannot see any reason why we should not be asking for the same thing if our electorates are facing the same crisis. The position is so bad in the western division of New South Wales that more of the problems in the industry, in my opinion, should be decided on a non-party basis. Also there should be some connection between action taken by the Department of Primary Industry and action taken by other Government departments, such as the PostmasterGeneral's Department, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Education and Science. What use is there in the Minister for Primary Industry trying to assist people in isolated areas if the Postmaster-General (Sir Alan Hulme) only sees these measures as another opportunity to put up the postal charges?

All over my electorate the people are complaining of the crippling telephone charges. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) would have much in common with me in this regard. The Hungerford Progress Association is bitterly complaining about telephone charges. It is necessary for people in this area to obtain a large amount of their supplies from Bourke. Since the new rates came into force on 1st October, it costs 86c for a 3 minute call to Bourke. The Association is asking that this be reduced to 57c. I remind the House that Bourke is the nearest main centre from which these people can get supplies. If some grocery item has been forgotten a telephone call to order even a pound of butter will cost 86c. When there is a breakdown of machinery and a man has to ring in to get a part sent out, he has to pay 86c.

The Minister in his statement mentioned farm reconstruction. This is also a very vital issue for the people in my electorate because, according to a report of the Upper Darling District Council of the Graziers Association of New South Wales made on 9th July, during the previous 6 months 362 applications were lodged for rural reconstruction and of this number only 2 were accepted. The report went on to say that the rise to 36c per lb for wool may mean in a small number of cases that the Board could consider the property viable and render assistance to the grazier. It also stated that the interest rate for debt readjustment was 4 per cent but for farm build up the Commonwealth Government insisted on a rate of 6.25 per cent. The only conclusion that one can draw from these figures is that both the State and Federal governments are prepared to write off most of the graziers in this vast area. In my opinion, this will prove to be a false economy as far as the nation is concerned because in normal times this area has returned a greater income for the amount of capital invested than have all other areas of New South Wales. Even a continuous drought from 1963 to 1970 would not have put them in the position they are in today had there not been a temporary lifting of the drought in some areas. On 2 occasions graziers borrowed money to restock at high prices and on each occasion they sold their stock at give away prices, and did not have a chance to repay their debts to the bank.

At the present time the country in this area is the best in Australia. Some real reconstruction should be taking place in the interests of Australia, if not in the interests of these very efficient graziers. But while these capable and hard working Australians are waiting for some genuine assistance from the Government extra burdens are being piled on them. Take the case of the conversion of the double side band radio to a single side band radio. The Government has given people using these radios a certain time to change over, but a single side band set costs approximately $1,000. There is no subsidy from the Government as there was in the case of conversion to decimal currency. These people have to find another $1,000 or go without, in many cases, their only means of communication. Yet between 4,000 and 5,000 medical consultations are carried out monthly, and between 18,000 and 20,000 telegrams are sent each month throughout Australia by the use of these radio sets, to say nothing of the School of the Air and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. They depend, for their means of communication, on the efficient functioning of these radio services. lt appears to me that all that is required is a little commonsense and most of these people will be back in the position where they will be putting revenue into the Treasury.

Another matter of vital concern to the people in this area is the zone allowance. People in such places as Nymagee, 60 or 80 miles from Cobar, who receive no zone B allowance but they have to drive into Cobar which is within the zone to get their supplies. People on one side of Ivanhoe receive the zone B allowance while people on the other side receive no allowance. This type of thing is ridiculous. People who are forced to travel to the city for specialist medical treatment for themselves or their dependents get no income tax deduction for the expense they incur.

Of course, one of the big problems in the area at the present time is the education of children in isolated districts. I had occasion to bring a delegation from the Bourke area to meet the then Minister for Education and Science. Unfortunately, the Ministerial switches were taking place at the time and this delegation had hardly left before there was a new Minister. I ask the present Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to take a good look at the case presented by this delegation. In my opinion, the Bill does not go far enough. It looks after a few graziers who are viable while those who are in financial difficulties because of severe drought will get no benefit from it. It looks after the stock and station agents who were the main cause of the problems in the western division because they encouraged the wool growers to borrow money at high interest rates and let them get in too deeply. I believe that the measure offers too little. It should at least provide for a price of 40c a lb for the people in the western division. Therefore, I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson which contains some real guidelines for the recovery of the wool industry.

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