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Thursday, 14 October 1971
Page: 2393

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I support the Bill and I wish that the amount were 40c instead of 36c.

Mr Pettitt - Don't we all.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would be prepared to vote for such an amendment as the honourable member for Hume would not.

Mr Pettitt - I would not risk it.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is right. I do not support the amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill. I am opposed to the provision of this assistance on a basis of proof of need. If I had no other objection, I would have strong objection based on the recent experience of the wool assistance measures which did require the fulfilment of certain conditions. The result, as I think - and in fact I know - the Minister himself realises, and as 1 think would be known to nearly every member of the House who has wool growers in his electorate, was that by the arbitrary terms of that assistance many people who desperately needed it were shut out from receiving it.

There is no need for me to speak of the desperate condition of the wool industry today. That is now generally known. I believe that the wool industry is as much entitled to protection under the established protection system of this country as is any other industry. The battle between free trade and protection was fought very many years ago. Protection won and it has been the system under which we have worked ever since. Rightly or wrongly this system is based on the premise that every Australian is entitled to an Australian standard of living, that Australian industries shall not have to compete with industries which are producing at lower world prices, but that both the employer and the employee are entitled to protection so that the employers can obtain an Australian price for their product and pay an Australian standard wage to their employees. I see no reason why we should now depart from that basis. When I see members of this House voting to confine protection for secondary industries to those manufacturers who can produce proof of their dire need and exclude General Motors, the Broken Hill Company and many other wealthy companies from protection then 1 will be prepared to consider applying the same system to the wool industry.

However, while the established protective system of Australia remains and that assistance is granted on the basis of a price supplement irrespective of the individual means of the manufacturer or secondary producer, and so long as that continues to be the policy in Australia, I will strenuously oppose any other basis for assistance to the wool industry. The honourable member for Hume has stated correctly that the basis of the wool industry's problems today is cost. I put it to the House many months ago, and the honourable member for Hume would not then agree, that the great evil which has beset primary industries is the product of inflation and I think that this is perhaps more clearly recognised generally today than it was 12 months ago.

A heavy responsibility rests upon the Government because it has allowed inflation to develop unchecked since 1950. In 1950 I think the basic wage was about £5, the equivalent of $10. Today it would require S50 to give an equivalent standard of living. In 1945, 1946 and 1947 the price of wool was somewhat akin to its price today. The wool producer today would have been able to live without Government protection if the value of money had remained unchanged since that time. The value of money has declined so greatly, firstly, because of the Government's failure to take adequate monetary and economic measures to preserve the value of the Australian currency. Secondly, it has inevitably developed because of the need to provide through the Tariff Board protection to the secondary industries of Australia so that they could continue to sell on the Australian market with increased costs bringing about an increase in the prices of secondary products. The third reason for the decline is because the workers in secondary industry have had to be given, through the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court, periodical increases in the amounts of their wages to offset increased prices. Their living standards have not necessarily improved, but at least in the whole secondary sphere an effort has been made and machinery has operated to maintain the living standards of the workers by granting the amount of money they need as the value of money declines and by preserving the prosperity, and the ability to produce, of the manufacturers and other secondary producers through the machinery of the tariffs and other similar machinery.

But all those costs have had to be met right up until now by those primary industries which receive no protection and which still have to sell at the world price Their position is impossible today and they face ruin mainly because of that factor. The time has come when it must be recognised that the primary industries, which in former years were able to compete on world markets and still pay the price of protection of secondary industries in Australia now must have a similar measure of protection provided for them. This could be done - it should be done - by the establishment of governmental tribunals to estimate, as they do in secondary industry, the costs of production and the amount necessary to be received by the producer to enable him to maintain an Australian standard of living, the difference to be made up from public funds as a price deficiency. I have heard even farmers themselves say that this would be impracticable because of the huge expenditure which it would involve from the public purse. The amount of expenditure from the public purse todav in all forms of monetary assistance to primary industries amounts to a few hundred million dollars and this present legislation may increase it, depending on the future of the wool market, by perhaps another SI 00m or SI 50m, I do not know.

The fact needs to be taken into account, however, that from the public purse today directly and indirectly we are providing assistance and protection to the secondary industry at a rate close to S3,000m a year - somewhere around §2,800m every year. The position, therefore, has become untenable and impossible. There is no sign that the inflation is ending. There is every indication that it is indeed increasing in speed. Unless action is taken now to do 2 things, both to curb and stop the inflation and, at the same time, to bring primary industry into the sphere of protection which is already given to secondary industry, then the alarming and dreadful situation which we already face in Australia will intensify. That is the situation of extreme and increasing poverty in country districts, and extreme and increasing money affluence - I am not talking of living standards - in the metropolitan areas.

Already there is a constant everincreasing stream of country people who, out of sheer desperation, being unable any longer to make a living for themselves and their families on the land and in country towns, move into the great capital cities of Australia. We know that Sydney and Melbourne are each likely to have a population of 5 million by the year 2000, less than 30 years from now. At the same time the denuding of the country districts of population is steadily proceeding. I can speak very clearly of the position that has continued to develop in my own electorate and in other rural electorates over the last 20 to 25 years. It is a position completely unhealthy from the point of view of the Australian nation. It is a position fraught with all kinds of threats to our wellbeing as a nation, but it must and will continue while secondary industry and secondary industry workers are protected always - properly so - against increasing costs and increasing prices, and an equivalent measure of protection is not recognised as just for primary producers.

The present Bill does something - very little - to redress the position in the wool industry. It will not by any means restore the position of the wool industry to a share in the prosperity of this nation which it formerly enjoyed. It will do no more than enable some wool producers to stay upon their properties and succeed in battling it out. I do not deny - no-one could deny - that if the Government provides this money to all growers some will have more need of it than will others. Some, through private wealth or other resources, will not be in nearly as much need of it as the majority of wool growers will be, but once we begin to impose arbitrary restrictions, means tests and requirements of proof of poverty before payment is made then, firstly, we fail completely to recognise the justice of providing this measure of protection to the wool industry, and secondly, we create humiliating unreasonable and unfair conditions for this section of Australian producers which conditions do not apply to all sections of producers in the secondary division of the Australian economy.

Dr Mackay - You are attacking the amendment then, are you?

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Have you just come in?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member will address his remarks to the Chair.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am, Sir. I am saying that the Minister for the Navy apparently has just come in. Therefore, it is quite understandable that he did not hear me say in my first sentences to the House that I support the Bill - although I wish the price were 40c per lb. not 36c - but I do not support the amendment which has been moved at the second reading stage. However, there are some good things as well as bad things in the amendment. I feel a great objection to not voting in accord with my stated position in the House. If this amendment had been confined to the establishment of this means test, then I would have voted in the House against the amendment, much though I would have disliked the necessity to sit with honourable members on the Government side instead of with my colleagues on the Opposition side. However-

Dr Mackay - Here is the escape clause coming.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is no escape clause. The amendment contains provisions which are of value. Therefore, I propose to abstain from voting on the amendment. I have already informed my Party that I am not to be paired as being in favour of the amendment. I have done my very utmost, after studying the amendment, to examine my own position, and I feel that that represents the proper way to do it. At the same time, I want to make it plain in the most unqualified terms, my objection to this proposal. I have objected to it since the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) first stated it in the House as being the attitude of the Labor Party, or so I understood him. That was prior to an attitude on the matter having been decided by the Party to which I belong. I immediately sought leave to make a statement, but it was not possible to obtain it. I immediately informed the honourable member for Dawson and the Leader of my Party of my attitude. Since then I have not taken part in any discussions on the matter inside the Party room. It is very unlikely - it is certainly not my intention - that I will again be seeking suffrages of the electors of Eden-Monaro, so I hope it can be accepted that I am speaking purely in regard to a matter of principle which I believe to be of the utmost importance. I thank the House for its attention.

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