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Tuesday, 15 May 1973
Page: 2141

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon) - The Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) has introduced into this House Bills which substantially alter arrangements and firm commitments that the previous Government had entered into with the wool industry. I think it ought to be noted that the Australian Wool Corporation is now responsible not only for operating the flexible reserve price scheme but also for wool promotion in Australia and for the promotion of activities of the International Wool Secretariat so far as Australia is concerned. It is responsible for the management of wool store; for the woo] testing authority and it is responsible for making recommendations concerning the expenditure of research funds. So it covers a wide ambit.

The purpose of these Bills is to make funds available to the Australian Wool Corporation to enable it to carry out a significant part of those obligations. Therefore it is all the more disturbing, I think, to see that this present Government has decreased the commitment that the previous Government made for the year 1973-74 from over $33m to $22m. This

Government has announced a 1-year program instead of a 3-year program and, since there can be no guarantee about what this Government might do in future years, it has reduced to $22m a $11 3m commitment by the previous Government to the Australian Wool Industry Conference. If the pattern of the past is any guide, it is likely that this Government will say to the wool industry in the future: 'Find all the money yourself. So it is a pretty serious matter. The fact that it is a 1-year program will gravely handicap research and promotion activities - particularly the research activities in Australia of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, universities and State departments - and promotion activities in Australia and through the International Wool Secretariat. It is just not good enough to provide finance on a yearly basis for this kind of operation. The Minister for Northern Development at least should have known that. However, although before the elections he may have had some interest and concern in primary industry matters, we know what has happened since.

The decisions of the Government will make forward planning impossible in the important areas of research and promotion. But one of the most disturbing features of these decisions is that they have been taken without consultation with the industry. When the previous Government was entering proposals to examine what ought to be done in terms of support, research, promotion and stabilisation programs for primary industries, the then Government entered into the closest possible consultation with those industries so that they would know the Government's mind and we would know theirs. Then, of course, the Government, had to make a decision, having that knowledge and understanding behind it. It was that kind of negotiation which led the previous Government to make a commitment over 3 years amounting to a total of $11 3m. But with the present Government we find, in marked contrast, statement after statement from wool industry leaders saying how these decisions that we. are now debating have been taken without any consultation with the industry at all. In fact they have been governed by the back room doctrinaire views of the Australian Labor Party and the Launceston Conference and the guidelines that that Conference provides in determination of rural policy. That does nol really leave any room for consultation with primary industry organisations. If there is such consultation it can only be a farce because of the back room doctrinaire approach that industry leaders are beginning to know will determine the Goverment^ actions.

In this instance I think it is all the more regrettable because the Executive of the Australian Wool Industry Conference has given a great deal of time and effort to determining what ought to be the Government's and the industry's future approach on these matters. The Conference has been completely bypassed and this is not something that one would have expected from the kinds of statements that were made by the honourable members for Riverina (Mr Grassby) and Dawson (Dr Patterson) before 2nd December. But after 2nd December, when they gained office, it was an entirely different story. Even though both vied to become the Minister for Primary Industry neither of them did. But that again is understandable.

The decisions of the present Government are still even more regrettable because even though the Government might argue that the wool industry is now experiencing greater prices than it has for a considerable period it ignores the history of the last 10 years during which time the industry experienced some of the worst droughts on record and some of the worst prices on record because of unfavourable international marketing situations. In this period the total rural debt increased to more than $2,000m. In 1971-72 one-third of all farmers had an income of under $2,000. In the six or seven years before 1971-72 farm income fell by about one-third while average earnings rose by nearly 90 per cent. Since 1961 net rural indebtedness had increased from $130m to nearly $l,300m. All this indicates is that primary industries, including the wool industry, need some good seasons and some better prices, as they are now getting, to be able to recover and to reduce the burden of undue rural indebtedness caused by drought and low international prices.

But what do we find this Government doing? It opens the till. It does not ask the growers concerned but demands by way of legislation additional levies and at the same time it reduces the Government's contribution. The levy on the growers is to be increased by 70 per cent without any consultation, and the Government's contribution is to be reduced by about one-third. All of this has happened because the Labor Party is governed by the Launceston Conference in these matters. It was a different story before 2nd December. I have mentioned the honourable members for Dawson and Riverina who spoke about revaluation and revaluation compensation. The promise of $500m at 3 per cent to the farming community around Australia was given wide publicity in rural newspapers. But, of course, this has not occurred and is not going to occur.

We only have to go to the words of the Minister for Northern Development to find out why it is not occurring. The Minister spelt out publicly in a public forum what the Launceston Conference meant so far as Australia's primary industries are concerned. When appearing on a 'This Day Tonight' program the Minister, talking about the rural decisions of the Launceston Conference, said:

.   . It was in fact the colossal ignorance of a person who should know better.

He was talking about the present Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden). It was put to the Minister for Northern Development:

But Mr Hayden's remarks seem to find favour with the conference.

The Minister replied:

Yes, I find it very hard to believe, except that perhaps very few members of the conference know anything about rural matters.

That is certainly true. A little later in the same interview the questioner asked:

On a broader note at the conference, the ALP now seems to want to wipe out rural subsidies altogether accepting Mr Hayden's theories. Now. do you go along with this?

The Minister replied:

Look, I find this a very dangerous statement, and Mr Hayden has made this statement many times in the caucus, that is, be seems to be a free trader and certainly his remarks have been published in inverted commas. 'We cannot just keep on pouring subsidies out willy-nilly like a madman in charge of a counterfeit press whether they go to primary industries or secondary industries.' And incorporating those words in an amendment which was passed, means it's a very dangerous thing, because if this is followed by the caucus as it should be it means we will have to vote against the wheat stabilisation bill, dairy industry, the various wool commitments, the Australian Wool Commission, all of these are subsidised industries that cannot stand on their feet under this criteria, more dangerously Graham, is, if this criteria is baid to secondary industry which is a tariff, it means the abolition virtually of all secondary industries in Australia.

There was some more. He spoke about the dreadful morning he had had and the number of phone calls he had received from people who thought that the Labor Party was con cerned about rural matters. Of course, his interpretation of the Launceston Conference was an accurate one, but the smoke screen that he and the honourable member for Riverina were able to put up before 2nd December led many people to believe thu the Labor Party was interested in rural matters. It is unfortunate for the rural industries of Australia that the Minister for Northern Development is politically dead and his erstwhile colleague, the Minister for Social Security, has obviously much greater influence in the Cabinet than he has.

What has happened to this particular series of Wool Bills is only .one example of the whole series of hostile acts to rural communities in Australia. I mention rural communities and not just the people who work on wool, dairy, cotton, wheat or sugar farms. I am referring to the total communities which are dependent on these industries. The Treasurer (Mr Crean) made a statement on 'he 28th December which was perhaps meant to be a late Christmas present. He said in chat statement that the Government would not depart from the principles of compensation adopted by previous governments. This is a report of what he said when speaking on revaluation compensation:

This decision, which means millions of dollars of relief to farmers and industry, was announced after a 2-hour meetings at Mr Crean's Melbourne home. Also attending were Dr Cairns and Senator Wriedt.

We know, of course, from subsequent statements by Senator Wriedt that that compensation is just not becoming available to primary industries. With the exception of apples and pears, a Tasmanian primary industry - I hope there is no particular significance in the coincidence that the senator's own home is in that State - obviously there would appear to be no revaluation compensation in accordance with the principle announced by the Treasurer and which was very soon denied in the statements made available a short while afterwards by the Minister for Primary Industry. Of course, Senator Wriedt is the Minister for Primary Industry because he is a Minister who is happy to put into effect the decisions of the Launceston Conference. We not only have no revaluation compensation for primary industries; but the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry (Dr J. F. Cairns) sneaked out a statement on 10th April indicating widespread revaluation compensation for secondary industries. This shows the changed orientation of the present Government compared to the previous Government,

I had hoped that members of the Government might have believed what was said about open government. Somewhat naively I wrote to Senator Wriedt and asked for a copy of the report of the interdepartmental committee that had been examining revaluation compensation for primary industries. In his letter to me the Minister just referred to the fact that the Prime Minister at his Press conference on 30th January had pointed out that these committee reports are attached to Cabinet documents which are confidential and therefore, of course, are not available to any other honourable member or to any person in the community unless the Prime Minister chooses, as he is doing quite frequently, to make the report available to a Press conference but not to this Parliament. But this action would be typical of his activities in recent times. There is no open government in this matter. There is no reason why an interdepartmental report on revaluation compensation should not be made available. The terms of reference of the committee have been made public. There is no reason at all why that report should not be made public for everyone to see, unless, of course, the Government has something to hide - unless it wants to hide the fact that the dairy, cotton, wheat, sugar, fishing and other primary industries are more than $200m short as a result of the Government's lack of action in this area. So open government has gone.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Rubbish.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - It is quite impossible to get information out of this Government. It is quite impossible to get reports out of this Government. One of the greater deceptions by honourable members opposite is the claim that the previous Government was not open in these matters. We have also been told that research funds for not only the wool industry but also other industries are under examination. It would be much more proper to say that research funds for all primary industries are under threat. Primary industry was promised $500m at 3 per cent interest. What has happened? Rural reconstruction funds have been cut in half. This great Government that has pretended to be the friend of the farmer has also sought to raise interest rates.

Dr Patterson - I rise to a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Bill before the House is the Wool Industry Bill 1973. The honourable member for Wannon has mentioned the word 'wool' only once in the last 9 minutes.

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