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Wednesday, 23 May 1973
Page: 2482

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Leader of the Australian Country Party) - Primary producers traditionally face uncertainties caused by factors such as low world prices, bad weather and changing demands over which neither they nor their government have any control. All farmers face uncertainty from these sources, but today Australian farmers face new kinds of uncertainty - the uncertainty of not knowing whether the Australian Government will support them and the uncertainty of working under a government which seems to be going out of its way to hurt them and to demonstrate its lack of concern for and understanding of their needs. Any government creating this kind of uncertainty by its own deliberate actions is deserving of the strongest censure. The practical effect of the Government's attitude to primary industry can be seen in a number of matters. Firstly, the Government's only 2 spokesmen on primary industries, such as they are, were deprived of the primary industry portfolio by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). This was not just accidental. It was part of the Prime Minister's deliberate strategy to keep the primary producer in his place.

Next, the Government made a decision on the exchange rate and then compounded that mistake with another causing primary producers and all exporters very considerable losses. Yet despite this deliberate action, which was said to be in the national interest - and this has yet to be shown - the Government has refused to provide compensation for the losses it caused. The Government added insult to injury by putting up a spurious adjustment assistance scheme that is not even worth the paper it is written on. A favourite expression of the Government is 'reallocation of resources.' The Government, of course, is involved in a massive program of resource reallocation, shifting incomes from the productive rural industries to the consumer oriented cities. The Government is putting its mouth and its money where the votes are and the Government's anti-rural bias becomes more evident every day. This is shown in its efforts to control meat prices, the cuts in funds for wool research and promotion with a bigger load on growers, procrastination on wheat stabilisation while Cabinet and Caucus brawl about it and reduced funds for rural reconstruction. All of these things are bringing uncertainties to primary producers.

The Government has established an economic task force to find ways of pruning existing support programs, not to mention the Government's attack on the political representation of the country area, country telephones and so on. But the worst factor is the Government's unwillingness to make long term decisions. We have been hearing for 20 years about the Labor Party's great policies for agriculture. Yet, when that Party gets into office and has a chance to act, what does it do? It starts hesitating and putting off, as in the delaying tactics of a referendum in regard to the merino embargo, the wool research program which will run for 1 year only and which will be allocated less money; wheat stabilisation which will be postponed for 1 year; incentive payments for wheat which will run for 1 year only; and rural reconstruction which will operate for 1 year only and will attract less money.

After 20 or more years the Labor Party still does not know what its rural policies are. After harping for years on the need for planning, the Labor Government is, by its own lack of planning and its inability to make decisions, destroying whatever chance rural industries might have had to do their own planning on a firm and predictable basis. The procrastination of the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) in the face of the need to make policy decisions has reached such dimensions as to constitute a real cause for alarm. When decisions are belatedly forthcoming they are inconclusive and usually reflect the Labor Party's attitude of denigration of country people. Rural industry is becalmed on a sea of Government indecision. The impression given is that rural industry is regarded by the Government with something of the same fondness as the Treasurer (Mr Crean) holds for building societies.

A large part of the problem lies, of course, in the tortuous processes of the Labor Government's decision making or non-decision making. Cabinet committees and party committees look at proposals; then there is a full Cabinet discussion involving 27 people; then Caucus must look at the matters and perhaps send them back to Cabinet - and so it goes on. A list of instructions has even been issued to Ministers by Caucus as to how decisions are to be made. While all this shunting back and forth goes on, the losers are all too often the primary producers who are waiting to find out what the Government intends to do.

There are many examples of this, but one will suffice: Since coming into office the Minister for Primary Industry has had before him the compelling problems of the apple and pear industry. The nature of these problems has been exhaustively examined and the Minister has been faced with a clear set of policy options. His response has been to call conference after conference and to assert again and again that he is considering the matter. His latest pronouncement on this matter was issued in Hobart on 13 May after yet another meeting on it. He said: 'I am not going to be stampeded into hasty decisions.'

The worst fears of Australia's primary producers were confirmed by a speech in Paris in April by the Minister for Primary Industry. I shall quote some of the things he said. He said:

We will not be offering assistance to agriculture for the purposes of stimulating production.

That is almost a criminal attitude for a national government to take at a time when there is a world food shortage and when droughts on 3 continents threaten famine of disastrous proportions. I do not support the encouragement of unthinking production when it is not needed; but at the moment it is needed in several commodities. We should be encouraging grain and meat production, but the Government's agricultural policies are working in the opposite direction. With wheat, for example, the Minister said in his speech in Paris:

Any price guarantee the Government may sanction will be strictly limited. It will not be open-ended.

We know now, of course, that he has been forced to back down on that threat. The Government has given an open-ended commitment to the wheat industry, although for only one more year. I welcomed the incentive payment added to the first advance for this year, but let no one think that that reprieve will be for any longer than one year. The Labor Partys' rural rump, as it is called, has not got a hope of winning in the end because the whole of the Labor Party's strategy runs in the opposite direction. Labor knows where its votes are, and that is what counts. That is why the Government wants to control meat prices.

What else did the Minister say in Paris? He said that the Government was setting up a protection commission. That is a misnomer if ever I have heard one. The commission will not protect rural industry; it will attack it The Minister made it clear in his speech that the commission's job will not be to advise on helping to build up primary industry but on scaling down primary industry. One of the worst things the Minister did in Paris was to call on other nations to co-operate in the Labor Party's program to reduce the support given to Australia's agricultural producers. I recall that there was a great howl of anguish from the Labor Party last year when I called on International corporations in this country to resist, in the national interest and in the interest of all Australians, the pressure for shorter working hours. Yet here we have a Labor Minister calling for international support in the launching of an attack on Australia's primary producers. When I did it to help the whole of the Australian people it was wrong: When a Labor Minister does it to attack our primary producers it is right.

There should be no misunderstanding about the Australian Country Party's position. No one has spoken more, and done more, about encouraging Australian farmers to accept the need for adjustment in their industries than I have. But, unlike the Government and the Minister, I am not committed to a program of dismantling the assistance which agriculture receives and is entitled to receive. The Minister for Primary Industry made his Government's attitude clear when he spoke to the rural conference of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party at Healesville on 10 March. He said:

We don't want the rural sector to become one vast sheltered region soaking up scarce public funds.

No one does. What that comment does is demonstrate the Labor Party's historic antagonism towards the rural industry. It is interesting to note that the conference the Minister was addressing folded up after one day. Not enough people turned up to make up a quorum; so they gave it away and went home. Commenting on that after the Minister had addressed the conference the Assistant State Secretary of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Butler, said that no worth while rural policies bad been put forward at the conference. He said that the attendance was disgraceful.

The Labor Party's record on rural finance also is disgraceful. The Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby), in a most effective confidence trick, talked during the last election campaign of making low interest finance available to farmers in massive amounts. He mentioned a sum of $500m at 3 per cent interest But the deception did not rest only in the words of the Minister for Immigration. The Labor Party's official rural policy leaflet also spoke of long term low interest loans to farmers. In his policy speech the Prime Minister said that the ready availablitiy of long term low interest finance was fundamental to Labor's policies. Yet all we have seen so far is the Prime Minister's statement yesterday that the Development Bank legislation is to be amended.

Again let there be no doubt as to where the Country Party stands on this issue. I have said repeatedly in recent years that I believe that the term of a loan is far more important than the interest rate. I have urged primary producers to accept the view that they should strive to meet ruling market rates of interest for their normal borrowing operations. There was nothing in my policy speech about low interest rates other than for rural reconstruction purposes. There has been no deception by the Country Party. It has become clear now that the Minister for Immigration and the Government as a whole pulled a deliberate and shabby confidence trick on Australian farmers. In raising this matter of public importance I want to ask questions of the Government.

Mr Grassby - I rise to a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It has been-

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