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Wednesday, 23 May 1973
Page: 2494

Mr WHAN (Eden) (Monaro) - Let us go back to 2 November to put this debate in context. On 2 November there was the following headline in the 'Daily Telegraph': Minister and PM Disagree'. What Minister? It was the then Minister for Primary Industry. The former Prime Minister and former Minister for Primary Industry disagreed on one essentia] thing - rural credit. As the former Minister for Primary Industry correctly said, it is essential for farmers to receive long term credit because of the difficulties of marketing and the changing character of development of farms. Even though the $65m - a wonderful figure - grant from the farm development loan fund is a good start, it is only the beginning and it is not enough to establish a rural bank. In the 'West Australian' newspaper on the same day the following appeared:

The Prime Minister, Mr McMahon, said tonight that the Government had not yet completed consideration of the many complex issues involved in a rural bank.

The honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) is quoted as saying that he was disappointed. The article continued:

The decision is a setback for the Country Party, which has been pressing for the establishment of a rural bank since the Treasurer, Mr Snedden, announced in the Budget that $20m would be allocated for long-term rural loans.

The facts are that we entered the election campaign with not a farmer knowing whether there was to be a rural credit scheme. The decision making process in the previous Government was that the Country Party proposed and the Liberal Party disposed. This applied not only to the question of rural credit.

Let us go back to the debate on the reserve price scheme. Who was the vigorous opponent then? It was none other than the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon), who later became Prime Minister. Who were the supporters - luke warm I admit - on the election platform? None other than the Country

Party. At that time the Minister for Primary Industry was Sir Charles Adermann. Now this decision making process is being held before this Government as a worthy ideal for it to follow. Let us look very carefully at what has happened. The reason that this matter of definite public importance has been raised today is that in the Victorian electorate of Dundas the Australian Labor Party first preference vote increased in the recent Victorian election. We lost that seat because the Country Party in one of a series of desperate moves in the previous election had given its preferences to the Labor Party. However, in this election the Country Party withdrew those preferences from the Labor Party and witnessed the spectacle of its total vote being reduced considerably. That is the motiviation of the Country Party in bringing this matter on for discussion today. The fact is that this Government has announced explicitly to many farmer organisations - I have spoken to some ten or twelve of them - that agricultural policy is now undergoing review. This Government refuses to initiate action impulsively. It requests, and in fact insists, that this long term planning in which we are now involved, must be firmly based but the industry must understand what is being done.

Sitting suspended from 1 till 2.15 p.m.

Mr WHAN - The Opposition parties have created a fiction in regard to the way this Government works. We find the Opposition parties more readily accepting their own fiction because their own governmental mechanism was very strongly dictated by the whims of whoever happened to be the Prime Minister at the time. The facts are that the mechanism used by this Government to arrive at decisions involves the back benchers in a considerably more intimate way than was true for the Opposition parties when they were in government. This Government has as a mechanism 3 decision making areas in this process. The first consists of the Caucus committees. In regard to the present debate, the Government's primary industry committee is the relevant one. We also have Cabinet and Caucus. By the time the decisions have been through these 3 areas, they have been subjected to very close examination and we can be sure that the policy that evolves from this mechanism is very soundly based.

In particular, the primary industry committee, as are most of these committees, is taken extremely seriously by the Ministers involved. On the primary industry committee we have not only the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) but also the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) and this shows the falsity in what was claimed by the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) earlier today in this House. The honourable member for Wannon has done nothing but display his own ignorance and complete neglect of the facts of the situation. The committee that makes these decisions has as its full members the Minister for Primary Industry and the Minister for Northern Development. How could the Minister for Northern Development go behind the back of the Minister for Primary Industry when they are members of the very same committee that makes the decision? It is absurd to make this claim.

The members of the Opposition are deluding themselves in perpetuating their fiction of what they believe happens. They have failed to see that the electorate has long since failed to believe the fictitious images that the Opposition raises as a spectre in connection with the Government Party. The primary industry committee, of which I am secretary, has made itself available to all industry groups in the agricultural sector. These groups have displayed a great willingness to speak to the committee. Not only that, but they have also commended the attitude of this Government for its willingness to wait for one year to collect the information and the views of these primary industry groups before it enters into any important policy decisions. The Government subjects these matters to a great deal of consideration and, in fact, we find that the agricultural interest groups have far more interlligence and rationality than the Australian Country Party has traditionally given them credit for possessing. These groups recognise that their policy must be based on a rational and sensible ground.

When this Government took office, it found as I have already illustrated, complete confusion as to what the Opposition's position was in regard to rural credit. Not one elector could tell honourable members what the now Opposition intended to do after the great dispute between the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony), the Prime Minister of the day and the then Minister for Primary Industry. Absolute confusion was the keynote of the previous Government on rural credit policies. We found a complete absence of any long term drought relief program which would mitigate against the serious effects of drought and other climatic factors. We found absolutely no protection for market price variations. We found the apple and pear industry in complete chaos. We found that land speculation was so rife as a result of the economic policies of the previous Government that the rating systems in the country had created an impossible cost for the agriculturalists. We found them paying rates that were more equivalent to rents and the very basis for these phenomena was that the previous Government had permitted land speculation to occur unchecked.

But we look not only to rural finance and the wool reserve price plan to find this dichotomy of opinion between the Liberal and the Country Parties in the previous Government; also, the Country Party wanted to recognise China, while the Liberal Party did not. Public statements were made by the respective leaders of those 2 parties which illustrated a complete disagreement on that point of policy. In this debate one can see the reflection of this confusion between these 2 factions of the previous coalition Government. Yet the Opposition has the audacity today to hold before this Government - a government which is 5 months old and which already has established its reputation as being sensible and soundly based among the agricultural groups - an illustration of the way in which it made decisions for the rural sector when it was in government. I know that the electors in the country will not accept this but will turn down the confusion that that coalition Government represented. Fundamentally, that is why this matter has been raised as being one of public importance.

I mentioned earlier the vote in the Victorian electorate of Dundas in last Saturday's State elections. The facts are that in the rural areas of Victoria, the Australian Labor Party vote increased last Saturday. The vote for Labor in Dundas, Portland and Kara Kara was higher than for the previous State election. The Country Party vote in Wimmera was half of the vote it received at the previous election. The only solid result to emerge from that election in Victoria is that the Country Party and the Democratic Labor Parity are a dying race. Let us consummate their marriage quickly and see them exported from this country as quickly as possible.

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