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Wednesday, 12 September 1973
Page: 881

Mr FISHER (Mallee) - Last month as I sat in this chamber and listened intently to the Treasurer (Mr Crean) deliver the first Labor Budget for some 24 years I reflected that a quarter of a century is rather a lengthy time for a party to have been in Opposition. However, during that time we have seen this nation develop at an unprecedented rate. During this time the standard of personal living and affluence of the people of this nation raced ahead of that in most other nations and I could not but feel amazed that this Government, after so many years and so many election promises and after having set itself up as champion of the small man, the wage earner and the small business man, could introduce a Budget so devoid of any policy to deal with the crippling rate of inflation. One could not help but be disturbed that the very thing - inflation - that was eating away at the wage earner's dollar, that was having severe effects upon the people on fixed incomes, particularly our pensioners, was not only to be allowed to race on unchecked but also was to be encouraged and assisted.

I believe we are seeing an obsession to transfer resources from the private sector of our community to the public sector, a transfer of support from the productive sector into the unproductive areas of our economy. Of course, a balance is always needed and advances must continue to be made in fields of social welfare and education but if the source of these advances, the growth and wealth producing areas of our economy, are restricted or hamstrung and if the scourge of inflation is allowed to race on unimpeded, the Government will end up robbing the very people it makes a sham and a pretence of representing. Education and social welfare have been given top priority in the Budget, as they should be in any Budget, and while this is not the place to debate fully these 2 vital areas of government responsibility, I commend the government for many of the measures undertaken. The increased spending on education of some 15 per cent over the previous Liberal-Country Party Government allocation must boost particularly those new areas of learning that changing times, circumstances and public awareness are demanding.

I cannot refrain from expressing my support for the special assistance to be given to children from disadvantaged families and to the many schools throughout many areas of this nation whose facilities are not yet up to the appropriate standard. But I ask the Government: Why in its assesment of educational deficiency has it turned a full circle and imposed a system of discrimination? Why has it turned away from the previous system of per capita grants which enabled interested parents to add to government allocations by the fruits of their own efforts? The removal of this principle in 1975 will affect up to 30 per cent of all schools which under a most unusual system of categorisation are to receive less assistance than they did under the former Government. The Government is carrying through aid programs for education and applying this principle to schools which cater for many of our disadvantaged and handicapped children. A judgment of such schools based only on the capital value of assets or facilities and not on the particular needs and requirements of children and parents served by that institution is wrong. These severely disadvantaged schools will be very seriously affected. The voluntary schools for the deaf, blind, crippled and many of our handicapped children, schools that have been supported and financed by parents who in the past have banded together out of sheer necessity should be entitled to the same level of aid as any' future or present government school catering for children with the same type of handicap. The interest and participation of parents is a significant factor in a successful education system. It should be fostered and developed and not severed as this method of school classification will ultimately do.

I turn now to those areas of the Budget that affect the Australian citizens I represent, the rural people. These people have withstood many crises over past years. They have had a severe rural recession, have periodically had to compete with the elements, floods, droughts and other natural disasters. The wage earners in rural areas have suffered from unemployment, as has any wage earner in any metropolitan area. Under the previous Government they had rightly expected and received programs of assistance and protection. This Budget foreshadows what is slowly but surely proving to 'be a complete demolition of past protection for rural workers, business people and primary producers. As Budget legislation is being introduced into the Parliament not only is the total vagueness of the Budget Speech being realised but the grim campaign of hate and deception against rural Australia and against all forms of private enterprise is unfolding. The impact of this Budget upon one-third of our population who live outside urban areas will be immediate.

Over the years many private businesses have developed employment opportunities under natural growth conditions to the benefit of this nation. Many private firms have secured significant export markets with the assistance of the former Government's incentive schemes but now they must regard future expansion with doubt with the Labor Government's obvious lack of affinity in continuing this initiative. The availability of finance or growth has always been the major problem for small private business people and companies but with the proposed increases in taxation to 47i per cent - the same as the taxation rate for public companies which have adequate finance sources - it will further prune the gap between operating costs and profits, leaving little or no room for expansion of private business enterprises.

In a wild headlong lunge at multi-national organisations which possibly are best poised to absorb even a Labor government's extermination program this Budget will have the opposite effect of damaging successful family businesses and companies. In the wine industry this is particularly notable. All the major wine producers in my electorate of Mallee are family owned and controlled. The proposed change in the basis of stock valuation will financially damage these producers, not the large foreign owned or locally owned companies with unlimited availability of finance. Local brandy grape suppliers who have operated under concessional conditions in the past, owing mainly to the lack of diversity that exists in the manufacture from their raw produce, must now operate unprotected with other producers of potable spirits. The Treasurer (Mr Crean) speaks of funds that may be necessary to assist in reconstruction if any sections of the fruitgrowing industry are affected. My fruit growers do not want reconstruction. They only desire and deservedly expect some level of protection to operate in conditions comparable to the structure of wage costs and operating costs existing in the rest of the nation.

During the general election campaign all political parties laid great emphasis upon the policies of financial support to local government authorities and to a determination of a successful balanced development program financed with support from the Federal Government. Country shires and municipalities which along with most local government bodies have been struggling to control a worsening financial burden did not even rate a mention in the Budget of 1973. In fact the amended Grants Commission legislation is only creating confusion and concern. Municipalities must be told quickly the guidelines for proposals on regionalisation and Federal assistance. They must know if this Labor Government is going to honour its election promise. Good government and good management is found closest to the people at local government level and Federal assistance is urgently needed to supplement the valuable social and community programs that are at this time being restricted by a lack of funds and the impossibility of ratepayers to absorb further rate increases.

This Government has shown by so many anti-decentralisation actions in the Budget that it is not genuinely concerned about the future viability and prosperity of rural Australia or for that matter about the many environmental and social evils of disadvantaged metropolitan living. Government supporters talk of grandiose schemes of artificial control and growth but they are not even prepared to support existing communities with the conditions ideally suited to spontaneous natural growth. In fact, the exact opposite will take place. The Government intends to phase out support to essential air services by 30 June 1974 and to phase out support for developmental air services over a period of 4 years. The Government has applied extreme penalties on country newspapers by unrealistic postage increases and on country commercial radio stations by huge increases in licensing fees, lt has further penalised rural people by extreme increases in telephone and postal charges. As well, of course, the Government has removed the freight differential arrangements on petrol making the petrol increase in country areas up to 7c above the price that existed before the Budget. The 5c excise on petrol will affect all Australian citizens but an extra 2c per gallon represents discrimination against those people who are living further from metropolitan areas.

Many of my Country Party colleagues have spoken in great detail of the effect of many changes in our electorates that have occurred as a result of this Budget but I wish to mention some principal variations to the former Liberal-Country Party policies that will now apply in relation to telephone subscribers and postal services. Firstly, telephone rentals will be raised from $27 or $37 to $55 annually. Subscribers to non-continuous exchanges will experience a rise from $8 to $35 which is nearly 500 per cent. New connections will go up from $50 to $60. A 20c connection fee per call will apply to operator connected calls where subscriber trunk dialling is in use. Of course, the really damaging change to people in country areas who are not yet connected to a telephone service is that line plant will be provided and maintained only up to 8 kilometres.

Mr England - About 5 miles instead of 15 miles as it was previously.

Mr FISHER - As the honourable member for Calare has just stated it is about 5 miles instead of a radius of 15 miles under the previous Government's policy. Beyond this radius, of course, telephone subscribers will have to contribute to the cost of providing the service. Even private bag and postal box rentals will be increased by 50 per cent. The Country Party has always regarded rural dwellers as equal citizens of this nation and as people who are entitled to the level of service which is provided to others by government institutions. I express extreme concern at these new measures that put the boot right into the rural sector of the economy.

I wish for a moment to go back to Budget increases in relation to postage rates on country newspapers. The present postal bill for just 26 regional dailies in Australia is approximately $160,000 per annum and with the 300 per cent increase that is to occur in March 1974 the postage costs for these 26 papers will rise to $640,000 per annum. This estimate does not include the scores of weekly, twiceweekly and tri-weekly publications that are providing a vital service to rural subscribers throughout this nation. Proprietors of these newspapers will not be able to subsidise these rates. The increases naturally will be passed on to the subscribers. An average p«.per which now costs 8c will cost a minimum of 15c in March 1974. Regional newspapers published in the eastern States alone have a daily circulation of 350,000, serving a population of 1.7 million or 12.8 per cent of the people living in Australia. The whole strategy of the Budget and this issue in particular has obviously been against country people, not only rural communities but these living in regional cities. It becomes more than obviously discriminatory when we learn that in the proposed category ratings of newspapers trade union publications will be the only ones still to receive the old concessional postage rates.

I turn now to those parts of the. Budget that particularly discriminate against primary producers. The election campaign saw a wooing of rural electors by the Australian Labor Party with policies attractive to man/ producers who had forgotten past unjust treatment by Labor governments. Who could resist the promise of rural credit at 3 per cent interest? This policy was widely canvassed by my neighbour the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby). Who could resist this statement of his in the Riverina Press on 22 November 1972:

Independent schools will die in 10 years unless there is a new deal.

We have seen the new deal that has been dealt out to many independent schools which are serving isolated children in rural Australia.

This Government is condemned by its double standards - one standard used by Australian Labor Party candidates with glowing promises and gimmicks at election time and the real one that uses the rural people as scapegoats for unprecedented Government spending. Let us look at what happened yesterday in this House when the Meat Export Charge Bill 1973 was introduced.. The Treasurer had stated in the Budget Speech that meat exporters would be charged a levy of lc per lb, a cost to the industry of $18m in a full year. But what did we find yesterday? The Minister for Immigration, a rural spokesman in this House representing the vast meat producing electorate of Riverina, announced that this levy on beef export products would not be lc per lb as stated in the Budget but had been increased to 1.6c per ,b, a rise of 60 per cent. In a pathetic attempt to pass this sectional charge off as insignificant the Minister stated:

Currently there is a strong demand for Australian meats and in these circumstances it is not expected that the charge will be passed back to the livestock producers.

Just who does he expect will foot the Bill? Of course it will be the meat producer.

This Budget is a direct blow to all rural people. It will penalise rural industries at a time when incentives for increased production should be encouraged. Either this Labor Government has to make a brutal attack on rural people in an effort to finance its wild spending spree or it has a basic ignorance of the true position of rural citizens and producers in our economy. The interjections that are coming from the Australian Country Party section of this chamber indicate that those honourable members entirely agree with this view. I am quite sure that many metropolitan Labor members on the other side of the House are completely ignorant of the position of country Australia. In a survey released yesterday a firm of economic research consultants pointed out that while productivity from farm workers had been 20 per cent above that from all other sections of the community, producers' incomes had grown at an average rate of only 3.4 per cent a year between 1962-63 and 1972-73 compared to a 7.2 per cent rise in average weekly earnings.

This Budget penalises productivity. It will have a dampening effect on the initiative and enterprise that has made Australia's primary producers the most efficient in the world. Rural people have not been responsible for the increasing rate of inflation. In fact, they have kept absorbing inflationary pressures generated by other sections of the community. I cannot accept this Budget and I add my support to the amendments put forward by the Opposition. (Quorum formed)

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