Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 18 October 1973
Page: 2376

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) (Minister for Immigration) - We have just listened to a long apology from the Deputy Leader of the Country Party (Mr Sinclair). I gathered that he was defending the record of the McMahonAnthony administration. He defended more than that. He defended his record for 25 years. He gave us a picture that seemed to say that all was well in the countryside when the previous Government left office last December. He also made a plea in his speech for what he called - I use his terms - 'political protection'. He comes to the Parliament with his rump - his group - tonight to plead for a continuation of political protection. That was the essence of his plea. In his long apology he mentioned the wool industry. The Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party and his associates allowed wool in our country to be sold at 29c per lb. It was this group and this administration that allowed the Australian wheat industry to be led into some of the worst difficulties that it had had in a generation. It introduced wheat rationing in the middle of the season. It did this and, I might say, insisted on it. It supported this action until the change of government. It left the greatest mess in the countryside we had had in a generation. In case honourable members think that I am voicing a political sentiment I should like to draw the attention of the House of Representatives this evening to the Social Justice Statement prepared for the Australian Episcopal Conference by the National Commission for Justice and Peace. I draw attention to page 17. In this statement by the archbishops and the bishops and the members of the heirarchy there is a reference to poverty in Australia and a reference, no less, to the situation in 1969 at the great zenith of the power of the McMahon-Anthony administration. It reads: in 1969: 'in the dairy industry of the 62,000 dairy farmers in the Commonwealth 31,000 earn less than $2,000 a year.'

This is the sort of payoff for the ordinary producer for political protection - something that we are asked to continue this evening. This is not my statement, and not a statement by the Government, or indeed by any political party, but by assembled archbishops and bishops looking at the poverty and the difficulties in the countryside. They say that in 1969 the position was dreadful and terrible. This is what the figures show. This is the end result of a system we are attempting to replace. But of course we find that there are all sorts of objections from only one source. After all, what are we talking about? We are talking about a Bill before the Parliament to set up an industries commission with a simple objective to ensure that protection of particular industries is no longer imposed by stealth, by improper or back room political jobbery. It is an attempt also to give the Australian people access to decisions in relation to their taxation. It should be remembered that tariffs are taxes. It is improper and wrong for taxes to be imposed by stealth. So, of course, under this procedure they will no longer be so imposed. It will be possible for the whole of the population to look at the decision making process. I have long waited to see such a development. I welcome it warmly. I welcome it particularly because there is a very serious development in our community that concerns me most deeply, and that is the continuing division which is deepening between the city and the country. There is the great cry of the consumer for justice when he is paying high prices for basic elements of his diet. He wants justice. Incidentally the price of bread, I think, rose yesterday. In the great cities of our nation that will mean a thought that the wheat grower is already reaping the benefit of that increase.

Mr McVeigh - Who is?

Mr GRASSBY - That is a very good question but the honourable member is 25 years late in asking it. Nevertheless, it is a welcome interjection by someone who is studying the form of the nation and perhaps considering where his party should have been going over the last quarter of a century. It should have been looking at the long pipeline of costs and the situation as we see it today where the consumer is exploited and the producer is inadequately recompensed. This is the situation which is a legacy of the last administration and a legacy of the sort of protection and the sort of taxation measures. by stealth which a section, indeed only a rump, of this House wishes to set perpetuated.

What has it meant in terms of real protection to the great export industries of the nation that are based in the countryside? It is very doubtful whether the export industries that are based in our rural areas in fact command more than $300m a year in the form of protection, bounties, subsidies and assistance. The sum total of protection for the nation exceeds $3, 000m - ten times as much; yet the rump has been saying tonight that it is satisfied with what it has had in the past. We are not satisfied. Incidentally, there are some sections of primary industry that have not had an effective increase in return for 10 years. That is a situation for which there is no redress at the present time. Of course, under what we have proposed there will be redress. There will be an opportunity for justice. There will be an opportunity also to put aside once and for all protection and taxation by stealth.

What we have seen develop in the last quarter of a century is a situation where people in the countryside have been, for political reasons, asked to turn in on themselves. They have been asked to look at the consumers - their customers in the cities - as being their enemy. There has been a consistent attempt to keep the producer and the consumer apart, to separate them, to divide them and, if at all possible, to make sure that they never meet. By gosh, if they ever do they will find that they are 2 sections of the community which are being exploited with high impartiality. How do we tackle that situation at the present time? Do we tackle it by political protection? In some instances the methods used have been nothing more than political protection rackets. That is not good enough by far for a nation as great as ours. What we should be doing in the Parliament tonight is unanimously accepting that this is a means of putting all our industries on a sound footing and of giving all of them an equality of opportunity to ask for a fair go. Surely that is something upon which we all should be agreed. I am delighted to think that the great majority of the House of Representatives and the Australian Parliament tonight is of one mind. It must be a matter of sadness to many of us to think that there is anyone in the Parliament who would want to perpetuate a system which is shot through with anomalies and which is in fact highly immoral from anyone's standpoint.

When we come to look at the costs involved in many of our export industries - surely that is what this legislation is all about - we find that there are what are described as fixed costs. The term 'fixed costs' is a very interesting one. It means everybody's costs but the producer's. So, if there is to be any saving, that is the only area in which it can be made. Of course, we can cut them back. That was done by some processors of foodstuffs, who cut them back so successfully that they now have nothing to process. Let us take a peach as an example. A peach can give employment to people in 10 different industries. If we are going to look at the peach producing industry, for example, we should look at all of them together, publicly, and examine their costs publicly. We would in fact take claims for protection under public scrutiny. That is what this is all about, that is, having protection and taxes brought under public scrutiny.

The old system is inadequate and bad. It takes us back to a situation in which we have had rural poverty amid plenty. Of course there has been protection, but who received the protection?

Mr Jacobi - It was not the producer; that is for sure.

Mr GRASSBY - The honourable member for Hawker is right.

Mr GRASSBY - And the consumer did not get it. As the Minister for Secondary Industry has pointed out, the consumer did not get it. He is not getting it today. There has been some reference made to the meat tax, which incidentally, was the subject of the grossest misrepresentation by Opposition propagandists across the countryside. But I will refer to it. If the price of meat on the hoof dropped by SO per cent in the saleyards on Monday, the price of steak in Vaucluse, Redfern, Adelaide and Brisbane would remain the same. Surely we should be looking at our pipeline of costs in relation to these vital products which play a key role in the consumer price index because everyone relates inflation to the consumer price index. It is very interesting to look at the makeup of that index.

I was pleased to hear the point made tonight by the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) who said that he was totally opposed to the idea of uncritical and indiscriminate protection. I commend that thought. I thought it was well put and well said. I would stress again to the House that tariffs are a tax and, therefore, people should know something about the decision making in relation to their taxes. Let us consider the arguments which have been put against this measure. It has been suggested that it ties the hands of the Government in relation to situations of urgency. I say immediately that there is one inimical thing against which we must always be on guard on this country, namely dumping. Dumping, as far as we are concerned is an irresponsible acceptance of somebody's surpluses in a temporary way. If we accept it and allow our own industries to be hurt and allow the temporary easing of somebody's else's problems, we then find that our own industries go out of production. We have killed our own production and put ourselves in a disadvantaged position. It has been said by some members of the Opposition that this provision ties the Government's hands. I think it should be remembered that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in introducing this legislation said: . . the mandatory provision does not restrict the Government's freedom to make changes of policy such as the recent 25 per cent reduction in tariffs, to negotiate changes in levels of assistance for the purpose of international trade agreements, or to extend preferential treatment to developing countries.

That answers the one sound point made by the Deputy Leader of the Country Party, the honourable member for New England. I do not know why the honourable member has sought to bury that part of the legislation. It does not tie the Government at all. In fact, it gives all industries, particularly the soundly based industries, an opportunity to put their case.

When the case for industry is before this Commission the industries that will be found to be in the strongest position on the basis of efficiency will be found, in my opinion, in the countryside because in my own electorate what one finds are industries that have doubled their productivity in 10 years, and they are still increasing productivity per man and per unit of investment in a way which, if we were able to achieve it in secondary and tertiary industry, would put this country on the high road to a better prosperity than we have at present. Therefore, why run away from a public examination of the situation? I cannot understand how any member of this Parliament could pretend to say that he was looking after some particular rural segment and then say that this legislation is no good. The Australian Farmers Federation led by Mr Noel Hogan, who is a distinguished resident of my electorate of Riverina, and its secretary, Mr Norquay, who has been there for a generation, the United Farmers and Woolgrowers Association of New South Wales and the Victorian. Farmers' Union are all bodies representing the grass roots of the countryside. They have all been saying: 'Do not weaken on this legislation. Do not give up the mandatory provision. Stick to your guns because we know the strength of our own representations; we know the strength of our own industries; we know the strength of our own case'. Here in this House we have a group of people saying: The case is not good enough. We cannot have such a public examination of our industries. We do not want it'. They want to go back to what the last speaker in this debate, the honourable member for New England, called political protection.

I say again that, when one's case is sound and one does not have to apologise for it and when one does not need to have recourse to jobbery, one can go before this Commission on one's own merits. That is what our industries can do in this nation. Some cases in the primary, tertiary and secondary spheres, of course, will be looked at critically. That is all right. What is wrong with that? People should not be sentenced to a life of servitude in dead industries, whether they are in any one of those 3 sections. I think that on this occasion the Government can say that it has a measure which is long overdue. It is a sound measure. It is a good measure. What is more, it will reduce the doubts about the processes of government decision making - doubts which have been growing for a very long time.

Mr Maisey - What you are saying is a direct contradiction of what you said in your second reading speech on the legislation concerning wheat stabilisation.

Mr GRASSBY - There is no one so deaf as one who will not hear and no one so blind as one who will not see. Even in my condition I think I can see better than some of my friends opposite. The only thing I would say is that perhaps it is better to be one-eyed temporarily than two-faced permanently. Having said that with a gentle joust, I wish to sum up by saying that the Government can be proud of this legislation. It has the overwhelming support of the industries of Australia and the overwhelming support of the Parliament. 1 am sorry that the rump is sagging tonight and failing in its duty.

Suggest corrections