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Wednesday, 23 April 1980
Page: 2147

Mr MacKENZIE (Calare) - I intended to use this opportunity to refer to one of the gravest problems facing this nation at the moment, the widespread national drought. However, I feel that it is first necessary and proper to respond to some of the comments of the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones). Without attempting to reply in detail, I feel that I should say that as I see it, and as I am sure do many other honourable members, it is a very proper part of the responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) to seek to enhance and to protect Australia's relations, including trade relations, with other countries. I have no doubt that it was precisely that responsibility that the Deputy Prime Minister had in mind when he suggested to the Channel Seven network that it would not be in Australia's best interests to show the film Death of a Princess. In no way was he attempting to impose his will. In no way was he attempting to use any of the appropriate sections of legislation to require that network not to show this film. He was simply putting a point of view on behalf of the Government to the network. Perhaps it is worth while quoting sections of the telex that was sent to the manager of ATN Channel 7 in Sydney. The telex read:

I am writing to ask that, in addition to the normal factors that are considered in making programming decisions, you might take into account the following matters:

It then listed some of those matters and continued:

The film is grossly offensive to the Saudi Arabian Government and the Saudi royal family.

Mr Barry Jones (LALOR, VICTORIA) - Understandably.

Mr MacKENZIE -Basically, that has nothing to do with us. It is offensive to them, as I think my colleague would agree. The telex continued:

It is also offensive in the eyes of other Arab nations.

Some of those nations- Bahrain and one other I believe- have now expressed strong support for the Saudi 's attitude regarding the film. I think we would agree with that. The telex continued:

I do not believe there is any doubt that showing the film in Australia will harm relations between Australia and Saudi Arabia. Harm to relations between Australia and other Islamic nations cannot be ruled out.

I believe that that is an important principle because most of those Islamic nations provide a very real buffer between us and the encroachments of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. To me, that is a good reason as any other for making this suggestion to Channel 7. The telex continued:

There are wide differences in beliefs, traditions, customs and practices amongst nations.

That section has been read by my honourable friend from Lalor who, again, did not disagree with the principle involved. The telex continued:

While it is of course open to anyone to form their own opinions and express their judgments on the beliefs of others, and on the laws and customs following from those beliefs, I suggest that we must always give consideration to the feelings of those whom we might be seen to be judging, and to the manner in which we express our views, if for no other reason than ordinary courtesy.

The public reaction of the Saudi Government indicates that there could be a threat to relations- including trade and economic relations- between Australia and Saudi Arabia, and possibly other Islamic states.

Australia and Saudi Arabia have recently entered into an agreement on trade and economic and technical co-operation.

In that regard, on Monday, 2 1 April, the Deputy Prime Minister made in the Parliament a most comprehensive statement consequent upon his recent visit to various Gulf states. Most honourable members would have been impressed with the negotiations and achievements and with the way in which the Deputy Prime Minister was received in those states. We can look forward to very substantial trade and co-operation between ourselves and those nations, which are becoming increasingly important in an energy-starved world. The telex stated further:

Two-way trade between Australia and Saudi Arabia (mainly in oil, wheat, meat and dairy products) is now approaching $500 million a year . . .

There is every prospect that in the next few years that will double. Australia is making substantial proposals for participation in a number of major developments in Saudi Arabia, not the least being in respect of the provision of administrative and consultancy services to some major hospital and health projects in Gulf states. The telex continued:

I have negotiated trade agreements with Bahrain and Iraq, and initialled agreements with Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Negotiations are under way with Kuwait . . .

In general, there has been a strong effort over recent years to strengthen Australia's relations with the Islamic world, and in particular with the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. This effort has included the building up of our diplomatic and trade representation in the region. Agreement was reached during my recent visit on the establishment of formal diplomatic links with Oman.

It is worth while to bring these matters to the notice of honourable members, as did the Deputy Prime Minister to the Channel 7 network. He said that at the outset they should be carefully considered, with other matters that the network would be taking into account in making a decision on the showing of the film. The Deputy Prime Minister concluded:

I am concerned not just with trade and economic relations- although these are of course of very great importance. I am concerned also with the need for Australia and other western nations to build up relations with the Arab world. This is, I believe, very much in the interests of all nations.

The whole context of the telex was to suggest that the network might take these matters into account in coming to a decision whether to show the film. It is interesting to note in today's Melbourne Age an article by Mr Claude Forrell, who admits that he seldom finds himself agreeing with the Deputy Prime Minister but in this instance does so. Mr Forrell describes the Deputy Prime Minister's submission to Channel 7 as scrupulously proper. I am sure that any honourable member who has read that message, the text of which I have read to the Parliament this morning- would come to a similar conclusion.

I turn now to the matter that I intended to raise originally, the extremely serious and widespread drought that Australia now faces. I do so because, although a number of measures have been announced by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and have been subsequently elucidated by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Nixon), there has been a little confusion in relation to them. I hope to use my remaining time to clear up that confusion. The Commonwealth Government has announced that capital structures relating to the construction of dams, earth tanks, wells, bores, channelling for irrigation, facilities for reticulation and distribution of water on farms, which hitherto could be written off over a period of 10 years, will be eligible as from 14 April 1980 for full write-off within the year of construction. The cost of plant items such as pumps is depreciable over the life of the asset, but many of the items involved will also qualify for the investment allowance that will be applicable in addition to the depreciation schedules just announced. There has been some confusion whether these taxation concessions will apply in future or under current conditions only.

I note that the Opposition in the Senate has attempted to get some mileage out of the claim that only wealthy farmers will be able to benefit from these measures and that they apply only at present. This is not the case. The farmer who at present may not be able to find the funds necessary to make these capital expenditures and to provide additional water storages and reticulation systems on his farm will be able to do that in the future. I wish to quote from a speech given by the Minister for Primary Industry in Warrnambool on 1 8 April. He said:

The Government has taken action through special concessions announced earlier in the week by the Prime Minister. These are on-going and are intended to encourage farmers to develop additional water storage and farm reticulation systems.

The same Minister has said that a farmer can take advantage of these concessions now or at any time in the future. This will provide a long term insurance policy, as it were, for farmers, who can assure themselves of more adequate water supplies and reticulation systems than they have at present. The Commonwealth, of course, will be assisting the States under the natural disasters policy. For example, once $10m has been expended by New South Wales, the Commonwealth will be contributing on a three to one basis to any further additional expenditure required for the current drought conditions. Contrary to the claims being made by Mr Wran implying that all the funds will be coming from New South Wales, the Commonwealth is providing a very substantial proportion.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (MrMillarOrder! The honourable member's time has expired.

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