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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 2322

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate) - The purpose of the

Wheat Industry Stabilisation Bill is to provide for an extension of the wheat industry stabilisation arrangements which are currently scheduled to expire with the disposal of the 1972-73 season's wheat crop and to cover the marketing of wheat of the 19/3-74 season. The expiration of the wheat stabilisation arrangements with the disposal of the 1972-73 season's wheat crop sees the end of the fifth 5-year wheat stabilisation plan. While the Labor Government may be able to lay claim to the introduction of the first 5-year plan which commenced in 1948, let me say quite strongly that the present plan which has just ended is a very different one from that introduced in 1948.

Senator Wilkinson - You are telling me.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - I would expect it to be. I would hope that any future plan introduced in this Parliament would include even more changes. This is just what I believe the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation asked for when it saw the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) on 27 April last and again in September. The Minister has stated that the extension of the wheat industry stabilisation arrangements for one year has the support of the wheat industry. I do not quite see it that way. My understanding of the situation is that the Minister for Primary Industry issued a statement in Canberra on 16 May last stating that the Government would propose to the States and the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation that the current 5-year wheat industry stabilisation scheme, due to end in November 1973, be extended for a further year. Under the one year extension, it is proposed that 200 million export bushels would be protected by a guaranteed price of $1.60 a bushel. If the world price fell below the guarantee the government would make up the difference. On the other hand, if export prices during the 1973-74 season exceeded the guarantee plus 5c. a bushel, wheat growers would contribute to the stabilisation fund with a maximum contribution of 15c. a bushel.

At the same time the Minister stated that he would discuss the Government's proposal to extend the current scheme with the States at the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council in Canberra on Friday, 20 May and that he would meet representatives of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation in Canberra on Monday, 23 May. I take it that those meetings with the Minister took place, because the Minister made another statement on 29 May in which he said that the President of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, Mr Max Ridd, advised him that the executive of the Wheatgrowers Federation had unanimously accepted a one-year extension of the current wheat stabilisation scheme.

I would like to put the picture as I understand it. At the same time on 29 May the Minister said that following the August meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council he would confer with the Federation on its approach to a new stabilisation plan and that the Council would receive a progress report on the preparation of a new plan. The Minister then went further to tell us what was happening in his Department. He said that the Department of Primary Industry had established a wheat stabilisation review group and that that group had drawn up a work program. That was said on 29 May last. What has happened since? I know very well that there has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes which is not made public, but the point I want to make here is that there are also many knowledgeable men in the Department and in the Wheatgrowers Federation who know what they want. The Government knows what it wants to give them. So why has the new stabilisation plan not eventuated? Surely it will not take 2 years- this year and the next year- to draw up a work program. We will be dealing with the legislation for the next plan this time next year.

From time to time in answer to questions the Minister has said that he wants time to look objectively at the wheat industry stabilisation

Elan. No one would query that. He has said that e wants to draw up a plan in regard to long term credit to undeveloped countries as he did not believe that wheat growers should have to carry the full burden of sales to nations that needed wheat but could not afford to buy it without concessional terms. He went on to say that although normal humanitarian motives were involved, he thought that the entire community should perhaps share the burden. I could not agree more with the Minister. Neither could the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation agree more in these matters. When we look at the Federation's submission we see that in paragraph 13 under the heading 'Sales on credit terms' the Federation says:

Australia as one of the three major wheat exporting countries has an obligation to the world. By this we mean those countries which cannot immediately pay are precisely the ones which need the wheat most. Therefore the obligation to sell to developing countries is a national responsibility, and as such should be carried by the Australian community as a whole and not by the Australian wheat grower.

The Australian Government should ensure that facilities are provided to the AWB consistent with those available in the other major exporting countries, with whom we must compete for our export wheat trade.

The Federation therefore requests that the Australian Government underwrite the full credit risk associated with such export sales of wheat that are covered under national interest. This will bring Australia more in line with Canada and. the United States.

In paragraph 14 the Federation says:

The Federation firmly recommends that rural credits section IV of the Reserve Bank Act be amended to enable repayments to be extended beyond 12 months, where statutory marketing authorities have negotiated Government-approved long-term credit sales.

So on that matter the Minister's views are shared by the leaders of the wheat industry, as they are shared by honourable senators on this side of the Senate. I want to refer to a few other matters that have been said by the Minister for Primary Industry as spokesman for the Government. There have been suggestions or the Minister has talked about the Government not giving openended subsidies to the wheat industry or to any other industries. Let me remind the Minister that none of the previous 5-year stabilisation programs were open-ended. They always contained a limit. Let me remind him also that at no time did he or any other Labor spokesman on primary industry indicate in their election policies a hardening in policies in regard to wheat producers. Did the Minister or any other Labor Party member make any statement before 2 December such as that made by the Minister for Primary Industry at the international meeting of the Agricultural Ministers in Paris last April when he said:

Australia would need international co-operation if it was to reduce the level of assistance to farmers.

I ask also: What does the Minister mean when he talks about his intention to rationalise the industry? Now that a new stabilisation plan is being looked at I think that all these things have to be spelt out in time. So on this occasion I take the opportunity of asking those questions. If subsidies are to be referred to the Australian Industries Commission to be set up by the Government, how does the statement made by the Minister for Primary Industry square up with that policy when he said that guarantees would be strictly limited? Does this mean that the Labor Government intends to stand over the Industries Commission to determine its policies? I read a speech that was delivered under the name of the Minister for Primary Industry- I am not quite sure on that- to the Western Australian Agricultural Industry Conference held in Perth on 20 July 1 973. It is alleged that the Minister said:

First let me state I do not regard my job as that of solely looking after the interests of farmers. Along with my Cabinet colleagues I have to keep in mind the interests of all Australians, whether they be farmers, town or city dwellers.

It's true that my portfolio is concerned with developing an efficient and viable rural sector but programs geared towards agriculture must be fair and reasonable and not an undue burden on the rest of the nation.

I believe very firmly that to suggest a reduction or abolition of assistance measures shows an abysmal lack of understanding of the importance of the export industries. The high standard of living in Australia and the economic strength which allows governments to carry on the kind of programs that the Labor Government wants to implement- I am not saying that in any derogatory fashion- have to come largely from the ability of Australian producers to export in competition with the world, encouraged and helped by governments. This is just what the previous Government endeavoured to do. Let me remind people that much of the export generated prosperity of this nation has been achieved for the Australian people by our primary producers, in particular by the wool and wheat producers who are often the same producers. To a very signicant degree this has happened because previous governments were prepared in the national interest to contribute funds to stabilise returns and thus provide incentives for production.

Senator Wilkinson - But you were worrying about the operation of the stabilisation scheme during the last couple of years.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN -We were very worried. I think that we had good cause to be because it was beyond our means. I might say that it was in the hands of the gods. But from the time the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) slashed export returns by revaluing the currency, there has been nothing but a threat to the stability and the confidence of industry. There are threats against the industry's vital profitability by clumsy control of prices while wage rises are fostered by this Government. Inflation is allowed to run rampant. Now we have new threats involving export incentives and wheat stabilisation. The Country Party supports the extension of this stabilisation plan but regrets that it is only for one year. It is concerned that there is no guaranteed stabilisation arrangement to benefit the wheat grower. The crop is already coming off in some parts of Australia and it will be only a few months before the next crop will go in. But what will happen this time next year? We are hoping that something will be done. I am sure that the Minister and his Department are working on a new plan but we do not have such a plan in front of us at the moment

The Country Party believes that discussions should be concluded as soon as possible between the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, the State Ministers for Agriculture and the Government in order to introduce a long term stabilisation plan that will have some meaning for the industry. I repeat that farmers will have to make their plans now in regard to a stabilisation plan because the crops are coming off at present and it is only a matter of months before the new crops will go in. These farmers will want to know what is happening. Because the new stabilisation agreement is delayed the producers are forced to undertake their planning without the knowledge of what the new agreement will contain. This is confusing and annoying to growers. It is unhealthy for an industry which has worked within the security of the stabilisation scheme for many years.

I regard the attendant Bill, the Wheat Export Charge Bill 1973, as totally unnecessary this year. The purpose of the Bill is to extend by 1 year- that is, until the new agreement is introduced- the growers' contribution of a proportion of their export sales to a stabilisation fund when prices exceed the predetermined level of 165c a bushel. Taking current overseas prices as a guide, it is very likely that growers will be contributing to the fund from returns from the current harvest. But no moneys will be collected under this Bill until the Australian Wheat Board receives payment for sales from the 1973-74 pool, and that will be at least a year from now. Therefore the growers are being forced to contribute to a stabilisation fund without knowing what part the fund will play in the new stabilisation scheme which is still 12 months away. Viewed in that context, the contribution plan is an unnecessary imposition on growers and the Bill should be deferred. I had intended to move an amendment to section 13 (3) of the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Act which states:

The Minister may give directions to the Board concerning the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers, and the Board shall comply with those directions.

The purpose of the proposed amendment was to tighten the provision to ensure that ministerial intervention would be confined to commercial considerations and therefore to the interests of wheat growers and the Australian taxpayers. But I do not propose to press the amendment. My reason is that the present stabilisation plan ends tomorrow and an amendment would mean that the continuing scheme would not be in operation on Saturday when its term is due to commence.

The decision that I have made with my colleagues on both sides of me is in line with the undertaking that the Senate Opposition parties have expressed repeatedly. We will not hinder the passage of the legislation of which we approve or delay the introduction of a measure which has a particular timetable if no substantial changes are judged by the Opposition to be necessary. In this case we know that the Senate will be debating legislation for the proposed wheat stabilisation scheme in about 12 months from now, or even before that time. We propose to take the opportunity then to move the amendment what I have outlined. We hope that when the Government is considering the new scheme it will see the wisdom of the change that we seek. Consequently, we wish this Bill a speedy passage through the Senate.

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