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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 2325

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Primary Industry) - It is unfortunate that we are restricted because of the time available to us. I want to make one or two quick observations in respect of some matters raised by honourable senators. I think it would be fair to say that the Australian wheat industry has had as sympathetic and favourable consideration from this Government as it has ever had from any other government. The two most important things that should not be forgotten are that this Government accepted the biggest quota for the wheat industry since the quota system was introduced some three or four years ago; further it increased the first advance payment- and the previous Government refused to do so- from $1.10 to $ 1.20c. The rural interests in the wheat industry had argued for many years that the first advance payment should be increased from $1.10 a bushel. It took the Labor Party's coming into office to meet that request. As a result the Australian Government through the Reserve Bank accepted the biggest financial commitment ever to the wheat industry.

It was only proper that consideration should be given to the existing provisions of the wheat stabilisation scheme when the wheat stabilisation plan was due for renewal. It was for that reason that the Government decided to extend the sixth wheat stabilisation plan for an additional 12 months and that, of course, is the subject matter of the legislation before us today. I think it is worth pointing out also that the guaranteed export price for wheat was continued at $1.60 and it was also agreed that the domestic price for wheat would be indexed forward in accordance with the provisions which had applied under the previous scheme. So it is clear that the wheat industry has lost absolutely nothing by this extension. The need to extend the stabilisation plan has given the Government, the industries and the States an opportunity to completely rethink our whole approach towards the Australian wheat industry. On those grounds I believe that this legislation is completely justified.

In view of the amount of time available to me I would now like to deal with just two of the points which have been raised, one by Senator Laucke and the other by Senator Drake-Brockman. It is a fact that it has been estimated that a surplus amount of $45m will be payable into the stabilisation fund by the growers as a result of the 1973-74 season. But as I have indicated in the Senate before, there is no intention on the part of the Government to do other than carry that amount of money forward into the new stabilisation arrangements. There was never any suggestion, except of course from, I think, some Country Party members in the House of Representatives, who were spreading rumours that the Government intended to do something else with that $45m. But in fact those moneys will be brought forward.

Senator Drake-Brockmanalso made some comments about wheat being sold on credit terms at the instruction of the Government. The only case in which the Government issued a direction to the Wheat Board was in respect to the Egyptian arrangements, which had been entered into and agreed upon by the Wheat Board prior to that direction being issued. It would not be in the interests of the Australian wheat industry to dissociate itself suddenly from markets which in future we may be glad of. It is easy to look at the short term picture and to say: We can sell all our wheat for cash, let us do so', without giving any thought to what the position might be in two or three years time. This, I believe, would have been irresponsible. I am quite sure that in time we will live to be glad of the fact that we have met those obligations to our traditional customers.

Senator Drake-Brockmanalso said that he regretted that the new wheat stabilisation plan is not yet ready. I point out to him that I will be attending a meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council on Friday week- tomorrow weekand discussing the new proposals of the Australian Government with the various State Ministers. I will also be meeting the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation on the following Monday night. The new proposal by the Government is ready and those discussions will take place within a week. So we can, I hope, look forward to finalisation of the new arrangements in the near future.

One last point to which I shall have to limit myself in view of the time problem is the reference to alleged threats to the wheat industry by the present Government. We hear statements of taxation benefits being taken away and of the exports incentive scheme being altered by this present Adminstration. But that is not something that will have any long-term effect. The more important point is that markets have been opened up. The market for Australian wheat is being extended because this Government believes that we should maximise marketing opportunities for all our primary production, and this is the course that we are in fact following. I am grateful to Senator Drake-Brockman that he has seen fit not to move the amendment that was proposed. That can be dealt with the next time this matter comes before the Senate, and I have no doubt it will be. It is important that this legislation be passed- and be passed before 5.45 p.m. I believe the proper course now would be to put these Bills to the vote.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Durack)- Order! The time allowed for the remaining stages of the Bill having expired, I now put the question, that the remaining stages be agreed to.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a third time.

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