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Tuesday, 11 December 1973
Page: 2658

Senator MAUNSELL (Queensland) - The Australian Country Party appreciates the continuation of this legislation regarding rural reconstruction. We note that up to the present time about $ 137m has been released, 75 per cent of which has been loan money and 25 per cent of which has been grants. Many people say, Why should this sort of money be given to the rural industries when it is not available to other industries?' The fact of the matter is that in the rural industries a person cannot shut down the operation even if he is running at a loss. He cannot put sheep or cattle in mothballs, and grass still grows on his property whether it is running profitably or not. The point is that in most cases the rural industries have had to continue production at a time when they have been running at a loss, and of course the nation has gained because of the export income earned by people in the wool and meat industries in particular who have been running at a loss. I believe that because of this situation we have to assist them through rural reconstruction or in other ways so that they can continue production in bad times.

In bad seasons in particular producers- in the animal industries anyway- have to make a decision either to get rid of their stock and to sell them for slaughter or to maintain them, mainly at a loss. Of course, mostly they decide that they will endeavour to maintain them, because, after all, stock cannot just be brought back into production straight away. If breeding herds are lost it takes many years to breed up the numbers and consequently most people make a decision to maintain their flocks if possible, even at a loss. This is why we need this rural reconstruction money.

We had hoped that more money would be available, particularly at this stage for farm build up. We had a situation in the rural recession in the drought period where we had a number of people who would have liked to be able to build up their properties but could not manage the finance to do so, Others, of course, were in a pretty serious financial position and, if they had sold at that stage, they would have walked off their properties with nothing. With the improved seasonal conditions and improved prices for most of our primary products some people are now prepared to increase the size of their properties whereas others wish for one reason or another to get out, and to be in a position to get out with some sort of dignity and some financial resource behind them.

The same thing applies to reconstruction, because under reconstruction as we had it over the last couple of years there were many people, particularly in the arid areas in the pastoral industry, whose financial position was such that banking institutions and rural reconstruction boards did not consider them a viable operation, and consequently they were denied assistance. Many of these people have continued to operate on the smell of an oily rag, so to speak, and have been able to maintain their properties. They or their wives have gone out to work, and they have maintained their stocks and their properties. Under today's seasonal conditions and improved prices they have now come into the area of eligibility for rural reconstruction. In Queensland- I do not know whether this applies in other States- there are many people who have had rural reconstruction money and the Board has asked that they repay the money as fast as they can so that it can then turn around and lend to other people. I think an opportunity should now be taken to set up the rural industries, particularly in the arid areas, while the seasonal conditions are satisfactory and the prices obtained are reasonably good because, after all, all that the Government is going to do is lend these people money. It is only a matter of a few years and they will get themselves back on top.

This applies particularly to re-stocking. There are still many people in the western areas of Queensland who have grass and everything and the season has been right, but they have not the funds to re-stock. This is a national disaster, as far as I am concerned, because, when it is considered that 95 per cent of the wool is sold overseas at fairly high prices at the moment, it can be seen that this is all export income we are losing because we are not allowing these people to get back on their feet. As I see it, this is the time when money should be expended for rural reconstruction, when seasonal conditions and economic conditions are good rather than waiting until those times when people cannot very well use it. We support the continuation of this measure, and I suggest to the Minister that he look into the possibility of really getting these rural industries, particularly in the arid areas, back on their feet and in business, and working in the interests of this nation.

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