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Thursday, 3 October 1974
Page: 1656

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate) - The Nitrogenous Fertilisers Subsidy Bill before the Senate seeks to extend the Nitrogenous Fertilisers Subsidy Act 1966-1973 for a period of 12 months to 31 December 1975 pending an inquiry and report on the subsidy by the Industries Assistance Commission. I shall make a few points in regard to this Bill. First of all, I note that under the Industries Assistance Commission Act section 23 states:

(   1 ) The Minister may refer to the Commission for inquiry and report any matter relating to the giving, continuance or withdrawal of assistance to an industry____ by the Australian Government, and may, when so referring a matter, specify a period within which the Commission is to report on that matter.

Under this legislation the Government has done this. It has made a referral and it has asked the Commission to report on the reference by September 1975, after which the Government will decide on assistance beyond 3 1 December 1975. I congratulate the Government on the way it has approached this matter in this piece of legislation. I regret very much that the Government did not see fit to proceed along the lines set out in the legislation in respect of the superphosphate bounty. Honourable senators will recall that the superphosphate bounty has been in operation for some years and that the Government made an announcement that it would decide to introduce no further legislation in that field when the bounty concluded on 3 1 December 1974.

Senator Devitt - Unless a case can be made out, as in Western Australia.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN -Yes. This is a very subtle way of getting around it. The honourable senator may have noted when I quoted section 23 of the Industries Assistance Commission Act that where a bounty has been in force for 2 years or more and the Government wants to withdraw it or increase it, it should refer it to the Commission. However, in some subtle legislative manner this Government saw fit just to let it lapse and I object to that. Now it is in trouble and is saying that if an industry can put up a case the Government will listen to it. I am congratulating the Minister on this legislation because there would be a period between the lapsing of the legislation and the time that the Industries Assistance Commission made its report when there would be no superphosphate bounty at all; under this legislation there is no such gap. The Government has seen fit to increase the bounty for a further period of 12 months while waiting for the report to be lodged. The report has to be completed by September 1 975 so that the Government will have time to make a decision before the extra year runs out.

Under this legislation from 1 July 1973 to 30 June 1974 the Government paid out about $13,572,100 bounty on 595,049 tonnes of superphosphate. Clearly a very good sum of money is involved in the industry and this is important particularly when one looks at the forecast by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics that net income from rural sources will be down by 50 per cent this year. This estimate is based on a substantial drop in the value of rural production plus a 20 per cent increase in costs. The bounty of about $13m does go somewhere towards offsetting that increase and the industry would be very much worse off without it. According to the forecast of the Bureau the increased cost is estimated to be just below $500m of which wages are estimated to take up about $70m. The fertiliser cost is estimated to account for about $82m. While congratulating the Government on making this amount of money available there is a distinct difference between the $13m that the Government is providing and the increase of $82m that the industry is facing this year. Having made those points I say that the Opposition has no objection to this Bill and we are very glad that the Government has seen fit to extend the bounty for a further 12 months.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from Committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.

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