MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE
Motion of No Confidence
Debate resumed from 22 October.
(Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [5.00]: I wish to respond to the comments made in this no confidence debate which has extended over several weeks. I thank the members on the Government side, particularly the honourable member for Bathurst, the honourable member for Broken Hill, the honourable member for Bulli and the honourable member for Clarence, for their contributions in support of the Government and of me, and also for their opposition to the motion. The case put by the Opposition can be summed up in several ways. First, there was a regurgitation of the regional veterinary laboratories debate. That seemed to be the central theme of every Opposition speaker. The issue relating to the Biological and Chemical Research Institute at Rydalmere was trotted out as a reason for the no confidence motion being accepted. Honourable members heard the usual insults that are typical in debates on these types of motions. Various members of the Opposition quoted passages from the Land
newspaper to support a case that the motion was justified because the New South Wales Farmers Association passed a similar motion in the middle of the year.
Of course, they did not say that the reason the motion was moved by the New South Wales Farmers Association was that the mover was upset about a decision I made on electro-immobilisers. All the padding and the debate that ensued revealed that the motion was a personal matter. It was moved by a fellow called Peter Carter who was upset about a decision of the Government in relation to electro-immobilisers. I have never taken seriously the resolution passed by the New South Wales Farmers Association. The Leader of the National Party has the audacity to expect me to take seriously editorials appearing in the Land
. My research shows that there have been as many editorials in the Land
bagging him as the former Minister for Agriculture. He has written letters to the editor and issued press releases disagreeing with those editorials. He should not ask me to take seriously the notion that the Land
would objectively assess a Labor Minister for Agriculture in this State. Certainly I do not, nor do too many other people.
The honourable member for Murray said that I should take heed of the criticisms made in this debate and change my mode of operation. If I did that and changed my personality and method of operations, I would need psychiatric attention, because the Opposition's case was full of contradictions. A number of honourable members at different times over several weeks referred to me as dismissive and arrogant, on the one hand, and as a yes man on the other hand. Some said that I am a person who will not listen and others said that I listen too much. I have been regarded as a person who will not take expert advice, yet I have been damned for taking such expert advice. I have been accused of not answering questions or treating them flippantly by the same members who do not ask me questions. I have been dammed for decentralising the BCRI at Rydalmere by the person who recommended the same policy to his Premier, that person being the Leader of the National Party.
The House has been told by those who suggest that agricultural research should remain in Sydney that an agriculture Minister should not be a resident of Sydney. The same coalition members of Parliament who state that I do not know enough about agriculture ask what I am doing about Garibaldi disease, a disease that does not exist. I have been called upon to reopen the Armidale veterinary laboratory, despite the fact that it has not been closed. The honourable member for Oxley attacked me for centralising services. The honourable member for Murray attacked me for decentralising services. The honourable member for Oxley said that I carry out too many reviews. The honourable member for Tamworth wants me to do another one. The honourable member for Orange said that I am hurting Labor in the bush, yet in the by-election when he became a member of Parliament there was a 15 per cent swing against the National Party.
Was it 14.9 per cent? These are the issues that have excited the Opposition. I challenge the statements that I am a person who will not listen, that I am a person who does not go out and talk to farmers and that people in country areas do not support me. One of the arguments put forward by the Leader of the National Party implied that support for his motion comes from the rice industry of New South Wales. He made some selective comment about agricultural cutbacks to suggest that the rice industry would support his motion and is opposed to me. On the day that the motion of no confidence in me was moved by the New South Wales Farmers Association, a press release was issued by the rice industry which stated:
The Chairman of the Rice Marketing Board, Gerry Lawson, has expressed concern at the New South Wales Farmers Association's action of passing a vote of no confidence in the Minister for Agriculture, Richard Amery . . . The New South Wales rice industry has found Mr Amery open and fair on the numerous dealings with the industry since coming to office . . . Mr Amery has delivered on his promises, including his recent announcement in conjunction with the Premier of the extension of vesting arrangements applying to the New South Wales rice industry through to the year 2004.
The press release stated also that I made a promise at the industry's 1985 annual conference and that I kept it. That is the true position of the New South Wales rice industry. I am pleased to acknowledge that one outcome of this debate was a resolution from a rural union, the Australian Workers Union, which sent a letter to the Premier on 24 October saying that it was aware of this longstanding motion before the House. In part the letter read:
The Australian Workers Union is the largest rural union in New South Wales and is most capable of gauging rural workers' reaction to the State Government and particular Ministers . . . Without doubt, the State Government's stocks have risen in country New South Wales following recent by elections. The Minister for Agriculture, Richard Amery, must take considerable credit for this change in country attitudes.
The letter goes on to talk about support for the union's projects. Those two organisations are from different points of the spectrum, but the support I received on 23 October by way of a postcard really pleased me. On the night that the motion was moved by the New South Wales Farmers Association I attended a dinner where I met a young couple in the audience. They asked me a question about extension officers. I responded to them and as a result this is the card I received:
Thank you for your response to our questions regarding the position of agronomist at Temora and a sheep and wool officer at West Wyalong. We enjoyed meeting you at the New South Wales Farmers dinner in Sydney and I am pleased to have a Minister who listens to the ordinary people.
It is signed Mike.
That's Mike Egan.
Does the honourable member want this fellow's name? He is a farmer. What he said is contrary to the argument that I do not listen. I challenge the Leader of the National Party to show me his diary because I bet that though he is a country member he has never visited as many country towns as I have in the 18 months that I have been Minister. Honourable members should forget about those laughable contradictions, and the suggestion that I will not listen, which is contrary to reality. I think most country people and rural industries would regard the Opposition's arguments as laughable. Let us look at the facts. Any case must be based on facts. For example, the statements about the upper House committee on regional development were used to attack the Government's decision on the BCRI at Rydalmere when in fact that committee supported the decentralisation of Rydalmere. Many members said that the redundancies cost $18 million. In fact they cost $9.8 million.
The Leader of the National Party said that the cadmium residue program has been compromised. The program remains unchanged. The testing will take place in another location, in this case Wollongbar. The Leader of the National Party said that food safety was being compromised by the closure of Rydalmere. All those programs continue as usual. I have already mentioned the inaccurate comments about the view of the rice industry. The Leader of the National Party said that nothing has been heard about the fibre, meat, vegetable or cereal industries when in fact the whole strategy of the centres of excellence has been to support those very industries. I have made many speeches in this House about the various cooperative research centres around New South Wales. Only a few weeks ago I released a couple of strains of winter cereals in the vicinity of Wagga Wagga.
The Leader of the National Party claimed there had been no talk of beef grading in the State. He knows that New South Wales has played a leading role in the developing meat grading and quality description. He attacked the Government on port costs, which is not a matter within my portfolio. But he neglected to mention that on 1 July the Premier announced a 10 per cent reduction in waterfront charges. To claim that nothing is being done about port costs is totally inaccurate. The Leader of the National Party said that there has been a failure to expand services in the bush. I would have thought the whole debate has been about pushing services to rural New South Wales. The opposition to that proposal comes from the Opposition. That was an unusual position for the National Party to take, bearing in mind that it is a partner in the coalition and claims to represent rural New South Wales.
The honourable member for Wagga Wagga claimed that loyal staff were being frightened out of their jobs. That is just a lie. I have consistently told staff that if they were frightened about the future of their jobs or about their location they should not accept redundancy. The list goes on. The honourable member for Wagga Wagga claimed that the Minister - and this shows how uninformed the Opposition is - will not deal with or take a stance on any bank issues. I introduced the Farm Debt Mediation Bill and, of course, I fought the coalition who opposed that legislation in both Houses of the Parliament. The honourable member for Wagga Wagga did not know that the Rural Assistance Authority, which falls within my portfolio, is the organisation that deals with farm debt mediation. The Opposition's ignorance of the matters dealt with by the portfolio for which I am responsible is mind boggling, particularly bearing in mind the argument they advance that because they live in the country they know all about rural issues. Their contributions to this debate demonstrated the contrary: their knowledge of agriculture and the matters dealt with by different portfolios was sadly lacking.
The honourable member for Camden delivered an interesting speech. Honourable members do not need to hear me comment on that speech because she contradicted every attack she made about two minutes after she made it. However, she made a comment that is worthy of mention. She said that bureaucrats who proposed the policy - I assume she was referring to the policy in relation to Rydalmere or the veterinary laboratories - had misled the Minister because there are no scientists in politics. If she knew what was going on in the Department of Agriculture, she would know that four of the six members of the executive of New South Wales Agriculture are agricultural scientists, three of whom have doctorates of philosophy. The bureaucrats she refers to were agricultural scientists, and she need not have gone further than to read the annual report to find that information.
The honourable member for Tamworth said that he would vote against the motion if I gave an assurance to conduct another inquiry into the issue of the veterinary laboratories. That will not happen. That issue has been thoroughly researched in the political arena, in this House and in the hearings before the select committee. The honourable member for Tamworth may not have been aware of it, but within a day or so of his contribution to the debate, a motion was passed in the upper House requesting the Council on the Cost of Government and the Auditor-General to review certain aspects of the operations of New South Wales Agriculture, including the issue of the veterinary laboratories and the situation at Rydalmere. The matter has been the subject of a budget decision, a political debate, public meetings, delegations from many organisations, an upper House review, the tabling of a report, and a debate in the upper House on that report. A further review of the matter will now be undertaken by the Auditor-General and the Council on the Cost of Government.
The spending of further public money on yet another review cannot be justified. I cannot accede to the request of the honourable member for Tamworth that another inquiry be conducted into the veterinary laboratories, Rydalmere or anything else. The Government will cooperate with the Auditor-General and the Council on the Cost of Government in their inquiry. My initial 80-minute contribution to this debate was sufficient to put the position of the Government on the record. I will close my contribution in response in the same way as I started my initial contribution, that is, by saying that I am proud of the achievements in New South Wales Agriculture. The strategy of rationalising services, of decentralising jobs, of moving the Rural Assistance Authority out of the Sydney central business district, of decentralising the research conducted at Rydalmere to different parts of New South Wales, and of making sure that funds are spent a little more wisely in relation to the number of administration offices deserves the congratulations of the House. Those matters should certainly not be the subject of a motion of no confidence. As many Government speakers have pointed out, the motion is nothing more than a politically motivated exercise to get the contributions of the members of the National Party on the public record because they have been silent on issues affecting rural New South Wales.
The next year is full of promise for the Department of Agriculture. The reviews of the Meat Industry Authority and the Dairy Industry Authority, as well as the competition reviews in different industries, herald an exciting time. Agriculture is going very well and, for the first time in many years, reform in the Department of Agriculture is moving at the same pace as the reform in the general agricultural industries. I thank the honourable member for Bathurst, who is in the Chair, for his support on this motion. I express my appreciation of all members of the Government who supported me in this debate. The arguments of the Opposition on its motion of no confidence could be locked up in a five-minute fax sheet. Those arguments were repeated time and again by Opposition speakers. I reject the motion and I ask the House to reject it overwhelmingly when the vote is taken later today.
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.