The Hon. A. B. KELLY [9.27 p.m.]: I bring to the attention of the House the recent trade and assistance review of the Productivity Commission, and its implications for rural and regional Australia. I welcome the Government's urgent motion expressing grave concerns with the commission's report, and a call for a review of the Productivity Commission and the National Competition Council. The Productivity Commission's report on the agriculture industry shows just how out of touch it is with the real needs and concerns of rural and regional Australia. Whilst acknowledging Australia's comparatively low levels of government assistance, the review calls for even further cutbacks in Federal Government assistance.
The Productivity Commission has a vision of Australian society with no effective role for government in matters such as research, adjustment packages and the development of new market opportunities. I suggest that commission officers leave their models behind in the office and get out into the community and see for themselves the day-to-day impact of their decisions. What they will see are rural and regional communities struggling to survive. They will see communities slowly being drained of their economic and social vibrancy, with many local primary producers being forced from their livelihoods, the displacement of many rural families, and vital services disappearing with each passing day.
That is the tragic reality of the Productivity Commission's vision. That is why I support the Government's call for an urgent review of the commission and the National Competition Council. With the backing of the Howard Government those two bodies have wreaked havoc throughout Australia and pointed our society towards a fragile conglomeration of fiercely competing commercial interests. That is the future that the likes of Howard, Reith and Costello have mapped out for Australia. It is a bleak future where the disadvantaged, families and small businesses are swept aside in favour of global capitalism and the domination of multinationals. It is a vision that goes against the grain of our society's most intrinsic values.
That means little to the Federal Government as it is interested only in cutting costs and slashing services, regardless of the social impacts or the fact that in the long run such intervention may in fact save money. It is a short-sighted view which brings only pain to rural and regional communities, a view worsened by its failure to appreciate the nature of agricultural production with its fluctuating market conditions. Governments should have a key role in smoothing out those market fluctuations, guiding and protecting industries rather than abandoning them solely to the market. But that is the Coalition's concept of good government. A good example of the short-sightedness of that approach is the experience of the pork industry over the last 12 months.
In late 1997 I spoke out strongly against the Howard Government's decision to remove barriers to pig meat imports. The impact was devastating—a collapse in pork prices forced almost 500 producers out of the industry accompanied by social and economic cost conveniently ignored by the Howard Government. A virus in south-east Asian pigs earlier this year saw new export opportunities for our pig producers. Subsequently prices rose 50 per cent over what they were last year. Unfortunately, this was no compensation for the almost 500 producers already abandoned by the Federal Government. Producers cannot simply enter and exit the market as they please despite what may be contained in some economic textbooks.
If Federal assistance had been maintained, 500 producers would still have been productive members of the pork industry, and their families, their communities and associated businesses would have shared in this reversal of fortune. That is what happens when short-sighted penny pinching wins out over longer-term perspectives. The Howard Government has failed to heed the lessons of the pork industry and now has done the same thing to the dairy industry. This is why Country Labor will continue to defend the longer-term interests of our primary producers and rural and regional communities: speaking out against a Federal Government policy of deregulation for deregulation's sake, which is ripping out the heart of the country.
I note that sections of the National Party are even beginning to question the views of their Liberal masters and Federal national colleagues. I welcome the support of the honourable member for Murrumbidgee and the honourable member for Orange for the Carr Government's motion against the Productivity Commission's recent review. Finally, perhaps some Nationals are beginning to listen to their electorates, which, as expressed in a recent Land editorial, are particularly sick of National Party politicians saying, "They have got the economy right." I hope the National Party will continue to follow the lead of Country Labor. The people of rural and regional New South Wales deserve no less.