Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Treasury Laws Amendment (Supporting Australian Farmers) Bill 2018; Second Reading
It was very good to go to Brisbane, where there were three ex-treasurers and two ex-premiers of Queensland, to listen to Sir Leo Hielscher. Two of the three biggest bridges in Australia are named for Sir Leo Hielscher. I think he was the outstanding figure in economic administration in the nation's last hundred years. A tribute to him was that so many important people—there were four ex-ministers as well, myself being one of them—were in that room for his address. For me it was Paradise Lost. Was the world ever really like that? The budgerigar media and the lily-pad lefties say, 'But Bjelke-Petersen; they are corrupt.' There was never a single case of corruption; there were four ministers who misused their personal travel allowance money. That's not government corruption; government corruption is when you do a job for somebody, the public benefit is involved and you get recompense for that. There was never any of that. It was all police corruption.
I am going sideways; let me return. I would ask the budgerigars supposedly in government to listen to what I am saying. You can see the minister is having a little chat with his mate over here. If he were to listen to me, he might find out what needs to be done in these situations, because I was in a government which successfully dealt with them. The price of sugar in Queensland in the eighties dropped clean in half, as it does regularly. It is a cyclical effect that occurs, like a drought. You have to be ready for it. A well-run government has to know how to handle it.
I point out to the people listening to this debate that the minister is now having a chat with somebody else, and that's what I would probably be doing if I were in his shoes, because he's been in those shoes for some time, I am informed, and he has done absolutely nothing about the drought. What we did was immediately discuss with the state bank a reconstruction loans approach. The head of the bank said no; so we asked him again and again and again. When two weeks were up, according to the media, we sacked him. Whether we sacked him or not, I will leave that to somebody else to say. After his departure from the state bank, I had primary responsibility for it. The Treasurer, Bill Gunn, and I were very close friends. We worked closely together and we discussed it. As usual, we put out, I think, about $700 million or $800 million in loans to the sugar industry.
I want to repeat that, while I have been telling the minister what a successful government did to deal with these problems, he has been constantly talking. He is not the slightest bit interested in finding out what to do, which leaves it open to me to savagely attack him for having no interest whatsoever in solutions to this problem. We borrowed $700 million or $800 million. We bought out the banks so that the sugar industry—
Mr Littleproud interjecting—
He is now laughing, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will give a running commentary on his performance while I'm speaking. People will enjoy this. We're talking about a situation where it would appear that a farmer is doing away with himself every five or six days, and he is laughing!
Mr Littleproud interjecting—
And now he is screaming abuse. So he talks to his mates, he laughs and then he screams abuse. What is he going to do next? We put the $700 million out so that the farmers owed nothing to the banks. They now owed it to the state bank, which was called the QIDC. We were borrowing it at a little under three per cent at the time, so we were able to put the loans out to farmers at three per cent. If they owed $1 million at the time, they were probably on about 10 per cent interest, so it was $100,000 in interest, and they were probably up for about $50,000 in repayments. So the cane farmer was up for $150,000 a year. They now owed the money to the Reconstruction Board and all they had to find was $30,000 a year—not $150,000 a year.
Within two years, as we knew it would, the upcycle occurred—the price of sugar doubled. The farmers went to commercial interest rates, and Bill Gunn and I, as part of the Bjelke-Petersen government, made some $200 or $300 million in profit, because we now held those loans. Not only did it not cost the taxpayers any money; the taxpayers made money out of it. At all times we knew that that would occur, because we had at our disposal the greatest administrator the country has ever seen in the form of Sir Leo Hielscher. He was offered a position at the World Bank. I'm most certainly very proud to say that I am very much a protege of Sir Leo Hielscher. The greatest fighter for Hell's Gate and the Bradfield scheme in Australia was none other than Sir Leo Hielscher. It's no surprise that I was the No. 2 fighter for that area. What we did was just quietly make available Reconstruction Board loans.
I believe that my son was not very interested in politics initially. What got him interested was when, as part of an inquiry, he went around Queensland talking about the possibility of a reconstruction board. He assumed that people on the committee were listening when every single person they spoke to said that they wanted no further debt. At every meeting—albeit I attended only three—Robbie Katter said that people wanted no further debt. You can bet London to a brick that this government will offer them further debt. They won't offer them reconstruction of their debt; they will offer them further debt, which is specifically what people said they didn't want. When it came to a vote on this committee, he expected that both Labor and Liberal would agree, because clearly that was what every single person who had gone before the committee had said. To his shock and horror—and I think 'shock' is the right word—he couldn't believe it. Here's the logical thing to do. You know it works. It's been tried a million times. Every government in Australian history has done it. It was the essence of the Country Party philosophy. Yet, here they are, both sides, voting against it. I think his shock led him to believe that he had a job to do in politics. From that day forth he was a person who didn't want to get into it and was trying to get out of it. He became very, very dedicated and passionate in his belief.
I want to say some positive things about previous people in positions of power. Wayne Swan called a debt round table with Rowell Walton, the president of Katter's Australian Party. Rowell called a meeting with Wayne Swan and myself, and we got a debt round table. Out of that debt round table we had $450 million made available. We thank former Treasurer Swan for that. Barnaby Joyce attended another meeting called by Rowell Walton at St George. It was very big of the former Deputy Prime Minister, because he knew that we were a competing political party. But he was a big enough man to go to that meeting and provided $200 million on top of the $450 million. Then Robbie Katter called the last meeting, in which Alan Jones was the main feature item. At that meeting former Deputy Prime Minister Joyce put another $150 million aside. Again, we thank him for his approach. This is the very sad part, they gave that money to the LNP government of Queensland.
I think the member for Groom—I'm never too sure of these things—might be the member sitting here at the table. I don't know—