By Boyd Champness

PRIME Minister John Howard has acknowledged there are still areas of “massive economic and social difficulty” in rural Australia.

Opening the National Farmers Federation 20th annual conference in Longreach last week, Mr Howard said Australias economic conditions were the best in 30 years, but conceded that the benefits had not flowed through to rural Australia.

“There are still many communities which are steadily losing services. There are many parts of rural Australia where the population drift either to larger regional centres or to the cities goes on unabated,” he said.

“So I do recognise that those strong economic conditions nationally are not universally shared in areas of the Australian bush.”

With his comments reported in the Stock and Land, Mr Howard said rural communities doing it tough were deserving of a special understanding and a special consideration.

Mr Howards comments were seen as an about face by many rural leaders after he carpeted his former Agriculture Minister John Anderson several months ago for warning that Australia was in danger of splitting into two nations because of rising rural poverty.

However, he saved his most scathing criticism for Senator Brian Harradine and the Democrats, who are holding his tax reforms to ransom in the Upper House.

He said the Senate was constituted as a states house, but “over the years that has become a joke”. He said the Senate was now even more partisan and politicised than the House of Representatives.