7th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. ANSTEY presented a petition from certain electors of Victoria, praying the House to proclaim “ shouting “ illegal duringthe currency of the war, and for twelve months after peace has been signed.
Petition received, and read.
– ‘Shall I be in order in moving now to give effect to the petition?
– The honorable member may not make a motion now.
– Will the Treasurer state how much of the war profits that it is proposed to tax will be taken under the Bill that is to be introduced ?
– The House will know that when the Bill is brought forward.
– I have addressed my question to the Treasurer, who, no doubt, is able to reply to it.
– When I move the second reading of the Bill-
– When will that be?
– As soon as I can do so. I shall then explain the provisions of the measure, and inform the House on the matter on which the questionis based.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether there is any objection to letting the House know now what is the rate at which the Government proposes to taxexcessprofits?_
– It is not usual to elicit by means, of questions without notice information which will be given when a measure on the notice-paper comes up for discussion.
– Has the Minister for Works and Railways had the calculations made by Mr. Commissioner Blacket in his report on the administration of the Home Affairs Department checked’, and has he obtained reports on the findings of the Commissioner? If so, will he lay the result of the investigations on the table? I wish to know, too, whether the honorable . gentleman does not consider that there should be some statutory alteration regarding the duties of the Auditor-General, or some regulation passed?
– I have spent a good deal of time in considering the report of the Royal Commissioner, and have had it investigated by specialists, chiefly experts regarding the values of buildings, and in regard to accountancy methods which were- criticised by the Commissioner. I shall be ready to present the reports of these experts to Cabinet as soon as there is an opportunity, and, with the permission of Cabinet, I propose to subsequently lay the whole of the papers on the table of the House. At this stage I prefer not to express an opinion regarding the statutory authority of the Auditor-General.
– Is it a fact that the frequency of the mail services between many country towns is to be reduced ? If so, what is the reason for the reduction ?
– -There has been no reduction in country mail services except “where the tenders have exceeded; not merely the amounts previously paid, but those that the Department can legitimately afford. I have done all that I can to prevent the reduction of country mail services, and if war conditions would permit I should be pleased to extend country facilities.
– As the price of galvanized and other fencing wire has increased about 500 per cent., and that of barbed wire and wire netting about 300 per cent., cannot something be done to fix the prices of these commodities, so that they may remain within the reach of our farmers and settlers?
– The price of the materials referred to has increased largely, because the importation of them has diminished. Yesterday I promised a deputation that black wire, fencing wire, and galvanized iron would be placed high on the list of importations for permitted shipment from America. If freight can be obtained, that will have the effect of reducing the price of those materials in Australia. The Government will consider the advisability of fixing prices for fencing wire and similar material. I am not now in a position to say how far the increase of prices has been due to the increased cost of materials. It. is true, as has been pointed out, that the price of wheat, of meat, and of butter has gone up. This is equally true of the prices of nearly all commodities. The cost of labour has also increased. All these increases, I think, are naturally reflected in the price of wire netting. The question of whether the price of wire netting has gone up more than it ought to have done is one into which we ought to inquire. We must frankly recognise the fact that under our present circumstances, those methods by which prices- are regulated in normal ‘times are now quite inadequate, and that there must be some sort of tribunal to hold the scales evenly between producer and consumer.
– Will the Minister for Works and Railways state . whether his Department has considered the advisableness of erecting cement works in Australia, more particularly in view of the fact that something like a thousand silos will have to be constructed, presumably of reinforced concrete, of which cement is an important constituent? There is also the fact that cement is required for various public works, and that there is some doubt as to whether the shareholders or managers of some cement works are not of enemy origin.
– I do not think that the matter Has been considered - certainly not in my time- except in connexion with the acquisition of a property just outside’ the Federal Capital territory, which was supposed to be carrying cement stone, and which is now, I believe, the subject of legal proceedings between the Commonwealth, and the original owners.
– If cement were manufactured there, what would it cost to bring it to Melbourne 1 >
– It would mean a long haulage, and probably the construction of a special railway line. I recognise that the matter is worthy of consideration. There is, I understand, some difficulty in obtaining the machinery necessary for such works, but I shall take an early opportunity of consulting with the officers of the Department.
The following papers were presented : -
Public Service Act-
Trade and Customs Department - Promotion of -
Ordered to be printed.
List of patriotic associations to which soldiers’ wives may apply for financial assistance in case of distress.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What is the amount of revenue and expenditure for the year ended 31st December, 1916, in connexion with the Capella and Blair Athol post-offices respectively?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Capella post-office - Revenue £582; expenditure, £248.
Blair Athol post-office - Revenue, £313; expenditure, £124.
Administration : Travelling Expenses and Allowances
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice-
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
asked the Minister for
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
To what country or countries were the wool tops exported on which bounty has been paid, and what were the total quantities exported to each country?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows :
The exports, according to country of destination, of wool tops during the period in which bounty was existent, viz., 1st January, 1908, to 31st December, 1915, were: -
Includes 1,479,750 lbs. on which bounty was not claimed or paid. commonwealth line of steam-Ships.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Having reference to his reply to a question asked on the 1st March of this year, viz., that as early as possible a Bill to legalize the expenditure of £2,066,000 on a Government line of steam-ships would be introduced as early as possible, when does he propose to introduce the said Bill?
– The Government will let the honorable member know their intention as soon as possible.
OIL production. .
Encouragement by Bounty: Production at Newnes.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr. west (for Mr. Blakeley) asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– No information on the subject is available in the Department, but inquiries will be made and the results supplied later. balsillie RAIN-stimulating plants.
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What amount of money has been saved to the Commonwealth by the closing of the Customs Office at Devonport, Tasmania?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
The closing of the small Customs port of Devonport, where the business was not sufficient to justify the placing of an officer of the Trade and Customs Department, was part of a general policy, having in view the aims of economy and of more effective examination and control of dutiable goods.
The allowance to the local Postmaster, who acted as Customs officer, was £50. The indirect saving due to more complete protection of the revenue, and which is certainly much the more important, cannot be precisely stated.
Erection of Serum Institute, . Melbourne
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether the Government will take action to protect the general public from being imposed upon when purchasing boots and shoes, and see that a stamp is placed on these articles to say whether they are solid leather or composition, and thus prevent the purchaser from being victimized?
– Action is taken by the Commonwealth in respect of imported boots and shoes. The question of marking of boots and shoes manufactured within Australia is under the control of State Governments.
Debate resumed from 19th July (vide page 351), on motion by Mr. Hughes -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- I do not intend to occupy much time in the discussion of this Bill. I am still somewhat in a quandary as to whether or not we are doing the right thing in this, regard, but I recognise that it is absolutely necessary that some steps should be taken to assist in the preservation of our grain. Travellers oh our railway lines are familiar with the fearful losses due to the fact that to some extent some one has blundered. I have often thought that we in Australia are exceedingly careless and indifferent to the provision that should be made for protecting our wheat and other grain stocks from the ravages caused by mice and those worked by climatic influences. Apparently the Wheat Board, or whoever exercises control over the agents, made the mistake of falling into the groove which has so long been followed in Australia, with the result that deplorable losses have occurred, and must continue, from what I consider to be the primary negligence of those who were charged with this duty. There are to be seen stacked close to various railway stations in South Australia hundreds of thousands of tons of wheat without a particle of roofing. These stacks were originally roofed, but, unfortunately, the stacks themselves were used as the foundation for the roofing, and as soon as the mice got to work on them they collapsed, with the result that the iron which was resting upon them fell in, and the rain penetrated them.
– That was bad management.
– Instead of having a separate support for the roofs, the stacks, following an old custom, were used for that purpose. Whilst such a practice served very well when there was no mice plague to combat, and “when, with an ample shipping service, wheat had not to be stacked for any considerable length of time, it has led in the existing circumstances to tremendous waste.
A few days ago I put ,to the Prime Minister a question to which he was unable to give me a satisfactory answer. Under, the Wheat Board certain business men who had been engaged in the grain trade for years were appointed as wheat agents, and, I understand, were intrusted with the responsibility of properly housing and protecting the grain stacks from the elements. When travelling through a wheat-growing district recently I had a conversation with a man who was working under one of these agents, and who gave me information, which, if true, is most astonishing. He said that while the agents were held responsible for up to 3 per cent, of losses due to any failure on their part to carry out their duty, the occurrence of any loss exceeding 3 per cent, relieved them from all responsibility. He assured me that isi such circumstances they were relieved, not only from responsibility for the original 3 per cent, of loss, but for all loss in excess of that. If that be true, it is a scandal, and does not suggest much foresight on the part of those who made the agreement. Such a provision in the agreement would really be an inducement to these men to get over the maximum of 3 per cent., and so to absolve themselves from all responsibility. I put a question to the Prime Minister on the subject, but, as I have said, did not receive a satisfactory answer. This phase of the question ought .certainly to be looked into. Various estimates have been made as to the actual losses we shall suffer. I have heard some gentlemen declare that the loss will not exceed 3 per cent., while others who are engaged in the handling of wheat say that the mice plague alone will result in a loss amounting to something like 10 per cent.- The ravages of the mice plague, however, represent but one phase of our difficulty. A far more serious danger is that of the weevil. It is well known that wheat that has absorbed a certain amount of moisture will develop weevil. In to-day’s papers we are informed that Adelaide is flooded, and if the heavy rainfall responsible for that flooding has also occurred in the wheat areas our wheat stacks in those districts will be in a sorry mess.
I have a complaint to make as to the attempts that have been made to remedy the bungling that has occurred. Along the various railway lines in South Australia men are to be seen engaged in the work of re-bagging the wheat in stacks. At Gulnare South, as well as in other parts, stacks from 15 to 20 feet high, and covering something like an acre of ground, are to be seen. They are one mass of loose wheat. There is hardly a bag visible, and the grain is absolutely exposed to the elements.” Alongside any of these stacks one man is to be seen turning a hand winnower, which is fed by another while a third is hooking on the bag, one is sewing, and probably one or two gathering up the wheat. My colleague, the honorable member for Wakefield, will bear
Dee out when I say that similar conditions prevail at every station in the north; and it would be impossible to shift this wheat in three months by the bagging process. It occurs to me that we ought to resort, at least, to motor winnowing, which would give a much more rapid and better result than hand winnowing. It cannot be denied that we require some better provision for the storage and proper protection of the wheat we have and the wheat to come. The Bill, however, goes much further, and, in my opinion, commits us to bulk handling, as to which opinion is very divided in the State I represent. I should imagine that there is in favour of it a number equal at least to those opposed to it; and there has not been a speech made during this debate to show that bulk handling in Australia can be. compared in any way to bulk handling in the United States of America or Canada. For instance, it has not been demonstrated that we can move wheat from Australia around Cape Horn, especially in view of the fact that large quantities must be shipped in “wind-jammers,” or sailing ships, and of necessity be many months on board. When I was in Canada, I saw the process of bulk handling, and I found that the maximum time that the wheat is on board, or on the road, is only about seven days.
– What about the Argentine!
– How long does it take a vessel to go from the Argentine to England ?
I am credibly informed that for bulk handling it will be necessary to have an absolutely new class of shipping. If an ordinary ship be filled with loose wheat the’ great expansion, resulting from moisture, causes the decks to lift, while, if, the ship is not quite filled, there is a danger, in the heavy seas that must be encountered, of a list consequent upon the shifting of the cargo. Further, I understand that, in a comparison of samples shipped in bulk, and shipped in bags, it was found that a better price was obtained for the latter. I do not wish to prevent anything being done to assist in the housing of our present supplies, and the protection of the coming harvest, but I do not care to commit myself to the bulk handling of wheat until we have considerably more information than we have been able to gather up to the present. I suggest to the Prime Minister that, instead of rushing this measure through, and taking the stand that the Commonwealth will carry it out in spite of the States - which, after all, are as much, or more, interested - there should be .further consultation with the representatives of the States to see whether we cannot protect our crop, and come to some agreement in regard to bulk handling.
One of the greatest advantages enjoyed by South Australia is in its many ports, i numbering some hundreds, from which wheat may be shipped, as compared with Victoria, where there are only two big ports at which the wheat business is conducted. I am very doubtful in my own mind whether, in view of the circumstances of South Australia, we could initiate a bulk-handling process that would altogether eliminate the necessity for using bags. Throughout Eyre’s Peninsula, and right up Spencer’s Gulf, the wheat is snipped from many ports. This, of course,’ means a reduction in the cost of carting to the sea; and it must be apparent that we could not erect the necessary structures for loading vessels at all of these ports. The question then arises, what are the people to do in those parts of the country where the wheat would still have to be handled in bags? It is said that one of the effects of bulk handling would be a great saving in the cost of cornsacks; but with the exception of
Port . Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Wallaroo, and, probably, Port Pirie, the harvest at other ports would have to be carried in bags, as has been the case for years, or there would have to be a very high railage to the place of shipment. Not one word has been said during the debate to show ‘that bulk handling has been proved satisfactory. The proposed silos are a prelude to, or a part of, a great bulkhandling scheme; and for that reason I suggest that the passage of this measure ought not to be hurried. As to the necessity for the other provisions in the Bill, however, there can be no doubt, for there is certainly room for much to be done. It is a scandal that such waste should be going on.
– These silos would deal with only a fourth or fifth of the trouble.
– What is the -honorable member for Grey complaining of ? The Government desire tlo stop the waste.
– The Government can only stop about one-third of the waste; and I fancy the honorable member for Maranoa has not been following me. The proposed scheme commits us to bulk handling, which is a different proposition from that to erect proper stores and accommodation for the protection of the wheat we have and to come.
– The only difference between the honorable member and the Government is that the Government desire to put the wheat into silos, while he desires to bag it.
– So far as the Bill commits us to bulk handling, I do not desire to commit myself, because bulk handling is one proposition, and the proper protection of the wheat, whether in bags or loose, another. There will be ample opportunity in the course of this debate for the Government to show that they are justified in going on with a scheme of bulk handling, which has been turned down, or, at any rate, delayed in New South Wales.
– Not in New South Wales.
– That State is not going on with a scheme. There are very funny stories told about New South Wales in this connexion.
– I have it from Mr. Fuller himself that, he intends to introduce the system.
– In South Australia, at any rate, the farmers, who are principally interested, are very divided in opinion-; and we ought, as I say, to have some information before us as to the merits or demerits of the proposed system. So far as the Bill commits . us to bulk handling, I am against it.
– The Government are to be congratulated on placing a measure of this character before the House. The state of the wheat stacks in South Australia is such as to demand immediate attention. When we remember that this wheat is the property of the British “Government, we must realize that a great responsibility is thrown upon us, quite apart from the question of bulk handling; and in view ofthe destination of this wheat, high patriotic reasons ought to stimulate us to take every necessary step to protect it. In this work, we cannot afford to lose an hour; and for that reason the Government! are to be commended for introducing the measure thus early. It appears to me that there is a desire on the part of those in favour of bulk handling to, as it were, seize the opportunity presented by our misfortune, and push this project forward, when, if there were no war, it would receive more consideration on its merits. We are asked to consent to an expenditure, of, say, £3,000,000, an estimate a little high, perhaps, but one that allows for the contingencies that arise in great projects ‘ of this kind. That being -the case it is vitally important that the Commissioners to be appointed under the Bill should be experts, and those experts should be engineers. There are a number of men who wander about all day long, and are experts on everything under the sun, but those who have had the misfortune to be mixed up with any of these gentlemen are anxious to give them a wide berth. As we do not live to the age of Methuselah, we have not the time or the inclination to be bored with them. But unless Parliament is very careful, so-called experts will be appointed as Commissioners, because of the desire of the State authorities to do somebody a good turn. The practical gentlemen who have been dealing with the wheat-handling problem to date are the railway engineers of the various States, and I do not think that any harm would result if, in the appointment of Commissioners, the Government followed that lead. Men cannot fill high engineering positions in the States unless they are qualified.
It is necessary that the buildings to be erected for the protection of the wheat shall be of such a character that they will efficiently serve their purpose. I do not profess to be an expert in regard to wheat handling, but this is a matter in connexion with which an average amount of common sense is useful, and a very homoeopathic dose of expert knowledge is sufficient. It has been stated that Mr. Fuller intends to introduce into the New South Wales Parliament a Bill to authorize the construction of these silos as a step towards the institution of bulk handling. With all due respect to the enthusiastic advocates of bulk handling, I ask them to look at what they are doing. It is all very well to take measures to protect and store the wheat in Australia, but there is also the problem of shipping the Wheat abroad. Any ship-owner, unless he has a particular axe to grind, will declare that vessels must be specially constructed for the carrying of wheat in bulk, and the number of ships suitable for that purpose at the present time is very limited.
– There are vessels which take nearly all the wheat from the United States of America and Canada in bulk.
– On established routes, which they will not leave.
– They must go where they are sent.
– We must assume that our fellow citizens have the same amount of common sense as we have, and I ask the honorable member for Wimmera would he, as an overseas ship-owner, send ships to Australia when he ‘ could get plenty of freight in the United States of America and Canada?
– Ships must go where they are sent.
– But who sends them ? A ship-owner does not conduct a philanthropic institution. He has his eyes open, and already has done pretty well out of the war.
– As a matter of fact, all the’ ships that come to Australia at the present time have to be, pressed into the service.
– And the British Government is not pressing many into the service. -Tonnage is limited, and Australia is about to be committed to a system of bulk handling that will necessitate the building of special ships for the purpose.
– -Not necessarily; ordinary ships can be used.
– I should like to see the honorable member go round the Horn in a ship loaded with wheat in bulk, and not specially built for the purpose.
– - The wheat will have to be transported from Australia by shipping specially provided by the Imperial Government.
– That is admitted. My argument is that the present is not the time for any of the Australian States to institute bulk handling, because of the fact that wheat in bulk is most efficiently carried in vessels specially designed for the purpose, and tonnage of that character is limited. If Victoria and New South Wales are very anxious to improve the. occasion by introducing bulk handling under cover pf war necessity, let them raise and spend the money on their own account, but the Commonwealth should be careful that it is not mulcted in any expenditure with that ultimate object. In South Australia bulk handling is undoubtedly an open question, and it seems to me that that State has the best of the deal in regard to the shipping problem.
Mr. - Richard Foster. - It is unfair to compel South Australia to accept this scheme.
– I understand the Prime Minister to desire that this Parliament shall- spend a certain amount of money for the purpose of adequately protecting the wheat on hand, and also the next crop.
– How can you say that the States are mulcting’ the Commonwealth when clause 9 states clearly that the money is only to be lent to the States for this purpose, and the States .will pay interest ?
– The Commonwealth has liabilities in all directions already. I do not complain of that, and I shall not complain if, in pursuance of their policy of winning, the war or meeting the national requirements of Australia, the Government ask us to accept liability for another £2,000,000 or £3,000,000. But what right have we to lend the States money for carrying out in time of war what I regard as a fad? If they are anxious to engage in Bulk handling, let them find the money as best they can, or, as sensible people would do, defer their ambitions until after the war.
I do not think that the present scarcity of shipping is altogether the result of the operations of the Huns. Beyond doubt there is a certain amount of shipping tied up in neutral countries. The owners, not being rich men, know that it will pay them better to tie up their ships until after the war, when they will be able to pick up cargoes anywhere about the world at high freights. If I were a neutral ship-owner I should certainly tie up my fleet rather than take the risk of submarining, because I should know that after the war I could operate the vessels at a substantial profit. Vessels of that class will be released when peace is declared. Many of the vessels that were coming to Australia before the war no’ longer sail under the British flag, because they are not first class, but they can carry Australian wheat, and they will be available for that purpose after the war. Are we more likely to get our wheat to the overseas market by means of those vessels, or by bulk handling? The bulk system cannot be practically considered to-day, and I contend that it is waste of time for farmers and experts to talk about the system unless they solve the. problem of getting the wheat in bulk to the ports of Europe. That question has never been adequately considered.
The provision of rolling-stock is another problem. In the United States of America and Canada special rolling-stock is built for the bulk handling of wheat, and I ask, how are we to handle our grain in bulk with the present rollingstock? The provision of special trucks will mean further heavy expenditure.
– We could use “ D “ trucks for the purpose.
– Of course, one could use a wheelbarrow if he liked, or employ a Chinaman to carry the grain in baskets slung on a pole across his shoulder. We must look at the matter from a practical, business stand-point.
In conclusion I urge one or two points of importance. As soon as possible we should agree to the Government proposition, but it should be a proposition sanctioned by this House to limit the expenditure of the Commonwealth to £3,000,000 for the efficient storage of wheat, and that wheat should be stored by February next. Bulk handling should be cut out of the question so far as this Parliament is concerned. It would be a piece of insolent impertinence on our part to dictate what the Parliaments of the States should do. The States can go to any expenditure they choose, but we should not allow the question of bulk handling to be mixed up with the question of the protection at . wheat at the present time, which is the purpose of this Bill.
.- The whole scheme, strikes me as being illconsidered. We are about as wise after hearing the , explanation of the Prime Minister as we were before he spoke. We are told that there will be about 6,000,000 tons of wheat in Australia by next February, yet the proposal of the Government is to make provision for protecting only one-third of the normal harvest, which represents about one-fifth of the actual amount of wheat that will need to be protected in Australia. It would appear to me that the Government have not given proper consideration to the matter of providing for the adequate protection of the wheat harvest. The Prime Minister has pointed out that the British Government have purchased the wheat from us. If that is so, it is our duty to take adequate steps to protect not only one-third of the normal harvest, but also all the wheat in the Commonwealth. The scheme now put forward will not do so.
Furthermore the Government should furnish us with some details of the scheme. They talk about erecting silos. What will be the nature of these silos? Will they be built of reinforced concrete? What will be the system of conveying the wheat to them? Will it be the first step towards bulk handling? Is the wheat to be brought to the silos in bulk, and stored in the silos in bulk, or are we to continue the first process of the present system by conveying the wheat to the silos in bags and then opening them and placing it on conveyors or hoists to be tipped into the silos? What provision is to he made for turning the wheat in the silos after it has lain in them for some time ? What is to be the method of taking it from the silos; will it be taken away in bulk and shipped, or will it be re-bagged for that purpose? L*i justice to ‘honorable members, the Government should give us more information, as to these details, and not merely throw down the Bill and say, “ The armies of Great Britain and the Allies are waiting for food and we have to protect it.” Of course we have to protect it; every honorable member admits it, and is prepared to do the right thing in the matter; but I do not feel inclined to buy a pig in a poke. I wish to know what system of handling wheat we are to get for the expenditure of nearly £3,000,000 of Commonwealth money.
The storage and protection of wheat is not a matter that concerns the States only. It is a matter that affects the whole of the Commonwealth, and is of concern to the Empire as a whole. The Prime Minister has pointed out that it affects the rights of the Imperial Government who have purchased our wheat. Therefore it is the duty of the Commonwealth to accept full responsibility in regard to the protection of the wheat, and not merely advance £2,850,000 to the States.
– The Commonwealth lias initiated the matter.
– But it is passing its responsibility on to the States.
– The storage of wheat can hardly be separated from the control of the Railways. The State-owned railways will provide the land upon which the storage will be built. There cannot be dual control.
– At this stage I do not wish to tell the honorable member what views I hold in regard to the control of the Railways, but the point he has raised does not get away from the responsibility that the Commonwealth Government should assume. We are dealing with something of vital importance, not’ only to Australia, but also to the Empire, and surely a Government that has been returned by the people to do everything possible to further the war aims of the Empire should have the courage to assume its responsibilities. I have heard the honorable member for Flinders enunciating the doctrine of supreme lex. Seeing that this is a matter of such great importance to the Empire, surely the Government will use the power, which the honorable member has told us they possess, the power of promoting the safety of the realm, and assume responsibility in connexion with this matter. . .
Honorable members may imagine that because the Chief Commissioner will be a representative of the Commonwealth, and will have the right of veto on all matters, the Commonwealth is protected; but that is the weakest point in the whole thing, because the right of veto can only arise when something wrong has been done. This may lead us into a very nasty position. We should protect the Commonwealth beforehand against blunders of State management, and not have power to f step in only after something has been done. Thus we may prevent some of those things that are causing an uneasy feeling in the minds of many people in New South Wales. I am not inclined to make any charges, but in commercial circles in Sydney to-day there is a most uneasy feeling that there is something that the people of the Commonwealth may regret, if the State Governments, especially the Government of New South Wales, are given control in the matter. In the interest of all parties, the Commonwealth and the Empire as a whole, the Commonwealth Government should say, “Here is a great national project; something that stands for the protection of our soldiers, and is going to help us to get on with the war, and something that is going to feed our armies. Let us assume responsibility, and control the whole business ourselves.”
– I am a little reluctant to rush in where even angels fear to tread, but I must say, in justification of venturing to take part in this debate, that I represented a purely wheat-growing district for eleven or twelve years, and I gave some little time to the study of the bulk-handling question in Canada. It would be of considerable advantage to the House in dealing with a Bill of such a highly technical nature if we had some one in charge of the House who really knew something about the matter. The PostmasterGeneral looks as if he understood it; he looks as if he had been born and bred in a silo.
– What .is the matter with the honorable member?
– Nothing whatever, except that there are one or two observations I wish to make, and I would like the Minister in charge of the House to understand the subject with which we are dealing.
– I undertake that I would lose the honorable member in a silo any day.
– I take the interjection of the Postmaster-General as an intimation that he is thoroughly ‘ equipped with all the knowledge necessary to inform the House upon this matter. The Bill has been placed before us by the Prime Minister as a measure for the preservation of wheat, and as one which did not involve the adoption of the bulkhandling system in Australia, but I am afraid we cannot accept it in that light. I cannot help coming to the conclusion that the Government have swallowed with too great avidity the Commission’s report that has been placed before us. If we look into the facts and figures placed before us by that report, the whole thing appears to bear the marks of undue haste in dealing with such an important matter. I desire to draw attention to one or two important points that should be considered before the Government proceed to conclude this business. We cannot accept the Bill as a mere proposition for the preservation of wheat. To do so, we would need to leave out of account altogether all aspects of the permanent bulk-handling proposition. During the whole time that I was a representative of wheat-growers, and so far as such interests have been concerned since, I have been strongly in favour of the bulk-handling of wheat. But I believe that there are difficulties in the way of its adoption, in Australia which are not met with in Canada. The fact that our wheat is not mostly carried along the same railways is a great, though I do not think an insuperable, difficulty. The Prime Minister, however, has asked us to put aside in the consideration of this proposition the bulk handling question; to view the proposition merely as one for the preservation of a large quantity of wheat which, unfortunately, we are at present unable to ship away. I agree .with every word that the right honorable gentleman uttered regarding our moral, if not legal, responsibility for the preservation of this wheat. Now, if we are to deal with the proposition as one for preservation only, we must ask what is the best and most effective, as well as the most economical method of preservation. So viewed, the proposition seems to me uneconomical and unpractical. Although of late years we have become accustomed to the spending of millions of pounds as if they were shillings, this proposal to spend £3,000,000 is one which should not be agreed to without the careful consideration of the House. There are now in Australia 165,000,000 bushels of wheat of which we cannot get rid, and at the end of the present harvest we shall have approximately another 100,000,000 bushels on band, making in all ‘ 265,000,000 bushels. When we shall get any or all of this wheat away, and how much of it we shall get away, is a matter of the greatest uncertainty, and of the gravest anxiety to others besides ourselves. The capacity of the concrete silos, for the erection of which by the States the Commonwealth is to advance money, will be 49,000,000 bushels, or a little less than one-fifth of the total quantity of wheat that we shall have to preserve, the remaining four-fifths being left without special provision, other than that now existing. I do not say that that fact condemns the proposal; it may be that we cannot do more ; but it must be remembered that we are considering a measure for the preservation of only one-fifth of the total quantity of wheat that “will have to be preserved. The Commission has estimated the cost of erecting the silos at ls. 2d. per bushel of their capacity, or, in other words, at about £2,850,000. The value of the wheat that is to be stored in the silos is estimated by the Commissioners at the price which the Government is now paying the farmers, namely, 4s. per bushel, that is, at £10,000,000, though it may be a little more. The Bill, then, is a proposal to spend £2,850,000 in preserving for a time £10,000,000 worth of wheat. But the method to be adopted will not protect the stored wheat from devastation by mice. All the experts agree that wheat can be protected from mice without the erection of silos; this method of silo storage is to be adopted to save the stored wheat from possible destruction by .weevil -r-that is, we are being asked to spend £2,850,000, or an insurance premium of more than 28 per cent., to save £10,000,000l worth of wheat from one particular danger only.
– The silos will last for many years.
– When that fact is taken into consideration, you make the proposal part of a scheme for the bulkhandling of wheat, and we were asked by the Prime Minister to put aside the consideration of that matter. In addition to the cost of constructing the silos, there will be the cost of working them, which is not estimated by the Commission. We have the estimate that the cost of turning over , the wheat would be id. a bushel, to be subsequently reduced to %d. per bushel, but we are not told how many turnings over would be required. The proposition, then, viewed solely as one for the preservation of one-fifth of the total amount of wheat to be stored, must be regarded as utterly unbusinesslike, and one of which not even the Postmaster-General could approve.
– The silos will not decay.
– Certainly not. The expenditure may be a wise one, regarding the proposal as one for the initiation of the bulk handling system; but if it is to be regarded as a mere temporary measure for the preservation of a portion of our wheat - which is how the Prime Minister asked us to regard it - it should not receive the sanction of the House. As the initiation of the bulk handling system, I do not condemn it. If the States are willing to take the responsibility of constructing the silos with money advanced to them by the Commonwealth, I do not oppose the’ introduction of the bulk handing, system, because it may be a wise and extremely beneficial measure.
– But the proposal only applies to one-fifth of the wheat.
– One-fifth at any given time.
– If we are asked to sanction the proposed expenditure as a mere temporary provision to get over an immediate shipping difficulty that will sooner or later be removed, leaving us as we were, the measure is unacceptable. Yet it may or may not provide a wise method of starting the bulk handling system, which, to my mind, will ultimately have to be adopted in Australia.. But viewing the proposal as the initiation of the bulk handling system, there are a few questions which one is naturally inclined to ask. The bulk handling system involves the erection of silos into which wheat is delivered by the farmers before being put into the railway trucks - district silos - and the erection of other silos at the ports at which the wheat is to be put on board ship, and the provision of proper appliances for loading it into the ships. The House has not yet received information on several important points. Though I would welcome the adoption of the bulk handling system, before authorizing it we should have information on several matters of moment. It was stated by the Prime Minister - and his statement seems to be borne out by the report of the Commissioners - that bulk is to be broken at the points where the wheat is put on the rail. The Commissioners refer to the necessity for immediately altering trucks and waggons to enable them to carry the wheat. Therefore I assume that if the Commissioners had in mind a definite scheme - as to which I feel some doubt - that scheme involves the breaking of bulk, that is, the taking of the wheat out of the bags at the points where its railway transit is to begin. That seems to be borne out by this significant passage in their report -
Your Commissioners find that no State has at present sufficient waggons available which would be suitable for the carriage of wheat in bulk without minor alterations, or any special provision, for cleaning the waggons after their use for ordinary business.
They are satisfied, however, that a quick and cheap method of overcoming these points can be found, and are of the opinion that immediate steps should be taken in that direction by the individual States.
I have nothing to say for or against those who drew up the report. I do not know their capacity, nor how far they investigated the matters referred to them; but it is clear that they acted hurriedly.
– The Governments of New South Wales and Victoria had already had the matter under consideration for months.
– I am merely concerned now in pointing out that the scheme which the Government ask us to adopt is one under which wheat will be taken out of the bags at the initial, not at the terminal, point of railway transit. It must be then removed in bulk from the trucks to the silos erected at the ports. This involves at least twothirds of a bulk handling scheme. We are asked to authorize a change in the maimer of dealing with the wheat during its railway transit to the sea-board. The States concerned would, no doubt, make the alterations which these changes involved, but before that scheme was presented to us for adoption we should have been told whether negotiations had taken place with them concerning these matters.
– The Railways Commissioners have reported on the change of system so far as they are concerned.
– I wish to know -whether the States concerned are prepared not only to make the necessary alterations in their rolling-stock, but also to bear the expense of the whole change of system. Probably they are prepared to do this, but the subject is one on which the House should have information. I come now Ito what, in my opinion, is a somewhat greater difficulty. Although I am entirely in favour of the bulk handling system, believing that its ultimate adoption in Australia is inevitable, the question of whether this is the most suitable time for its introduction, having regard to the war and to our circumstances, depends upon certain facts concerning which we have no information.
– Including the position of shipping.
– That is the point that I have in mind. We shall have in a few months 265,000,000 bushels of wheat which we must send Home. The people of the Old Country must have it if they can possibly secure it, and we must preserve it for them.
– The honorable gentleman says that we must preserve it for them, and yet he holds that as a temporary measure our proposal is not justifiable.
– I cannot repeat to the Prime Minister, without being guilty of improper reiteration, what I have said in his absence. I have already conveyed to his colleague, the PostmasterGeneral, my views on this phase of the subject.
– I have the PostmasterGeneral’s notes of the honorable member’s speech.
– Those notes will show the right honorable gentleman that I have pointed out that as a purely preservation scheme this will provide for only one-fifth of the wheat, and at a cost of .about 30 per cent, insurance premium on the value of that wheat. I am prepared to consider this proposal, and I think the House will consider it, on its real basis, and that is as the initiation of the bulk handling system, enabling the States that are prepared to do so to introduce that system in which I, for one, believe. But let me state the practical difficulty that I fear. It may be no difficulty at all, or it may be a very serious one. It was to some extent referred to by the honorable member for Hindmarsh a few minutes ago, and it is as to whether we may not be hampering, rather than helping, the Imperial authorities at this moment oy adopting a scheme for which they may not be able to make, or may not have made, the necessary shipping arrangements. I take it that at some time not later than the beginning of next year the Imperial authorities must, if possible, obtain shipping to carry from Australia to Great Britain as -much as possible of our supply of 265,000,000 bushels of wheat. I do not know - and this is one of the points on which we should like to have some information from the Prime Minister, if he can supply it to us - to what extent the, Imperial authorities may be able to divert to Australia the fleets of slum which hitherto have been engaged in the direct transit of grain in bulk from Canada, the Argentine, and other places in America, to England. Those fleets are equipped for the bulk handling of grain. I should think it very probable that when the Imperial authorities desire suddenly to remove, under convoy or otherwise, the bulk of this wheat, they may have to do so by concentrating in Australian waters all the shipping that they can secure from the seas around.
– If the honorable member will allow me to say so, that is a theoretical, but not a practical difficulty. Such a massing of ships is impossible.
– Very well. I assure the Prime Minister that I am not criticising this Bill in an adverse spirit.
– I recognise that.
– The point I wish to raise is whether the initiation of the bulk handling system - a system which will force us from time to time to put all our wheat into bulk - may not hamper the shipping facilities for getting our wheat away from here.
– Four-fifths of our wheat will still remain in bags.
– That may be.
– I am unable, of course, to disclose to the House and the country what are the arrangements, but I can assure the honorable member that, they are such that these silos will not interfere with, but, onthe contrary, will materially assist them.
– I am very glad to have that statement. I shall not press the Prime Minister for further information in this regard, because I recognise that matters relating to shipping cannot be too closely inquired into at the present time. We dare not inquire too closely into them. As long as the right honorable gentleman can give the House his assurance that the taking of a considerable portion of our wheat out of bags, and the placing of it in silos, will not in any way hamper the transport of that wheat to Great Britain, without the operation of re-bagging, when the time comes, I shall be satisfied.
– I do give that assurance. In the course of my speech I mentioned the question of flour. That has a material bearing on this point. It is vital to the question of shipping, and it may yet happen that for a long time the silos at the sea-board will have in them bagged flour. That, of course, is only a temporary expedient. We cannot do it in years to come.
– In years to come the silos will be used in connexion with the ordinary bulk handling of wheat ?
– I entirely accept the Prime Minister’s statement. I appreciate the fact that we cannot ask him to go further, and to give us the grounds for his assurance. If he tells us that he has looked into this, question, and has assured himself that the putting of the wheat in bulk in considerable quantities will not in any way hamper the shipping or transport of the wheat to the Old Country, I shall have nothing more to say.
– That is so.
– As to the further point that has been raised, would the honorable member for Flinders force upon the States the adopton of the bulk handling system?
– I do not know that I altogether follow the honorable member’s criticism of the Bill from that stand-point. As I read the Bill I do not think South Australia is obliged to avail herself of this scheme.
– The Prime Minister saidshe must, or she could not have the benefit of the Pool. We are just as anxious to protect our wheat as the people of Victoria and New South Wales are.
-Surely it will be possible to make some arrangement under which South Australia, of any State that cannot see its way at present to adopt this system, may yet provide effective facilities, although not necessarily in this form, for the protection of its wheat. The difficulty in regard to South Australia is, I understand, that there are quite a number of ports in that State to which the locally-grown wheat goes in the natural course, and that difficulties would arise if we were to compel the State Government to adopt a system under which it would be necessary to concentrate in certain directions. That is a matter concerning which the State should have a considerable voice, unless it be necessary for the purpose of preserving the wheat-
– I think that the position might be set out in this way : That a State like South Australia, with a dry climate and very many ports, will obviously require a far less number of silos, if any, than will the other States; but that some terminal silos will be necessary.
– It ought not to be impossible to make a satisfactory arrangement with South Australia. It may be that a good deal of their wheat will be preserved, more, perhaps, than in the other States, and that a much smaller expenditure on silos might comply with the Government, requirements. The matters which I have ventured to bring before the House are matters which throughout the debate, have pressed themselves strongly on my mind; and I am glad to have the assurance that the main difficulty is removed. But I urge the Prime Minister to realize that this is a measure which does really involve the adoption of the principle of bulk handling. It is on that basis that the whole report has been drawn up.
– Without any basis of cost and so forth, we have this Bill as a first instalment of the policy of bulk handling.
– Personally I am not prepared to take such a responsibility; but we are throwing the responsibility on the State Governments.
– They have to find the money.
– They have to find the money, and if they, after mature consideration, say they are prepared to adopt this system, I shall not be at all disposed to resist the Bill, which merely affords them facilities to do so; it is their business, not ours.
– The whole question resolves itself into one of shipping, and I am one who sees no possibility of any great proportion of the wheat now stored in Australia ever getting to Great Britain. Before the war broke out, there was a 50,000,000 tonnage available for the mercantile marine, whereas to-day it is not more than 12,000,000. The United States of America and Japan are building largely. The former country has on the stocks today more mercantile marine tonnage than has been built in the whole world in any previous year. In addition, they have just issued their standardized plans for the building of 1,000 schooners up to 2,500 tons, with auxiliary screws, and according to the last American mail by November next it is expected that one of these vessels will leave every day for Great Britain. . Canada also is engaging in shipbuilding. In America, every village from Seattle to Vancouver is building shipping according to the standardized plans. Only four and a half months is allowed from the laying of the keel until the ship is launched; six weeks is allowed for the rigging and completion, and under the contract a ship has to be ready to receive cargo in six months from the commencement of the work on the vessel. According to present progress, in Australia, five years will probably elapse before we produce a single ship. Although we have been three years at war, and the question of shipping has been pressing on us, not one foot of timber has been cut in Australia for the purpose of ship-building ; and it is just about time we left off talking and started work. 1 know personally that excellent offers were made months ago to. start ship-building for our Inter-State trade. A first-class ship builder, who served his time on the Clyde, came from Tasmania to Melbourne prepared to immediately lay down the keels for sailing ships of 1,000 and 2,000 tons, with auxiliary screws, for the .Inter-State trade. This man is able to finance 50 per cent, of the cost, and he offered to go on with the work if the Government would guarantee the other 50 per cent, in progress payments, he giving a mortgage over the vessels. There are people ready to charter these boats when completed for five years, at a return of interest on the cost of construction and maintenance, and a decided profit.
– Has that offer been before the Government?
– Yes, months ago.
– Is there seasoned timber for the work?
– The timber is all right, and this man is ready to start the work. The great question we have to carefully consider is whether there is any prospect, of the wheat we have in stock being shipped at any time to England, considering that it* is stored 12,000 miles away from our markets. We know that if the war ceased tomorrow, or very shortly, not a bushel of that wheat would be shipped to England, seeing that it can be shipped at much less cost from other producing countries. I do not believe that 1,000 tons of the wheat we have will ever get to Great Britain, because there will be an enormous release from Russia and from some of the southern countries of Europe. Then, there is going to be a record crop in Canada, where wheat has been raised solely for. war purposes, and’ the United States of America has an exceedingly large crop, which is only seven or eight days’ sail in cargo boats from England. We, as I say, are 12,000 miles away, and the freight from Australia is three or four times as much as that from other countries. It is a serious fact that we are storing millions of bushels of wheat which is now being destroyed. Two years ago I saw a stack of wheat in Perth that was riddled by weevil, and the whole of the wheat in Australia to-day is depreciating. May I say that the management of the storage of wheat is, in my opinion, the most de- plorable fact in Australia, so far as incompetence and want of foresight are concerned? Millions of bushels of wheat are being destroyed steadily every day, and yet wheat is at a record price here - at such a price that it cannot bo bought for fodder purposes. It is a matter for very serious consideraton whether the Wheat Board should not immediately consider the advisability of releasing a considerable portion of this wheat at a reduced price, rather than allow it to rot. I defy any man to study the position of the shipping capabilities of the world to-day, and express any hope that any great portion of this wheat will ever reach Great Britain. If it is intended to keep this wheat in store, and to store next year’s crop, then most emphatically something should be done to protect it. Up to the present nothing has been done. The extent of the depreciation cannot be estimated, but those of practical experience tell us that it has been enormous. When we consider that, the seas once open, the wheat from Australia will have to compete with a first-class article from three to five times nearer to the market, our prospects in this regard are exceedingly limited. Before the Government embark on any very large expenditure, they should at least assure themselves that there is more than a reasonable probability of the wheat reaching its destination. There are ships in Australia which could have been released for the oversea trade if the wooden shipbuilding for the Inter-State trade had been engaged in, and I urge the Government to lose no more time in starting the industry. This is one of the best, cleanest, and healthiest of trades, working, as the men do, in the open air, under cover, and it has always produced here one of the highest types of worker. It is an industry that should have never been allowed to lapse, and the sooner it is reinstated the better for the people of Australia and the better, especially, for our Inter-State trade. Do honorable members know that practically every port in Tasmania to-day is blocked because produce cannot be got away to Australia, and that hundreds of men are out of employment because some of the largest timber mills have been shut down? The Inter-State trade in Tasmania displays a congestion that is deplorable. When I speak of the largest mills I mean some of the largest in Australia, and a number of these, as I say, have had to cease operations. This is a matter that should receive immediate and serious attention.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.45 p.m.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
In this Act a “ silo “ means a silo or elevator for the storage of wheat, and includes the necessary machinery connected therewith.
.- I think we should have from the Minister in charge of the Bill some further information as to the style of silo which is . likely to be constructed.
– This Bill is sufficiently important to warrant the presence of a quorum. [Quorum formed.]
– The Prime Minister should inform the Committee whether the silos are to be constructed of reinforced concrete. If that is the intention a tremendous quantity of cement will be required. Judging from the report, the most economical style of silo will be one with a capacity of 50,000 bushels, and as the scheme is to handle 50,000,000 bushels, about 1,000 silos will be required. In view of the magnitude of the contract, the Government might well consider whether it would not be better for them to purchase outright the whole of the cement required, or purchase cement works. Honorable members may argue that the Commonwealth will not spend this money, and that ultimately it will have to be found by the wheat farmers, but we shall be failing in our duty if we do not use every precaution to see that the money is expended to the best possible advantage. The farmers will conclude that the whole scheme has been carefully considered by the Federal Parliament, and will feel assured that they are not paying too much for it. The State Governments will regard the scheme as having been practically recommended by this Legislature. Already a rumour is current that the style of silo, and the contractors to carry out the work, have been chosen.
– That is not correct.
– I am glad to have that assurance from the Prime Minister.
– We have no control over the work if the State Governments carry it out.
– The ‘ Commonwealth Government has to raise the money.
– And the Commonwealth will have control.
– Yes, the Commonwealth will have absolute control. There is a big responsibility on Parliament in dealing with this measure, and I ask the Prime Minister to give the Committee the fullest information in his possession.
– I have had a conversation with the Prime Minister as to the position of South Australia in connexion with this scheme. I understand that the Premier of that State has telegraphed to the Prime Minister to the effect that South Australia does not intend to commit itself to silos as part of a bulk-handling scheme. The silo scheme is absolutely a bulkhandling provision; if it is not, it is a wasteful proposal. If the South Australian Government satisfy the Prime Minister that they will adequately protect the wheat in South Australia by some other equally effective measure, will he undertake to come to terms with them ? If he will give me that assurance I shall not offer any further objection to the Bill, and shall not move, as I had intended, that after the word “ silo,” in clause 7, these words shall be inserted : “or other such structure as may be equally effective.”
– There is considerable misapprehension in the minds of honorable members as to the scope and operation of this scheme. I disagree entirely from those who say that provision for permanent storage of wheat will not be necessary unless a bulkhandling scheme is contemplated. We have to face a position absolutely unique in this or any other country. The quantity and value of the product concerned, in relation to the population and the available means of disposing of it, are, I think, without precedent. It is generally admitted that there will .be at least 5,000,000 tons of wheat in the Commonwealth in February next, and I ask honorable members, “ What are we going to do with this huge and valuable yet perishable asset t What are we to do with the next season’s crop ?” Honorable members may speak of bulk handling, and say that the South Australian Government does not agree with the methods of storage proposed in this Bill. There rests upon this Government the solemn and grave responsibility of preserving this great asset for which we have not, and in all human probability cannot have, any outlet in the immediate future. There is hot any means at the disposal of Britain and her Allies by which the present season’s crop, plus next season’s crop, can be disposed of before the third season’s crop is upon us. Suppose we raked the seas, and brought here all the shipping necessary for our requirements. Taking into consideration the submarine menace, and its effect upon the amount of available shipping tonnage - honorable members may gather what that means partly from the published statistics of the losses each week - if we brought all available ships here and loaded them with wheat only - which, of course, would be absolutely impossible because, although wheat is needed, other things are needed - it would be impossible to take the wheat but of this country in the time.
The position is, the wheat is here, and here it must remain for a very considerable time. We’ have not sufficient tonnage to ship it. Even if we had the shipping we could not ship the wheat before the 1919 harvest was upon us. There are no facilities here for handling such an immense amount of cargo in the time. The Leader of the Opposition knows very well that it would be impossible to do it, because he and I went into the matter at considerable length at the outset of this proposition. The greatest amount of wheat ever handled in Australia in any season prior to this war has been 1,250. 000 tons, and that was at a time when all the fleets of the world were at our disposal, when all we had to do was to pay the normal freight to secure all the shipping we asked for.
The farmer must look at the matter from this aspect. He is relieved of the responsibility of keeping in good order and condition wheat the Government have sold to Great Britain, but we are not relieved of the responsibility. We cannot, and ought not to attempt to evade that responsibility. The wheat belongs to Great Britain, and we must keep and preserve it; but she is liable to us for any reasonable charge for storage accommodation which circumstances have compelled us to make for her. Are we going to discharge our responsibility by persisting in a system which during the last twelve or eighteen months has resulted in a very considerable loss through mice, weevils, and other causes? We must do something. There is no cheaper way of storing wheat than that which has been proposed, namely, the erection of cylindrical structures of reinforced concrete.
Assuming that the war is still going on, that all the shipping we anticipate comes to these shores, and that we are able to organize it as we desire, there will still remain in this country at the end of 1918 between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 tons of the wheat which is at present in hand, plus the whole of the wheat that is produced in the next harvest, by which time we shall be within a month of the 1919 crop of 2,000,000 tons or 3,000,000 tons. Looking at the ‘thing fairly, I defy any one to pierce the mists of time and predict the length of the period in which we can get rid of our surplus wheat.
I turn now to the position of the farmer with regard to the new season’s crop, and I put this situation to him: We are faced with a 2,000,000-ton crop. Does any one think that there is a possibility of selling a bushel of that crop in the ordinary way ? There is not the slightest chance in the world of doing so. We have already 3,500,000 tons of wheat here, and, in addition, a fair surplus that Great Britain has not bought, and which is ample to supply such relatively small customers as South Africa and the East. The only possible buyers for our wheat must have freight to shift it. But there is only one potential buyer that has freight, and that is Great Britain. It follows, therefore, that we can have no other buyer for the next harvest than Great Britain. But she has already 3,500,000 tons stored here. And we cannot get it away during this year. In that case we will have to keep it. We are advancing 4s. per bushel f.o.b. on that wheat. Are we to sit down and see it destroyed ? If so, we hold out a prospect of destruction for the farmer, and impose a heavy burden on the taxpayer.
Firstly, there is the responsibility of storing the British wheat as far as we can, and secondly, there is the responsibility in regard to the next harvest. This latter is entirely our own responsibility, and we, as a Commonwealth, are advancing 4s. per bushel f.o.b. upon it. We shall have to advance this money long before the wheat gets to the ship. Perhaps it will not get to the ship for another two years. That means that we have to put our hands in our pockets and provide £50,000,000 sterling for something that probably cannot’ be sold for another eighteen months, by which time we will have the third harvest on top of us.
I do not know of any means of financing the affairs of the Commonwealth unless Great Britain buys our products during the period of the war. The other day I was able to make an announcement of the utmost importance to Australia, that announcement being that we had sold the coming season’s wool clip at a price amounting to £40,000,000. Without that sale Ave could not have carried on. We would have been faced with a deficit of £60,000,000- the value of our wool clip and wheat crop - plus the cost of conducting the war, which is about £80,000,000 per annum. That is to say, in order to avoid a state of industrial and national chaos, £140,000,000 sterling would have to be found next year. But we could not raise such a sum. I am putting the position broadly, and the farmer must consider how he stands in regard to his markets, -for he is in an infinitely better position than the man who produces butter, meat, or fruit. The man who produces butter is on the very edge of catastrophe unless we can find insulated tonnage. The stores are already full. What are we going to do for the dairy herds? We can say to the man who is growing cattle for beef, “ Keep them on the hoof “ ; but such counsel to the dairy farmer means, in plain words, ruin:
– The difference between butter and wheat is that we consume more than half the butter we produce, whereas we consume only about one-fifth of the wheat we produce.
– That, of course, makes the position stronger against the farmer. If it were not for the fact that we consume so much butter there would have been chaos in the dairying industry long ago. The same holds true in regard to the frozen lamb and mutton trade. The wheat farmer must accept the conditions as being absolutely abnormal, and so calling for special treatment, and all that we are asking him to do as an individual is to pay, over a series of years, a sum amounting, including handling charges, to less than Id. per bushel per annum. In ten years in this way the liability will be extinguished. I am perfectly prepared to consider a proposition that the life of these silos should not be limited to ten years. The life of a reinforced concrete structure is very long, and there is no reason why a silo should not last fifty or even a hundred years. I would be prepared to consider an extension of the period of amortization to twenty years, and in that case the annual charge per bushel for storage would be proportionately reduced.
– There is no complaint as to the period fixed upon. The point is that a silo is an unremunerative proposition if we do not want bulk handling.
– The honorable member is constantly returning to that point. Then let us put the wheat outside, and let it perish.
– I do not say that. I say that we should provide ample storage.
– The South Australian Government were represented on the Commission by their Minister and by their experts, and the Commission strongly recommended this system of handling the wheat. Paragraph d of the report of the Commission, to which I invite the honorable member’s attention, is as follows : -
As to the desirability of the erection of permanent structures for the storage of wheat -
There -still remains in Australia 37,000,000 bushels of the 1915-16 wheat crop unshipped or undelivered, whilst the 1916-17. harvest has resulted in 135,000,000 bushels, which, after deducting the- portion of the new crop which has been shipped or delivered, makes a total of 165,500,000 bushels held in Australia at the present moment, some of which has been sold to, and advances obtained from, the Imperial Government, and some sold elsewhere.
Assuming an average shipment of 5,000 tons of wheat per ship, this would entail 900 shiploads being exported before the next harvest in order to clear the stacks and storage.
Considerable doubt may reasonably exist as to whether this amount of shipping, will be available, in view of the existing and prospective circumstances and demands.
Then serious and considerable depredations have been made by mice and other vermin into the existing stocks, whilst there is great danger of deterioration from weevil under the existing circumstances, and these dangers cannot be successfully coped with in the present method of storage. Assuming a standard value of 4s. per bushel, if only 5 per cent, of the wheat stacked is rendered unsaleable or destroyed, the Commonwealth is faced with a loss of value of over £1,500,000 sterling on present stocks alone.
It will thus be realized that the position is a very serious one, and that something must be done, and done quickly.
The present system of storage is that to which the honorable member pins his faith.
Mr.- Richard Foster. - Certainly not.
– The proposed silos will store only one-fifth of the . wheat that must be stored. Assuming that to be a good provision, will the Prime Minister tell us how the remaining four-fifths will be protected ?
– The scheme admittedly does not provide for the whole crop. Would honorable members sanction the expenditure necessary to cover the whole crop ?
– There might be some temporary method of storage adopted.
– We must put aside pre-war conditions, and face the situation that the war has created. There are parts of this country in which wheat could be kept almost indefinitely, although stored in the open, but it would be unprofitable to store all our wheat 200 or 300 miles from ‘the seaboard. There must be a certain proportion of the wheat available at our ports to insure the quick despatch of vessels that come for it. At Williamstown there are stacks of wheat worth millions of pounds - a sight such as can be seen nowhere else in the world - and that wheat is in excellent condition; but wheat, if similarly stored in Sydney, would not keep. Would honorable members propose that the great fleet of ships which We hope and pray will come to Australia should all be driven into one port to get their wheat cargoes, or that all the wheat of Australia should be carried to one port? Certainly not. The New South Wales and the Victorian Governments have considered for a long time the question of bulk handling, and approved of it. The Commonwealth Government have not considered the question on its merits, and the Committee is not invited to do so. Bulk handling, however, must surely come in time, and since we must provide a method of storage now, why not adopt one which will be part a,nd parcel of any bulk handling scheme that may be adopted in the future? Twenty-five years hence the silos will be as good as when first erected. Their sites will be selected with, due regard to the requirements of bulk handling. We propose to go as far in providing storage as we deem prudent, and to adopt a method suited to that system of handling which every country whose ambition it is to become a great exporter of wheat must eventually accept.
We live in great times. There are some amongst us who take a pessimistic view of the future of this great country. They need not do so. Except in one respect, we are the most favorably situated of all the nations. We produce the things of which the world is becoming daily more and more in need. Last night Mr. Harcourt asked a question in the House of Commons about the future meat supply of Great Britain. When I was in France, the Government of that country agreed to grant us most-favoured-nation treatment in regard to the importation of meat. France is a country which used not to import cattle, but is now compelled to do so. Germany is alleged to be eating up her tremendous herds, and when the war is over there will probably be a great dearth of cattle. Moreover, at the present time, at least 12,000,000 men are living on the best food that they have ever eaten, and they will not be content to go back to the meagre diet that sufficed them formerly, but will demand wheat and meat in ampler measure. The United States of America is nearly at the end of its possibilities as a wheatexporting country. Its population is outgrowing its production of wheat. Canada has an enormous quantity of wheat to export, and its wheat lands are wide and fertile, but the world’s demand is so large that there is room for us, too. As a meat, wheat, and, above all, as a merino-wool producing country, Australia need not fear the future if she properly organizes her resources, and provides against the temporary dislocation that must follow on the heels of the war. 1
Western Australia was not represented at the Conference, but this morning I had a telegram from its Premier stating that his Government was in cordial cooperation with the object the Commonwealth has in view in this matter. Since the Conference there has been a change of Government in South Australia, and the new Government does not approve of this proposal. I cannot help that. Governments pass on their liabilities to their successors, and the last South Australian Government passed on to the present Government its liabilities in regard to this undertaking. If the present South Australian Government repudiates the arrangement, that is its own affair. I called a conference which was attended by the then Premier of South Australia, the Premier of Victoria, the Acting Premier of New South Wales, and other Ministers. Should there be a change of Government in Victoria next week, are we to be told that Victoria will not come into this arrangement? Business cannot be transacted in that way. If this Parliament tells us that the scheme must be proceeded with, we shall go on with it. We cannot serve two masters. The State authorities were consulted, and what has been done has been undertaken at their request. ‘ Whatever individual State Governments may do now, the Commonwealth Government must take its instructions from this Parliament.
One word about cement.- The proposed silos are each to be 71 feet high and 36 feet in diameter, with a capacity of 50,000 bushels, and it will take a great deal of cement to build them. The Minister for Works and Railways has promised to ascertain to what extent - if at all - we can supply this cement from our own Territory and elsewhere.
– So large an amount of cement will be needed to construct the proposed’ silos that the article will go up in price.
Mr.- HUGHES. - I assure the honorable member that it will not go up in price. We shall pay a fair price for the cement we have to buy, but not a higher price than that at which cement could have been bought before the scheme was mentioned, and perhaps not so high a price.
I am not called on to refer to- the circumstances of the company mentioned by the honorable member for Yarra. Neither the Government of the Commonwealth nor the Governments of the States are committed to any particular contractor or tenderer. It was decided ‘ tentatively last
Friday that the design of the silos should be determined by the Commissioners to be appointed under the Bill, and they will fix the cost of the structures at per bushel of their capacity. Therefore, the question who is to be the contractor for their construction is of less importance than it would otherwise be. As a matter of fact, the question of contract has not been considered. It is a purely State matter,’ but one in which, as we are finding them the money, we have, and must .have, a considerable voice.
Coming now to the point raised by the honorable member for Wakefield, I would say that he is in error, if he thinks I wish to force any State to adopt a particular system. I have no such desire. It would be impossible, however, for the Pool to carry on its operations if one State adopted one system while the other States adopted another. If South Australia elects to remain outside the scheme - if it does not erect silos - the wheat raised in that State will be charged storage just as if it had erected them. If that were not insisted upon wheat-growers in South Australia would obtain more for their produce than would those in the other States. Take the position in any one State. In one part of Victoria, let us say, wheat can be kept without trouble. Is the farmer in that part of Victoria to receive more for his wheat than the farmer in another part of the same State where storage must be provided to protect it from the ravages of mice or from the weevil? Certainly not. The principle underlying the Bill is that all farmers are treated alike; the expenses and benefits of the Pool are spread equally over them. That, I think, is fair.
I venture to believe that when the Government of South Australia know the whole of the facts much of their objection to this proposal will disappear. As to the rest, we shall be ready to listen to any suggestions they may make. But it will be impossible to manage the affairs of the Wheat Pool unless all wheat-producing States are placed on the same footing. That applies, and must apply, to all wheat, and has applied to wheat right through. On the whole, I think it may fairly be said that farmers have all been treated fairly; certainly all have been treated alike. There may be room for improvement in the treatment which they have received, but at any rate there is not that dissatisfaction which arises where some are treated differently from others.
.- I do not think the Prime Minister can exaggerate the importance of this subject. We are up against a very difficult problem. The only objection I have relates not to the measure, but to the fact that the country has not been given a fair test as between the adoption of the bulk handling scheme and the retention of the present system. I regret that the Government did not come out into the open and say, “ We are going to test the feeling of the country upon the bulk handling system.” Had they done so, I believe .they may have converted the whole country to the acceptance of this scheme. I should have liked the country to go into the whole question of primal costs and storage under the bulk handling system, and the cost of converting rollingstock, as well as of farm conversion and the necessary shipping conversion. Those are considerations which must be faced. But I cannot see the merits of this proposal if it be segregated, and dealt with solely as a wheat-preservation proposition. Oh the Prime Minister’s own showing, we shall have shortly to deal with 265,000,000 bushels of wheat, whereas this scheme provides for the preservation of only 49,000,000 bushels. Australia has had no previous experience of the keeping properties of wheat; no one in this country can tell us how long wheat grown in the temperate districts, subject to coastal influences, will keep, or how long wheat grown in the warmer climates will resist weevil. As to the other conditions, I am satisfied that wheat grown in the inland districts can be preserved. As a grower of wheat, I have no doubt as to that. Wheat is, so to speak, better able to look after itself than anything else produced by the farmer.- The wheat berry has wonderful powers of endurance. My own doubt is as to its power to resist the weevil. I heard with some disappointment the statement made by the Prime Minister, while the honorable member for Flinders was speaking, that not wheat but flour was to be stored in these silos.
– I did not say that. What I said was that, when introducing the Bill, I pointed out that if we could put our wheat into flour, we could save 25 per cent, of freight space. In that way we would keep our mills employed and produce large quantities of offal, which would mean abundance of cheap food for our stock. That being so, I said we were going to endeavour to ship as much flour as possible. That cannot be done unless we have stores in which to place that flour. We have no such stores at present, but this scheme will provide us with such accommodation.
– I admit that our mills are filled almost to their very doors, and that our local consumption, including seed wheat, will account for only onethird of our wheat production. The Commonwealth has guaranteed to the farmer for the next two years 4s. per bushel f.o.b. for his wheat.
– And the Commonwealth will lose money.
– I do not think so, The farmer is told that cost of constructing storage accommodation under this scheme will amount to ls. 2d. per bushel. If we were satisfied as to fundamentals, and if the people would adopt bulk handling straight out, I should be prepared to go much further than this Bill.
– If we adopted bulk handling to-day, we could not get the machinery necessary for it, and no country to which we could ship wheat has the machinery to suck the wheat out of the ship’s hold.
– I would answer that objection by saying that we could leave out of this scheme that part of the bulk handling system which involves pumping the wheat out of the hold, and make more provision for storage.
– I am with the honorable member there.
– We are faced with these alternatives. We have to finance this wheat, and we have to deliver it in good order to the British purchasers.’ That is the first duty of the Government, and up to that point they will have my assistance in any measure for the preservation of our grain. I am not satisfied, however, that this proposal can be segregated, and that it is not an inseparable part of the bulk handling system. It is a first instalment of, and commits Australia to, that system. If we were not eventually to adopt that system, then we should have incurred an expenditure in this respect which would not be justifiable even in such an emergency as that, with which we are faced. We have not had placed before us expert information as to how long wheat could be preserved in the northern areas on concrete floors with skeleton roofs. That is the most acceptable form of storage up to date. I am not comparing it with the bulk handling system.
– I believe it would keep a long while under, those conditions.
– The weevil is the only thing we have to fear.
– The point is that once you have put your wheat into such sheds you have simply to trust to God ; you cannot tell what is going on, or what new pests may be there. On the other hand,when wheat is placed in the cylinders - in the silos - it is turned over at certain periods, aerated and examined so that you know where you are.
– That serves only to emphasize the necessity for a wider measure than we have at present before us. In normal times,- a little more storage than that provided for in this Bill would be sufficient for the whole of our wheat, because under ordinary conditions we have ships coming into port to take our wheat away as fast as it reaches the sea-board. In such circumstances an extensive system of storage is unnecessary. What we have to consider is whether we should take the risk of damage to fourfifths of our wheat in respect .of which we are committed to the extent of 4s. per bushel, or whether we should go further and incur an additional cost of ls. 2d. per bushel as the primal expenditure necessary to provide storage for a larger quantity. My contention is that we cannot stop where we are. If we do, we shall run the risk of the destruction of vast quantities of wheat, and shall discourage production.
– The honorable member is now destroying the first: part, of his argument that normally with bulk handling the storage which we propose to provide would be sufficient. We have to deal with . a purely abnormal position, which, however temporary, may extend over three, four, or five years, and the honorable member says we ought to spend £10,000,000 to preserve this wheat.
– I say that we ought to exhaust every possible means of investigation in order to ascertain how long wheat will resist weevil. There is theexperience of other countries to guide us.
– We have at our disposal information as to that experience.
– We have not had it. The country must regard this as the adoption of the bulk handling system without an investigation of the primal and conversion costs.
– Those have been inquired into. The cost of the machinery and of converting the system into a complete bulk handling scheme is known. .
– That information is not at the disposal of the Committee.
– Because we are not asking the country to adopt the bulk handling system.
– It seems to me that in passing this measure we shall be adopting the bulk handling system without having given full consideration to all its aspects. We cannot continue to operate the dual system. The one will soon supplant the other. It will be said that we cannot take a retrograde step. We shall be, urged to get into line, and to keep marching on. We do not want any friction in the shape of South Australia refusing to come in. I should have preferred to have seen the Prime Minister invite the States to come in and adopt this scheme.
– They were invited to oome in, and agreed to do so.
– They were invited to consider a wheat storage system.
– And they have considered bulk handling. Two have agreed to adopt the system, while in one State Parliament the Lower House has adopted it, and the Upper House has thrown iti out.
– I shall support the Bill as a first instalment of what I regard as an incomplete storage scheme. Although I favour the bulk handling system, I am not prepared to accept it as a bulk handling scheme, because ,we have not had placed before us fundamental facts on which bulk handling should rest.
– I would point, out to the Committee that, having regard to the gravity of the question, I have permitted the Standing Orders to be very much extended. The Leader of the Op- position asked the Prime Minister to make a statement, and I allowed a statement to be made, since it might facilitate debate and business. I must point out, however, that the discussion has developed into a second-reading debate, covering the whole Bill, and having very little to do with the clause, which is merely the definition of the word “ silo.” There are other clauses which will afford honor able members full opportunity to deal with the questions they desire. If I do allow the present, discussion to continue, I shall ask honorable members not to refer to .the subjects with which they are now dealing, when those other clauses are
.- In my opinion, the Bill has nothing to do with bulk handling, but merely proposes to spend £2,850,000 in providing storage, according to the Prime Minister, for onethird of the crop. The question to my mind is whether that provision is adequate; personally I think that it is not sufficient to provide for only one-third of the crop. Even if we do not go on with a scheme of bulk handling, I hope the Prime Minister will take into consideration, when he next confers with the State Premiers, the question whether, subject as we are to droughts, we should not always keep at least one-half of the season’s crop in store. If that were done the silos would be a benefit for all time. I should like ito see the Commonwealth retain the whole control of the proposed expenditure. We provide the money, and I trust that it will not be given to the States to fritter away, only to have them coming to us for more. We should undertake the building of these silos.
– They will cost more than the Government estimate.
– I have no doubt they would, under the conditions which honorable members opposite favour, namely, day labour under a Government official, who may be useless, and whom we cannot “sack.” Private enterprise “boodleiers” we can deal with, but the “ boodleier “ in the Government Service i3 like the brook - he goes on for ever.
An interesting fact brought out by the honorable member for Cook is that the farmer is expected tlo grow his wheat under artificial conditions in regard to rates of wages, and the honorable member proposes that the price be fixed for the wheat in Australia, the farmer having to sell two-thirds of his produce in markets unaffected by a fixed price for labour. If the wheat is pooled and the Government sell it, there ought, in my opinion, to be no charge to the farmer, who in this country carries on his occupation under greater disabilities than I think are . met anywhere else in the world. I refer to the rates of wages, the hours of labour, and the uncertainty of the labour itself. I do not care to vote against the Bill; I shall support it; but, as I said, I regard it as inadequate to cope with the situation.
.- I thoroughly agree with the Prime Minister that it is our duty to do everything in our power to keep our stores of wheat in perfect order. It is quite certain that if this is not done the right honorable gentleman will not be able to make another deal of the kind with the British Government. In my opinion, the transaction has helped Britain, and has helped the farmers of Australia; indeed, I do not know what we should have done if the money had not been brought into the country at the time it was. Under the circumstances, the Prime Minister is deserving of the thanks and help of every man in trying to protect the wheat, which means not only the food of our own people, but of our boys over the water. Next year, if we have a dry season, we may run short, and we know that in the olden days the rulers always took good care of the food of the community. For many years to come Russia will not be able to grow the wheat that she has in the past; indeed, if that country goes on as at present, she will soon have neither wheat nor people.
The Prime Minister has a good grasp of the question. He pointed out that wheat is much more difficult to keep in some parts of Australia than in others; and in that he is perfectly correct. We ought at once to get to work on the erection of sheds, whetherthey be called “silos” or by any other name, because they will always be useful. Cement can be made cheaply in every State of the Commonwealth, and can be used for both sides and roofs, obviating entirely the use of iron. I was greatly struck at observing the process of bulk handling in Canada. I do not think we could adopt the Canadian system here at once, owing to the nature of our coast-line; but in Canada, at Minneapolis, I saw great trains laden with wheat pass through a huge mill, where 16,000 bags of flour were turned out every day, untouched by the hand of man in its manufacture. If we cannot handle the wheat in bulk, we ought to make sure that our stores are kept in proper order; and if the Prime Minister sees that this is done, and proceeds, generally, on broad liberal lines, he will have the support of the whole people. Let us get our wheat away, and paid for, if possible, for unless we bring money into the country we shall inevit ably become very poor. I shall be pleased to support the Government in this work in every way in my power.
.- I congratulate the Prime Minister on the manner in which he has dealt with the measure, which should be acceptable to every honorable member. With the honorable member for South Sydney, I regard it as advisable that the work under this Bill should be brought more under the control of the Federal Parliament. The Stale should be called upon to send in plans and specifications, with a full report for consideration by this Parliament, and we should have the power to veto or confirm the expenditure proposed. I cannot understand the objections raised to this measure by our South Australian friends. All the States will be on the one footing. The Prime Minister has told us that, in view of the war, it is probable that we shall have to hold wheat for something like three or four years. What condition would bags of wheat be in at the end of that period ? If silos are erected in South Australia the farmers there will have to unbag their wheat just as we shall have to do in New South Wales. The silos are to be constructed in such a way that they may be used as ordinary stores, or in conjunction with bulk handling, and the arrangement, I think, shows great foresight on the part of the Prime Minister. If the buildings could be used only for silos there might be some objection, but I think that as they can be used for the dual purpose it is only a question of time when the honorable member for Wakefield and others will be found heartily supporting bulk handling. I am surprised at the attitude of the South Australian members, because, as a matter of fact, it was South Australian settlers who taught us in New South Wales how to farm. In the matter of the handling of wheat, however, the South Australians seem to be lagging behind, and putting obstacles in the way of the progress of up-to-date farming. I am not a prophet, but I am the son of a clergyman, and I predict that in a year or two we shall find the honorable member for Wakefield one of the strongest advocates of bulk handling.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 -
.- Can the Prime Minister inform us as to the composition of the Commission?
– So far as I am able to indicate the personnel, the Commonwealth will be represented by myself, while on behalf of each State there will be either the Premier or the Minister of Agriculture, or, alternatively, the Premier or his deputy. These will form the Commission.
– And you will be guided by experts? x
– I move -
That in line 5 the word “ one “ be struck out, and “ two “ inserted in lieu.
This is portion of a series of three amendments, the effect of which will be to give the Commonwealth one representative, and each of the States two representatives, one of whom shall be appointed by the Governor in Council, and the other elected by the wheat-growers in each State. The non-representation of the farmers on the Wheat Pool was a cause of great dissatisfaction. Not until the honorable member for Bendigo became Prime Minister did the farmers secure that representation. I ask the Prime Minister to give the farmers the same consideration in connexion with the Commission, as he gave them in connexion with the Wheat Board. The objection may be raised that farmers know nothing about engineering; but that is only the initial part of the scheme. The farmers will be using the silos for all time, and it is only right that they, whose business it is to fill the silos, should have some representation on the governing body. If the Prime Minister is not willing to allow the farmers in each State to have representation, I ask him to allow of the appointment of one representative by the wheat-farmers of the Commonwealth.
– I draw a clear distinction between the Wheat Pool and the Commission so far as representation of the farmers is concerned. The functions, of the Commission will be to select designs for silos, and then to hand them over to the States, with the instruction, “ Construct these at a price, and subject to these specifications.” A farmer would be of very little use in determining the design of or the method of constructing the silos. I am ‘ quite willing, however. that. he should have a voire in deciding the terms of payment. We propose that the Commission shall have at its disposal those engineers who gave expert advice to the last Commission as to the design. The price will be fixed by the Commission, and the contractors will construct at that price.
– Will the Commission be disbanded as soon as the silos are erected?
– The Commission will hand over the scheme to the Wheat Pool, which will determine, in effect, how much each person shall pay. The Commission will be composed of representatives of the Commonwealth and of the States, and as soon as they have done their job, the members of the Commission will go back to their respective spheres in the Commonwealth and the States. The Commonwealth authority over the States which owe the money will remain, but the Commission, as such, will disappear.
– Will not the storage scheme and the wheat automatically pass under the control of ‘the Wheat Pool ?
– Yes. I do urge upon the farmers of the country to hurry up with the selection of their representative on that pool. They have had tour months in which to. choose him, and no choice has been made yet.
.- Surely the Commission will remain in existence until the liability is liquidated.
– Their function will cease when their duties have been performed. Necessarily the power of the Commonwealth will remain. We shall still control the scheme, and have a lien over the whole of it.
– The Commonwealth will practically have a mortgage until the money is paid by the States, and until the farmers have paid the State Governments for the silos, the Commission will be in existence.
– The Commonwealth Government will exercise its lien until the
States repay the money. The States will, in their turn, exercise whatever control they please over the farmer, until the silos have been paid for.
– In view of the explanation given by the Prime Minister, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– On behalf of the honorable member for Cook, I move -
That the following words be added to subclause 3: -
Provided that the representative of each State before mentioned shall be a practical farmer, approved by the recognised farmers’ organization of such State.
In view of what the Prime Minister has just stated, I have little hope of the amendment being accepted. The Prime Minister informed the Committee that the Commission would probably comprise himself, as representing the Commonwealth, and either the Premier or Minister of Agriculture of each of’ the States concerned. Clause 5 provides that not less than half the members of the Commission can form a quorum, and it is obvious that if the Commission is to be composed of the official representatives he has mentioned, the probabilities of it meeting are very small. Practically meetings will be held only at long intervals, and at considerable inconvenience to the gentlemen concerned. ‘ I should like to know whether, under sub-clause 3, which allows the Governor in Council in each State to appoint the State’s representative, whether it is proposed to confine the representation of the State to a member of the Cabinet, or to allow the Cabinet in each State to choose any representative. The States might be trusted to select their own representative, and I understand there will be no objection if they decide to appoint persons other than the Premiers or the Ministers of Agriculture.
– Not at all.
– Will that occasion any serious difficulty in the way of the Commission holding meetings 1
– The Commission will first call for tenders for the design. In Victoria this has already been done, for I have the advertisement by me. The designs, will then be presented to us, and we shall select one. At our request, the
States will proceed with the erection of the buildings, either on sites chosen by the Commonwealth or approved, after selection, by the States.
– Then there will be no need for frequent meetings of the Commission 1
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 (Meetings of the Commission).
– I have pointed out already that, under sub-clause 2 of this -clause, the Commonwealth representative will have such powers vested in him that it will be almost unnecessary for other members of the Commission to meet him in consultation. It is provided that, if the representative of the Commonwealth certifies it is undesirable that any proposal shall be proceeded with, the matter will end there.
– Your leader asked for Federal control, and now you have got it. Mr. Hughes. - It may be that this clause is worded a little stridently, but, nevertheless, we must all’ agree that, as we advance the money, we must determine how it is to be spent.
– I quite agree with that view ; but is it likely that responsible gentlemen who will constitute this Commission will consult with the representative of the Commonwealth if the latter has such reserve power ? .No .matter what decision the other members of the Commission may arrive at, the chairman might say “Yes” or “No,” and his decision would be final.
Mr. -Hughes. - I am quite willing to alter the verbiage of this clause when the Bill gets into another place; but the fact remains that we must exercise the right of veto. This has been agreed upon with the States, but if the verbiage is not quite satisfactory, we will alter it in another place.
Clause agreed to.
Subject to this Act, the Commission may -
arrange with the Governments of the respective States for the construction and erection, of silos by, or under the supervision of, the proper authorities of those States.
.- This clause empowers the Commission not only to select the sites and prepare designs, but also to fix the charge for storing wheat. As members of the Commission will have to travel all over the wheatgrowing areas of Australia, it ought to be possible for them to supply valuable information in respect to any temporary storage that may be necessary. I understand the honorable member for Wakefield has an amendment conforming to my suggestion, namely, that the Commission should be requested to make recommendations for temporary storage in respect of the balance of wheat that cannot be stored in permanent silos. We know what happened last year under the pool owing to the ravages of the mice, and we want to secure some better protection for our wheat in the future.
.- I move-
That the following new paragraph be added to the clause : -
arrange with the Governments of the respective States for the erection of such other temporary structures as may be found necessary.
Tha Prime- Minister was good enough to suggest the means by which the very strong objection I raised, owing to the peculiar position of South Australia, has been practically removed. The amendment will secure the protection of the entire grain stocks in Australia.
.- I am wondering how far this amendment will commit Parliament to a further expenditure. I am not sure if we have passed through Committee the message appropriating this particular amount, but that jan be dealt with later. In last night’s Herald there appeared a report that a deputation of farmers, introduced by the honorable member for Wimmera, waited >n the Prime Minister, and he promised that about £250,000 would be made available for cement floors.
– I did not promise, but ;hat was what they asked for.
– I think the Prime Minister said that he would .consider the request favorably. If the provision >f additional floors in Victoria would cost £250,000, there should be a similar amount of expenditure in the three other States, so that this work may involve us in the expenditure of an additional £1,000,000. The silos, which are to cost £2,850,000, will not account for more than one-fifth of the grain. How much more expenditure will we be committed to if we are to provide floors for only the remaining four-fifths?
– Some of the States have silos ; private firms also have silos, so that it will not be four-fifths.
– Probably the farmers asked for more than they required and more than they expected to get. I am anxious to know from the Prime Minister to what extent the amendment of the honorable member for Wakefield will commit us ; whether, if we agree to erect silos, we are also committed to the cost of providing floors for the balance of the wheat.
– I am prepared, to agree to the amendment provided that its effect is to give the Commission a greater scope for the exercise of its discretion. I do not contemplate the erection of temporary structures which will cover all the wheat. Had I done so I would have come down with a measure which would- have been sufficient for that purpose. It is obvious that a temporary structure that will cover 1,000,000 tons can be erected at a lower cost than a permanent silo to contain 100,000 tons. I do not say that I shall not come down to the House subsequently, ‘ if necessary, and ask this Parliament to do something more in regard to protecting wheat. If I found such additional storage necessary, I should be wrong not tq> do so; but when I accept this amendment I do not contemplate adding to the liability or the - scope of the Commission so far as expenditure is concerned. I merely propose to allow it to cut off some of the silos in the drier districts, and erect in their place structures which will give reasonably ample protection, thus spreading the protection over a larger quantity of wheat. Though I am desirous of meeting the views of honorable members, I do not wish it to be understood that we are abandoning the principle of silo construction. For seven-eighths of the wheat silos will be provided. In regard to the other one-eighth, I do npt see any reason why we cannot get value for our money, and just as good results in certain districts, by the system proposed by the honorable member for Wakefield. We can very well allow the Commission this extra discretion.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 8 -
For the purpose of facilitating the construction and erection of silos in pursuance pi this Act, the Commonwealth may from time to time advance to the States a sum not exceeding in the whole the sum of £2,850,000.
– I raise a point of order as to whether this money has been appropriated by message from His Excellency the Governor. We ought to be careful, in dealing with a Bill which appropriates money, to see that it is preceded by a message from the Crown recommending the appropriation for a particular purpose; and the larger the amount involved the more careful we should be. In this case we are embarking on a huge undertaking with the smallest amount of information ever submitted to honorable members. We are to find the money, the States are to spend it, and the farmers are to pay for it; so, of course, it is easy enough for us to agree.
– This money comes out of war loan, which has already been recommended. Parliament is now asked to say whether, out of the war loan which has already been recommended, this particular sum shall be appropriated for the purpose mentioned in the Bill. I think that the procedure is quite regular.
– The point raised by the honorable member for Yarra is whether this is a specific matter which should be covered by an appropriation message. General appropriation has already been made in regard to war expenditure, and I take it that, as this expenditure is included in general war expenditure, the Bill is in order.
– Before submitting an amendment, of which the honorable member for Cook has given notice, I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether any portion of the £2,850,000 will be required for the purchase of land for the silos.
– It is to be assumed that the land will be obtained in the usual way. Where the States own the land they will provide it; where it has to be acquired from private owners the cost will be a charge against the Commission. That is part of the business; we cannot escape from it. I do not know that we have actually considered the question of sites, but I think that we may assume that in the overwhelming majority of cases sites will be chosen which are already utilized for the purpose of loading or discharging wheat at railway terminals and sidings, and which are owned by StateRailways or Harbor Departments.
– I doubt whether that will apply to Port Adelaide, where the wharfs are under private control.
– At Port Adelaide the wharfs are now under the Harbor Board.
– Are matters so far advanced that practically the scheme can be gone on with at once?
– I anticipate that the silos will be ready by January next. We , have first to get out the designs. We are ready to make a commencement in that direction. In a document I have here, issued from theRailway Offices, Melbourne, it is stated that tenders must be lodged in the tender-box not later than Monday, 30th July, and these tenders are for the supply of plans and estimates for wheat storage in the. State.
– Delays are dangerous. We do not know that the tenders will be accepted, and we should like to see the work pushed on with as soon as possible.
– We shall see to that.
– On behalf of the honorable member for Cook I move formally the amendment of which he has given notice -
That the following words be added to the clause: - “Provided that the authority responsible for the storage of wheat or flour in such silos shall guarantee owners against damage sustained after the receipt of such wheat or flour in good order and condition.”
Clause agreed to.
Clause 9 -
The amount advanced to each State shall bear interest at such rate, and be repayable in such manner and at such times as the GovernorGeneral approves.
.- As a custodian of the people’s money I should like to say that I am satisfied that the proposals of the Government cannot be given effect to for anything like the sum that has been mentioned. I believe from the few figures I have put together that the cost is quite likely to be doublewhat is estimated. Some reference has been made to the fact that in some cases it may be necessary to purchase sites for the silos. I doubt whether the New South Wales Railways Commissioners or the Sydney Harbor Trust hold land which could be used for the erection of silos; arid, if land for the purpose has to be purchased in Sydney, we know that it will be very costly. Land anywhere near wharfs or railways is very valuable. It will cost a great deal to purchase land, if that be necessary, for the erection of silos at some of the country stations which would be suitable central depots for the storage of wheat. Honorable members may be agreed that the erection of silos is highly desirable, but the responsibility of giving the House some information as to the probable cost of carrying out the proposals rests upon the Government, especially at this time, when we know that economy in public expenditure must be studied. I admit that economy may be practised to such an extent as to be dangerous to the public interest, but we should have more definite information than has yet been given of the probable cost of this proposal. Some years ago, when Sir Henry Parkes introduced a measure to provide a water supply for Sydney, I happened to be in favour of a rival proposal - the Kenny Hill scheme. I waited with a deputation upon Sir Henry Parkes, and submitted to him actual figures, which showed that the Kenny Hill scheme could be carried out for £1,000,000. We reminded him at the same time that the scheme he proposed would cost anything between £5,000,000 and £7,000,000. He replied, “ Gentlemen, you may be quite correct in your figures. I do not doubt one word that you say.” And, turning to me, he said, “ I shall be quite satisfied, West, if you leave this matter alone.” I asked him why I should do so, and he said, “ If I tell the public of New South Wales what the Government scheme is going to cost, Parliament will never vote the money, and there will be no water supply.” I do not know whether the present Government, in submitting these pro- posals, are following the example of Sir Henry Parkes. The day has gone by for that sort of thing. There was a difference of opinion between country and city members in connexion with, the Sydney water supply, but this is a matter in which the whole of the people of Australia are concerned. The Government should be made, to understand that honorable members will refuse to consent to schemes of this kind unless they are supplied with full information, especially as to cost. If he were on this side of the House, no one would be keener than the Prime Minister in urging that the people’s representatives should not be kept in the dark with respect to public expenditure. An amendment has just been accepted to make provision for concrete floors for some of the temporary structures. Some of these will cover a space of 200 feet by 70 feet or 80 feet. In many of the country districts it would be useless to put down less than 6 inches of concrete, and with an inch of cement on top this would cost, in many cases, 15s. per yard. I believe that the Prime Minister is- not aware of how much additional expenditure is involved in the acceptance of the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Wakefield.
– It will be money well spent.
– I am not saying that it will not. I am protesting that honorable members do not know what they are voting for. They do not know what is likely to be the actual cost of giving effect to the Government proposal. It will cost a great deal of money to lay down concrete in some of the country districts. Sharp sand, grit, and metal will be required, and in some places the cost of these materials will exceed that of the cement. I venture to assert that even the Prime Minister does not know the extent of the burden which he is putting on the Treasury. I express no opinion as to the goodness or badness of the scheme. I believe that the silos will be as useful after the war as in the immediate future, and only the future will show whether the system of bulk handling is the right one for Australia to adopt.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 10; and title, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
APPROPRIATION Bill (WORKS AND BUILDINGS) 1916-17.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
– The Address-in-Reply will be presented to His Excellency the Governor-General at 3.35 o’clock on Wednesday next, in the Parliamentary library.
House adjourned at 4.13 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 July 1917, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1917/19170720_reps_7_82/>.