8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I move-
That the Government be censured for their failure to make provision for the payment of 5s. per bushel cash at railway sidings for this season’s wheat.
After the storm of yesterday, we may expect a calm to-day, though in Parliament you can never say what will happen.
– It ia to be hoped that you will not wreok us.
– I shall be glad to do so ; I make no secret of that. If I could put the Government out of office, I would do it. Tour weeks ago I moved the adjournment of the House to call attention to the failure of the Government to pay cash for the wheat delivered at railway sidings, as promised by the Prime Minister in his last policy speech; but, as is well known, it is practically impossible, on an -adjournment motion, to secure a division, and thus force members to commit themselves to one view or another. Without such a division, honorable members can say that they were desirous that the Government should give effect to its guarantee without being inconvenienced in any way. My motion will force a division on the question.
– Let us have the division straight away.
– If the Whip on this side . tells me that all the Labour members who are prepared to . speak to the motion are willing to take a vote at once, I shall have no objection to doing so. In no case shall I detain the House very long. According to the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), the Australian wheat harvest for this year is estimated at about 137,000,000 bushels, though some of the newspaper estimates have been as high as 170,000,000 bushels. Knibbs allows’ for consumption in Australia of a little over 5 bushels per head for breadstuffs, which would mean a total consumption of 25,000,000 bushels, and about 10,000,000 bushels are needed for seed. Should the yield be 150,000,000 bushels, there will thus be about 115,000,000 bushels for export. Now, the Treasurer told us in his Budget Statement that last year the shipping coming to Australia was about 3,500,000 tons, and the shipping from Australia would he about as large. We shall have 3,000,000 tons of wheat and flour to send away, and the shipping available will not provide space for it. We are sending away about 1,000,000 tons of coal at the present time, and then there are the wool, butter, meat, metals, and other exports. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) has said that the farmers distinctly understood the promise of the Prime Minister at Bendigo, when he guaranteed 5s. a bushel for wheat delivered at the railway sidings, to mean 5s. cash.
– In that case it was not a guarantee, but the promise_of a payment.
– I believe that when Mr. Watt, during the last electoral campaign, made a statement showing what the Commonwealth would have to pay if a Labour Government got into power, he reckoned the cost of this guarantee among the commitments.
– Where would the Treasurer get the money?
– That is for him to say. Of course, if the Government are destitute of financial ideas, and come to the Opposition for advice, we shall be pleased to consider the position. The Prime Minister’s Statement at Bendigo twelve months ago was this: -
In order to help the wheat farmers, the Government, in addition to its guarantee for the doming crop, will guarantee Cs. at the railway Sidings for the 1920-21 harvest.
The right honorable gentleman has made other promises. During the second conscription campaign, he said that if conscription were not carried he would not continue in office, but when I reminded him of that, his remark was that the statement was not a promise, but a threat. I ask him if, in regard to the wheat, the farmers were given a promise, a pledge, or a threat? If all that was meant was that they would get 5s. per bushel when the wheat was sold, they can say, “ Thank you for nothing.” Yesterday, newspaper proprietors were referred to as the friends of honorable members, but it cannot be said that any of them are friends of mine. One newspaper has stated that the promise I referred to was made by the Prime Minister in order to obtain votes. Some time ago two pictures were published, one showing the farmer of 1914 smoking a pipe and driving an old horse, on whose excrescences you could have hung your hat, and the other showed him in 1919 riding in a motor car and smoking a cigar, all the result of the beneficial legislation of the present Government.
– Was that in Victoria or in Queensland?
– In Victoria; and I obtained a copy of the pamphlet issued by the organization to which the honorable member belonged. Whilst the farmers’ organization sends out pamphlets broadcast to the people of Victoria they are not likely to send one to me, but I generally manage to get hold of these things.
– We are willing to give the honorable member a copy of any of our literature.
– I shall be glad to receive it. These publications always come in handy, just as The Financial Carnival, written by the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) did last week. If the farmers are only to be paid for their wheat as it is shipped, and only about one-third of the crop can be sent away this year, instead of receiving the full price, which no one knows yet, they will not even receive 5s. per bushel, which they believed they would receive when the wheat was delivered at the railway sidings. Honorable members on this side of the House, who represent wheat-growing districts - and with one exception they represent the whole of the wheat-growing areas in New South Wales - have received letters from the primary producers, asking them to endeavour to induce the Prime Minister to make available the 5s. per bushel. Last Thursday the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Chanter) asked the Prime Minister whether representations had been received by the Government from farmers’ organizations in reference to the 5s. guarantee. The Prime Minister, admitted that such representations had been received, but said that he had nothing further to add to his previous statement which was to the effect that until- the wheat was sold they would not know what they intended to do. Another question by the honorable member forCalare (Mr. Lavelle) was answered by him to the same effect. I have always taken the attitude that every man is entitled to a fair rate of remuneration, and a fair profit in his industry. The Federal Executive of the Labour party, which met last week, carried a series of resolutions, one of which was -
That the price of wheat for local consumption be based upon the cost of production, the cost of production to be ascertained upon inquiry, which shall provide for trade union wages and conditions of all labour, including the labour of the farmer’sfamily’, employed in producing the crop, plus a reasonable profit.
– The public would not get a loaf at all under those conditions.
– If an industry cannot pay f air wages and support proper conditions it should not exist.
– Then the people have no right to eat bread.
– I do not believe the honorable member. According to newspaper reports of deceased persons’ estates it is the squatters and farmers who are most blessed with worldly goods, rather than the people who reside in the cities.
– Wills do not disclose the liabilities of the testator.
– How will the honorable member’s policy operate in the year when no wheat is grown?
– The honorable member may put his views as to what will happen in a drought year. The people engaged in the production of wheat, wool, or any other commodity, are entitled to a fair reward. The average cost of production can be ascertained.
– What would the honorable member call a reasonable profit?
– Not the 20 and 25 per cent, which some companies are paying, even on an inflated capital.
– Those companies are in the cities.
– And some of the people in the country have not done badly. I regard 25 per cent, as an unreasonable profit. According to the statement made by the Prime Minister a few days ago the farmers are not to receive a dividend until the crop is shipped away. If that is to be the case the farmers should have been advised by the Government, instead of being encouraged to incur liabilities and. mortgage their credit so that until they obtain money for the new crop they hardly know where to turn.
– Would the honorable member call 6 per cent, a fair profit?
– I would not.
– What would he call a fair profit?
– The honorable member may make a speech for himself.
– But let us have your ideas.
– My idea as to an unreasonable profit was put on record in connexion with the Bill for- granting a bonus for the manufacture of wire netting. The Government proposed to allow the company a profit of 15 per cent., and I said that that was unreasonably high. So are the profits of 25, 50, and 100 per cent, made by the honorable member’s friends in the sugar industry.
– Those profits do not exist.
– I do not propose to worry about the sugar people to-day, but I know how the company watered its stock to the extent of £3,000,000,. for which the workers in the electorate I still have the honour to represent - in spite of the newspaper friends of honorable members opposite - are paying to-day. I have here a letter from Manilla, New South Wales, dated 28th September -
Enclosed please find copy of resolutions unanimously passed at a meeting of farmers and business people held at Manilla on Saturday. 25th instant.
In support of these resolutions, the followingis submitted for your consideration: -
The cash payment, of 2s. 6d. is entirely inadequate. It will barely pay for harvesting, bags, and cartage to railway, and the cost of putting in the crop has been from £2 to £2 10s. per acre. Farmers in this district have suffered for ten years by reason of crop failures,, only two fair crops having been harvested during this period,, so that it will be readily seen that their financial position, and also that of the storekeepers and others who have financed them, is serious. It is therefore regarded as reasonable that the first payment made should be sufficient to allow farmers to discharge their urgent liabilities. Business people have strained their resources to the utmost in order to carry them on, and will be unable to meet obligations entered into unless farmers can discharge their accumulated liabilities.
It is fully recognised that material assistance has been given by the State Government to farmers this year, but it is confidently asserted that if the guarantee of 5s. per bushel by the Federal Government, to which 2s. 6d. was added by the State Government, making 7s. 6d. in all, had not been made, a large proportion of farmers, disheartened by a long series of reverses, would not have attempted to put in a crop. They wore urged by both State and Federal Governments to put in as much wheat as possible, and to do so worked almost day and night. How well they succeeded can be judged by the area under crop in this district, which, falling from .approximately 45,000 acres a few jours ago to under 20,000 last year, has increased this year to 42,000 acres. The promise to pay 7s. 6d! cash on delivery should, therefore, be honorably carried out. Failure to do so would be regarded as repudiation. From the stand-point of production, which is so much urged at the present time, the position is most serious.
The resolutions referred to are as follow : -
I have not followed a course, in connexion with this motion, such as has been adopted with regard to many other motions of censure. That ia to say, I have confined the terms of the motion to one specific subject.. Newspaper opponents of honorable members on this side have remarked, in connexion with the motion, that this latest makes about half-a-dozen launched this session. No such thing!’ There have been three. But I do not say that there will not be more than half-a-dozen ‘before the session is over,
– That depends upon the vote upon this motion?
– If honorable members vote after the manner in which they have been speaking, the Government will not remain in office for another five minutes thereafter. The Government are at present hanging on. If the Country party believe in this pledge which was made to the farmers, there should be but one course for them to adopt. Do they not realize that the pledge was made, not so much to “ dish “ honorable members on this side, and this party, as to “ dish “ the Country party? The pledge was uttered for the specific purpose of trying to prevent the Country party from getting a hold; although. for that matter, we now hold a fair number of country seats, and Labour members of the State Legislature will be representative of still more rural electorates as the outcome of to-day’s polling throughout Victoria.
– I would not prophesy if I were the honorable member.
– I guarantee that our party will gain more country seats than the Nationalists.
I undertook to be brief upon this matter, and will conclude by saying, “ Let us see now just where honorable members stand.”
.. - The honorable member has explained that the press is in error in stating that there have been half-a-dozen motions of censure this session. In this regard the honorable member says, like the lady in Marryat’s novel, “ This is only a very little one, and, so, might be excused.”
– I never said or suggested that.
– Providence, which tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, enables us to sustain these rude buffets of adversity; and we have this abiding consolation, that if the honorable member had not moved his motion he would have been able, under cover of the Estimates - as we saw last night - to discuss not only this, but a great many other things. So, therefore, I am not at all disturbed by his motion. For since we are to waste time, as well waste it upon this as on any other question.
– It is not a waste of time.
– That it is a waste of time is obvious ; not that the subjectmatter itself lacks importance - for it is vitally important - hut I do not think that any one, no matter how closely associated with the farmers, would believe that consideration for the farmers is the impelling motive of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor). I shall show that pretty clearly. It is, perhaps, only a coincidence that general elections are being held today in this State. It is possibly but a coincidence that, yesterday, although another event, both interesting and dramatic, was billed, the honorable member’s followers endeavoured to brush it aside in order that they might notify an expectant electorate that they, Codlin, and not Short, were the friends of the farmers. However, destiny, which knows nothing and cares nothing of Labour or Nationalism, brushed them aside and determined otherwise. And so they take the floor to-day, and we are to hear that which, but for the intervention of Providence, Ave should have heard yesterday. What did the honorable member say? He is now posing in -the role that he assumes very seldom, but which, because elections have followed one another rather closely, during the last few years, we recall perfectly, and admire the manner in which, although without that intimate knowledge of rural affairs that would: give him authority and information, hecontinues to strut the stage as the farmers’ friend. He is much concerned about the farmers. I am suremy honorable friend will not object, if I deal with this matter on its merits, and remind him of one or two circumstances, which, in his anxiety to obtain a vote, he was unfortunately unable to mention. He has referred to my policy speech at Bendigo. I have before me an extract from that speech, which was delivered on 30th October, 1919, and I shall read it -
In order to help the wheat-growers, the Government, in addition to its guarantee for the coming crop, will guarantee 5s. at railway sidings for the 1920-21 harvest.
If honorable members will cast back their minds they will see that this was a definite promise in relation to a wellestablished practice. This was not the first guarantee we had given, nor even the second, or the third. We have given guarantees now these many years. And so, when we come to ask ourselves, what does this guarantee mean, if there be any ambiguity in the term itself, we have only to look at the way in which it has been construed, interpreted, and put into practice. We find that, with one exception, I think, and that in a very lean year, when, unfortunately, few people had any wheat whatever, the guarantee was honoured, not in one instalment, but . in several. There is nothing in those words of mine, which the honorable gentleman and I have both quoted, nor in any utterances by which they were amplified, to indicate to the farmers that it was intended to depart from the existing practice, which was to insure that the farmer, no matter what the vagaries of the world’s wheat market might be, should have 5s. per bushel for his wheat. That, I think, is a very strong inducement to put land under cultivation. The farmers are assured of 5s. per bushel. It may be said that 5s. in itself is not sufficient in these days. I do not say it is, but to a wheat farmer hesitating whether he should put in wheat or run sheep, .that guarantee would suffice to just turn the scale and induce him to grow wheat.
As I have said before, no country can achieve greatness merely by following pastoral pursuits. Agriculture is a step in advance of the pastoral condition. Hunting, I suppose, was the first condition of man; then came pastoral conditions, next agriculture, and, lastly, manufactures. It is a very good thing, even from the stand-point of the pastoral industry, that land should be put into cultivation. Even if our objective were to increase our flocks, it would still be a wise policy to encourage agriculture, because in that way, taking the country by and large, we can carry more sheep to the acre.
My first point is, therefore, that in this guarantee we repeated the formula that we had applied for many years. It was understood practically by every man at that time to be a repetition of the promise made in previous years, an assurance that the practice to which we had resorted would be continued. I am perfectly certain that the effect of the pledge was -to induce a large acreage, which otherwise would have been fallowed, to be put under wheat.
I shall not embarrass honorable members opposite by reading very much from their manifesto at the last general elections. I shall take only one glittering gem from that sparkling tiara in order that honorable members may judge of the whole by the specimen that I bring forward. The Leader of the Labour party said in this manifesto -
Amongst other things we shall, in addition to carrying out existing undertakings, guarantee the wheat-growers 5s. a bushel at railway sidings for the 1920-21 harvest.
The honorable member there repeated my own statement; that is to say, that, in addition to the 1919-20 guarantee, we shall give the farmers 5s. per bushel at railway sidings for the 1920^21 harvest. He says that what he meant was that the Labour party, if returned, would pay 5s. in cash per bushel at the. sidings when the wheat came in. If he had really meant that, he would have thought of it at the time, and would have expatiated upon it. He would have said to the elector, hesitating as he was between these two parties - asking himself, “ Along which road shall we find salvation?” - “Why, here you have cash, while the Government offer you only a guarantee.” But the Labour party did not do so, and since modesty is not their characteristic virtue, we must assume that it was because all they meant was that they would do as we had done for years, namely, guarantee that the farmer should get at least 5s. for his wheat. The idea of paying, cash on delivery i3 an afterthought. We are strengthened in that assumption by the fact that this is the second censure motion in which this matter has been included, and that in the former motion not one. word was said about payment down when the wheat was delivered at the sidings. It was not until the farmers said, “ We want cash down “ that these honorable members,’ seeing an opportunity of adding the coping stone to their castle in the ‘ air, said, “ Ah ! we forgot that, but it is not too late/’ And with the paint of words and promises and statements, they hope to finish off this castle and to make the farmer who is voting to-day believe that they are the men for Galway. It is, however, a belated idea on the part of the Labour party. I think there is no need to emphasize the point any more. Nothing is more certain in the world than that if they proposed cash, as against our guarantee, they would have said so; because when we offered the soldiers bonds they advocated cash., and stumped the country, emphasizing the difference between the two policies ad nauseam. They are convicted out of their own mouths, or out of their own silence. What they propose now never occurred to them. Why? Because they know nothing whatever of the conditions of the farmer in the country, and care less. All they desired to do yesterday, and desire now, though it is rather late, is to influence the farming votes at to-day’s election in Victoria. Where do these gentlemen really stand? They pose as the friends of the farmers. Now, my honorable friend has said, in many round-flowing phrases, that he believes a man is entitled to the fruits of his industry. Every capitalist, from the beginning of time, when a workman has asked for an increase of wages, has said the same. It is an expression trite, stale, and meaningless. It means nothing, and the honorable gentleman knows that perfectly well. But I shall turn rather a cruel light upon it from a lamp which has been placed in my hands. I mean the lamp by the light of which honorable members opposite guide their feet - the directions, manifestoes, and decisions of their executives. For we must not forget that these gentlemen opposite are like children in a dark wood. They say, “ Oh ! let us go here,” or, “ Let us go there”; but they know the way neither to here nor there, but must follow as their parents lead them; and as they dart after this pretty flower or that seductive fruit, they hear the voice of “ Him who. must be obeyed.”
– Do not waste time discussing honorable members opposite. What are you going to do about the 5s. a bushel?
– The honorable member must be patient. I turn towards honorable members opposite because that is the position in which I stand most easily; if the honorable member prefers that I should talk to him, let him go over there.
– Talk of your own party, and leave this party alone !
– I pay the honorable gentleman the greatest compliment I can, and he ought not to take exception to it. Honorable (members opposite now pose as the farmers’ friends. There is an election on to-day in Victoria; but when there is no election, where are they? Is the farmer entitled to the world’s .parity, according to their masters, or, indeed, according to honorable members themselves, who repeat their masters’ words? According to them, most emphatically he is not.
I now come to statements made by those who are placed in control of the destinies of honorable members opposite, and I shall quote some early ones, and others but a few days old. First, there is Mr. Bennett, a very excellent man, with whom it has been my good fortune to work in days gone by. Mr. Bennett, the president of the Trades Hall Council at the time the statement was made, in February, 1916, said -
The Government should reduce the price of local wheat. There is no reason why it should not be sold at 3s. 6d. or 3s. The farmers would have to bear this sacrifice for the good of thu community.
At a meeting held at Perth under the auspices of the Australian Labour party, a resolution was moved -
That this meeting of citizens protest against the intention of the Australian Wheat Board to fix the price of wheat for local consumption at the world’s parity.
I now come to Mr. Tunnecliffe, who this day is wooing the coy elector for the State Parliament in my own electorate, and whose enthusiasm and love, as a member of the Labour party, for the farmer literally passes all understanding. He, in reply to a question, is thus reported -
He was not in favour of the world’s parity for wheat for local consumption in the future. There should be a fair average price, in good and bad seasons. The farmer did not produce wheat or wool or any other primary necessaries any more than the housewife, the girl at the loom, or the sailor on the sea. The product belonged, not to the individual, but to the people as a whole.
These are strange words, my masters, to come from the lips of those who are posing as the champions of the farmer. They tell us that the wheat does not belong to the farmer - that the farmer must make sacrifices, that they do not believe in the world’s parity, that this attempt to get the world’s parity is nothing more than syndicalism by the farmer, and they are against it. Now we come to the Labour executive - those gentlemen who are placed beyong the. reach of criticism, whose very names we must not breathe, and whose persons are sacrosanct - who say to this man and to that man, “ Do this,” and he does it, or is cast into outer darkness. What do these men say ? They, in a motion, say -
That the price of .wheat for local consumption be based upon the cost of production. The cost of production to be ascertained upon inquiry, which shall provide for trade union wages and conditions to all labour including the labour of farmer’s family, employed in producing the crop, plus a reasonable profit.
That is the gospel according to the Labour executive. What does it mean? We are told that the farmer should be paid for his wheat according to the cost of production. Those gentlemen seem to think that all that is necessary to produce wheat is for the farmer to plough the land, then retire into his inner consciousness and wait, when, in the fullness of time, abundant harvest will come. But that is not so. A man may plough, he may harrow, he may roll - he may do everything that a man can - and still reap nothing. What is the price of that farmer’s wheat? Does some being from high shower down manna on him for that year? No. Is the cost of production for a lean year going to be added to the cost of production for a fat year ? No - a thousand times no ! The farmer is asked to take all the risks in producing the wheat, and in the year that he does produce it he is to get the cost of production for that year, but nothing for the year when drought, flood, pests, and other difficulties assail him, and deprive him of a harvest. That is the gospel according to my honorable friends. And who is to decide the cost of production ? It is to be done after inquiry. Inquiry by whom 1 By farmers ? I ask my honorable friends opposite which of them would submit a labour dispute in relation to rural industry to the employers of labour only. Yet they wish the farmers to allow the price of wheat to be based on a determination of the cost of production by a jury composed wholly of consumers, and, for the greater part, of consumers in the cities.
– That is incorrect. Such a thing was never proposed.
– My authority is the Melbourne Argus of the 19th instant.
– There is no statement there that the inquiry would be conducted by consumers only.
– I admit that; but were honorable members in power they, or at least their executive, would see that only the “right” men were appointed.
– That would be doing what you have done in regard to every Commission for which you have been responsible. You have never appointed a Labour nian.
– For twenty odd years I was part of the Labour machine, and I know how it works. When it is a case of settling a dispute, what do they say to me in asking me to appoint a chairman ? The less members opposite say about matters pf this kind the better.
Honorable members interjecting.
– I ask honorable members not to shout out interjections. The knowledge that the Prime Minister suffers from a physical disability should restrain them, as their interjections can.not be heard by him, and, therefore, cannot be replied to, and in any case are disorderly, and should not be replied to.
– We should be delighted to go over and whisper them to him.
– I ask the honorable member not to interject, especially when the Speaker is on his feet; and he must’ not make a megaphone of his hands.
– I can sit silent when others are saying unpleasant things of me. The storm that I have raised indicates that I am getting well within the joints of my friends’ armour. The Labour party proposes that the price of wheat shall be determined by the cost of production, and I ask the farmers to note that these gentlemen do not make a similar proposition regarding themselves. When asked to accept payment in accordance with what they produce they will not do so. They say, “We are entitled to so much. This is the world’s rate, and we shall not be satisfied with less, and shall hardly be satisfied with that.” I do not blame them, but I point out the inconsistency. The farmer should be treated like other men. He risks the vagaries and uncertainties of Nature, and has a right to the full benefits of the market. It is he who suffers if the market falls. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) spoke of what New South Wales and Queensland .are going to do for the farmer. I cannot say what New South Wales will do, though I have no doubt it will do its utmost to honour its guarantee; but let us turn -to Queensland, where the farmers are to be given 3s. more than the Federal guarantee. Members of the Labour party are the farmers’ friends. They have brought forward this motion because their hearts are torn with pity for the farmers. How has the farmer been treated by Labour in Queensland? There is a suspicious silence on the benches opposite regarding the result of the recent Queensland election. The Labour party has got back in Queensland, but there is a majority of the electors against them.
– Their position is not nearly so bad as your Senate representation.
– It is a million times worse. We had a majority of. the people in our favour. They have a majority against them. What greater difference can there be than that ? The less the honorable member says about the Senate the better. When the honorable member and I were together, we had a following of about thirty-one in the Senate; now he has a following of one there. In Queensland, in 1915, there was a severe drought, and only a small quantity of wheat was grown there. Three cargoes of wheat were imported from the Argentine, at a landed cost of 8s. 6d., and the drought-stricken fanners naturally expected to receive that price for what wheat they had. But the Government fixed two prices for flour. Flour made from the imported Argentine wheat ‘ was priced at, second class, £29 10s. per ton, which was the equivalent of Ss. 6d. per bushel for the wheat, and flour made from Queenslandgrown wheat was priced at £9 10s. per ton, the equivalent of 3s. 6d. per bushel, for wheat. Then a proclamation was issued prohibiting millers from gristing the farmers’ wheat, to compel people to eat the flour made from the imported wheat. When the farmers sold their wheat to their own co-operative mill, the Prices Commissioner ordered the directors to send part of their wheat to a’ proprietary mill in Brisbane. They refused, and the following telegram was sent- (Queensland Hansard, vol. CXX., p. 205) : -
On understanding that your company will send down all wheat required by Government, and that G,000 bags will be consigned at once, compulsory acquisition will not be resorted to at present. “When we were small we used to hear the story, full of moral instruction, of the spider and the fly. The Labour party now says to the farmer, “ Come into my parlour.” I have just shown what happened to one of the flies that went into that parlour. Honorable gentlemen say that the majority of the representatives of wheat-growing electorates in New South Wales are in their party, but how many fanning electorates have returned Labour members to the new Queensland Parliament? The fact is that Labour men have set their face resolutely against the farmer. They do not appreciate this fundamental fact, that even if the farmer were making a larger profit than the man in the town, it would be to the interest of the Commonwealth, to let him do so, because it is vital to its welfare that population should spread from the towns to the country. They do not understand that, and aTe appealing to and stimulating the movement of the people from, the country, which is the source of all wealth, to the towns and cities, which live on the wealth produced in the country. The honorable member for Yarra said that there was a prospect of there being 3,500,000 tons of wheat to export this year. I hope that that may be so. On those figures the Government is faced with a financial obligation of between £30,000,000 and £40,000,000. He says we ought to pay the whole of this sum on delivery of the wheat. But those who are responsible for the motion have not suggested how money can be raised to pay for the wheat immediately. It is impossible to borrow abroad, as they know; but all that they will .say is, “ You must pay the money straight away.” I wish to state very definitely the attitude of the Government. We recognise our obligations, and intend to honour them, realizing that on the profitable marketing of wool and wheat the financial and industrial stability of this country for the next twelve months absolutely depends. Owing to pledges given at the last election, the Government was placed in an awkward position; but it has shown its bona fides by becoming a member of the Wheat Board. The first problem for the Wheat Board to solve is the disposal of the exportable surplus of wheat and flour, and to that it is devoting the whole of its energies. Although I am. not at liberty to state what it has already clone in the way of sales, I think I am entitled to say that the Wheat Board has already sold a considerable quantity of wheat at a reasonable rate. It is endeavouring to dispose of as much as possible. I speak, not of small quantities but of large quantities involving millions of pounds. The key to the situation is obviously freight, and the Government, which, fortunately for this country, have at their disposal a considerable quantity of tonnage, is placing that tonnage at the disposal of the Wheat Board. I may add that, without the assistance of the Government ships, the contract that has been entered into could not have been accepted, for it is a c.i.f. contract, and the Government have undertaken to supply the freight. Every day the Wheat Board is endeavouring to secure freight, the price of which is still high, ranging from £5 15s. to £7. We are getting all the .freight that is available. We have a tremendous task in front of us to market this gargantuan crop, and the best brains pf the community are directing and advising us. The farmers’ representatives are on the Board ; nothing is done without consulting them. So much for the exportable surplus, which phase of that subject I pass by with the observation that it is essential for us to dispose of the wheat at the earliest possible moment at the highest possible price; freight is the key to the situation, and we are endeavouring to deal with it in a business-like way.
I come now to the question of wheat for local consumption, which the’ Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) mentioned as amounting to 25,000,000 bushels. I think that was an understatement of the requirements; it is nearer 30,000,000 bushels. On that matter I wish to declare the policy of the Government, which is quite distinct from the policy of honorable members opposite. What we said during the election was that we believed in the farmer getting the world’s parity, and we would take no action to interfere with him getting that parity. Nor shall we. I have convened a meeting of the Board, that is to say, the State Premiers or Ministers of Agriculture and the representatives of the farmers, for Wednesday next to consider, amongst other things, this very question of wheat for local consumption, and also what arrangement the States which have made guarantees are able to make for prompt payment on delivery at railway sidings. And, in order that the Commonwealth Government may know exactly where we stand, and may be able to make a definite statement to the farmers, so that they, too, may know where they stand, I am convening a conference of bankers for the same day. When in Sydney recently with my colleague, the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), I had an opportunity of discussing the matter with some of the bankers, and I hope to be in a position towards the end of next week to make a definite statement of what we shall be prepared to do in the month of January next - how much we shall be able to pay, and on what date we shall pay it. I pass by the wheat delivered in December, because that will be a mere drop in the bucket. As an obligation, the December wheat is comparatively small, and if it were the only difficulty we could deal with it without very much trouble. What we desire to be Me to do is to say to the farmer that we shall be able to give to him so much on delivery at the siding, whenever that delivery takes place; whether it be December or any other time is immaterial. The Government realize thoroughly how important it is that we should make this payment as large as possible. We shall go to the full length that the finances of the country, assisted and backed by the bankers, will permit us to go. It would be of no use for me to anticipate by making a statement as to what I think the payment will be, because I propose to make a definite statement next week of what we shall do, at any rate, as a minimum.
That, then, is the position. The Government is thoroughly alive to the situation. We have taken every step that circumstances have called for in order to enable the farmers to market their wheat promptly in foreign countries; we are taking every step in order to get the basis of a price for local consumption. Honorable members must understand that this is a business, not for the Commonwealth, but for the States who own the wheat. The Commonwealth is pledged to do nothing whatever to prevent the farmer getting the world’s parity for his wheat, in or out of Australia; but the States, in effect, own the wheat, and they will fix a price for local consumption, possibly, next week. When they do, the situation will be materially cleared, for the farmers will know exactly where they are, and when I am in a position to state exactly what wc shall be able to do - and we are taking all the necessary steps to enable me to make that declaration - the House will be able to deal with a concrete situation. In the meantime I have only to add that the Government, who represent every interest in Australia, and who are supported by twenty-one honorable members who represent wheat-growing electorates, are keenly alive to* the situation. We shall do everything in our power to assist the farmer by securing freight, by advances, and by every other means at our disposal. We shall not seek, as honorable members opposite do, to differentiate between the farmer and every other producer in the country, paying him on the basis of the cost of production, then a minimum return irrespective of the amount produced, but shall give him the benefit of the world’s price, to which he is entitled. There I leave the situation. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) need not have apologized for having made only three motions of censure. I feel rather pleased that he has afforded the House an opportunity of discussing a matter of such great importance. That the House will treat the motion as one of censure I do not believe, and I am sure the mover does not so believe it. This was intended as an electioneering move; it is twenty-four hours late, for the issue of the elections will have been decided long before this debate can be published. The fact that the honorable members who stand for the farmers in Victoria belong to a party which in Victoria is able to amass only sufficient energy and courage to nominate twentyfive or twenty-six candidates for a House of sixty-five members speaks for itself. I leave the issue to the House. I thank the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) for having afforded me an opportunity to tell honorable members, and through them, the farmers, that the Government are taking steps which will enable them to make a definite statement next week in regard, I hope, to the price of wheat for local consumption, but, certainly, as to the date and the amount of the advance.
.- I have listened with a great deal of interest to the wordy warfare between the two other parties in the House as to which is the better friend or greater enemy of the farmer. I have not much interest in the claims of either side, but I am concerned in the question of the payment of the advance.The Prime Minister lias declared that he did not say that he would give the Es. guarantee in cash in the one payment. I am not going to debate the question of what he actually said; nor will I attempt to declare’ what he really meant. But I can say. in the plainest possible manner, that nine-tenths - if not more - of the farmers in my constituency took the Prime Minister’s pledge to mean cash upon delivery at the railway station. All the Prime Minister’s talk, all his cleverness, all his dramatic gestures, cannot alter the fact that nine-tenth’s of the , wheat-growers of Wimmera, and, I believe, of the whole of Victoria, incurred obligations, put in crop, and - owing to failure of the previous year’s crop, as the result of which they were unable to meet many of their bills - renewed their bills until after this’ harvest, and made all their calculations in the belief that they would receive a 5s. cash advance._ It is quite clear, in my mind, how they arrived at that assumption. The promise of the Prime Minister was made on 30th October last year. That was prior to last harvest. The 5s. guarantee was already promised for that harvest; and the Prime Minister said, in effect, “ We will not only give you an advance of 5s. at railway stations for this harvest, but will extend the same promise to the following harvest.” What was the result of the guarantee for last harvest? The amount was paid in the one payment.
– On a 35,000,000 bushel crop.
– I am not taking into consideration . the dimensions of the harvest ; that is beside the question. The point is, What did the farmers adduce from the promise of the Prime Minister? The farmers incurred liabilities because the Prime Minister gave a pledge which they interpreted in a certain manner. It is significant that tens of thousands of wheat-growers throughout Australia should have taken that promise in a way. in which, the Prime Minister now says he did not intend. But, whose fault is that? If the Prime -Minister makes a statement which is so ambiguous that farmers all over Australia interpret it in one direction - even though in a direction in which he had not intended it to be taken - the fault lies with the Prime Minister. And, if through that fault the farmers have incurred expenses and have renewed financial obligations, it is the duty of the Prime Minister to confess - which he is hardly likely to do - that since they took up his promise in such’ a fashion it now becomes his task to endeavour to make good.
– The Prime Minister has said that he will strain the finances of the Commonwealth to give the farmers the maximum advance.
– He has not renewed his promise to give them 5s. cash at railway sidings. The question everywhere is, “ How much are we going to get of this 5s. guarantee?”
– The farmers will know next Wednesday.
– That is always the cry. We will know by-and-by. The Prime Minister spoke to-day for a solid half-hour. He talked of everything but the specific subject of the 5s. advance. He talked of the elections in Queensland, and of those being held in Victoria today. He referred to the past history of the Labour party, and to its proposals for the future. All those things are not worrying me. I want to know what the Prime Minister is going to do about his promise and his pledge. Having spoken for half-an-hour, the right honorable gentleman sat down; and I am as wise as ever-
– That is your fault, not his.
– As wise as ever concerning what this payment is going to be, and when it is to be made. I do not know what the farmers are going to get. Does any honorable member?
– Would the honorable member care to be bound by anything the Prime Minister might say to-day, before he had consulted the Wheat Board?
– If I were to ask honorable members behind the Government why the Prime Minister gave his pledge, they would say that it was in order to encourage increased production, and was due to the fact that the Government realized the urgent necessity for our putting greater areas under wheat. But the pledge was not made with that object. If it had been, and had its author known a little more about agricultural operations than the Prime Minister has admitted that he knows, the promise would have been made at the right season. Wheatgrowing in Victoria is conducted almost entirely on fallowed land. The makingof a promise with a view to encouraging greater production would have been undertaken - had it been made genuinely, and by one who knew his subject - at the season of fallowing, during the previous year. At that time, however, the Prime Minister and the Government were silent. They offered no incentive to farmers to increase production. They were not then on the hustings and after the farmers’ votes.
– That assertion carries no weight, for it so happens that the guarantee covered two harvests.
– The promise was made primarily to influence the votes of the farmers. It was made in an effort to persuade farmers that a certain other party could look after their interests better than their own Country party. And the unfortunate fact is that, on the assumption that they would be getting from the Government a cash advance of 5s., many farmers voted for other than Country party candidates. Why did not the Government make this declaration at the right time, and before they went out on the hustings?
I only wish to add an expression of sincere hope that, in drafting the scheme for the new Pool, the policy of making scrip negotiable will be reversed. The gambling which has occurred since the inception of the pooling system is «a scandal.
– That is a matter which the farmers themselves should decide.
– It is a question upon which the farmers are almost unanimous. ‘The effect of making wheat scrip negotiable was that the wealthy farmer could sell or retain his scrip, according to his best interests, as he saw them; while the unfortunate, struggling settler was squeezed all the time. That section of the wheat-growers which the Government should have endeavoured to protect comprised the very people who were plundered every time and all the time. It was an ugly fact that all the rises and falls in scrip quotations were known to the speculators long before the information was made available to the man who had grown the wheat. He was the last to learn the trend of the wheat scrip market.
I believe that the overwhelming majority of wheat-growers in Australia honestly expected a, cash guarantee of 5s. per bushel at railway sidings. They are expecting cash now, and it is imperative to many thousands that they shall have cash. If they do not get cash, I do not know what they will do. If the Government would only do the fair thing by the wheat-grower, they would say , “ We did not mean the Prime Minister’s pledge to be taken as it was taken ; but, seeing that it was so taken, and that, thereupon, the farmers incurred obligations and put in crop in the light of their interpretation of the pledge, we shall do something now in order to give you cash.” Lastly, I am confident that if the financial institutions of this country really wished to find the money to allow the Government to fulfil the pledge of the Prime Minister, the necessary sum could be quickly obtained.
– The rebuke of the Prime Minister by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) is well merited. The Prime Minister has treated us this afternoon to one of his characteristic flights. We are well accustomed to them. He played to the gallery, and tickled the ears of his supporters by his well-known methods; but the very thing which this country wants to learn was the very thing which he studiously avoided mentioning. He gave not one indication of where the Government stands with respect to the fulfilment of his pledge. I took careful note of what he said, in order to try to find something definite. He said that a conference would take place in a week’s time, when he would be going into this matter. That was mentioned in order to play up to the so-called Country party, so that he might be sure of their votes to tide him over his present difficulties. He held up a prospect which depended upon something that is to take place next week. He added, ‘ We hope then to be in a position to be able to say how much we can give of this 5s. guarantee. We want to be in a position to be able to say that we will give so much at railway sidings.” I have stated for many weeks past, when speaking at meetings of primary producers in my electorate, that the pledge of the Prime Minister has already been broken. I interpreted that pledge as did the honorable member for Wimmera, and he does not exaggerate when he says that nine- tenths of the farmers interpreted it to mean the paymentof 5s. cash at railway sidings.
– What else could it possibly have meant ?
– The farmers got it last year, and, naturally, they took it for granted that the same would apply this year.
Wherever I have gone I have said, as the result of answers to questions I have put in this House, that I believed this pledge on the part of the Government had already been repudiated. Only last Saturday, when I made the statement, a member of what is known as the Progressive party, in New South Wales, said that I had no foundation for the assertion made. He stated that, although he had watched the newspapers closely, he had seen nothing in them to justify my statement, and that he believed the promise would be honoured. I was about to say that I was glad that we had had to-day a definite statement by the Prime Minister which proves the correctness of my statement. But I am sorry, since I know what are the difficulties of thousands of primary producers who have mortgaged their properties in order to put a larger area under cultivation than they would have done but for this promise. They took this action in the belief that the promise made at the last general election, that the Government would make a payment in cash of 5s. per bushel at railway sidings–
– There was no promise of a cash payment. The honorable member is wrongly interpreting the promise.
– That,I believe, as the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) has said, was the interpretation placed upon the pledge by nine-tenths of the primary producers of Australia. If there be any doubt as to the way in which the promise was construed by the primary producers, I can dismiss it at onceby producing a whole budget of resolutions carried by many of the organizations of primary producers in New South Wales, urging that the cash payment of 5s. per bushel should be made. I have before me now a long list of resolutions passed at meetings held in big centres in my electorate, as well as in districts outside of it. I produce them as an answer to the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), who suggests that my interpretation of the Prime Minister’s pledge is wrong. The first of these was recently carried at a meeting of primary producers held at Wagga; and the secretary of the local branch of the Farmers and Settlers Association, in forwarding the resolution carried at that meeting, writes -
For my part, I have no doubt that this guarantee, when given as an inducement to greater wheat production, was to be paid on delivery in one payment.
The following resolution was carried at a meeting of primary producers held at Junee : -
That the Federal Government be urged to honour their definite guarantee of 5s. per bushel cash payment on delivery at railway sidings.
These resolutions are an answer, not only to the honorable member for Wide Bay, but to the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), who, when I was- discussing this question on a previous occasion, expressed a doubt as to whether the primary producers of Australia interpreted the pledge given by the Prime Minister as I interpreted it. Since then, practically seven out of every ten of the farmers’ organizations in New South Wales have carried resolutions similar to those which I have read, and have sent copies to honorable members. The Leader of the Opposition has already quoted a resolution passed at Manilla, New South Wales, which I need not repeat, but in which there is also a request that the guarantee ot 5s. cash payment at railway sidings be honoured. A meeting of farmers which was held at Lockhart - which is in the western part of my electorate, and is bordering on the Riverina - was attended by primary producers from the Riverina, as well as from the Hume, and carried a resolution in which it is. stated -
We claim that the promise was made, and intended to be paid on delivery at the time, and we now ask that the amount be paid.
Every one of these resolutions shows most clearly that the interpretation which the primary producers placed on the pledge was that the payment was to be made in cash on delivery at railway sidings.
I have been asked on numerous occasions for proof of my statement that I believed the promise had already been broken, or that the Government were going to break their promise. When I was last addressing myself to the question in this House, I said, “ It was a guarantee to pay 5s. on delivery at railway sidings.” The Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) then interjected, “Not on delivery.” I take it that the honorable gentleman is entirely in agreement with his Leader, who has practically told us to-day, in effect, that it was a mere election promise designed to catch votes. The Prime Minister called on the people to “Produce! Produce! Produce !” and as an ‘incentive to increased production, he said, “ You shall get this payment of 5s.”
– Will the honorable mem ber tell me whether the arrangements for the payment of the New South Wales guarantee of 2s. 6d. per bushel are complete?
– The promise made by the New South Wales Government was that a payment of 2s. 6d. per bushel on delivery at railway sidings would be made, and I believe that promise will be kept.
– The New South Wales Government has not yet failed to keep any of its promises.
-r As the honorable member for Werriwa interjects, the New South Wales Labour Government has never yet made a public promise that it is unable or unwilling to carry out.
-The .honorable member knows perfectly well that the New South Wales Government has yet to- make its financial arrangements.
– We are not concerned about that; I prefer to allow the New South Wales Government to make its own arrangement:.. But, if there is one thing more than another to be said in favour of a Labour Government, it is that it always endeavours to redeem its promises, and I am prepared to believe that the New South Wales Government will redeem its pledge. It has not yet broken it, but in view of the Prime Minister’s statement to-day, the fact that the Commonwealth Government does not intend to honour its pledge can no longer be camouflaged. At many meetings we have been told by supporters of the Government that we should not condemn it until it has definitely broken its pledge in this regard. When the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) gave notice of his intention to submit thi: motion censuring the Government for its failure to make provision for a cash payment of 5s. per bushel, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) said, “ Wait till the Government has failed before you censure it.” We need wait no longer. The Prime Minister has definitely said to-day that a meeting is to be held in a week or two, after which the Government hopes to be able to say how much per bushel it can pay th? farmer, in January next. No longer need the man on the land be deceived. Here we have a definite statement on the part of the Prime Minister that the promise has been broken. In order to cover up the shame of it, the right honorable gentleman quoted speeches made by Labour candidates five years ago, and also made quotations from Labour manifestoes. What was his object in delving into ancient history? Clearly he did so with a desire to cover up the shortcomings of his own Government.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) was the first to quote from the Labour party’s manifesto.
– That may be. We said that we would give 5s. per bushel at railway sidings, and we believed at the time, as the farmers did, that that meant a cash payment . of 5s. per bushel on delivery at railway sidings. If we were in office to-day, we would honour that pledge, but because the Government does not intend to honour its promise the Prime Minister has introduced a mass of irrelevant matter with the object of clouding the issue. That was his reason for indulging in a long dissertation on the. records of Labour candidates, all of which had nothing whatever to do with the subject under discussion.
– And all of which he misrepresented.
– Yes ; but that is characteristic of the Prime Minister. He twisted the Labour party’s manifesto, put his own construction on it, and then having misrepresented it in every shape and form, said in effect to the House, “ Do not put me out of office, because, if you do, you will put into power a party that stands for something like this.”
– Do not forget that he was a member of the Labour party not so long ago.
– And when he was he wrote a very interesting book entitled, The Case for Labour. from which’, if . we were to follow the Prime Minister’s example of introducing extraneous matter, we might quote at large, in order to contradict practically every statement he has made since he ran away from his life-long principles. That, however, is unnecessary. We are here to discuss a definite issue. I agree with the honorable member for Wimmera that this . is a matter which is agitating the minds of the primary producers to a greater extent than has any other question which has been raised for many years. The payment of the guarantee in cash is almost a life-and-death matter so far as they are concerned. Many of them are carrying heavy mortgages, and will be ruined unless the Government give the 5s. per bushel, as a first payment at railway sidings..
The farmers are looking to the vote of every man in the House, whether he sit behind the Government, in the Corner, or on the Opposition side; they are anxiously awaiting the votes of those who claim to represent the producing communities, including that of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers). So far as I have met the farmers of Wannon, I have urged them to watch the division list. If honorable members who represent rural constituencies will stand with the Labour party, we can compel this payment of 5s. per bushel.
– How about that small farmer, Mr. Jowett?
– The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) may be able, by his vote on this occasion, to atone for not voting on Friday last on his own censure motion.
– The honorable member knows that I was not here on Friday last.
– The honorable member should have been; but I have never tried to misrepresent any honorable member in any way.
– That is so.
– The honorable member may have his own explanation of his absence. I am not exaggerating when I say that to the primary producerthis is a matter of bread and butter - of life and death - and at least seven-tenths of them expected that there would be a cash payment of 5s. per bushel at the railway siding. When I last spoke on this subject, at a meeting of primary producers, I was told by a visitor to that assembly that, even if the Country party and the Labour party voted together, the Government would still have a majority of one. That is not so, because the combination would mean an equal vote; and, under such conditions, no self-respecting Government should continue in office, but must take the vote as an indication that the people of the country require the Bendigo pledge given effect to. I do not .presume to dictate to any honorable member how he shall vote - that is a matter between himself and his constituents - but I repeat that the division list on the present occasion will be watched as no division has been watched before; and it will be for those who claim to represent farming constituencies to account for their action if they do not ring true.”
I do not wish to deal with the irrelevant matters dealt with by the Prime Minister, but I must say that the right honorable gentleman misrepresented the manifesto of the Labour party, and, putting his own construction on it, said that, under our policy, there would be no chance of the primary producer getting the full benefit of the market. How he arrived at that conclusion I do not know, because, as a matter of fact; our policy would, for the first time in the history of the country, give him the full benefit.
– The . Prime Minister was probably drawing on the Queensland illustration he gave.
– I heard the Prime Minister speak about Queensland, and I venture to say that he would like to have behind him such a majority as is behind the Queensland Labour Government, instead of being compelled to hang on by the skin of his teeth with a doubtful majority, one which, in reality, does not exist. Yet this is the man who has the temerity to come into the House and talk about Government majorities.
– I have heard several honorable members opposite complain that the Ministry here has a very reliable majority.
– That remains to be seen, as far as this motion is concerned. No Government can be safe without a direct majority; and there never was a Government in any country dependent on such a slender majority as that behind the Prime Minister to-day. I have no doubt that the right honorable gentleman wishes he was in the same happy position as the Leader of the Queensland Government, with a majority of five or six. However, I have been led off the track of my remarks. In the past, under the Government which the Prime Minister leads, the farmers have never had the benefit of the market; on the contrary, the market has been exploited by the rings and middlemen who support the right honorable gentleman, and it is they who have had the benefit. It would be a new experience for the farmer, if the Labour platform were put into operation, to find himself receiving the profits which hitherto have gone into the coffers of those who stand in between the producers and the* consumers. The John Darlings and the rest of them who have been accustomed to farm the farmers,” and who support honorable gentlemen opposite, would, under our policy, be deprived of the huge dividends which have hitherto gone to them, for these dividends would be diverted to those who have the real right to them.
– You talk of the profits for some years : what would you do in a year of drought?
– In the case of a glutted market, when we return to normal conditions, with prices at their pre-war state, it is quite possible that the world’s parity, although that question is not now before us, might not give the primary producer enough to cover the cost of production.
– What would you do then ?
– Under the old conditions, the primary producer would have to take an amount which would not cover the cost of production, but, under our scheme, we would see that he got the full product of his labour - got enough to cover the cost of production, and, in addition, a good profit on the sale of products for home consumption. The Prime Minister endeavoured to camouflage the position in regard to our policy as it affects wheat sales ; but, by means of instrumentalities such as the High Commissioner’s office, the Agents-General offices for the States, and our own line of shipping, we would see that the primary producer got the highest price the world’s markets could afford.
To-day wo wore anxious to have one question regarding the 5s. cash payment cleared up, and, beyond that, it was unnecessary for the Prime Minister, as it is unnecessary for me, to go. All we desired was’ a definite statement from the Prime Minister as to whether or not he proposed to redeem the pledge he gave at Bendigo. For weeks past this question has been covered up, but to-day we have had a definite statement from the right honorable gentleman that he does not intend to honour that pledge. As I have said, at least seven-tenths of the primary producers will be sorely disappointed when they read his speech.
.- I am delighted to know that the primary producer has so many friends in the House, that he has friends on the Nationalist side, on the Labour side, and amongst the Country party. I am particularly pleased to know that there are men on the Labour side who are sympathetic with the primary producer. A number have been elected to the Opposition side by country districts, and I believe that those members not only see as we on this side see, but that they are prepared to influence their colleagues in giving to the primary producer a much fairer deal than he has ever had in the past. But I am not in agreement with the motion, as might be gathered from what I said in the House a week or so ago. The whole position hinges on the guarantee given by the Prime Minister. As I said then, I say again - and the farmers with whom I have come in contact almost unanimously agree with me - that, in my opinion, the guarantee was a specific promise made by the Prime Minister to pay 5s. per bushel at country stations. It has been stressed by various ‘ speakers that, because it was a guarantee of 5s. at country stations, it meant 5s. as a first payment, cash at country stations. Those who have followed the operations of the various Pools know that, on various occasions, guarantees have been given, such as “free on board,” or of so much at country railway sidings. The farmer knows that for the 1918-19 Pool, there was a guarantee of 5s. at country stations, and I believe that that would not have been paid as a first payment had it not been for the fact that we had a very small harvest.
– Does the honorable member not mean the 1919-20 season?
– I mean the last season, that is, 1919-20. If we had had a normal harvest, it is highly probable that many farmers would have been weaned away from the opinion that that 5s. guarantee meant a 5s. first payment; but, owing to the Government coming to the rescue of the farmers by paying 5s, last season, many farmers naturally thought they were going to get 5s. as a first payment on this occasion. Had they only read the Prime Minister’s statement aright, they would have seen it was simply a guarantee to pay at country stations a net price of 5s. It was not a f.o.b. price, but a net price, to be paid on delivery at country stations. I think I have stressed before the impracticability of providing this huge amount of money in cash as a first payment. On an estimated yield of about 140,000,000 bushels, it would mean an expenditure of something like £35,000,000. I cannot claim the Prime Minister as a friend, and it could not be said that I hold a brief for him; but I believe that he is as wishful as we are that the 5s? shall be paid in full. It is asked, “why does he not pay it ? The reply is that he has not the money. In my opinion, it is going to be a hard matter to get the money. The Country party has been quite prepared to take action with a view to securing to the farmer at the earliest date the largest amount possible, but we knew that one large sale was in progress, and that several others were pending; we knew too, from conferences with the Prime Minister in connexion with the Wheat Board, that he was desirous that these sales should be effected before making an announcement. While one sale has been made, several others which were pending have, unfortunately, not been completed, and the Prime Minister and the Wheat Board are very much disturbed in regard to the provision of an adequate advance as a first payment to the farmers.
According to the Age, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), speaking at Pleasant Hill, recently said -
The Country party in the Federal Parliament was largely responsible for the present difficulty in regard to the payment of the Federal guarantee of 5s. per bushel for wheat. Hansard could prove that a division took place in the House of Representatives in regard to the payment of the 5s. cash on delivery at station, but the Country party voted against it. If the Country party had stuck to the Labour party, the cash payment would have been carried. He thought it only just that payment should be made in cash, and he would assist the Country party, if necessary, to have a change made in that direction.
– Every local newspaper giving a full report of my speech made it apparent that I spoke of an adjournment of the House.
-I take exception to the statement that if the Country party had stuck to the Labour party payment in cash would have been made. We would have been most happy to insist on payment in cash had we considered that there was money available for it. Were I satisfied now that the Prime Minister could lay his hand on the money required, I would be one of the first to vote for the motion.
– Do you not think that he should be made to honour his pledge?
– I differ from the honorable member regarding the interpretation of the pledge, and I differ also from the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) concerning it. The latter reads the Prime Minister’s promise of a guarantee for the 1920-21 harvest as the promise of a cash payment on delivery of the wheat at country stations. The farmers in the Wimmera may reason that way, too; but many farmers in Echuca and elsewhere with whom I have conversed, and to whom I have explained the position, see matters as I do. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) said that the farmers would scan the division list on this motion very closely. That does not concern me. If I have satisfied my conscience, I do not trouble about what others may say or think. The honorable gentleman spoke of a pamphlet issued by the Nationalist party, in which the farmer was depicted as smoking a cigar and driving a motor; but there are many farmers in the northern parts of Victoria who to-day are not in that position. Indeed, a very large percentage of the Victorian wheat-growers are very badly off. The members of the Country party wish to do the best they can for the man on the land, and intend to press the Prime Minister to make the wheat payment as large as possible. Many persons think that the man on the land is having a good time. The honorable member for Yarra spoke of farmers who died leaving large sums of money. I have heard others say that an old “ cocky “ never dies without having at least four figures to his credit; but there are persons living in the cities who would not go through what the man on the land goes through for forty figures after their names. I was brought up on the land as a boy, and know something of the hardships of the pioneers, who went out into the backblocks and into the green timber to make homes for themselves. They, their wives, and their children formed little cooperative groups which endured the hardships and miseries inseparable from outback country life, and worked hard throughout their lives. When they succeeded in getting together a little money, it was often not more than some persons in the cities amass within a few weeks. The Prime Minister next week is to meet the heads of the various banking institutions, the Australian Wheat Board, and others, after which he proposes to make a statement regarding the wheat payment; and I believe that he will then say that, at least, 3s. or more will be paid in cash. That in itself would mean an outlay of £21,000,000, which is a very large sum to raise. I hope that we shall have a cash payment of 3s., and that the Government will make provision for the issue of bonds or certificates, which the farmer can cash, so as to bring hisfirst payment up to 5s. I think that there is a chance of that being done, and if it be done, the motion will have accomplished some good.
– How do you suggest that the farmers will be able to cash the bonds for 5s. if the Government cannot get the money?
– The bonds will be honoured by the banks.
– Then the banks must have the money.
– The statement has been made that Queensland is giving a guarantee of. 8s. per bushel to her farmers.
– Queensland is giving 3s. per bushel, in addition to the 5s. promised by the Federal Government.
– Queensland does not grow enough wheat for her own requirements, and, therefore, is desirous of inducing her people to grow more wheat. I believe that a larger area has been placed under wheat in consequence of this offer. There was, however, no need, for such an offer in Victoria. Some honorable members opposite have spoken of the cost of production. In an article which appeared in the Argus of the 19th October ‘ there is a statement which is very misleading. It is this -
When the Pool for the coming season’s wheat was mooted, the Victorian representatives urged that some equitable arrangement should be made, but this has not been done. It. is expected that the overseas parity next year will be at least11s. or 12s. a bushel. It is probable that the local price will be raised a little above 7s. 8d., but it is likely to be still substantially below the overseas parity.
The fear of honorable members opposite, which has been expressed by the Leader of the Labour party in the Victorian Parliament, that bread is likely to cost1s. 6d. per 4-lb. loaf, is quite without foundation. We are not looking for extraordinarily high prices for our wheat. In my opinion, the consumer of bread has nothing to fear in the coming year. If the loaf should be a penny dearer than at present, I shall be glad, because that will mean that the average price of wheat will be somewhere in the region of 8s. l0d. per bushel. My opinion as a farmer is that if the price of wheat averages 9s. for the whole of next year, the farmers will be quite satisfied, and the consumers will not be much hurt. Such a price will help some of the farmers who are in bad circumstances to recover some of the leeway they have made during the last year or two of drought.
– What does the honorable member think would be the equivalent price of bread?
– With wheat at 7s. 8d. per bushel, the 4-lb. loaf is now11d. in the metropolitan area. An increase of 14d. per bushel in the price of wheat would advance the 4-lb. loaf to1s.
– Bread is 9d. per 4-lb. loaf in Geelong.
– I was referring to the metropolitan area, and it is the price there that the honorable member for Echuca is estimating.
– In my opinion, the average price of wheat for the whole of next year will not exceed 9s. per bushel.
– Will that cover the cost of production?
– It will more than cover the cost of production this year, but it would not have covered the cost of production last year. In Victoria last year, the cost of production was in the region of 10s. per bushel, although the wheat was sold at 7s. 8d. I can truthfully say that the wheat I grew cost me £ 1 per bushel. I used it for seed; but had I put it on the market, I would have made a loss of 12s. 4d. per bushel.
– What does the honorable member anticipate his cost of production will be this year?
– When harvest time arrives, if I have escaped fire and flood, “take-all,” septoria, wind, hail, rust, smut, black smut, caterpillars, locusts, and all the other ills to which wheat is heir, I shall be able to tell the honorable member what my cost of production has been.
– If the honorable member escapes all those ills?
– If I escape all those, and my labourers remain with me instead of making a bee-line for the nearest hotel after the first week’s work-
– All country workers do not make a bee-line for the . nearest hotel.
– Not all of them; but, unfortunately, we get such a poor class of men in the country districts that many of them do. We are not able to pay the wages which would attract the good class of men into the country ; but immediately we are able to pay that decent wage, to which I consider every country worker is entitled, we shall attract a decent class of worker. The trouble is with the ordinary travelling class of men.
– Is there any encouragement for them to remain for twelve months, when only seasonal work is offered ?
– I believe there is room for scores of thousands of decent-minded men at good wages, better than can be earned in the cities. Country workers experience worse conditions than men in the cities. They and the farmers who employ them work longer hours, for that is the only way in which they can continue producing.
– The honorable member was referring, not to the workers living in the country, but to the floating population ?
– That is so. We are hopeful that in the years to come we shall receive such returns for all classes of produce that we shall be able to pay a decent wage to the men we employ. At the present time we are offering from £3 to £4 a week and keep, and I maintain that any man who goes into the country is worth that wage, and if he is a decent man he will earn it. I shall vote against the motion, and wait until the Prime Minister makes his declaration to the House next week. .If he puts forward a fair and reasonable proposition, I shall accept it; if te does not, I shall be prepared to deal with him.
.- During his long speech this afternoon, the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) studiously avoided the important question of the guarantee. When he did refer to it he said that it meant something altogether different from the Labour party’s interpretation of it. It is only natural for Labour men to interpret a pledge of that character in a way to suit themselves. I am not so presumptuous as to say I am not biased. I am biased against the Prime Minister and his colleagues and supporters. While they remain on the Government benches they are a constant source of annoyance to me, and the sooner they are removed and the Labour party occupies those benches the ‘better it will be for the country. But, apart from the bias with which we interpret the Prime Minister’s pledge, and apart from the apology of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) for the Prime Minister, the fact remains that the men who are mostly concerned interpreted that pledge in a certain manner. At Dubbo, Wongarbon, Wellington, Molong, and right through the western wheat-belt of New South Wales, the Farmers aid Settlers Association have held largelyattended and enthusiastic meetings. On the north coast and northern tablelands, the Primary Producers Union have held a large number of meetings, and passed resolutions condemning the Prime Minister for not carrying out his pledge to pay 5s. per bushel at railway sidings. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) sought to place a different interpretation upon that pledge. I can quite understand the awkward position in which the honorable member finds himself. He was fooled by the Prime Minister, and having agreed to the scheme put forward by the right honorable gentleman at a meeting of the Wheat Board, he cannot very well attack him in the House for it. The honorable member finds himself in a position which, I believe, he cordially dislikes. There is no doubt that such a meeting was held; that the honorable .member attended it, with the Prime Minister; and that certain decisions were arrived at. Thus we find such a wide divergence of opinion amongst the members of the party who claim to represent the primary producers. Such differences are quite usual in the Country party. They are not in agreement as to what the Prime Minister meant by his pledge, and, by attending a meeting and agreeing to certain things, some of them have placed themselves in an embarrassing position. I am not content to allow either the Labour party, the Country party, or the Government to interpret what was meant by that pledge. Let the primary producers interpret it. If the organizations of Farmers and Settlers in the wheat-producing States were to take a referendum of their members as to what, the farmers themselves understood by the pledge, I have not the slightest doubt as to what the result would be. Let the men who are producing the grain, who have to meet liabilities, and are carrying mortgages, and who, even after this potentially magnificent season will still be in debt, say what the pledge means. If the Government and the Country party are in earnest they will allow the primary producers themselves to decide, and I am convinced that they will decide that the only interpretation to be placed on the Prime Minister’s promise was that they should receive 5s.. in cash, on delivery of their wheat at railway sidings. Member? of the Country party know perfectly well that if that pledge were carried out the wheat could not possibly leave the sidings until it was paid for; but there are hundreds of sidings at which the wheat ir not kept. There are in Victoria many sidings where wheat is received, but none of them are depots, and the wheat is immediately shifted from them to some other bigger siding. If the words “ 5s. at railway sidings “ mean anything they :mean that before the wheat leaves the railway siding it should be paid for.
– That is a technical expression to show that the price is ex freight.
– Will the Assistant Minister, on behalf of the Government, promise to allow the farmers to interpret the pledge?
– I will not allow the honorable member to place his interpretations upon it.
– After grossly misrepresenting the policy of the Labour party the Prime Minister made certain declarations, the main one of which was that next week a meeting will be called at which the minimum amount to be paid in January next will be decided. ,
– For local consumption.
– Yes. The Prime Minister made another statement, just as important, that transactions involving millions - whether he meant millions of bushels or pounds, I do not know - had been consummated; and that a very large sale indeed had been made at a reasonable price. I endeavoured to ascertain from him how much had been sold, and what price it has brought. If a large sale has been made, the farmers of this country should know it. Why the secrecy ? It is their wheat.. It is their business. Why will not the Prime Minister give the information to the representatives of the people in this House, when he has it? It was interjected that business men do not divulge their transactions; but are we to wait until the. whole of the wheat has been disposed of before we find out what amount has been sold, and what amount has been received ? It is the duty of every member of the House to press immediately for the information.
– If the honorable member wants the information very badly, why does he not address a letter to the Pool? I have no doubt they wi ! tell him.
– I have endeavoured to elicit it from the Prime Minister this afternoon.
– The Prime Minister does not control the Pool.
– He has the information, and as Prime Minister of Australia, responsible to the people, he should give it.
– Why not ask the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) ? He knows just as much about it.
– I do not know whether he does or not. In any case, it is not his duty to give the information. It is the duty of the Prime Minister.
– I think the withholding of the statement is in the best interests of the man on the land.
– No doubt the honorable member is in earnest when he says that it is in the best interests of the man on the land.
– Of course, that does not appeal to you.
– It appeals to me probably more than it does to the right honorable gentleman. If the information is not made public to-day, it will be made public eighteen months before the last of the wheat has been disposed of. If to divulge now the quantity sold and the price will affect adversely the man on lie land, then any similar declaration until the whole of the wheat has been cleaned up, or until so little remains of it that it does not matter, will also have an adverse effect. On the face of it, the claim is ridiculous. I want to know how much has been sold, how much money has been received, and how much money is going to be paid.
– If negotiations were going on for sales to other purchasers, do you think it would be in the interests of the farmers that we should disclose the prior price?
– We could be told quite frankly how much money has beenreturned to the Commonwealth, and how much can be given per bushel upon delivery. This could be done without affecting any future sale.
– I believe that is done every week in the’ papers.
– The right honorable gentleman does not believe anything of the kind, because no informaion has been given in regard to that matter.
The Prime Minister this afternoon spoke of giving the farmers world’s parity. The policy of the Labour party will, I think, give the farmer more than world’s parity. I should say “ London parity “ instead of “ world’s parity,” because world’s parity so far as the 1920-21 crop is concerned will probably not be available until the end of 1922.
– What do you understand by world’s parity ?
– Obviously, it must mean the average price for the world. That cannot be found out from day to day and week to week and month to month.
– Would that be the price in London or here?
– World’s parity is obviously quite a different thing from London parity. You must consider the Argentine price, the European price, and the price of all the other countries of the world. I should say that London parity is usually meant when world’s parity is mentioned. There have been years in Australia when London parity was considerably less than the cost of production, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that for the crop of 1922-23 London parity will be considerably below cost of production. If there is one thing the Labour party of this country do not want it is to see the farmers of Australia dependent upon a London parity which is below the cost of production.
– We are quite satisfied with world’s parity.
– Yes, provided that it is over the cost of production.
– It does not matter about your “ ifs “ and “ ans.”
– The honorable member is only contented provided that it will return him a profit. If .the London parity will not pay the farmer the cost of production he immediately asks for some assistance. The Labour party guarantee to the primary producer a fair return irrespective of what he produces. The Prime Minister said this afternoon that we would pick out only one section of the community for special treatment, but we say that the cost of production should be ascertained, not only for wheat, but for the whole of the primary products of Australia. We say that a price should be fixed for all the primary products consumed in Australia, which will give to the primary producer fair wages and conditions for all labour employed in the production of the crop, including his own family, plus a reasonable profit. That refers to local consumption. We say also that the whole of the instrumentalities of the State will be available for the disposition of the exportable surplus. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Robert Cook) says he is satisfied with world’s parity. I can take him back ten years, to a time when he was not satisfied with it. I can take him back even five years to . a similar condition of affairs. The following are the records of London’
What hope have the primary producers’ of Australia of making a living with London parity at 3s. 6d. per bushel, as it was in 1902 and 1906? It is absolutely impossible for a farmer to do any good for himself at those rates. Although the London parity for 1916 was 73^3^1., the cost of production for that year was very little, if at all, below it. While London parity to-day is in the vicinity of 16s., there is absolutely no guarantee that it will be maintained at any such height for the 1922’ crop. With the release of Roumanians crops, with any kind of crops of rice next year, and with the release of the grain from Russia, which is the granary of the world, London parity will, in all probability, be below the cost of production in Australia, and if there is one thing that the Labour party desire to avert, it is a return to the bad old days when the farmer, without knowing what he was to get, went blindly into produce, depending upon the kind middlemen, with their trafficking and gambling, to look after him. The Labour party believe that such trafficking should, end. They say there should be no gambling in our primary products. Thehonorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) talks of bonds. Will he give the farmerbonds like the scrip that he gave himduring the past few years, and allow/ him to become the shuttlecock of those people who have been battening upon him?
– No. I meant to say scrip or bonds in addition to his ordinary wheat scrip.
– He must negotiate those bonds, and if the private capitalists of this country negotiate them for him they will require payment. If they can negotiate his bonds for him, why cannot the Government negotiate them ? What is easier than to issue bonds negotiable by the Government, or to make a- special note issue, and, when the wheat is sold, to withdraw those notes from circulation? If the private banking institutions of this country can give bonds, as according to the honorable imember for Echuca they can, it is quite possible for the Government to help the farmer by giving him cash..
– The honorable member for Echuca did not suggest that the private banking institutions should give the bonds.
– He spoke quite frankly of bonds apart from scrip.
– Bonds issued by the Governments
– So far as scrip is concerned, we have seen illustration after illustration during the past few years, in the wheat belts of New South Wales, Victoria,and South Australia, of how men are paid to go round and buy up certain scrip on receipt of given signals. Time after time most sinister moves were made by agents throughout the whole area covered by certain classes of scrip.
– I have warned the farmers every time when those travellers have been going round.
– The honorable member knows that concerted arrangements were made upon information supplied, and immediately the information was supplied the agents went around buying in the scrip. Then, directly as much scrip as possible was bought up, a payment was made on B, C, orD scrip, as the case might be. Is it the intention of the Government to allow that trafficking and gambling to go on as it has done in the past? I hope not, but unless the Government are prepared to give the farmers, at least some guarantee, some cash, the same conditions will obtain. In New South Wales the growers will be in the fortunate position of get ting, no matter what occurs, 2s. 6d. per bushel in immediate cash upon delivery, because a Labour Government is in power in that State, whereas in Victoria and South Australia they will be lucky if they get anything. According to the Prime Minister they will possibly not get anything until January.
– Are you quite sure they will get anything in New South Wales?
– How do you know?
– Because the Labour party have promised, and will keep their promises provided that the Commonwealth Government keep their promises. In Victoria and South Australia wheat which is delivered in NovemberDecember willbe placed there, and the grower will be given a receipt and scrip, and will immediately start to negotiate that scrip. Then the farmers will find themselves at the mercy of the capitalists. That, should not be allowed, to continue. If I have £1,000 worth of wheat in a Pool, I want £1,000 out of it; but, instead, I have to pay exorbitant rates of interest in order to sell my scrip at less than its value. Yet, the Government are continuing this business. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), who is truly representative ofthe farmers, has made no effort to prevent gambling in scrip. The honorable member has told the House that it cost him last year £1 a bushel to produce his wheat. That means that he lost between11s. and 12s. per bushel. How many farmers in Australia can stand that loss ? What do the Government propose by way of meeting and helping such cases ? Obviously, in a bad season the people of Australia must make some provision to protect the farmer. The primary producer has a duty to perform to the community; and, in return, the community has a duty by the farmer. The only way in which to stabilize our primary industries is to eliminate gambling, and to insure a fair return to the producer for his’ labour. The Labour party, by laying down a Federal policy concerning wheat, will approach more closely to what is required in this country than either the Government or the Country party are likely to do. The honorable member for Echuca spoke of the enormous difficulty of finding the large sum of money involved in a cash payment of 5s. He “pooh-poohed” the idea of being able to pay 5s. per bushel at railway sidings, and pointed out that such payment would run into a matter of about £35,000,000. While it was absolutely impossible to find that sum, lie hoped to be able to pay 4s., which would involve a matter of £28,000,000.
– I did not say that I hoped to be able to find 4s., but that the Government would be able to do so. I am not controlling the finances of this country.
– If the honorable member for Echuca and his colleagues were to join with the Labour party upon this motion, the Government wo aid find the money well enough.
– The honorable member just said that it would be impossible for the Government to find the money.
– No; I have said all along that I believed the money could be found. Even if the Government were to make a payment of 3s., that would involve an aggregate of £21,000,000- according to the honorable ‘member for Echuca, whose figures are approximately correct. When it comes to a matter of so many millions, the difference between finding 4s. cash, per bushel and 5s. is relatively small. There is scarcely a farmer in Australia to-day who is free from debt. I am fairly certain that, in New South Wales, there are very few farmers who are now in a solvent position. With regard to Victoria, I can only accept the evidence of representatives of country districts, and they speak unanimously of the extraordinarily bad conditions under which the farmers have laboured. Let us take, as typical, the circumstances of the honorable member for Echuca, who has lost, I now understand, something like 12s. 4d. per bushel, because of the utterly bad season last year. What did the promise of the Government mean? Either that the payment was to be made or that it was not. Of course, I am biased in my interpretation of the promise, and, probably, the Labour party as a whole is biased. I say, therefore, “Leave it to the farmers to decide.” We have been reading in the newspapers resolution after resolution of protest from farmers all over Australia. It is clear that they anticipated 5s. per bushel cash. I hope the Country party will vote with the Labour party on this occasion. If they desire to secure 5s. for the farmers, they can succeed by supporting honorable members on this side in the forthcoming division.
.- As one to whom the wheat- question is a matter of bread and butter, I desire to say a few words. The curse of the Pool system is politics. ‘ If the Pool method of dealing with Australia’s wheat is to be made of the greatest possible use to the farmer, the less politics has to do with it the better. We have been afforded evidence of that fact to-day. We have heard of petitions emanating from farmers; these petitions would not have been possible but for’ political twists given to the pooling question for political purposes.
– When, and by whom, were these political twists made 1
– I have been chasing the mystery for four years, until I have just about lost all hope of solving it. There has been a determination to press the inquiry for information concerning sales of coming season’s wheat, and prices realized, and it appears that this pressure is to be kept up until the desired information has been given. I do not know that I need remind honorable members that the sale of wheat is one of the most delicate operations known to commerce.
– When that last supposed Egyptian sale was made, freights had nob been secured. Freights went up £2 a ton.
– That is quite true. The Wheat Board has complained, and very properly, concerning the furnishing of particulars which ought never to have been disclosed except by the Board itself. To-day we have prospects of a bumper season. We are looking for a record yield. All the wheatconsuming world is turning towards Australia, and wants to know everything possible about what we are doing. The world outside would like to know all about the deals already made in regard to this season’s wheat. But it is not the business of the Board to make this information known. I am delighted, therefore, that the Prime Minister has refused to give specific details. I hope the particulars will not be made public until the Board has agreed to such a course.
– By which time the wheat speculators will have got hold of all the wheat.
– The world’s wheat operators know more about conditions in Australia to-day than we think they know; but it is not our business to inform them. I was particularly interested in the statements of the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley). He gave an historical review of the prices of wheat during many years, and went back to the days when wheat had to be sold at less than it cost to produce. Let me ask honorable members opposite,would they, in one of these drought years, or in a year of world’s low prices, make up to the farmer what it cost him to produce and put his wheat on the market? Of course not ! I am satisfied, as a representative of South Australian farmers, with the statement of the Prime Minister to-day. His utterance amounted to this: ‘ The best price will be paid down at the railway siding nearest to the farm that the financial resources of the country can make possible.” Is any honorable member dissatisfied with that statement? Comparisons have been instituted, and questions asked, concerning why the whole of the 5s. guarantee should not be paid this year on the spot, seeing that it was paid at railway . sidings last year. If the resources of this country will enable the Wheat Board to pay 3s. per bushel at the railway sidings as the first payment this year, it will be infinitely better for the farmer than was the payment of 5s. per bushel last year, because of the increased yield.
– It will be worth twice as much.
– I come now to the construction which the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) put upon the statement of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) that he had lost 12s. or 13s. per bushel last year. The former did not explain why the latter had lost it. It was because the honorable member for Echuca had only a limited quantity of wheat, which he had to put into the ground again as seed. But a misleading con- ‘ struction has gone forth to the country, where it will create discontent amongst the farmers, who have been misled for political purposes.
– They can see through it.
– I am quite sure the honorable member understands that when he has only 2s. 6d., he cannot pay 5s. But I have no doubt that he would get the other 2s. 6d. if it were possible to do so.
I desire now to say a word or two upon the question of wheat scrip. There are two sides to this question. Wheat scrip was placed upon the Stock Exchange because there was a demand that it should be placed there.. Personally, I do not like trafficking in wheat scrip. I have wheat in every Pool, but the only scrip I have sold was that issued in connexion with the first Pool. This I sold for11/2d. The reason I sold it was that I was pretty satisfied there would be no more cash to come, and I thought that I might lose1/2d. But I was chiefly actuated by a desire to clear up the business for that year. Apart from this one transaction, I have not sold any wheat scrip. But when I have found speculators sending travellers from farm to farm in the country districts, I published a warning to the farmers.
– Did the honorable member buy the scrip himself?
– I did not. I have never bought a ha’porth of scrip. But I advised the farmers, through the press, to be careful. I pointed out to them that if it would pay certain firms to send men round to their farms with a view to purchasing their wheat, it would pay them to keep it. Personally, in the general interests of the farmers, I wish there were no wheat scrip transactions. But there is another side to this question, namely, that a great many farmers insisted upon such transactions, and benefited from them. Many speculators made a lot of money out of wheat scrip, and a great many lost scores of thousands of pounds by investing in it. I suggest that, as far as possible, we should leave this business to the Australian Wheat Board and to the farmers’ representatives upon that Board. Possibly it would be a fair thing if the Board again allowed the farmers to say whether, in the light of their experience of the past few years, they desire to have scrip upon the Stock Exchange as a negotiable scrip this year. It is their business, and they should be allowed to decide it.
So far as the advance at railway sidings is concerned, I desire to stress the fact that the Government should pay all that is possible under existing financial conditions. I sympathize very much with the farmers of New South Wales, because they have experienced a gruelling time, particularly during the past two years; but they are not the only sufferers. The farmers upon the west coast of South Australia have been in a deplorable condition. But when they get their wheat scrip - whether it is negotiable or not - it will be a mighty good security. We ought not to lose sight of that fact. Some persons talk as if it will be no solid security at all. I hold that it will be a good security, and unless the farmer is in a most desperate condition, I cannot conceive that he will not be able to make financial arrangements to tide him over the period until he receives his full payment. So far as the farmers of Australia are concerned they were indebted to the National Government throughout the war period in connexion with the operations of the Australian Wheat Board, and the guarantees which were given to them. It should always be remembered that this Parliament deals only with the financial aspect of this business, and has nothing whatever to do with the care of the wheat. That is a question which has to be dealt with exclusively by the States. I am grateful that things are developing in a direction which, I believe, will be favorable to the farmers, and if present prospects are realized, the people of Australia will find that the wheat, above all other primary products, will prove a perfect god-send to this country in a time of trouble.
.- One would imagine from the speeches of honorable members opposite that members of the Country party had not been looking after the interests of the people. As a matter of fact, we have been watching with keen interest the proposed guarantee of 5s. per bushel for the coming wheat crop. But the Wheat Board was not constituted until three weeks ago, so that it was impossible for anything to be done in this connexion prior to that time. I am not prepared to condemn the Government until we have heard what they intend to do in respect to the guarantee of 5s. per bushel. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to give the wheat-growers something substantial by way of the first payment for their wheat. When we recognise that last year the payment was 5s. per bushel at railway sidings, and that this amount was paid in one sum, we at once understand why the farmers expect to receive 5s. per bushel as a first payment this year. However, I do not expect it. I regarded the promise of the Government purely as a guarantee to the States that the Wheat Board would pay that amount to the farmers.
– What meaning does the honorable member give to the expression ‘ ‘ at the railway siding ‘ ‘ ?
– I interpreted the undertaking of the Government as a guarantee that the farmer would receive at the nearest railway siding at least 5s. per bushel for his wheat.
– Less freight.
– Yes. The minimum amount which he will receive is 5s. per bushel. Last year that amount was paid in one payment, and consequently the farmers expect that a. similar amount will be paid this year. I believe that the Prime Minister should have made his statement just a little clearer.
– If 4s. per bushel is realized for the wheat the Commonwealth will have to pay the other ls. per bushel?
– Yes. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) has pointed out that the wheat yield last year amounted to 35,000,000 bushels.
– That is omitting wheat for seed and farm requirements.
– The payment which it was necessary for the Government to make upon that yield amounted to only £8,250,000, but a payment of 5s. per bushelupon a yield of 150,000,000 bushels this year will represent a sum of approximately £37,000,000. The individual farmer will, therefore, receive four or five times as much in his first payment this year as he received last year. I feel sure that the farmers of Australia will view this matter in a reasonable light. They do not expect the , Government to do impossibilities. Honorable members opposite are asking the Government to provide money which is not available. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister declare to-day that the financial resources of this country will be ransacked for the purpose of paying the largest possible amount to our producers. A great deal has been said about the idealistic scheme which has been propounded by the Labour party, and under which the primary producer would receive the cost of production plus a reasonable profit. Any such scheme is absolutely impossible and impracticable. ‘ How we could arrive at the cost of production, I do not know. In one of my own paddocks, production costs twice as much as it does in another paddock.
– Why, you farmers have been telling us every day exactly what it costs to produce a certain article.
– Has the honorable member ever known two of those statements to agree?
– I have listened to them with great attention.
– I understand that the honorable member has done a little wheat-growing himself; but he has discovered a more profitable occupation, and has therefore come into the city. A great many honorable members opposite think that they know something about production, when, as a matter of fact, they know nothing about it.
– I have been in the business all my life.
– And the honorable member is regretting it very much. He, too, has found a more profitable occupation.
– If the Government would only honour their promises, wheatgrowing would be profitable.
– Honorable members opposite say that they will give us the cost of production plus a reasonable profit; but what are they going to do when we experience a drought year, or when our crops become affected with the diseases of which the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) spoke. Perhaps I may be permitted to point out what Sir Joseph Carruthers, of New South Wales, says upon this matter.
– Is that the Carruthers of land scandal, fame ?
– I do not know anything about that; but I do know that Sir Joseph Carruthers is an authority upon farming matters and wheat-growing. That gentleman says -
In New South Wales there were produced, in five years, 138,000,000 bushels of wheat for an average return of 3s. l0d. per bushel. . . It did not pay the cost of production.
Are honorable members opposite prepared to make good out of the funds of the consumers the losses sustained by the farmers who produced that wheat? That is what they will be called upon to do. The Government of New South Wales advanced £1,000,000 to help the farmers to carry on. Why did their Labour Government not give them that money instead of advancing it to them? They were entitled to it surely to make good the difference between the cost of production and the price realized.
– The New South Wales Government advanced £2,000,000.
– They did not make up the losses sustained by these farmers. It is an impracticable proposition, and I am sure the wheat-growers of this country are not going to swallow it. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) spoke of a farmer who had succeeded in raising only two crops in ten years. Are the Labour party prepared to make good the losses sustained in such cases?
– Of coursewe are.
– I do not know where they would get the money.
Mr.Rodgers - They would do that and also keep down the price of . the loaf.
– Yes. They promised cheap bread and at the same time a high price for wheat. The different States of the Commonwealth have purchased over 10,000,000 bushels of wheat for local consumption at an average price of 7s. 8d. per bushel. That portion of it which has been used during the last four months was sold at 5s. per bushel less than the wheat-growers of Australia could have obtained for it on the world’s market. There are only 14,000 wheat-growers in Victoria, and each of them has thus had to make a sacrifice of £80 to enable the local consumer to get his wheat at 5s. per bushel below London parity. That is what is happening to the wheat-growers of the Commonwealth to-day.
It is only reasonable that we should stay our hands until the Prime Minister has had an opportunity to make a statement on this subject. As I have already said, the Australian Wheat Board was created only three or four weeks ago. As a matter of fact, I understand that it has not yet been constituted, because the Government of ‘New South Wales have refused to pass the Wheat Marketing Bill unless there is inserted in it a provision that wheat for local consumption shall be available at less than the world’s parity. Y.re ask for world’s parity for our wheat. In other words, we ask for our wheat what the supporters of the Labour party ask for their labour. That is my position.
.- I am rather surprised at the partiality displayed by members of the Country party for conferences with banking and other financial institutions which have been battening on the farmer since this countrywas ‘colonized, and, for the most part, have been making their huge profits out of him. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) has told us that the Conference to which the Prime Minister has referred is to take place with representatives of banking and other financial institutions in order to ascertain how much they are prepared to dole out to the farmer in payment for his legitimate product. The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson), who has just resumed his seat, made a brief quotation from a statement made by Sir Joseph Carruthers. Only a few days ago that gentleman advocated a scheme which the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), by way of interjection, brushed aside as impossible, and for which I certainly do not hold a brief. He advocated a note issue based on the security of our wheat. I think there is a better system to be devised. If there is one matter in respect of which the Government is more deserving of censure than for any other, with the exception of its failure to deal with the high cost of living, it is its repudiation of this pledge, which it made at the last general election. In his Bendigo speech the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) guaranteed the wheat-growers 5s. per bushel for their wheat delivered at railway sidings. He tells us to-day that he does not know whether that pay ment will be made on delivery or three months or six months later. According to some honorable members who have spoken, if it is paid six- months hence or just before the next general election the Prime Minister will have redeemed his promise. I am inclined to think that the farmers will have to wait months for their money, and will then be told, “ If you do not return the Nationalist Government to power you will not ge; the balance due to you under this guarantee.” It is absolutely essential that this 5s. per bushel should be paid immediately on delivery of the wheat at railway sidings. “Unless that is done thousands of farmers, of whose hardships honorable members of the Country party are constantly reminding us, will be unable to carry on with any hope of financial stability. We are told that the farmers do not construe the pledge as we do. The honorable member for Echuca says that the farmers did not regard it when given as a pledge that 5s. per bushel would be paid on delivery, and that they are not looking for anything of the kind. In reply to that statement I shall read one of many resolutions which have been sent to me from organizations of primary producers. Before doing, so, however, I would remind honorable members that this motion of censure relates to one specific matter, and that is the failure of the Government to honour its guarantee. That being so, all the talk to which we have listened in regard to world’s parity, the ideal policy of the Labour party, the inner workings of Labour organizations, and the statements of Labour members, is quite irrelevant. It is merely a smoke-screen to cloud the real issue: the failure of the Government to redeem another of the many pledges that it made when it went to the country on the occasion of the last general election. The following resolution passed by the Chamber of Commerce at Grenfell has been forwarded by me to the Prime Minister : -
That the Prime Minister be communicated with, pointing out that this Chamber urges his Government to pay their guarantee of 5s. per bushel on delivery of the wheat by the farmer at the receiving station, as it was due to the Government guarantee of 5s., and the inference that the 5s. would be spot cash on delivery, that the majority of the farmers put in such crops.
In this resolution, the point is emphasized that the interpretation placed upon the Prime Minister’s promise by the primary producers was that a cash payment of 5s. per bushel would be made on delivery of the wheat at railway sidings, and that it was because of this that many people were induced to increase their areas under cultivation. As a result, we have throughout Australia to-day countless waving fields of corn which would not otherwise have been sown. The resolution continues -
Also pointing out that, owing to severe losses caused by the drought, a substantial payment on delivery is required in order to enable the farmer to carry on at all; and it will be considered bad faith on the part of the Government if that guarantee is not paid.
I have received a copy of a similar .resolution passed by the Young branch of the Farmers and Settlers Association, and also numerous individual protests, but it is unnecessary for me to read them. I venture to say that every representative of a farming constituency in New South Wales has received copies of similar resolutions and protests.
The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster), in his closing remarks, referred to the subject of wheat gambling. The Prime Minister taunted honorable members of the Labour party with being under the control of certain individuals and organizations. The Government is probably withholding the payment of this 5s. per bushel at the behest of some of the organizations that control the Prime Minister, who is always ready to accuse us of being controlled and not having a voice of our own. We are all aware of the scandalous business that went on all over- the country in connexion with gambling in wheat securities, and we know that, immediately this wheat is delivered and a small payment is made in respect of it, scrip will be issued. Those farmers who are not in a satisfactory pecuniary position, finding themselves embarrassed, will immediately have to go on the market and sell that scrip, with the result that the man who never grows wheat or sees it will be able to go on the Stock Exchange, purchase the scrip, and hold it until he gets a higher price for it. That is the class of man who makes huge profits out of these wheat deals.
– The price paid for the scrip issued by one of the Pools in South
Australia, unfortunately, exceeds the value of the wheat represented by the scrip.
– Possibly so. Does the honorable gentleman think that the quantity of wheat sold is never greater than the wheat actually produced 1 In the United States of America in 1916 more wheat was sold than had been produced in that country since its colonization.
– All- that I wished to show was that the holders of the scrip in question had paid for it a price in excess of the value of the wheat in respect of which it was issued. That shows something of the gambler’s risk.
– That is where the gambling conies in. I contend that small payments by way of instalments are made in the interests of the middlemen and wheat gamblers of Australia. The honorable member for Wakefield said that he had not sold any of his wheat scrip, but small farmers cannot afford to hold their scrip. They have to realize at the earliest moment, and are consequently at the mercy of the financial institutions and the city wheat gamblers who regulate the market, and decide just how much they shall get for their scrip.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has referred to a question asked by the honorable member for Riverina. Many such questions are put in this House, and many speeches in support of the farmers are also made by honorable members, who yet vote solidly to keep the Government in power when the division bells ring. The sincerity of the professions of such honorable members can be tested only by their deeds. The honorable member for Echuca, supported the Prime Minister’s contention that this was merely a guarantee that the farmer would get at least 5s. per bushel for his wheat. We all know what is the price of wheat to-day. We know the conditions of the world’s market,’ and no .honorable member possessing a knowledge of farming and of the conditions of the world to-day, would assume that there was a possibility of the farmer not’ getting 5s. per bushel for all the wheat he could produce. The only difficulty might be the absence of shipping, necessitating the wheat being held in Australia for some time.
The question of finance, to which I shall refer presently, has really nothing to do with members on this side of the chamber, as it is not our duty to tell the Government how they should finance a proposition of this character in order to redeem their pledges. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) made a clear and definite promise at Bendigo, and it is the duty of his Government to raise the money to redeem that promise. If the Government cannot do that, the only sensible course open to them is to get out, and make room for some one who can do what we suggest. The Prime Minister also stated that we wanted to discuss this motion yesterday, and he said, as plainly as one possibly could, that a domestic quarrel in his Cabinet was of more importance than’ the interests of the primary producers of Australia.
– He did not say that.
– He did say it.
– I heard him say it; and perhaps the honorable member for Bass was not in the chamber when the statement was made. A reference to Hansard will show what he actually did say, and those who are interested will be able to place their own interpretation on his remarks. The Prime Minister also stated that we pledged ourselves to pay 5s. cash, and, by some roundabout method, endeavoured to make a comparison between the war gratuity pledges of the .Government and those of the Labour party in regard to wheat. On his own showing our promise was one of 5s. cash on delivery; and that of the Prime Minister, according to his Bendigo speech, was also 5s. cash on delivery. We therefore did not say that the Nationalists were not offering 5s., because we do not misrepresent our opponents when appealing to the electors. We are prepared to leave it with the primary producers and the people to prove that the Government agreed to pay a cash payment of 5s., and we said that that was the lowest amount the farmers should get. We did not tell the wheatgrowers that they were not going to receive it, because we believed that the Government would honour their pledges.
In connexion with war gratuities, it is true that the Government said that they were not prepared to pay in cash, and that the Labour party were. Had the Prime Minister not made it clear in unmistakable terms that it was the intention of his Government to pay 5s. in cash at the railway sidings, it would have been an easy matter for the members of our party to have said that the Government would only pay that amount if a lower rate were received, and to have made political capital out of it.
I desire, also, to refer to the longdrawnout, wide, and rambling statement of the Prime Minister, in which he charged this party with being under the control of outside influence in this matter. He went back over a period of five years, and resurrected utterances which, after all, are of little consequence. He spoke of the inner workings of our organization during the past twenty years, and abused it with ail the powers at his disposal, il asked the Prime Minister, by interjection, which he did not answer, at what period during his membership of the party he discovered all this falsehood and intrigue. It would be interesting to know whether it was during the last year of his membership. If so, he is a thickhead, and not the brainy man some consider him to be, if he submitted to all this dishonesty while it suited him, and only now protests-
– Perhaps it was a cumulative process.
– Perhaps it was, and one that was controlled by selfinterest. The Prime Minister also dealt with the elementary stage of primary production, and referred to our forefathers, who, in their early days, hunted wild animals in the jungle. He spoke as if he was teaching children in a kindergarten, and I thought for a time that he was dealing with wool - on the information he had received at Wagga - and not with wheat-growing.
– Perhaps he was studying rams up there.
– Possibly he was, but that “has nothing to do with the question. I would not have referred to this if the Prime Minister had not indulged in recriminations simply to raise a smoke screen in an endeavour to obscure the main issue. He cannot get away from the facts to which members of this party intend to pin him. He also referred to New South Wales, and made reference to the State of Queensland.
– Will the honorable member tell us something about Queensland ?
– The Labour party in Queensland has a working majority of its own supporters, and is not hanging on to office by the skin of its teeth, and depending on the support of Labour “rats.”
We are not responsible for financing the scheme, and it is not our duty to tell the Government how that can be done. The Prime Minister and honorable members have raised the financial aspect as one of the principal objections, and reference has also been made to a note issue’. Sir Joseph Carruthers, who at one time was Treasurer of New South Wales, is not a “ noodle ‘’ in dealing with financial problems, and he advocated in the Legislative Council of that State only a few days ago the issue of paper money.
– Negotiable scrip amounts to the same thing.
– It does not; because a note cannot be manipulated on the Stock Exchangs, as scrip can. Personally, I am not in favour of such a note issue, because I believe that instruments of credit can be handled with less risk. The idea behind the note issue is to cancel the notes as realizations are made; but there is always the danger of the day when the notes will be destroyed never being reached. It would be the simplest thing in the world to extend into the large centres of our wheat areas the operations of our Commonwealth Bank, so that immediately a farmer delivered his wheat he could open up a cash credit to its full value in the books of the bank.
– And have a clerk in every big field.
Mr.LAZZARINI. - The honorable member is only displaying his ignorance in. making such a suggestion. There would not be any need to charge the farmer any interest at all, because immediately he opened up a credit he could operate by cheque, and notes would not be required. When his wheat was disposed of, his cash credit could be cancelled, and the whole operation completed. Some honorable members laugh at such a suggestion, but in doing so they are ridiculing the opinion of some of the world’s financial experts. The Government are not prepared to extend the operations of the Commonwealth Bank in this direction, because it would be the means of interfering with the work of other financial institutions which are controlled by their political supporters. It is useless and foolish to refer , to the difficulty of financing the scheme, because it can be done quite simply. Money is nothing. We have been informed that a large sum will be involved, and that notes would have to be issued, but it must be remembered that in dealing with, say, £35,000,000, there is never more than a few thousand pounds of that amount actually in circulation. It is merely a matter of establishing credit, and the whole scheme could be’ easily financed without involving the expenditure of even one penny for interest on borrowed money. It is easy for honorable members to ridicule the suggestions I have made, but they should remember that in doing so they are displaying their ignorance and opposing propositions that have been put forward by the best financial experts the world has ever known.
.- The members of the Country party are pleased indeed to find that they have so many friends in this chamber, and, according to the statements that have been made this afternoon, it appears that in the near future the poor struggling farmer will be able to achieve all he desires. The motion has been the means of giving honorable members an opportunity of discussing the . whole situation; and I must confess that until the Prime Minister spoke, I felt, with’ others, that the farmer was not getting a fair deal. This, perhaps, arose from the fact that the Prime Minister has remained silent altogether too long, with important information at his disposal. However, the explanation he has made is so definite that I feel we can take it for granted that we are going to receive reasonable treatment. We have heard a great deal about monopolies, speculators, and private capitalists; but, though the Pool had many faults, it was a godsend to the whole producing community. It was the first Pool of which we had experience, and, no doubt, mistakes were made; and from these mistakes we ought to benefit. In the future we should be in a position to get rid of parasites, and be able to handle our wheat in an economical way-. Much has also been said about the high cost of bread, and other side issues, but there is one way of escape from these difficulties, and that is by the channel of co-operative effort. By such means we ought shortly to be able to send our wheat from the fields to our own flour mills, exporting the balance to the world’s markets. If the industrial population would only give more attention to the great system of cooperation, it would minimize the cost of living to such a wonderful extent that they, on the one hand, would find no use for organizers, and the producers, on the other, need take little or no notice of speculators. By this means only can the consumer expect to benefit, and the producer to receive the full results of his labours.
.- I was a little staggered by the reference made by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), when he said that not even “ forty figures “ would tempt a man from the town to settle in the country. The honorable member belongs to a party, the members of which are very careful in their statements, but I think he scarcely grasps the power of figures. I have translated his remark into numerical language, and I find that “ forty figures “ means one thousand quadrillions. Following the old notation, a billion is a million millions, and a trillion a billion billions, while a quadrillion is a trillion trillions. If the whole world were a mass of silver, I doubt if it could produce that amount of money. Anyhow, if the highest mountain in Australia were of solid gold, and it was minted into sovereigns, it would not produce the amount mentioned. I mention this as a joke, which is a welcome thing in this lugubrious House.
In considering the price of wheat over a term of years, I am impressed with the fact that, for the Home market, from the year 1861 for many years it was comparatively high. It came to its lowest in 1902, when it was 24s. per quarter, and it rose again until, in 1916, it was 46s. 3d. per quarter. In -the consecutive years from 1908 up to 1917-18, it was 4s. Id., 4s. 2d., 4s. 2d. 3s. 6d., 3s.”lld., 3s. 9d., 4s. Id., 5s. 7d., 4s. 10d., and 5s. 3d. per bushel. I started farming many years ago.
– How did you get ont
– All that I got out of it was my broad chest. The wise Government of Victoria, forty-eight years ago, planted me 10 miles south of Warragul, in the heaviest timber country in Victoria, if not in the world. What chance had a little bank clerk to make good under such conditions? Twentyfive trees, on the place where a hut was erected, were all 6 feet and 8 feet diameter, so that no wonder I got tired of work.
My son has an interest in 1,000 acres of land in Western Australia, and last year he and his late partner had a very good show. I recognise that a grant of 5s. in cash would be very acceptable; but we are now told that it is not to be cash. This is only another instance of how the Prime Minister likes to get into a difficult position, merely in order to show how dashed clever he is in getting out of it; indeed, in all my political experience, I have known no one with that faculty so well developed. There was more in what the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) said than, perhaps, honorable members are willing to admit.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– Some honorable members laughed when the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) suggested utilizing the Commonwealth Bank and the issue of notes for the purpose of meeting the payments for wheat; but it is a very old form of avoiding interest, and is generally known as the Guernsey Island Market Experiment. The notes issued in Guernsey Island always bore on the back of them a portrait of the particular work for which they were issued, and perhaps the Commonwealth Bank - which, I hope, will- soon be controlled by a Board of directors, as suggested bv the late Lord Forrest - could issue notes bearing on the back of them the representation of a sheaf of ‘wheat. The war has taught the world of finance that we must adopt a very different method of financing. Before the conflict an economist said that all the world’s money in gold, silver, copper, nickel, and platinum put together would not pay for one single month’s transactions on the New York Stock Exchange, and, during its progress, economists have been faced with the problem that the gold deposits in banks increased instead of decreasing. In Australia the value of the unearned increment, which had amounted to £400,000,000 by the end of 30th June, 1915, had doubled that amount by the end of June, 1920.
I have already indicated to honorable members that my son is interested in a wheat farm in Western Australia. Last year’s prices proved of great benefit to him and his partner, and put them on a good footing. The ex-honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch), who is a farmer on a large scale, told me about three years ago that the payment of 4s. per bushel for wheat delivered at the railway siding would give the wheat-grower a fighting chance, and the payment of 4s. 6d. would give him a better chance, but later on he said that with wheat at 5s. every farmer ought to “make good.” I care little what should be done, but it is firmly fixed in my mind that the producer of wheat should get a price which will enable him to secure a fair return and give him the opportunity to ‘.’ make good.” I do not know whether we in Australia will develop a system of cooperation among wheat-growers on the lines of the splendid scheme in operation in Denmark, or whether the method of pooling produce will be continued, but it is certain that stability of price will insure an earnest desire on the part of the farmer to continue to produce more and more, because without it he will always be in the position of wondering, season after season, what the market will be. When speaking to one of the largest farmers I have the pleasure of knowing in South Australia. I asked him what would have become of the farmers if the Wheat Pool had not been established. He said that the private buyers might have bought sufficient wheat to meet local requirements, and to fill whatever shipping they were in a position to charter, but that with interrupted shipping they might not have bought at all for export, and, consequently, wheat might not have realized even1s. per bushel.
If we fix the price of wheat we can then allow a fair charge for gristing it, and compel the miller to sell his flour at a fixed price, gaoling him if he refuses, as millers have already done in Victoria, to supply it when that price has been tendered for it. Here let me read the in formation given by a Melbourne suburban baker, as quoted in The Trust Movement in Australia, a book compiled by Mr. H. L-. Wilkinson, one of the most brilliant scholars who has graduated from the Melbourne University-
Mr. Page says that a strong ring or combine is responsible for the present high price of bread. The ruling price of bread in Elsternwick is 7d. per 4-lb. loaf. Mr. Page charges 6d., and states that an attempt is being made by the joint action of the Master Bakers and Millers Associations to coerce him into raising his rates, into line with other bakers in the district.
In other words, Mr. Page could not obtain flour because the contemptible Millers Trust would not supply him with it, and he had to go even as far as Bendigo to secure supplies. We must break up these combines.
If flour is supplied to the baker at a fixed price, we must also fix the selling price of the 4-lb. loaf of bread over the counter. I do not care what a baker may charge for delivery - that is too difficult a question for us to decide, and can best be settled as between the baker and the customer.
– The honorable member is not confining his remarks to the motion.
– I am endeavouring to show that if the price of wheat is fixed there is a further duty imposed upon the Government to protect those who enable the farmer to make a success by purchasing his product. The majority of those I represent buy the product of the (farmer, and they are entitled to protection. Mr. Wilkinson, in his excellent compilation, referring to bread says–
What the advance of1/2d. per 4-lb. loaf of bread actually means to the master bakers is shown in the following figures: -
It is estimated that an ordinary bakery uses about 5 tons of flour each week, a good many using 10 tons, and some of the largest manufacturers as much as 20 tons. From a sack of 150 lbs. about forty-nine large loaves of bread are made, and from a 200-lb. sack about sixty-five loaves. This is a moderate figure, which can be taken as an average, though frequently sixty-six loaves are obtained. A simple form of multiplication shows that the additional receipts, from the advanceof1/2d. per 4-lb. loaf can be detailed as follows: - 5 tons - 3,250 loaves at1/2d. equals £6 15s. 5d. per week. 10 tons - 6,500 loaves at1/2d. equals £13 10s. l0d. per week. 20 tons - 13,000 loaves at *d. equals £27 ls. Sd. per week.
These figures make no allowance of any de- .scription for the recently increased working costs, simply indicating the additional revenue.
It is a number of years since bread was retailed at 7d. per 4-lb. loaf in the northern inner suburbs, and at that time flour was from £12 to £13 per ton. A comparison of the Victorian Mill-owners’ Association quotation for Hour, and the ruling price of bread at the end of July for the seven years past, is given below : -
What strikes the average man in the street is the fact that our Governments. State and Federal, seemingly prefer that millions of bushels pf wheat should be wasted by the weather, mice, mildew, or rot rather than that the people should get it at a fair price. I have with me a photograph showing the result of four nights’ catch of mice in the railway yard at Lascelles. Eleven dray loads of mice were removed from the yard., and it is estimated that 8 tons of mice or about 500,000 mice were in the heap photographed.
My support of this motion is not altogether on account of the price of wheat. I am a pledged opponent of the Ministry, and will always vote to turn them out of office so long as the present Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) is in power, and even if the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), who challenged the Prime Minister last night, were leading the Ministry my vote would still be the same, because I have no confidence in the honorable member. He was a member of the Cabinet until he kicked himself out.
– Order !
– May I not attack the personnel of the Ministry?
– Not on this motion, which is strictly confined to the question of paying 5s. per bushel for wheat at railway sidings.
– Then I shall be obliged to take some future opportunity of showing that the honorable member for Balaclava returned to Victoria in 1913 a discredited man, and that on his knapsack was this wonderful thing, as it were throwing its shadow before it–
– What the honorable member is saying is very interesting, but not germane to the motion. t
– T was going to add that, were the Government turned out on’ the vote of the right honorable member for Balaclava, Ministers would have the satisfaction of knowing how he got “the boot” out of the Victorian Legislative Assembly. However, I shall take another opportunity to deal with the matter.
– What about the payment of 5s. a bushel to the farmers?-
– I think that the farmers should get the ‘money, and the suggestion of the honorable member for Werriwa is worthy of consideration. Not one of the countries engaged in the recent war is at present solvent. Even the United States of America, with its huge amassed wealth, could not meet its liabilities in gold, but we have here a Bank more than equal to any in the world, though I do not think that it should be governed by a dictator. It could be used for the payment of this guarantee by giving a credit to each farmer for the wheat that he delivered, which would be properly tested and graded. The farmer would use that credit to pay his storekeeper and others to whom he owed money, and eventually the circle would be completed by its return to the Commonwealth Bank. There would be a circle of credit not unlike that of an electric current, which must eventually get back to earth. I look forward to the time when our Commonwealth Bank will do all this sort of business. The Bank of England,’ the Bank of France, the Bank of Germany, the old Bank of Russia, the National Banks of America, were not, and are not, as well guaranteed as the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The gold reserves of the Bank of England are very large, but they are held, not only against the note issue, but also against the current accounts, the deposits without “interest, the deposits of fifteen days, and the deposits at interest; and also against advances and underwriting on the part of the Bank; whereas the only call on the gold reserve of the Commonwealth Bank is in respect of the note issue, and behind the Bank is every hill and valley in Australia. Eventually the Bank will control the finances of the Southern Hemisphere. I am sorry that at present it is playing into the hands of the Associated Banks. Why does it not increase the rate of interest on its Savings Bank deposits, and increase the amount which a depositor may have at his credit, as the Government Savings Bank of Victoriahas done?
– The honorable member is now giving a disquisition on banking.
– I wish to show that the Government could get the money needed to , pay the farmers by increasing the interest on deposits in the Commonwealth Savings Bank to 5 per cent., and accepting any sum from a depositor. In Australia we could borrow millions of money in this way for considerably less than the most thrifty nation in the world, that is, France, can borrow, she having recently had to pay 8 , per cent, for money borrowed in America.
– In paying the dividend that ‘we shall pay to the farmers, we shall make very free use of the resources of the Commonwealth Bank.
– The Government will have my support in doing that. It could borrow in the way I suggest at 5 per cent. When we float loans in England, we do not limit to £500 or £1,000 the amount an investor may take up, and why should we limit the amount which a man may deposit with interest in the Commonwealth Bank? The statement of the Prime Minister was considered by many to be a distinct . promise to the farmers, although I know that if it is possible to get out of an awkward corner, no politician is cleverer than the Leader of the Government in doing so. Within the last few weeks I have spoken to twenty or thirty farmers, all but one of whom believed that the Prime Minister had promised them 5s. a bushel for their wheat. The solitary exception said that he would not believe Mr. Hughes, even if standing on a pile of Bibles, but if any other Minister had made the statement he would have accepted it. That nation is most successful that has a free currency, protected, of course, against “ wild-cat “ schemes. No one could say that it is a “wild-cat” scheme to pay money for good wheat to those who have grown it.
– Particularly, an advance of about half its current value.
– Before the dinner adjournment I showed how the price of wheat had varied, and as soon as the world resumes its old ways - and God knows, the sooner the better for humanity - wheat will not remain at its present high price. In America, where there is a population of 100,000,000, it may be standardized at about two dollars a bushel, but I doubt it. I say that without knowing much about wheat, though I admire a good crop when I see it. I shall be astonished, however, if five years hence wheat is realizing 6s. a bushel. We are told in. the Old Book that Joseph garnered the surplus grain during seven fat years against a period of famine,- and in this intelligent twentieth century we should store the wheat of an overabundant harvest in silos, just as Ave put by perishable produce in cold storage for future use.
While not disputing your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I must remark that this is the first censure motion to which I have spoken on which members were severely restricted as to what they might say.
– It is the wording of the motion that puts a restriction on those who speak.
– I do not question that, but I would not be an Australian if I did not protest.
– It is the framer of the motion who imposed the limitation.
– That is very true. I Will make way for those members who know more about wheat-growing than I do. Even if the Government score a win over this matter, I ask them to give consideration to the position. If the Bank pays this guarantee, it will add to the currency, make money more fluid, and otherwise do good to the community, but the question of interest will have to be faced.
– One of the terms of the Pool will be that any man who cares to leave wheat in it will get interest on its value.
– I am very glad to have that assurance from the Minister. I understand him to say that if any farmer is not in need of immediate help, and leaves his wheat in the Pool, he will receive interest upon the . price.
– If he does not draw any dividend.
– That practice was followed in previous Pools.
– If it was, it is a good idea, and I am glad it is to be followed on this occasion.
.- It seems to me that the wheat farmer of Australia, if not already damned, is about to be. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) has anticipated matters by stating that the Government will not pay this guarantee of 5s. per bushel.
– The Prime Minister said they will not pay it at railway sidings.
– If this motion of censure is carried, the farmer of Australia will be irrevocably and permanently, shall I say, damned, or ruined. There will then be no Government to negotiate his finances for him.
– Your party could form a Government.
– There is, however, a dry sense of humour about the motion. If carried, it will mean that members will go to the country. In such an event, what will be the position of the farmer without any Government to represent him in regard to his needs? I represent, perhaps, one of the most important wheat-growing districts in New South Wales.
– Question !
– If it is not the most important, why did the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) read certain resolutions that were carried in Manilla, in my division, with reference to this wheat guarantee? And I might also ask why did he not read the whole of those resolutions? He read them up to a certain point only.
– I read as much of the resolutions as was relevant to this motion.
– The Leader of the Opposition means, as far as he wished the resolutions to be relevant to the motion. He omitted to read this -
It is suggested that if the necessary financial arrangements to pay 7s.6d. per bushel in’ cash cannot be made -
This 7s. 6d. included the State guarantee of 2s. 6d. that negotiable certificates for such portion as cannot be provided for in cashshould be issued. Payment for such certificates (to be made on or before 30th June next) should be guaranteed by the Federal Government.
It is also suggested that the arrangement with millers which has been in operation in former Pools, by which wheat was paid for as used, should not be continued, and that they should be required to pay a substantial deposit on their wheat as received.
– Is the honorable member objecting -to that resolution?
– No, I only want to make the position quite clear. In this important wheat-growing centre, which has suffered as much as any other Wheatgrowing district in Australia from drought and adverse weather conditions over a period of ten years, the producers and all other sensible men in the community understand the financial difficulties of the Commonwealth, and are prepared to accept negotiable bonds in the event of cash not being available.
– As the next best thing.
– No doubt. I believe that the wheat-growers in the adjoining division, represented by the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham), are prepared to meet the situation in the same way.
– Theyhave not communicated in such terms to me. They want cash.
– The wheat-growers in my division-
– Are long suffering.
– They are not so long suffering as are the electors in the division represented by the honorable member for Barrier. The wheat-growers of my division, I repeat, have suffered severely from droughts during the past ten years, and but for this guarantee a great many who are now engaged in production would have abandoned their properties. I admit, at once, that this guarantee stimulated and encouraged many to continue in the business of production, but why there should be any misapprehension as to the meaning of the Prime Minister’s statement at Bendigo I am unable to understand.
– So am I. I cannot see any room for two versions in regard to that statement.
– On 23rd July I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) the following ‘question, upon notice -
Whether it is the intention of the Government to pay the 5s. guaranteed to wheatgrowers in the States of the Commonwealth on delivery at country railway stations, which was paid in respect of last year’s wheat delivered. ‘
– That is very significant. Why did you ask him that question ?
– Wait a minute, and I will tell the honorable member. The Prime Minister, in his reply, said-
The method of payment of the amount guaranteed in respect of next season has not yet been determined.
It is quite clear, therefore, to honorable members–
– At that time.
– When was that?
– In July last. It is quite clear that members of the Country party are just as solicitous, and, perhaps, more so, for the welfare of those engaged in primary production as are honorable members sitting opposite. This question of the wheat guarantee has caused a considerable amount of anxiety, and I think the statement made this afternoon by the Prime Minister is one which every fair-minded and reasonable man should accept.
– That is good !
– I am sure the results will be good. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister, having unloaded himself yesterday of a considerable burden, is now free to give more attention to this important question. He told us to-day that he is summoning those who are responsible for the control of our wheat, and those who are going to finance the transaction, to a conference to beheld next week. In view of this statement, can it be expected that any man. would be prepared to say now what he will say on Wednesday next when the result of the conference is known ?
The Prime Minister has assured the House and the country that next week he will make a statement onthis subject, and I am convinced he will satisfy honorable members and those engaged in the production of wheat. At any rate, I can speak for the farmers in my own division. Failing cash, they are prepared to accept negotiable bonds, and the Prime Minister proposes to submit a proposition which, I hope, not for the sake of honorable members opposite so. much as for the wheat-growers, will prove satisfactory. I cannot understand why there should be any misconception as to the Prime Minister’s intention in regard to the guarantee. The resolutions passed at Manilla, to which the Leader of the Opposition referred this afternoon, were adopted on 20th September, and, on 29th September, I asked the Prime Minister the following question: -
Having in view the urgent needs of the wheat-growers of the Commonwealth and the necessity to at once make provision for the harvesting of their crops, I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether, in order to -relieve the present situation, the Government are in a position to make a statement as to the payment of the guarantee of 5s. per bushel?
The Prime Minister, in the course of his reply - and I ask the attention of honorable members to this matter, seeing that it has occupied their attention a very great deal during the last few weeks - said that the payment of the guarantee depended very largely upon certain sales being effected, and so the House knows perfectly well that the guarantees to the wheat-growers was on a price at the station. If they were paid only 4s. at the station, the Government would become liable for ls.
The wheat-grower during the period of the war suffered, I suppose, more than any other primary producer. He suffered loss and -inadequate prices. But, in spite of all these things, he carried on. I am reminded of the lines so often quoted by the late Sir John Macdonald, of Canada, who was a great advocate of the man engaged in primary production -
Tis hard to toil, when toil is almost vain In barren ways.
Tis hard to sow and not to garner grain In harvest days.
Tis hard to plant in spring and not to reap The autumn yield.
Tis hard to till, and, having tilled, to weep O’er fruitless field.
I am afraid that has been the lot of a great many of our wheat-growers. Much is required in these modern days to assist to a greater extent those who are engaged in our primary undertakings, and, as I said on the Institute of Science and Industry Bill, education is the root of all our undertakings, and if we fail in our duty to educate our children, so surely will those of them who engage in these undertakings fail when it comes to their turn to produce. We are now dealing with the price of a wheat harvest that is estimated to be, in respect of both quantity and value, the greatest ever reaped in the country. I am quite convinced that the Government are prepared to do all that is humanly possible in order that the producers may have the full benefit of their toil. They are in a better position to do it than are honorable members sitting opposite, and I believe that when, on Wednesday next, the Prime Minister makes his statement, he will be able to tell the House that he has made financial arrangements that will be satisfactory, not only to the wheatgrowers, but to the general community.
.- I listened attentively this afternoon- to the speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and I was struck, not so much by the information which his remarks conveyed, as by the skilful manner in which he evaded the main question. To use his own words, he indulged in a free use of the paint brush. I was amazed to hear him say that the motion is simply a waste of time. It is astonishing that the Prime Minister, and those who support him, should have the audacity to say to the people that it is a waste of time to discuss a question of vital importance to the farmers. Two days ago, when the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) gave notice of his intention to move this motion, a number of honorable members opposite laughed, and the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) sneeringly interjected, “The poor farmer.”
– I did.
– It is a ,pity that the farmers could not have heard him. The Prime Minister stated to-day that this discussion would have been initiated yesterday but for the fact that destiny or Providence had prevented it. It is news to me that the National party represents either destiny or Providence. Yesterday that party by weight of numbers carried a motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders, in order, firstly, to prevent the discussion of this all-important question, ‘and secondly, to enable the Prime Minister and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) to ventilate their persona] grievances. I am reminded that the great daily newspapers of Melbourne, when discussing the censure motion, said that ‘ when the Leader of the Opposition gave notice of his intention to move it, “ the House went on with the Estimates, as if the. adverse motion were contempt ible; and indeed it was.” One of the newspapers stated also that Mr. Watt’s statement to the House more vitally concerned Australia than a thousand of such motions. It is remarkable that the daily press should regard a motion, which aims at seeing that justice is done to the farmer, as contemptible, and that the statement of the honorable member for Balaclava was of more vital concern to the people than the honouring of the Prime Minister’s promise.. Those statements ( I do not think any one will indorse for a moment. The ex-Treasurer’s statement was no doubt very interesting. I listened to it, and to the Prime Minister’s reply, and I am satisfied that the ex-Treasurer could not have acted other than as he did. The Prime Minister came out of yesterday’s discussion a totally discredited man.
– Order! The honorable member is now discussing a matter which is not before the Chair.
– I intend to show a connexion between the two subjects. The ex-Treasurer went to England on an important mission, and while abroad he resigned.
– The honorable member may not go into that matter.
– I have only a few words to add to connect the subject with the motion before the Chair. The mission of the honorable member for Balaclava had ended, and whether he was right or wrong in his action, seeing that whatever evil was done cannot be remedied, was not of as much importance as the question of” financing the farmers’ wheat.
I objected to the suspension of the Standing Orders yesterday, not for the purpose of assisting the Prime Minister or gagging the honorable member for Balaclava, but in order to enable the House to proceed with this all-important matter of the wheat guarantee. At the conclusion of the remarks of the exTreasurer, the Prime Minister said that no man with a good case would have made such a statement. Those who listened to the. Prime Minister’s speech this afternoon know that if he had any case at all he would not have spoken as he did. He commenced by saying that this was about the sixth censure motion that had been launched. When the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) corrected him, the Prime Minister tried to make out that the correction was an apology, and he proceeded to say tha the motion was launched simply because the Victorian elections were taking place to-day. The same statement was made by the Ministerial supporters two days ago. A moment’s reflection will show that such an assertion would not be credited by even the least intelligent man or woman in the community. Being desirous of having this matter ventilated, and that the Prime Minister’s “promise should be honoured, so that the farmers might meet their financial obligations, the Labour party, four weeks ago, moved the adjournment of the House on the subject of the wheat guarantee. We desired to force the Government, if possible, without resorting to the extreme course of launching a motion of censure, to make their position clear. At that time the date for the holding of the Victorian elections had not been fixed; and it must be obvious that- if the purpose of this censure motion was only to assist our colleagues who are engaged in the electoral fight in Victoria, we would not have deferred the motion until two days before the election. Common sense suggests that we would have moved, at least, two or three weeks ago, so. that our remarks might have time to travel all over the State, and everybody have an opportunity of reading and discussing them. What assistance could this motion render to Victorian Labour candidates two days before the poll? The discussion might be read in the metropolitan area, but no one will contend that even the fact that the motion had been launched would be known right throughout the State, let alone that the speeches would be read. This argument proves conclusively that the motion was not launched as an electioneering move.
The Prime Minister, whilst skilfully evading the question before the Chair, quoted a statement by Chris. Bennett, in February, 1916, and said . that the scheme which that gentleman advocated was not in the interests of the farmers. In 1916, the Prime Minister was a member of the Labour party, so, if by any stretch of imagination the party of to-day can be held responsible for what Mr. Bennett said four years ago, the Prime Minister must be more responsible, seeing that he was then a prominent member of. the party. That was before he was expelled for his traitorous conduct. He stated also that the Federal Executive of the Australian Labour party had passed a resolution to the effect that the price of wheat for home consumption should be based upon the cost of production. He endeavoured to make capital out of that by misrepresenting that resolution and describing how the cost of production would be arrived at. He said that the Labour party would not take into consideration the lean years, during which the farmers were struggling in the face of drought and obtained no profit, when they spent their labour and reaped no return, but on. the actual production in one year. In order to prove that that statement is misleading, I quote the policy of the Labour party in regard to the price of wheat: -
That the farmer he paid for wheat consumed in Australia at a fair price, based upon the cost of production, to be ascertained by the application of the formula set forth, in the succeeding paragraph:
Plus a reasonable profit -
The price of wheat for home consumption in Australia shall be ascertained by an investigation in each State, and thereafter upon an average of the result of those investigations, based upon the following: - (o) The average cost of working a living-area sized farm in each State over a period of five years-
Will honorable members note that? - and that such cost be kept up from year to year.
The payment of a union wage to all persons, including the farmer himself, and any member of his family employed in the production of the wheat crop.
The cost of necessary farming implements at ruling Australian rates, together with allowances for depreciation and renewal.
That proves conclusively that the Prime Minister’s statement this afternoon was not correct, when he tried -to make capital out of the fact that our scheme of the cost of production would be injurious to the farmer, and would be based upon good years only. I simply mention that in order to prove, if any proof is necessary, that the Prime Minister was deliberately evading the issue.
To come right home to the position as it confronts the farmers of Australia today, we must ask ourselves whether or not they are justified in demanding that the 5s. per bushel be paid. “We have heard a good deal about what that promise really was, the circumstances in which it was given, what was actually said, and the interpretation that has been placed upon it. I went to a good deal of trouble to keep the Prime Minister’s statement, because 1 felt sure that he would not honour it, and that it was an electioneering dodge simply hung before the farmers as a bait to catch their votes at the election. This is his statement -
In order to help the wheat-growers, the Government, in addition to its guarantee for the forthcoming crop, also guarantees 5s. at railway sidings for the 1920-21 crop. If the farmers so desire it, the Government will discuss with their organizations the question of guarantees and assistance beyond . that year, for in wheat and all forms of primary production the Government’s policy is to stimulate and stabilize these essential industries.
It has been said that that cannot be construed into a promise to pay 5s. cash on delivery. It is one of the usual cunning statements of the Prime Minister, which gives him a possibility to-day, by a plausible explanation and evasion, of convincing a small section, but a small section only, that he did not give a guarantee to pay cash. “He said in his explanation this afternoon, and it has also been stated by honorable members who support him, that the reason why 5s. was paid in full last year was that the harvest was small. It does not matter whether the harvest was small or great, so far as this promise is concerned. The principal thing to be taken into consideration is that the Government gave a promise; the first year they honoured it, and the second year they intend to dishonour it. The result of that promise by the Prime Minister was that very large areas were put under wheat. The farmers worked practically day and night in order to get a large acreage in. They implicitly believed they would get the money this year, seeing that it had been promised, and that they had obtained it last year. There was no quibble about it then, and theyma de sure they would reap the benefit of the promise when they delivered their wheat at the siding.
The farmers have suffered more, greatly through the drought, during the last two years, than they have previously suffered. They were all financially embarrassed, and even on the verge of bankruptcy, and the business people of the various towns, the . firms with which they had been dealing, and others, were financing them in anticipation of this promise being redeemed. They had no crop, or a very small crop, last year. They renewed their bills and mortgages, which will fall due just about the time that this year’s harvest will be garnered and brought to the railway station. Unless this promise is honoured in its entirety, and unless they receive 5s. per bushel cash, as well as the additional advance which has been offered and will be paid by the various State Governments, they will find themselves in a very embarrassing position. I have received communications from every’ Farmers and Settlers Association in my. electorate, except one, asking me to do whatever is possible to induce the Government to meet its obligations in this matter. I will read two of them only. The first, which I received to-day, is as follows : -
At a meeting held on Saturday last, it was resolved to ask the Federal Parliament, through you and the Leader of the Country party: - “ That the Federal Parliament be requested to make a payment of 5s. per bushel on delivery at railway station or mill, of this year’s wheat.”
It is not too much to ask, because, as you know, such a number of farmers are very heavily in debt, due to the last two bad years, and unless they get 5s., together with the 2s. 6d. from the New South Wales Government, it will not be possible for them to pay the accounts owing, to say nothing of having anything for themselves. They, of course, have to pay for the seed, fodder, and other assistance they got, before anything else, and how on earth can they expect to satisfy the creditor who has carried them on for such a time! The storekeepers and others will not be able to stand to them any longer unless they receive substantial payments from this harvest with -reasonable promptness.
Canowindra Branch, Farmers’ and Settlers’ Association, per A. D. Manning.
Another reads -
At a meeting of the above, held on the 16th instant, a resolution was carried as follows: - “ That the Prime Minister be urged to make the Federal wheat guarantee of 5s. per bushel a first payment on delivery of the wheat at the railway stations.”
It is no exaggeration to say that wheatgrowers were never in a worse position financially than they are at the present.
I notice that none of the speakers on the Government side, or of their supporters in the. Corner, was able to produce one communication to support their contention that the growers did not ask that the 5s. should be paid when their wheat was delivered. It appears to me that all the Corner party, except one, are going to fall in behind the Government again. One genuine farmers’ man, who comes here in order to do all he can to assist the farmer, will vote with us on . this motion. All the others, apparently, intend to support the Government, but not one of them, nor the Prime Minister himself, nor his chief apologist, when he spoke this evening, was able to quote one line from -any correspondence to show that the farmers did not expect to receive the payment in cash on delivery at the siding.
– He was unable to produce one line. Unfortunately, he allowed himself to be “ pooled “ by the Prime Minister. He is a member of the Australian Wheat Board, and the Prime Minister, with his usual astuteness and cunning, got him at a meeting of the Board, and “pooled” him. Distasteful as it must be to the honorable member for Echuca, he has to come into the House and attempt to justify the Prime Minister’s action. He has been effectively “pooled” by the Prime Minister, and there is no getting out for him. I sympathize with him most heartily, as I sympathize with the farmers who have been deluded. However, it is the honorable member’s fault, and not mine, that he allowed the Prime Minister to “ pool” him.
– Did you say “ pooled “ or “ fooled ”?
– He has been both “ pooled “ and fooled.
I have a statement from Mr. T. I. Campbell, secretary of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, who cannot be said, by any stretch of the imagination, to be a friend of ours or a supporter of our party, yet his views on this question are identical with ours. He states -
I have no hesitation in saying that the Federal Government stands committed by the Prime Minister in his pre-election speech delivered at Bendigo on 20th October, 1919, and in which he outlined the policy of the Federal Government in connexion with the wheat industry to a payment of 5s. at railway sidings for the 1919-20 and 1920-21 harvests.
He states there distinctly that he has no hesitation in saying that the whole of the Nationalist party are bound to that promise.
– According to your reading.
-I shall deal with the honorable member for Wakefield presently. I have something most interesting to say about him. Mr. Campbell goes on -
The undertaking was fully honoured in connexion with last year’s harvest. There can be no room for doubt as to the meaning attaching to the reference to the payment for the ensuing season’s wheat, as both harvests were covered by the one promise. I cannot understand the quibbling that is now going on as to what the guarantee actually means, as the first half of the promise has been faithfully carried out, and there can be no possible justification for any repudiation of the latter half of the same promise.
There never can be any justification for repudiation -
The method adopted for the last harvest was payment as soon as the certificates could be prepared and issued, usually within about a fortnight of the delivery of the wheat to the agent. Unfortunately, New South Wales farmers had exceedingly little to collect on that guarantee, owing to the lamentable failure of the crop by drought. This is all the more reason that, with a prospect of a satisfactory harvest this season, the extent of which is largely due to a reliance upon the guarantee, the Federal obligations should be honoured in the same complete way this season.
That is clear and distinct. He further says -
The executive of the Primary Producers’ Union has all along taken the Prime Minister’s guarantee to mean a payment of 5s. as a first advance on delivery at railway sidings. Corroboration of this can be found in the resolution passed at the last quarterly meeting of the central executive: “That it be a recommendation to the State Government that every effort should be made to insure the sum of 7s. 6d. being paid on wheat delivered at country sidings as a first payment in one amount. We consider that the Federal Government should honour their promise, as many farmers were induced to sow extra areas on the distinct understanding that a first payment of 7s. fid. would be paid.”
That meant that the first payment by the Federal Government would be 5s. Those are the views of the Farmers and Settlers Association and the Primary Producers Union. I sum satisfied that even the most ardent opponent of Labour will not contend that the members of those bodies represent our political views. On general, questions we are opposed, but on this question our ideas are identical. These organizations, representing a section of the farmers, placed upon the Prime Minister’s promise the interpretation that every sensible man will place on it. It is of no use to try to evade it at this late, hour, and it is of no use for members to say that the farmers do not expect the full payment. They do expect the full payment, and, what is more, at every meeting they have held throughout the length and breadth of New South Wales they have passed resolutions demanding that the money be paid in one amount. In- one centre of my electorate, where I received less votes than my opponents, one farmer went so far as to say that he would wade up to his knees in human blood before he would deliver ‘his wheat to the Pool at less than 5s. as a first advance from the Federal Government. That statement has been published in practically every daily newspaper in my State. It did not emanate from any Bolshevik, but was uttered by a thick-and-thin supporter of the National party. All over my electorate farmers are carrying resolutions to the effect that they will not deliver their wheat unless they receive their money. Honorable members opposite, who make their living in the cities, and have never known what it is to suffer privations such as the man on the land must “battle” against, may make a joke of the farmers’ conditions. But if they knew what it was to really toil and suffer, as have the farmers through the bad years, and were then to ask themselves whether they would be content with unfulfilled promises by their Leader,, the Prime Minister, there would be no joking. The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson) remarked that honorable members on this side were, by their efforts, desirous of giving consumers a cheap loaf. He ventured the opinion that this debate was only so much windowdressing, and that when we talked of seeing that justice was done by the farmers we were not sincere. I ask him and other honorable members what would be their view-point if they had to suffer privations through years of struggle, and were now to be faced by this unfulfilled pledge of the Prime Minister ? Every honorable member opposite is by honour bound to see that the Prime Minister carries out the obligation implied in his policy speech. , Every honorable member for whom, as a party, that speech was delivered is bound to see that the farmer receives cash payment to the full extent of the pledge.
I understand that I shall not be permitted to read an extract from a newspaper, but since my memory is not quite as good as it might be, I shall have to glance at the copy which I have before me for occasional assistance. On 15th January, 1917, the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) wrote as follows in the South Australian Register: -
Federal political conditions in Melbourne are beyond ordinary people’s comprehension, and some phases suggest disquieting suspicions of miserable personal and party aims masquerading under the hypocritical cloak of the “Winthewar “ subterfuge.
– Order!’ The honorable member is not in order in employing words in a quotation, if referring to honorable members of this House, which he would not be in order in using in the course of a speech.
– I point out that these are not my words, sir, but those of the honorable member for Wakefield.
– I merely draw the honorable member’s attention to the fact that his quotation contained unparliamentary expressions which he would not be allowed to use in the course of his own speech.. Therefore he cannot be permitted to quote such language from an article, or letter, or speech delivered by somebody else.
– I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, and shall undertake not to repeat that portion of the letter, which continues -
Melbourne press correspondents - or, more correctly, “ kite-flyers “ - inspired or otherwise, have- been publishing “ feelers *’ more ingenious than ingenuous, and Mr. Cook has been grossly misrepresented by some of them. The new movement launched in a room in the Melbourne Town Hall was the most amazing of all, and the position of Mr. Hughes is not the least mysterious. Is the movement national or personal? If I know the Liberal party, we are heartily sick of Mr. Hughes’ manoeuvres, and equally sick of his bungling.
– Order ! Will the honorable member say what that has to do with the matter of the payment of 5s. per bushel at railway sidings?
– I am proving now that the honorable member for Wakefield realized then, at any rate, that the Prime Minister would not honour his promises. It is my desire to show that his estimate of the Prime Minister in that particular regard was correct.
– I am afraid that the honorable member’s intention cannot be made to harmonize with the terms of the motion.
– I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I shall go to a good deal of trouble to connect this letter of the honorable member for Wakefield with the terms of the motion.
– It seems to me that it will, indeed, require a good deal of trouble on the part of the honorable member to do so; and, so far, I have failed to see any connexion whatever.
– When I have concluded the quotation I feel confident that I shall be able to demonstrate to you, sir, the relevance of its contents. It continues - and I decline to silently allow the Liberal party to be traduced in recent fashion. From the very beginning of the war, the Liberal party has been absolutely the only National party.
– What has that to do with the motion ?
– I have not concluded my quotation, so that I am not in a position to show you, sir.
– So far as I can gather, the quotation has no bearing whatever upon the motion before the Chair.
– I take it, then,’ that I shall not be in order in proceeding further. I shall not persist, but if my quotation is not relevant it is* most interesting.
– I do not dispute that; but this is not a general noconfidence motion, but is limited to one specific matter only.
– I shall not proceed with the illuminating article by the honorable member for Wakefield, but on some future occasion-
– Finish it on the adjournment.
– The honorable member may possibly be able to get it in “ somewhere on the Estimates.
– That is good advice, and the honorable member should be grateful to Mr. Speaker. /
– Thank you, sir; but this is the estimate which the honorable member for Wakefield then placed upon the Prime Minister - the right honorable gentleman whom he now says he is prepared to trust implicitly. He certainly did not trust him implicitly two or three years ago. Now that the honorable member is sitting behind the Government, in whose behalf the Prime Minister made his promise, he seeks to offer excuses, and is prepared to accept the assurance of the Prime Minister that he will make a statement next week. In that attitude he is like the honorable member for New England (Mr. Hay), who, although he pointed out that since July last he had persistently asked whether the farmers were going to be paid in cash, expressed the opinion that the quarrel between the Prime Minister and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) was so important that it would have been impossible for the Prime Minister to give consideration to any other matter until after yesterday’s battle. The honorable member added, in effect, that now that the Prime Minister had got over his second round with the honorable member for Balaclava, he would be able to devote some time and attention to unravelling the financial tangle in which, he admitted, the Government had got the finances of the country.
It has been said by various honorable members to-day that the money is not available to finance this payment. If that is so, it should- have been in the mind of the Prime Minister when he made his promise. It proves conclusively that the promise amounted to nothing but an electioneering dodge. It was made with the one object, and it served its purpose. Now that the time has arrived for the promise to be fulfilled the Government confess their helplessness, and the Prime Minister says he is convening a meeting of bankers. He is going to cast himself and the farmers, and the people of Australia as a whole, on the mercy of the bankers when they meet next week. It is not the duty of honorable members on this side to point out to the Government how the pledge of the Prime Minister may be redeemed. The obligation remains with the Government. The farmers expect the pledge to be fulfilled. They expect this thing to be done. If it is not done, the farmers will “ be. done.” I heard the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) say the other day that the farmers would be satisfied with a first payment of 4s. per bushel. But if it be such an overwhelming impossibility for the Government to provide the money with which to pay 5s. per bushel, how are they going to provide the money with which to pay 4s. per bushel t
It is not my intention to delay the House at greater length. If the Country party wish to live up to their name, if they desire to do anything to prove their bona fides, let them support the Labour party and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) in his fight for the farmers, and force the Government either to resign or to honour their obligations. To me it will indeed be remarkable if, in such circumstances, we cannot form a new Administration which will be better able to guide the destinies of Australia than are the present Government.
.- I do not claim to be a wheat-grower except in a very small way. But the question that we are now considering does not turn entirely upon wheat-growing, but rather upon the interpretation which should be placed upon an undertaking which was given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in his policy speech at Bendigo. To a great extent the ques- tion is one of the construction which should be placed upon the word “ guarantee,” and also upon the meaning of the words “at railway sidings.” To my mind the statement that a guarantee means an original payment, as soon as any payment becomes due, by the guarantor, is certainly a novel one. Anybody who has had experience of guarantees knows that a guarantee is an undertaking to pay in case of default by somebody else. In regard to the words “ at railway sidings,” anybody can see at a glance that .they are .used in contradistinction to the term f.o.b. The Government have guaranteed our wheatgrowers 5s. per bushel for their wheat at railway sidings instead of f.o.b. as hitherto. Whilst I am not a wheatgrower, I say with considerable confidence that there is nobody in this Chamber who has a greater interest in the farmer getting the biggest price for his wheat at the earliest possible date than I have. We all know that the storekeeper is the man who carries the farmer through his period of stress, and upon whom the greater part of the burden falls. Butthere is another unfortunate class in the community of whom I have never heard honorable members say a good word - I refer to the great wholesale merchants of Australia. May I remind my honorable friends opposite, who sometimes indulge in impassioned abuse of this class, that it is from the wholesale merchants that the storekeeper gets the money which enables him to carry the farmer over his time of stress and trouble.
– From where does the wholesale merchant get it?
– From his bank, and from other institutions, but certainly not from excessive profits that he has made out of the people. Any profits that the most astute wholesale merchant could make would go no distance towards fulfilling the financial obligations which he is called upon to bear for the storekeepers, and, indirectly, for the farmer. I urge this point as a justification for my intervention in this debate. To-day we have heard a good deal of the utter unreasonableness of the man who does not interpret the promise made by the Prime Minister during the course of his policy speech, in the way that the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Lavelle) has interpreted it.
Mr.Stewart. - The 5s. per bushel guarantee at country stations last year meant a cash payment of that amount. Why does it mean something different this year?
– That question has been answered time and again to-day. It has been pointed out that the amount which had to be paid in respect of the guarantee for last year’s harvest was a very small one, owing to the fact that that harvest was a failure. Whilst I am sure it was not the intention of my honorable friend, or of his political associates, to advertise the virtues of the present Government, they have certainly succeeded in doing so. , The Government last year merely guaranteed the payment of 5s. per bushel for wheat, but out of the greatness of their hearts, they not merely fulfilled that guarantee, but actually took the place of the original purchaser, and paid over the money as soon as the wheat was delivered at the railway stations. This year the burden would be too great for any Government to carry, and Ministers are not sheltering themselves behind the position of a guarantor, but propose to stretch the financial resources of the Commonwealth to the utmost in order that the maximum amount may be paid to our farmers as soon as the wheat comes to hand.
Having dealt with the interjection of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) I will now return to the statement made by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Lavelle). He has affirmed that no sensible man can place any other interpretation upon the Prime Minister’s promise than that a cash payment of 5s. per bushel was to be made to our farmers for all wheat, the moment it was delivered at our railway sidings. I do not know whether he is aware of what has been said upon this question by a very distinguished member of his own party - I refer to Mr. John Storey, the Premier of New South Wales? In July last, whilst attending the Premier’s Conference, at which this question was . raised, that gentleman said -
When the Commonwealth guaranteed 5s. per bushel, when did it propose to pay it?
The Prime Minister replied -
We did not say that we would provide it all at once.
Thereupon Mr. Storey’ said -
It is not proposed that the Commonwealth should pay it all at once. The proposal is that the Commonwealth should guarantee to pay the 5s. per bushel at whatever period it found it possible to do so.
The Premier of New South Wales, a very distinguished member of the Labour movement- in this country, expressed that view, and I do not think that even the honorable member for Calare will suggest that he is not an intelligent man. I maintain ‘that the view which he expressed is the only one which any man possessed of a knowledge of the English language-can possibly entertain. In the light of Mr. Storey’s statement, and of the statements by various member’s of the Country party, it seems to me that this motion of censure is a very regrettable one. It points to the fact that an opportunity has been seized by the political party opposite with a view ‘ to displacing the Government, and at the same time of ingratiating themselves with the primary producers of this country. In neither objective willthey be successful, and I shall certainly vote against the motion.’
– I propose to make a few remarks upon this motion, not with a view to ingratiating myself with the primary producers - as ‘has been suggested by the honorable member who has just resumed his seat - but in order to place my views before the House. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) has admitted that he grows no wheat, and probably knows nothing whatever about wheatgrowing. The class to which he belongs may be written down as the greatest profiteers who have ever afflicted any country. It is upon record that the firm with which he is associated exhibited their patriotism during the war by charging for calico which they had purchased at 51/2d. per yard, a price ranging from1s. 8d. to 2s. per yard. In regard to his quotation of a statement by Mr. Storey, the Premier of New South Wales, at the Premiers’ Conference, I should require to be in possession of the whole of the facts before pronouncing judgment upon it.
Honorable members opposite have stated that this motion is one which has been submitted by the Labour party “ off its own bat.” ‘ It seeks to censure the Government for their failure to make provision for a cash payment of 5s. per bushel at railway sidings for this season’s wheat. That promise is definitely set out in the Prime Minister’s policy statement. There he pledged the Government to help the wheat-grower by guaranteeing him a payment of 5s. per bushel for wheat delivered at country railway stations in connexion with the 1920-21 harvest. Previously the’ guarantee has been paid when the wheat was delivered, and, consequently, the farmers Were justified in thinking that the guarantee for this year would be upon the samebasis, and would bepaid in the . same way. In support of my statement I desire to quote the opinions of some of the men who representthe farmers through their organizations, ‘ and of the farmers’ press of the mother State. Commenting upon the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) that the Government was not in a position, and had never intended, to pay the guarantee of 5s. per bushel in cash, the writer of the article says -
The statement of the Prime Minister in regard to the Wheat Pool, as published on this page, will be read with amazement and dismay by the men on the land that have been depending upon the fulfilment of a promise made by Mr. Hughes in his Bendigo policy speech in October ‘of last year. There was nothing equivocal in that speech; in so- far as the reference to the wheat guarantee was concerned. On that occasion he committed himself and his Government to a guarantee of 5s. per bushel at railway sidings in respect of the then ensuing harvest, and the 1920-21 harvest to follow. There was no suggestion that the payment was to be dependent on sales or on any other contingency; and this is borne out by the fact that in the harvest following the making, of the promise, payments were made with promptitude, as quickly as the wheat certificates could be issued after delivery. The Government cannot withdraw from the pledge now, and the Prime Minister is committed, as an honorable man, to see to its fulfilment. If there is a breach of a solemn promise, the men that areaffected, and the country as a whole, will have good reason to attribute it to the, fact that, at the present time, there. is no election pending, and that Ministers feel . secure in their position. ‘When a guarantee is given, it is a business axiom that the guarantor shall be competent. . It was the duty of the Government to make such financial arrangements as would enable it to stand by its pledge with-‘ out. quibble or tergiversation. The country expects it to do the right and honest thinghow by themenonthelandwhohaveloyallydone theirpart.
Withtheassuranceofanunexampledworld demand this season;backedbyaGovernment guarantee that would cover the more pressing of the financial obligations of the farmers, an area was cultivated and sown in wheat that promises, under continued favorable conditions, to produce something like a record crop. But at this stage the Prime Minister draws back from his pledge, and tries to make out that his election promise does not bear the interpretation that -has been given to it for twelve months past, and that the Wheat Board definitely acted on last season. The Prime Minister’s attitude in regard to the wheat . is likely to breed the liveliest distrust in the minds of thefarmers. His action in throwing the responsibility for the care of the wheat off his shoulders and on to the various State Governments was not dignified or even decent. He appeared to have discovered that the job was too big for . him, owing to the difficulty of securing adequate shipping. Now he comes in again at this stage with the cold comfort of an assurance that shipping is not available, and that it will take twelve months to shift the crop. We know that Europe is hungering for our wheat ; the price offering is an unmistakable evidence of that. We know that world shipping is offering more freely; and if Australia is not getting its share, there is a very prevalent belief that the Government of the Commonwealth is responsible.
This is not a quotation from the Worker or any biased party organ. It is taken from the Farmer and Settler, the official organ of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, of Friday 1st inst. If further corroboration be needed it is to be found in The Land, which is also a farmers’ newspaper. In its issue of 24th ult., after dealing with, certain aspects of the wheat position, it writes -
However, a matter of far graver importance, from the point of view of the wheat-farmers, isthe question of the first payment under the guarantee of 7s. 6d. per bushel. Of this amount. 5s. is to be the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. The extra 2s.6d. is the guarantee of the New South Wales Government, and it is to be made as a first payment. When the Prime Minister announced this guarantee, -he stated that it would be 5s. at railway sidings for the 1920-21- harvest. Mr. Hughes added that “ in wheat and all forms, of primary production, . the Government was out to stimulate and stabilize these essential industries.” . If that is the serious intention of theGovernment, it will have to make this 5s. per bushel a first payment. To pay the amount piece-meal, as wheathas been paid for in connexion with the other Pools; would be to inflict cruel hardship and injustice: upon a class which -has already been harassed in this way almost beyond the limit of endurance.
These quotations should effectively dispose of any suggestionthattheLabourparty does notrepresenttheviewsofthe farmers of Australia in submitting this motion of censure with the object of not only emphasizing the seriousness of the position now confronting the’ farmers, but, if possible, removing the present Government, and substituting for it a Government that will be prepared to find the money to finance this guarantee, and so to keep faith with our primary producers. We are often told that the men on the land are the “ back-bone ‘! of the country, and it would seem that the Government are trying to break the backbone of the country.
As a wheat-grower, I, like the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), interpreted the statement made by the Prime Minister at Bendigo as a guarantee that I would be paid, as I was in respect of the previous harvest, on delivery of my wheat at a railway siding. The area that I have under wheat, which is not inconsiderable, was sown by me in the belief that I was going to be paid cash at the railway siding, and I entered into certain financial obligations, which I contracted to meet at the time the harvest would be off, when I thought I should receive the money .payable under the guarantee.
We have a good many branches of the Farmers and Settlers Association and the Primary Producers Union in my electorate, and many of them have asked me to impress upon the Government the necessity of honouring’ its guarantee as soon as the wheat is delivered at a railway siding. I have a number of letters from them on this subject. Here is one from the President of the Delungra branch of the Primary Producers Union, dated 11th September, 1920-
T have been requested by the fanners of the Delungra branch of the Primary Producers Union to write to you rr. the unsatisfactory position of the wheat-growers, and the guarantee of 5s. per bushel given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes).
As the letter is rather lengthy I shall quote only those portions of it that are relevant to the question before the. Chair-
Now, unless the Federal Government honours its promise, and makes the payment 5s. per bushel on delivery at railway siding, farmers will certainly bo placed in a most difficult position, even- if tho State Government does not press for repayment of advances made under the Rural Industries Board.
In- consequence of the drought the f armers are committed, in various . directions, and they have had to be financed by. the
State Government under the Rural Industries Board. The money so advanced to them’ will be repayable in the early part of next year, if the Government presses the payment in accordance with the terms of the loan. I have also a letter from the secretary of a combined meeting of farmers and business men, which was held at Delungra, - at which resolutions in practically the same terms were carried, although they were of a more drastic character. The secretary of the Narrabri branch of the Farmers and Settlers Association has forwarded me a copy of a resolution carried by it, the exact wording of which I cannot give, since at his request I have sent it along to the Prime Minister, but in it the branch presses for the payment of the guarantee of 5s. cash at railway siding as soon as the wheat is delivered, in order to obviate the serious financial stringency which would otherwise arise. The Secretary of the Farmers and Settlers Association at Kelvin, near Gunnedah, a wheat-growing centre), writes, to me -
By direction of the members of my branch, I have to ask that yon will enter a protest against the payment” of 2s. 6d. a bushel for wheat for this year.
That is a reference to the State Government’s, guarantee -
And I would also ask that you urge upon the Prime Minister the necessity of paying the full amount of the guarantee as a first payment.
Farmers generally in your electorate are in a bad way financially, and need every penny of the 7s. (id. to carry on.
Here is a letter from Mr. R. R. Miller, Secretary of the Eulah Creek Progress Association -
Pear Sir, - As secretary of the Eulah Creek Progress Association, I have been instructed to write to you and state that at a meeting of that body,, held on the 29th ultimo, a resolution “urging that both Federal and State Governments honour their guarantees to farmers of 5s. and 2s. fid. per bushel, payable on delivery at country railway stations for the coming season’s wheat, or, failing that, the Pool to be abandoned,” was carried.
The association members hope you will do your best to have their motion successfully carried out.
In the Tamworth Daily Observer of the 19th inst., -we read that -
The Molong farmers have decided to urge the. Prime Minister to settle up all parts of the Wheat Pool and pay the proceeds to the growers, to enable them to carry on farming operations.
The meeting also resolved that unless the 5s. and 2s (id. guarantees were paid, the Molong farmers would seriously consider whether they would deliver their wheat this season.
I have also a letter stating that at a representative meeting of the farmers at Tamworth, a resolution, was carried in which the following passage occurs -
That the meeting views with alarm the statement appearing in the press to the effect that the payment of the Federal Government’s portion of’ the guarantee, viz., 5s. .per bushel, may not be paid in cash.
Then again at Curlewis, another centre in my electorate, a meeting of farmers and settlers was held, and a newspaper report furnished by the secretary is as follows : -
A meeting of the branch was held on 18th September, when a big and representative attendance of members was present. The matter of the first cash payment on the new season’s wheat was keenly discussed., and the following resolution was carried: - “ That in the event of the .Federal Government failing to fulfil the promise of the Prime Minister that a first cash payment of 7s. (id. per bushel would be paid on delivery at country railway stations, we pledge ourselves not to remove one -bushel of wheat from our farms until we are assured that full payment will be made as promised, and that we will use our influence to induce all wheatgrowers throughout the State to do likewise.”
– Where was that resolution passed?
– At Curlewis, some ten miles from Gunnedah. It is a fairly large centre. I may say in passing that I did not obtain a majority of the votes polled there at the last general election, and that the meeting would contain many Government supporters. These farmers decided to co-operate with the farmers at Gunnedah to hold a big mass meeting on 1st inst. They realize what the position is, and we are now giving effect to their views, as expressed at public meetings,, after the statement, made by the Prime Minister as a result of the agitation- commenced by the Labour party in this House. That was the first statement indicating the action the Prime ‘Minister intended taking; and no matter how he dodges the issue, or how he may quibble over technicalities and terms,’ he is merely adopting the methods of nien who practise the three-card trick in deceiving the. people. It may be smart politics, but it ‘is bad statesmanship ; it is bad for the country, and those who support the Govern> ment in their action are false to thebest interests of the CommonwealthThey may deceive the farmers once, but they are not likely to do it a second time. The injury the Government are likely to do to the farming industry will take many years to recover;, and if they endeavour to work the “thimble and pea “ trick in connexion with - the guarantee that was made on the hustings to enable them to be returned to power, they will have to answer to the people. The Government have been returned to office, but if they do not honour this pledge it will be at enormous cost to the whole community. The motion has been moved with the idea of stabilizing industry and forcing the hand of the Government by making them fulfil a promise that was made. I, as a small farmer, understood that I was to receive 5s. cash when my wheat was delivered at a railway siding; and I certainly had the right to expect it, in view of what happened in connexion with the previous guarantee.
At the sittings of the Peace Conference, the Prime Minister constantly referred to after-war problems and to the organization of industry. Ho was going to raise our primary and secondary industries to a height that had never before been realized. Is this the Prime Minister’s way of encouraging after-war industry? Is this a means of settling after-war problems? When we are told that the money is not available to finance the scheme, we reply that if the war had lasted for another six months the. necessary capital -would have been found to finance it. Is not the stabilizing of industry laying the foundation on which our future progress must rest? During the period of the war, we were spending, approximately, £100,000,000 per year, and the amount required to finance this undertaking is £35,000,000. But it must be remembered that this is’ work of a reproductive character, and that the money, if advanced, would be in the form of a temporary loan, which would be repaid within twelve months by the sales of wheat. There would not be any difficulty in raising the money in Australia to meet the guarantee, and thus place the men on the land in a more satisfactory position than they otherwise would be in. I think it will be generally admitted that, if the . Government do .not adhere to, their, promise, it, will- be the small farmers who will suffer the most, because the banking institutions do not give the consideration to the smaller men that they .extend to those conducting operations on a larger scale. Generally speaking, the :financial institutions, do not wish to deal <with the small farmer, and consequently we are the ones who have to experience the greatest hardships; ‘because the margin between an existence and absolute poverty is much smaller in . the case of the man who is farming 200 acres than one farming 2,000 acres. It is hard, indeed, for a small settler to’ -meet his obligations unless he is assured of a cash payment when his wheat is delivered at a railway siding. The Government are deceiving the farmers of this country when they say that money cannot be raised, because, if the war had continued, it would have had to raise three times the amount involved in this connexion to carry on a work that was not reproductive, and one which added to the dead burden of unproductive debt to which the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has already referred.
The ‘position is quite clear. The Government made a definite promise on the lines of a. previous guarantee to pay cash at railway ridings, but they are now withdrawing from that position and are refusing to honour a definite pledge. The members of the so-called. “ Country party” are calmly swallowing the tale that has been thrust down their throats by the Prime Minister, and I regret very touch that’ they do not intend to support the’ motion. I regret ‘exceedingly that the “Government have adopted this attitude, “‘because, by doing so,, they are dealing ‘ a very severe blow to the primary producers,, and causing many hardworking settlers .to pass uneasy days and nights in consequence of the difficulties they will experience in meeting their financial obligations. The Government, and those supporting t-hem, including the honorable members on the corner benches, must bear the responsibility for the results that will’ naturally follow-. ‘ The honorable member for 5[e’w England (“Mr”. Hay), during the last .election, refused .to be called a Nationalist.; “but on every occasion when be’ h’a.s $een present he “has supported the Government. ,,/!’,. At,, tunes ..-he - has ‘been absent^ arid. on. the! last occasion,- .when the,;
Government were in danger, he was conveniently out of the chamber, and did not vote. The honorable member was one of four who helped to save the Government) and it would be well for the farmers of this country to peruse the division lists-‘ it does not matter how honorable members’ speak - to see how these honorable members voted. It is impossible for us to gauge the damage that will be done by the Government in adopting these tactics,, and it is particularly noticeable that the Acting Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers), who is usually very garrulous, has been silent for months. Why does he not speak - as he - usually’ does? Why does he not support the farmers when their representatives are” submitting a just case to Parliament? These are matters which require explana-. tion, and I shall ask the farmers to closely watch the actions of such men. I do not speak from hearsay, because as a small farmer I know the position. I cleared,’ ploughed, and sowed my land, and know the whole business of wheat-growing from A to Z. The Government are deceiving us in this matter, and I. trust that when the next election comes the people will remember that it is the representatives of this party who are forcing the hands of the Government; although I am. afraid that, through the actions of the members pf the so-called Country party,, there is very little likelihood of the motion being carried.
– I desire to place a few facts and figures before honorable members, and the farming community generally, in order that they may appreciate the magnitude of . the proposal embodied in the motion. In my opinion, the motion is premature, because, first of all,, that Bendigo promise stands.’ There has been no variation of it, and no suggestion to amend it. Its terms areclear and definite. They Sire as follow: -
In order to help tho wheat-grower, the Government, in addition ‘to its guarantee for the’ coming crop, will guarantee 5s. at railway! sidings for . the 1920-21 harvest.”
There can be no doubt that .what is meant by “ railway . sidings -notwith-standing ;the laboured- effort .of- the ^honorable member for ‘Hume (Mr.. Parker* Moloney;) fta show .that. i it meant’ .while the wheat was at the sidings - is a guarantee for the wheat at the railway sidings, ex railway freight, ex handling charges, and ex administrative charges, which are a substantial consideration. That is the true interpretation of the words I have quoted, and it has been acted on in all the last Fools. There is a conflict of opinion between two direct representatives of the farmers in this House as to the interpretation. ‘ I refer to the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) and the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill). The honorable member for Echuca, who can be most relied on in this regard, is not only a direct representative of a farming constituency, but has been selected by the farmers of this State as their representative on the Wheat Board; and he has been in closer association with the administration of that body than any other man iu the House. The honorable member bears out the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) as to the interpretation of the- guarantee that was given. The position of the Government to-day is that it reiterates its guarantee, and will honour it. A conference has been called to consider what shall be the payments to be made on the delivery of the - wheat. Whether that shall be 5s. or a lesser sum will be determined next week after consultation with the financiers, who, after all, have the main say in the matter; the financial organizations, plus the Government with its financial capabilities, will determine what the ‘Government can provide and pay in respect of the wheat. I remind the House and the farmers of the country that there are two considerations to bear in mind. What is actually guaranteed? In regard to that, the language is clear and definite, but no date is fixed, and payment is to be made on the basis to which I have already alluded. The problem has been approached from the point of view of the requirements of the farmer, and the capacity of the country to make to him the maximum payment. I admit that, particularly, the farmers of New South Wales, who suffered a drought last year, are entitled to the fullest consideration. They were hit hard, and they had to buy wheat for seed at- high prices, while the farmers in most of the other ‘States, though not in all parts, had a fair harvest and realized big prices.
I hope that the debate of to-day will not be taken outside Australia as meaning that our farmers are “ down and out,” for they are not that by any means. As a wheat-grower, and a direct representative of a wheat-growing State, I desire to place before the House and the country figures showing the relative position of the Australian producers for two quinquennial periods, namely, the five years terminating in the ‘first year of the war, and the five successive years. In each period Australia suffered a drought, but, notwithstanding that, the result for both periods was as follows: - In the first five years, the wheat-growers lifted £72,800,000 in round figures;. and> in the following five years, £136,800,000. In the case of wool, the return was, in the first period £136,657,000; and, for the second period, £108,541,000. I say, unhesitatingly, that the- primary industries of the country, on the whole, are in a better position than they have ever been in the history of Australia. It is false policy, when the stability of a country is of the greatest concern amongst the nations of the world, to belittle its financial position. Just recently, trading strictures, more severe than at any period during the war, have been imposed on the country for purchases oversea; and it is a most serious matter. The reputation of the Australian trader for the due discharge of his obligations oversea stands amongst the highest in the world; and this is no time to belittle our credit.
Let me point out what would be involved in’ the proposal to pay 5s. per bushel immediately. It is well known that about 15,000,000 bushels will no.t reach the Pool, this being required for home consumption, seed requirements, and stock feed; but, on an estimate of 130,000,000 bushels being dealt with, an advance of 5s. per bushel would mean £32,500,000’. In addition to that, railway freight, handling charges, and administrative charges would mean another 8d. per bushel, or £4,300,000 odd. We have also to consider that the New South Wales Government have superimposed on the Commonwealth guarantee another 2s. 6d. per bushel, making a total, in the case of that State, of Ss. 2d. per bushel. It is a very sanguine estimate that the net result of the sale of Australia’s wheat will much exceed Ss. 2d. per bushel: There is a limit to what Governments may do in guaranteeing returns, and at a time like this a guarantee of 8s. 2d. is perilously near the danger mark. The Government will have to fall back on other resources of the country. Wheat must be looked to to finance itself. The Commonwealth have undertaken a huge obligation.
The honorable member for Wimmera to-day said that the guarantee was given on the eve of an election; but I say that that is not so. An undertaking had been previously given by the Prime Minister that for two years there would be a guarantee of 5s., and the guarantee in the case of the previous harvest was met in one lump sum. A guarantee was made and discharged on a crop of 35,000,000 bushels, requiring the payment of £8,750,000. On the previous harvest, a guarantee was made and discharged on a crop of 65,000,000 bushels, which absorbed’ the sum of £13,024,000. Now we are faced with a stupendous guarantee running into an estimated expenditure of £32,000,000 on wheat alone, without any charges being added, and- it is idle to suggest that this money can be obtained without straining the financial resources of the Commonwealth.
– The Government raised a loan of £25,000,000 the other day.
– There is not the slightest doubt that the obligations to our soldiers will exhaust the whole of that £25,000,000 loan. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) is putting forward a special plea for the immediate payment of the guarantee of 5s. per bushel, and he proposes, in his motion, that the Government “be censured for their failure “ to make provision for this payment. The arrangements are in course of negotiation. The harvest is yet two months off. At any rate, no grain will beatthe railway sidings within about two months, and the necessary arrangements could not be completed under, roughly, two months. The promise made by the Prime Minister has been kept; there has been no variation from it. Ordinary precautions have been taken to call financiers and the con stituent members of the Australian Wheat Board together in order to determine this vast question’ involving, as it does, an expenditure of close on £40,000,000.
I would like to say some words to honorable members who represent certain New South Wales constituencies, but cannot claim that, in all cases; they are the direct representatives of farmers. In many cases, I believe, they are here because there are not sufficient farmers in their constituencies to prevent their return by voting against them. At any rate, the organized farmers of Victoria have given their support either to honorable members sitting in the corner or to those sitting behind the Ministry. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) has been candid enough to say that the producers in his electorate did not all vote for him.
– The majority of them did.
– I want to point out that the coming harvest affords the producers of Australia a remarkable opportunity to put their house in order. Compared with pre-war estimates, we are to have a. bumper yield. The prices being realized for the first sales are magnificent. But as there is not the slightest doubt that, sooner or later, we shall be obliged to face tight financial times - the values of all primary products are already on the down grade - it is necessary for our farmers, while they have a favorable opportunity of doing so, to put their house in order before those adverse times come upon them. I ask leave to continue my remarks on some future occasion.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill returned from the Senate with the message that the Senate had agreed to certain amendments ; haddisagreed to the substitution of a new clause for clause 23, and in place of it had amended the” original clause; and had agreed to the insertion of new clause 33a with amendments.
Bill returned from the Senate without request.
House adjourned at 10.28 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 October 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1920/19201021_reps_8_94/>.