12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 8 p.m., and offered prayers.
– In view of the various and varying statements ‘ that have appeared in the press with respect to a postponement of the proposed referendums on the amendment of the Constitution, has the Prime Minister any statement to make to the Parliament of the Commonwealth on the matter?
– I have nothing to add to the definite and clear statement on the subject that I made at the earliest opportunity after I had received the opinion of counsel, and, of course, I am not responsible for the conjectural statements of other people. The opinion of counsel leaves the matter very much in the air; they say that a very grave doubt exists regarding the exact meaning of the provisions of the Constitution relating to the matter referred to them. It is remarkable that the wise men who framed those sections should have done it in. such a way that authorities cannot agree as to their meaning. The Government has announced that it does not propose to run the risk of having, after a referendum has been taken, something that was done declared invalid. That is how the matter now stands.
Speech by Mr. Latham.
– Has the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs had his attention drawn to the attempt made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) at Geelong on Monday night to dissuade overseas firms from establishing industries in Australia, on the ground that such industries might, under the proposed amendment of the Constitution, be later taken over by the Government? What action does he propose to take in regard to such a misleading and dangerous statement?
– I read with dome amusement the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition, and am sure that neither British nor any other manufacturers will pay the slightest heed to his suggestion. Manufacturers know quite well that since it has been in office this Government has done more to assist Australian secondary industries than was done during the previous ten years.
– My attention has been drawn to the fact that the present wholesale price of Australian canary seed in Tasmania is 45s. per cwt., compared with 30s. per cwt. prior to the introduction of the new tariff schedule by this Government. What action does the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs propose to take against the firms who are thus exploiting the people?
– I shall have the matter investigated immediately.
Fellmongering Industry - Timber for FRUIT Cases.
– Has the’ Acting Minister for Trade mid Customs received the report of the Tariff Board upon the fellmongering industry? If he has not done so. when does lie expect to receive it?
– This morning I inquired by telephone of the chairman of the Tariff Board when the report will be available. I understood from him, that the board is now engaged upon it, and that probably it will reach the head office of the Department of Trade and Customs towards the end of next week.
– Has the report of the Tariff Board been received in connexion with timber used in the making- of fruit cases? This is a very important matter to those who ure engaged in the dried fruits industry, and they wish to know what the Government intends to do.
– For about three weeks the Tariff Board was engaged in a conference with representatives of the whole of the timber interests in Australia. That conference completed . its deliberations eight or nine days ago, and I expect to receive the report of the Tariff Board within the next four or five days. The report will be considered by the Government at a very early date.
– In view of the highly meritorious performance of Miss Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo to Australia, will the Government consider making her a financial grant?
– The Government has not considered the making of a financial grant, therefore I am not in a position to state definitely what are its intentions; but I do not think that this is a case that warrants a financial grant by the Commonwealth Government, nor do I propose to recommend such a course to either the Cabinet or this House.
– Will the Minister for Defence take steps to purchase the aeroplane with which Miss Amy Johnson made her flight to Australia, and have it added to the fleet of aircraft in Canberra, so that it may be handed down to posterity, as has been done with the first locomotive that ran in Australia?
– If the honorable member will place his question on the notice-paper it will be considered by the Defence Department.
– Will the Minister for Works have prepared a statement setting out the works that have been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works during the last five years, together with those that havebeen approved by it, but have not yet been put in hand ?
– I shall endeavour to have the statement prepared.
rationing of Labour.
– Will the Minister for Defence state whether a decision has been arrived at on the question of the rationing of labour in the Defence Department?
– For some time this matter has engaged the attention of a committee appointed for the purpose. The committee has not yet presented its final report to the Government.
– Has the Prime Minister received a furthercommunication from the Imperial authorities following those of which reports appeared in the press in February, regarding the extension of the air route from India to Australia? Has he also received during the present month a communication from a Dutch company, a report of which appeared in the press ? If so, is he prepared to make a statement outlining the attitude of the Government towards an extension of the air route from India, or the Dutch East Indies, to Australia?
– The Consul for the Netherlands has communicated with me - I have not had anything from any Dutch company - regarding an air service from London to Australia. I have not received a communication recently, from either Imperial Airways Limited, or the British Government. This Government does not propose to take any action in the matter until I have conferred in London with the responsible authorities upon the whole matter of an Imperial air service between London and Australia.
– Has the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs reached finality on the question of making rebates to purchasers of petrol who do not use it for road purposes? If he has, when will the rebates be available?
– The last Government found it impracticable to make these rebates. Provision for them was made by the late Mr. Pratten, when Minister for Trade and Customs, some years ago. In August of last year the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) announced that it had been found quite impracticable to make the rebates, and showed the extent to which the public revenue would suffer if the practice were adopted.
– The honorable gentleman said atRockhampton that it was practicable.
– I said atRockhampton that I favoured the granting of the rebate if it were at all practicable. The matter is now being investigated by the best brains of the department of Trade and Customs. In answer to previous questions by honorable members opposite I stated that the Government would welcome helpful suggestions as to how the rebates could be granted, and the manner in which imposition could be prevented. So far, however, no helpful suggestions have come, not even from the honorable member for Warringah.
– Has the attention of the Attorney-General been drawn to a statement that has appeared in the press, giving the views of the Chief Justice of Victoria with respect to the constitutional position involved in the suggestion that an Australian citizen should be considered worthy of appointment as GovernorGeneral of the Commonwealth? If so, is he, as one perhaps equally competent to speak on the subject, prepared to give his opinion on the constitutional position?
– My attention has been directed to a report of certain observations of the Chief Justice of Victoria ; but as they relate to, and are inextricably bound up with, delicate and entirely confidential relations between his Majesty the King and his Ministers of State for the Government of the Commonwealth, I do not propose at this stage to comment upon them.
Mi: GREGORY. - Seeing that the Government has embarked upon a policy of protection involving the imposition of high tariffs and embargoes, and the payment of bounties, will the Prime Minister state what action is being taken by the Government in regard to the repeated requests for a bounty on gold?
– It is not customary to disclose government policy in answer to questions.
– I have just received a telegram from the Society of Engineers in Sydney, asking that the Government utilize the Commonwealth note- issue for the purpose of creating currency which may be used in the relief of unemployment. Will the Prime Minister state whether any action may be expected from the Government along those lines ?
Question not answered.
Number of Bankruptcies
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
Will he inform the House how many bankruptcies have occurred in Australia for each month, from July, 1929, to date, and the occupations and total amounts involved?
– Excluding the District of Western Australia, the number of bankruptcies and the total amount of assets and liabilities involved for each month, from July, 1929, to March, 1930, are as follows : -
Information as to bankruptcies in Western Australia will be available in the course of a few days, and will be supplied. A list of the occupations of bankrupts for the year 1930-31 is being prepared and will be published in the annual report. I may add that a list of occupations of bankrupts for the year ending 30th July, 1929, appeared in the first annual report of the Attorney-General under the Bankruptcy Act (Parliamentary Papers 1929, No. 20.)
On 23rd May, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) asked a question, upon notice, relating to the comparative cost of administering the bankruptcy laws during the twelve months preceding and the twelve months following the commencement of the Bankruptcy Act.
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that, as indicated in the first annual report of the AttorneyGeneral under the Bankruptcy Act 1924- 1929 (Parliamentary Paper 1929, No. 20), no comparative tables could be prepared in relation to State bankruptcy or insolvency statistics, as the different methods of collecting and presenting bankruptcy and insolvency statistics under the State bankruptcy or insolvency acts did not afford a reliable basis on which to make comparisons between statistics collected under the Commonwealth bankruptcy administration and those collected under the administrations of the States. This was especially so as regards the costs of administering bankruptcy business, as it was the practice to include the expenditure involved in the administration of State bankruptcy or insolvency laws in the general expenditure of the law departments, and it cannot be dissected therefrom.
The cost of administering the Commonwealth Bankruptcy Act in respect of the whole of the Commonwealth, comprising nine bankruptcy districts, during the first twelve months’ operation of the Commonwealth Act (which is shown in the annual report) was £22,044 8s. 3d.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
12th December, 1924; 26th May, 1926; and 9th April, 1927. 2. (i) The total area purchased at the sales was 105 acres, 1 rood, 0.5 perches:
asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– On the 23rd May the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones) asked me the following question, upon notice -
With reference to what is known as the £34,000,000 Agreement - 1. (a) What amount has already been spent, and (b) for what purposes? 2. (a) What amount has been allocated but not yet spent, and (b) for what purposes was such amount allocated?
I am now in a position to furnish the following reply : -
On the 23rd May, the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones) asked me the following question, upon notice -
What amount has’ been spent in the last ten years in assisting migrants to come to Australia?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that the amount spent by the Commonwealth from the inception of the joint Commonwealth and State migration scheme in 1921 to 31st December, 1929, in the form of free grants towards the cost of migrants’ passages to Australia, was £1,545,614. The amount expended in each year was as follows:-
– On the 14th May, the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) asked the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs the following question, upon notice -
Is he in a position to furnish the following particulars in connexion with the wheatgrowing States of the Commonwealth for each of the last ten years: - (a) The average price of wheat; (b) the average price of flour; and (c) the price of bread per 2-lb loaf?
The information is contained in the following statements: -
– On the 1st May, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) asked the following question, upon notice -
What was the gross export value of Australian wine on which £1,298,000 Has been paid in bounty?
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : - £2,680,333. From September, 1924., to July. 1927, the statistical records did not indicate separately the class of wine on which bounty was paid, and certain estimates have had to be made. commonwealth savings bane:.
Commission to Naval Paymasters.
– On the 16th May, the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) asked the following questions, upon notice -
The following answers have been furnished by the Defence Department : -
The following papers were presented : -
High Commissioner of the Commonwealth in the United Kingdom - Report for 1929.
Quarantine Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1930, No. 52.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Beasley) proposed -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Superannuation Act 1922-24.
.- As the bill has not yet been circulated, the Minister should state shortly the reason for the motion. Provision has been made to supply all the moneys required under the Superannuation Act, and I am unaware of any indication, either to the House or to the public, that it is proposed to alter the benefits of the act.
– It is not intended to carry the measure beyond the firstreading stage to-day. The Leader of the Opposition is probably aware that legislation was being considered by the last Government, following upon reports received from the Superannuation Board and from the actuaries. The bill will provide for the distribution of surplus funds in accordance with those reports, and at the same time the opportunity is being taken to make further amendments for the better working of the act.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported, and - by leave - adopted.
That Mr. Beasley and Mr. Theodore do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Mr. Beasley, and read a first time.
Debate resumed from 23rd May (vide page 2133), on motion by Mr. Parker Moloney -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Latham had moved by way of amendment -
That all words after “ That “ be omitted, and that the following words be substituted in lieu thereof: - “this House is of opinion that, while present circumstances justify a guarantee by the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States’ of a minimum price of 4s. per bushel for f.a.q. wheat, season 1930-1931, delivered at railway sidings, legislation providing for such a guarantee should be introduced separately from any legislation providing for the establishment of a monopoly in the marketing of Australian wheat by means of a compulsory pool.”
– When the House adjourned last week I was referring to the distribution of literature among honorable members by opponents of this bill. I pointed out how unreliable were the statements contained in such literature, and said. that, having regard to the source from which it emanated, farmers should view it with great suspicion. During the week-end I received information that those who have been farming the farmers in the past, that is, the wheat merchants, are preparing to spend a great deal of money to thwart the desire of the farmers to have a compulsory wheat pool established. One pamphlet, which bears the title freedom or Bondage, has been issued by a South Australian organization, and contains the statement that there has been no demand from the wheatgrowers for a compulsory pool, and that such a pool is quite unnecessary. That statement is ridiculous when we recall the splendid conference held in Canberra under the auspices of the Government, and presided over by the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney). If the growers’ organizations had not wanted a compulsory pool, they “would have turned the proposal do~wn at that conference. The fact that they unanimously adopted the proposal, and that the mover and seconder of the motion were men politically opposed to the Labour party and to this Government, clearly shows that the growers, through their organizations, have spoken very definitely in favour of the establishment of a compulsory pool. A few years ago many persons, while favouring the establishment of voluntary pools, were opposed to compulsory pools. That was the opinion of some honorable members now in opposition, when the Labour party urged the establishment of a compulsory pool some years ago. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) - whom I am pleased to see in the House again after his illness - was a solid supporter of the voluntary pool principle at that time, but later he was good enough to say that, in view of the forces at work against the successful operation of voluntary pools, they could never, he was convinced, achieve their objective. He realizes the futility of continuing the voluntary pooling system because he has discovered that the expenditure of a relatively small amount of money would enable the opponents of such a pool to smash . it. The fanners have had to contend against organized opposition to the pooling .system because the opponents of it know that it will enable the farmers to avoid the serious financial difficulty which so often overtakes them at harvest time. It has been said by the opponents of the compulsory pool that at present the farmer is able to sell his wheat when, where and how he likes. But the average small farmer is not in that happy position, because his business is frequently undercapitalized. He has no financial reserves and this obliges him to accept the first price that is offered for his wheat. The wheat-buyers in small country centres often work in close, though unseen, contact with the private banks. It is a common thing for the institutions with which small farmers have overdrafts to send peremptorily worded notes to their customers just about harvest time to the effect that the overdrafts must be reduced by a certain amount on or before a given date. This forces the farmers in such cases to sell their wheat to the first buyer that comes along. The connexion between the wheat merchants and the financial institutions represented by the private bank* ing companies is suspiciously close. The farmers of New South Wales would be very well advised to pay no heed to the literature which will be forwarded to them in reams in the next few weeks. They should take the advice of the men who for years have represented them in their organizations and in this Parliament, and vote in favour of the formation of a compulsory pool.
The pooling system has many advantages over the open marketing system. It makes possible the securing of cheaper freights. The shipping combine is one of the strongest combines in the world, and in the past it has been able to play off the voluntary pool against the wheat merchants in one State, and the voluntary pools of one State against those of another State. That will not be possible if an Australian compulsory pool is formed. This system of marketing also ensures savings in insurance and freight from the inland towns to the sea coast. We may be sure that the management of a compulsory pool will work in harmony with the railway authorities in the different States. The Orderly marketing of the wheat is another big advantage of this system. Under a compulsory pooling system, such as is outlined in the bill, economies will be effected also in the storage of wheat in States where the bulk handling system has not been installed. This will mean a big thing to farmers who have to rely upon the bag system. It is only fair that States like New South Wales which have spent large sums of money in building silos for the storage of wheat should be able to take the fullest possible advantage of their equipment.
The formation of a compulsory pool should also commend itself to those who have at heart the welfare of all the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The Minister for Markets will be attending an economic conference in London later in the year, and if our farmers accept the compulsory pooling system for their wheat the Minister will be able to inform the other members of the conference that Australia, at any rate, is doing her best to co-ordinate the marketing of her great primary products to the advantage of the Empire. We understand that Great Britain contemplates buying in bulk the raw products of her dominions which are so essential to the maintenance and development of her economic life, lt may be possible for the Minister for- Markets to arrange for the British Government to purchase the whole of our exportable surplus of wheat for, say, the next five years. If that could be done it would do more to strengthen the bonds of empire than anything else that I can think of. It will certainly do a great deal more to that end than the London County Council has done by issuing the instruction that its meat supplies are, in future, to be purchased from South America. I am sure that honorable members read with regret in this morning’s press that this public body intended to bring chilled meat from the South American republics in preference to frozen meat from Australia. We cannot chill our meat and market it in good condition in England because of our distance from that country. Actions like that of the London County Council do not strengthen the ties of empire. Australia and the other British dominions incurred heavy debts in assisting to bring the war to a successful conclusion, while the
South American republics did their best during the war years to exploit Great Britain and her allies. In these circumstances it is surely only just that Great Britain should, through her public bodies and otherwise, do her best to develop inter-Empire trade. It is quite clear, however, that there ave still some people in England who want Australia and the other dominions to remain hewers of wood and drawers of water for all time. They expect to get our raw material, manufacture it, and return it to this country without giving any consideration whatever to our producers. I hope that the Minister will make a strong protest against that kind of thing when he gets to England. It is desirable that, wherever possible, the contracts of government and semigovernment bodies in Great Britain should be placed with the dominions, which are able to supply, under reasonable conditions, the products required.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) in the course of his speech said that it was desirable that the cost of producing wheat in Australia should be reduced. I notice that similar views by another armchair critic, Professor Copland, of the Melbourne University, are receiving publicity in the Sydney Morning Herald. Possibly these gentlemen, who know little about the practical side of wheat-growing, think that because the farmers are far removed from the centres of population, they will swallow everything. It is, they consider, very easy to increase production by writing an article for a newspaper.
– It is the easiest way to do it!
– But not the most effective. Some of the suggestions that have been made along these lines strike practical men as being utterly ridiculous. It is impossible for some farmers to reduce the cost of production except by tightening their belts and eating less. The members of my own family, for instance, are farming on freehold land acquired 50 or 60 years ago, and their business is not carrying any excessive overhead costs. The average small farmer employs very little outside labour - certainly not enough to make the difference between success and failure. Many farmers in Australia cannot themselves do anything to cut down the cost of production.
There is one direction in which costs could be reduced for some farmers, and that is in the supplying of wheat sacks; but it is remarkable that the gentlemen who talk so much about reducing the cost, of producing wheat are the strongest in their opposition to the bill and to the installation of the bulk handling system, which would reduce the costs of farmers who are not at present enjoying the benefits of that system. In these circumstances we can only assume that they are the mouthpiece of the exploiters of the farmers.
I have no doubt about the attitude that the farmers of New South Wales will take in regard to this proposal. The result of the ballot in that State will be overwhelmingly favorable to the formation of the pool. The Government of New South Wales held a poll of the farmers some little time ago on the formation of a voluntary pool, but I know that many farmers voted against it because they believed that a Commonwealth compulsory pool should be established. I regret that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) made a misleading statement last week, which gained much publicity, to the effect that all farmers would receive the advantage of the guaranteed price of 4s., irrespective of whether their State became parties to the pool or not. I have the authority of the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) for saying that that statement is absolutely incorrect.
– And the Deputy Leader of the Opposition knew it to be so.
– If he did not, he is not fit to hold his position. It is regrettable in the extreme that public men should make deliberate mis-statements about a great national project like this. The position is that the farmers of those States which do not become parties to the pool will not receive the advantage of the guaranteed price. I hope that the farmers of Australia will not be misled by statements of the honorable member for Henty and others to the contrary. If they want the guaranteed price they must vote for the establishment of the pool.
– Perhaps that was the object of making the statement.
– I trust that the standard of honour obtaining generally in this House would preclude the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett), from making a deliberate statement with that object in view. The Government’s proposal to establish a compulsory pool will, I think, be endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the farmers of this country. The only danger is that the necessary enabling legislation may be opposed by State Legislative Councils, some of which are elected on a restricted franchise, and others by appointment, as in New South Wales, on no franchise at all. Surely, as the honorable members for Calare (Mr. Gibbons), Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), Wannon. (Mr. McNeill), Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), and Echuca (Mr. Hill), men who are politically opposed and hold divergent views on most questions, now unite in supporting the proposals of the Government, that is a clear indication what these men think of ‘ the advantage of a compulsory pool. I congratulate the Minister on the unanimity that characterised tin; various conferences at which this scheme, was evolved, and I thank him on behalf of the farmers of my electorate for his untiring energy in bringing this proposal before the country. I trust that the result of his efforts will be the formation of a compulsory pool, and the ultimate rehabilitation of an industry which means so much to the people of Australia generally.
.- I rise to support the bill, and to congratulate the Government on its introduction. I deprecate the tactics of some honorable members opposite in endeavouring to sound a party note in the debate by repeatedly stating that this proposal is the first instalment of the fulfilment of the Labour party’s socialistic ideas.
– The Minister himself said that.
– He made no such statement in my presence.
– The Minister said that these proposals were part of the Government’s policy.
– At any. rate that statement has been repeatedly made by members of the Opposition, particularly the Deputy Leader (Mr. Gullett) and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill). The honorable member for Warringah would, of course, be the last to plead not guilty, because he has said that the establishment of a compulsory pool will be, as it were, “ a day’s march nearer home “ for the socialists. This legislation has been asked for by various organizations of farmers for many years. The farmers appealed to the late Government, which not only failed, but even refused to introduce such legislation. I should not resuscitate the past by quoting correspondence, were it not for the emphatic -statement of honorable members opposite, that this legislation had been introduced into this House not at the request of the farmers, but to give effect to the Government’s policy. An amendment has been moved to the bill which is intended to lead this House, and the farmers generally,- to believe that honorable members representing the Nationalist party are bursting with a desire to assist the wheat-growers. The correspondence that I shall quote relates to representations made to the late Government for assistance to this industry. On the 28th November, 1928, I received a communication from the Murrayville District Council of the Country Progressive party within my electorate, conveying the following resolution: -
That, owing to the adverse season, the high cost of production, and the low price offering, this council strongly urges the necessity of granting growers a bounty of at least ls. per bushel on all wheat grown this season 1928-29, and that both our Federal and State members be asked to introduce this matter to the Prime Minister.
After conveying that resolution to the late Prime Minister, I received from him the following letter, dated 1st December, 1928 :-
I am in receipt of your letter of the 28th November, forwarding to me a resolution passed by the Murrayville District Council Country Progressive party, in connexion with the present price of wheat.
I am sure you will appreciate that I fully recognize the importance of the wheat industry to Australia, and the necessity of ensuring to the grower a fair return for his labour. The suggestion submitted by the Murrayville Council will receive the fullest consideration, but it is, I think, only fair that I should add that I do not believe the future prosperity of this important industry can be assured by the method which they advocate.
I subsequently received the following communication dated the 29th December, 1928, from my constituents in acknowledgment of the late Prime Minister’s letter :- -
We are pleased to note that the Honorable the Prime Minister fully recognizes the importance of the wheat industry to Australia, and the necessity of ensuring to the grower a fair return for his labour.
The question of “ bounties “ applied to industry has been fully and exhaustively discussed by this council, and every delegate expressed the opinion that bounties are fundamentally unsound and not to be thought of as a permanent measure, but no other solution presents itself under existing conditions, and the cost of production to the wheatgrower lying mainly in the hands of those employed in secondary industry, whose profits are not determined by the natural laws of supply and demand, but are determined by legislation.
In conclusion, we will be grateful if the Honorable the Prime Minister will point out his solution of the problem, and if it lies in our Sands to apply it, we will hasten to do so, but if it lies in the hands of the Federal Government, as we believe it does, we respectfully ask that he bring down the necessary legislation to put it into operation.
The following is a further letter from the late Prime Minister addressed to me and dated the 4th January, 1929: -
I am in receipt of your letter of the 2nd January, with further reference to correspondence from the Murrayville District Council of the Country Progressive party, with regard to the question of a bonus on wheat. I have not had an opportunity of submitting the matter to Cabinet, but will endeavour to do so when it meets at the end of the present month.
The following is a communication from my constituents, dated the 24th February, 1929 .-
As the seeding season is now approaching, the wheat-growers of the north-western Mallee are desirous of knowing what the Honorable the Prime Minister has been able to accomplish in the matter of bounty on wheat.
The point the Federal Ministry must keep in mind is that the present unprofitable state of wheat-growing must have the inevitable effect of cutting down the acreage sown to this cereal, and this, of course, must re-act very seriously on our national income, a happening which should be avoided at all costs.
The late Prime Minister replied on the 12th March, 1929-
I desire to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 1st March enclosing a communication from the honorary secretary of the Murrayville District Council, in regard to the question of a bonus on wheat.
This question has been given careful consideration, but the Government regrets that it is unable to see its way to accede to the request of the Murrayville District Council of the Country Progressive party that a bonus be paid.
– Was that letter written after the submission of the request to Cabinet?
– Apparently so. On the 4th January, the late Prime Minister stated that he had not yet had an opportunity of submitting the request to Cabinet, but would endeavour to do so when it met at the end of the month. I regret having to quote this correspondence, but I am doing so because it makes clear the attitude of the late Government in respect of the wheat crop of last season. On the 20th March, 1929,I received the following telegram from my constituents : -
At a full meeting of the executive of the Murrayville District Council of the Country Progressive party, representing the views of 1,000 members, the Prime Minister’s reply of the12th March was received with great consternation in the light of his communication of the 1st December, 1928, in which he states “ I am sure that you will appreciate that I fully recognize the importance of the wheatgrowing industry to Australia, and the necessity of assuring to the grower a fair return for his labour “. He further says, “ That I do not believe the future prosperity of this important industry can be assured by the method which they advocate “ - which implies that he has a solution, a point which was stressed in this council on the 20th December, and which has been disregarded in his subsequent replies. In the interests of the stabilization of the industry, this executive feels that it is incumbent that the Bruce-Page Ministry must move in this urgent national matter.
This subject-matter has now been referred to the Victorian Wheatgrowers Association.
I then received the following communication from the Wheatgrowers Association : -
I am instructed to advise you that the State Council of the Victorian Wheatgrowers Association unanimously carried the following resolution at its meeting on the 8th inst.
Resolution to the Right Honorable the Prime Minister.
Your attention is respectfully drawn to the fact that the Victorian Wheatgrowers Association decided at its conference held in St. Arnaud, recently, to request the Commonwealth Government to guarantee the cost of production for all wheat produced in Australia. We shall be pleased to know what attitude your Government would take in this matter, as we believe that the wheat industry is in such a condition to warrant speedy, and definite action in the direction sought.
That letter was acknowledged, and further correspondence took place which is too lengthy for me to read. The final communication was received on the 21st August of last year. It was a letter addressed to me, and signed by C. Strahan, assistant secretary. Apparently, the Prime Minister had washed his hands of the matter, and had delegated it to an assistant secretary of the department. It reads -
With reference to your letter of the 1st July, and previous correspondence, relative to a resolution carried at a meeting of the State Council of your association held on the 8th May last, in which it was urged that the Commonwealth Government guarantee the cost of production of wheat grown in Australia, I am directed to inform you that, assuming that the proposal is to deal with the question by the fixation of the price of wheat, the introduction of any legislation by the Commonwealth, which involves fixation of prices, is, in the opinion of the Commonwealth law authorities, not possible under the Constitution.
Apart from the question of the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth, it is considered that the more satisfactory way to deal with the problems of the wheat industry is to bring about a reduction in the costs of production, and towards this end assistance can be rendered by governments in two important directions, viz., transportation, and the price of superphosphates.
With a view to the avoidance of overlapping in the existing transport services, and the prevention of economic waste, the coordination of transport services in Australia was recently reported upon by the Commonwealth Transport Committee. In that report it was recommended that there should beestablished a federal transport council consisting of the State Ministers responsible for transport services, presided over by the Commonwealth Minister for Markets and Transport.
Effect has been given to that recommendation, and at a later date the council will have an opportunity of discussing the possibilities of reduced transport charges.
The Tariff Board is at present engaged in an investigation of the price of superphosphates, and has already heard evidence in several of the States. Finality, however, has not yet been reached.
The problems of the wheat industry are hilly appreciated by the Commonwealth Government, but, unfortunately, such problems are not restricted to the wheat farmer, but are common to most of the primary industries today. The Government trusts that, as a result of the greater realization by the public generally of the necessity for reducing costs of production, progressive improvement in the direction will be brought about.
The problems of industry will, it is considered, be better solved in this way than by action for fixation of prices which, at best, is an artificial method of meeting economic circumstances.
Since the receipt of your letter, now under reply, the position in respect of wheat prices have undergone a marked improvement, the market price for wheat having risen from about 4s. per bushel, on the 1st June, to 5s. 3d. per bushel at the present time, and this fact should materially assist the wheatgrowers in the difficult position to which you refer in your letter.
My object in reading that correspondence is to show that the last Government, although frequently asked to do something to assist the growers, consistently refused to do so. Now, members of the Opposition, who were then members of that Government, are protesting their eagerness to do that which they refused to do when they had the opportunity.
This bill is the result of the deliberations, of a conference at Canberra over which I, as a representative of the Victorian Wheat Growers Association, and not as a member of Parliament, had the honour to preside. I was not personally invited to the gathering, but the Victorian Wheat Growers Association, of which T am a member, was asked to be represented, and by telegram requested me to attend. Those present at the conference were -
New South Wales.
Honorable H. V. C. Thorby, Minister for Agriculture, New South Wales.
Mr. W. McRitchie, Primary Producers Union.
Mr. G. W. Walker, New South Wales Chamber of Agriculture.
Mr. W. W. Watson, President,. Agricultural Bureau.
Mr.H. K. Nock, Farmers and Settlers, New South Wales.
Mr. D. C. Cambridge, Farmers and Settlers, New South Wales.
Honorable A. K. Trethowan, M.L.C., Australian Farmers Federal Organization.
Honorable W. Slater, M.L.A., Minister for Agriculture.
Honorable R. F. Pollard, M.L.A., Assistant Minister for Agriculture.
Mr. H. A. Mullett, Superintendent, Agricultural Department.
Mr. W.L. Moss, Victorian Wheat growers Association.
Mr. Hugh McClelland, Victorian Chamber of Agriculture.
Mr. C. Judd, Manager, Victorian Wheatgrowers Corporation Limited.
Mr. H. W. Pickering, Chairman, Victorian Wheat growers Corporation Limited.
Mr. E. Reseigh, Victorian Farmers Union.
Mr. K. L.O. Macleay,Joint Manager, Victorian Producers Co-operative Company Limited.
Honorable P. G. Stewart, M.H.R., Victorian Wheat-growers Association.
Mr. H. Glowrey, M.L.A., Ouyen Wheat-growers
Honorable Harry F. Walker, M.L.A., Minister for Agriculture.
Mr. E. Graham, Under Secretary for Agriculture.
Mr. Theo. Tod, Chairman, Wheat Board.
Mr. L. R. McGregor, Director of Marketing.
Professor Arthur J. Perkins, Director of Agriculture.
Mr. E. A. Badeock, South Australian Cooperative Wheat Pool.
Mr. J. M. McDonald, South Australian Cooperative Wheat Pool.
Mr. J. E. Maycock, Wheat growers Protection Association.
Mr. T. C. Stott, Wheat growers Protection Association.
Mr. John S. Teasdale, Primary Producers Association and Wheat Pool of Western Australia.
Mr. John Thompson, Wheat Pool.
Mr. C. W. Harper, Wheat Pool.
Sir Walter Lee, M.H.A., Minister for Agriculture.
Mr. R. W. Winspear, Agricultural Bureau of Tasmania.
– They were a specially selected lot.
– Not selected because of their socialistic views.
– No, the very opposite.
– I am glad to haye that admission. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) would not call Mr. Teasdale a socialist.
– He has not approved of this proposal; he is dead against it.
– He did approve of the general resolution; if he is opposed to it now he has changed his views. The conference carried the following motion : -
That this conference of Australian wheatgrowers’ representatives expresses its appreciation of the action of the Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Parker Moloney) in calling this conference together, and is of opinion that the proposals submitted by the Federal Government will greatly assist the industry and lead to the cultivation of an increased acreage during the coming season.
That motion was carried unanimously.
– I do not think so.
– I was present; the honorable member for Swan was not.
– Was the honorable member for Wimmera chairman ?
– After the Minister for Markets and Transport had opened the conference and explained his proposal, he and the State Ministers for Agriculture withdrew, so that the representatives of the wheat-growers might consider the scheme. I presided in the absence of the Ministers.
– Was the honorable member chairman when the motion was carried?
– The motion was carried after I and the State Ministers returned to the conference.
– No Queensland representatives, except officials, were present when that motion was carried.
– The Queensland representatives who supported the motion and applauded it were: Honorable Harry F. Walker, M.L.A., Minister for Agriculture; Mr. Theodore Tod, Chairman of the Queensland Wheat Board ; and Mr. L. R. McGregor, Director of Marketing. The personnel of the conference is a complete answer to the charge that this proposal is an instalment of socialism. Although not one word .of party politics was introduced by the Minister for Markets and Transport or by any delegate, I know that the overwhelming majority of the delegates are opposed to political Labour. A charge made against the Minister is that a compulsory wheat pool has always been one of the objectives of his public life - that when he was in the cold shades of opposition, he nurtured the idea, and as soon as he was in a position to do so proceeded to give effect to it. Truly that is a heinous offence! I wish that more honorable members would practice on the Treasury bench what they preach when they are in opposition. If I were charged with having, as a Minister, given effect to what I had advocated as a member of the Opposition, I would accept that as the greatest compliment that could be paid to me.
We are told that although the board will be elected by the growers it will be dominated by the present Government, and will be circumscribed by the regulations to be issued by the Minister. The farmers have sufficient political sense to know that the simple answer to that charge is that no government dare an tagonize en masse the wheat-growers of Australia. The surest way to do that would be to attempt to usurp the powers of a board elected by the farmers to protect their interests.
– It is more dangerous for the Government to antagonize the consumers.
– I shall deal with the consumers later. So far from the Government dominating the board, that body could, if it cared to do so, very largely influence the Government. I am not suggesting that the board should embark on a career of political bargaining, but without entering the arena of party politics, it could influence the Government, and is likely to do so, to a greater extent than honorable members of the Opposition profess to believe. In justification of the Government’s proposal, the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) has pointed out that in the United States of America and Canada legislation to help the wheat-growers, although not exactly in the manner proposed in the bill, has already been enacted.
– If this Government is so sincere, why doe3 it not offer a guarantee for three years ?
– I have already pointed out that the last Government, of which the honorable member was a consistent supporter, did nothing to assist the wheat-growers for even . one year. Australia has experienced a succession of four or five very lean years, probably the longest spell of adverse seasons in its history, and the position of the wheatgrowers, financially and economically, is desperate. I saw evidence of that in the electorate of the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) who, I may mention in passing, has authorized me to state that he whole-hear’tedly supports this bill, and regrets that although present he is not yet well enough to be able to speak in support of it in this chamber. He is a practical farmer, and when he, and even the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), who also is engaged in growing wheat extensively, approved of this scheme, the Government has a sufficient justification for having introduced it. The Governments of New South Wales and South Australia have introduced measures for the relief of wheat-growers, and have advanced hundreds of thousands of pounds to them. At no previous time was there such an aggregation of debt on the shoulders of the wheatfarmers, and while their financial difficulties are greater than ever before, the wheat markets of the world are sagging, and the outlook in regard to prices is very obscure. Then we have our adverse trade balance, and the national appeal of the Prime Minister to the farmers to grow more wheat. I contend that any Prime Minister, who makes an appeal to one section to re-double its efforts in order that production may be increased, is under a moral obligation to see that those to whom such an appeal is addressed have some guarantee in regard to the price of their product.
– The guarantee should be for the period of the pool.
– I shall deal with that point in a few moments. The wheatgrower is told that he cannot escape from the operation of the law of supply and demand; but he finds that nobody is working under this law except’ himself. Wherever he looks, he sees organizations engaged in price fixation. The unorganized wheat-grower sells his product to the organized merchant. The grain is received at the stack by the organized wheat agent, and transported to the seaboard by the organized railway-man. It is loaded into ships by the organized stevedore and wharf labourer, and carried overseas in a vessel controlled by the shipping ring. That portion of the wheat which is gristed for local consumption, about which the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) is so concerned, is purchased by the organized flour-millers, converted into bread by Unorganized baker with his organized union employees, and distributed to the consumers by the organized carters and drivers. Everybody engaged in the industry, or indirectly connected with it, is organized except the individual who grows the wheat. Every night, over the wireless, the farmer hears an announcement as to the price fixed for flour by the flour-millers’ association. No law of supply and demand operates immediately the wheat has left the farmer’s hands, but the growers maintain that, if the fixation of prices is to be an economic law of Australia, the process should begin with the wheat.
I now come to the point regarding the consumer, to which the honorable member for Warringah has referred. The assumption is that the passage of this bill would mean dear bread to the consumers. It has been said during this debate, and the fact cannot be emphasized too often, that cheap wheat does not necessarily mean cheap bread.
– I suppose that no matter how dear wheat may be, that makes no difference to the price of bread.
– Or flour.
– I shall give some figures to show the exact cost of the wheat used in making a loaf of bread. Sixty lb. of wheat will produce 42 lb. of flour, 7 lb. of pollard, 10 lb. of bran, and 1 lb. of waste. In a 4-lb. loaf of bread, there are 3 lb. of flour. It takes 4 2-7 ths of a lb. of wheat to produce this 3 lb. of flour, and from that wheat is also obtained 5-14ths of a lb. of pollard, 12-14ths of a lb. of bran, and l-14th of a lb. of waste. With wheat at 4s. 6d. a bushel, this 4 2-7 ths of a lb. of wheat, which is required for a 4-lb. loaf, cost’s 3.857d., less the value of 1 3-14ths of a lb. of offal. I notice, on referring to the market report in the Sydney Morning Herald, that the price of wheat last week was 4s. 6d. a bushel ex trucks Sydney, and the market is about the same to-day. Therefore, with wheat at 4s. 6d. a bushel, and allowing for the value of the offal, the net value of the wheat in a 4-lb. loaf is 2.69d., or less than 2¾d. ; but the price of bread retail in Sydney, and throughout Australia, is approximately1s. per 4-lb. loaf. In some instances, it may be a little less than1s., and, in other cases, the price is higher; but the average would be1s., of which the farmer receives considerably less than 3d.
– And what risks does he take?
– I suggest that the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) should address that question to the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) and his friends. If the price of wheat increased 6d. a bushel, the extra value of the wheat in a 4-lb. loaf would be less than one halfpenny; if the price of wheat increased1s., the extra value of the wheat would be 857d. ; if it increased1s. 6d.,1¼d. extra ; and if 2s.,1¾ d. extra. If the dire effects of this bill would be to increase the price of bread to the consumer, how is it that in Queensland, where there is a compulsory pool, the price of wheat to the grower is the highest in Australia, and the price of bread is the lowest in Australia to the consumer.
– I question that statement.
– I am supplying figures that I have obtained from a reliable source. The Queensland millers used to pay the farmers for wheat at the price at which the farmers could land it in Sydney. Under the wheat pool in that State, a three years’ agreement has been entered into with the millers to pay1d. a bushel more at country sidings for bagged wheat than the Darling Harbour price. In other words, the Queensland wheat prices are 6d. a bushel more on the average than the New South Wales prices. I asked what were the prices of bread in Queensland to-day, and the answer was that 5¼d. per 2-lb. loaf was charged in Ipswich and Brisbane, and the average price throughout Queensland was 5½d.
– What is the honorable member’s authority for his figures regarding the quantity of wheat used in bread-making?
– The Commonwealth Department of Markets.
– The price in Queensland is lower than in Victoria.
– Yes. I remember purchasing bread at a country siding for a fellow-settler in my district. I paid 7d. for a 2-lb. loaf, or at the rate of1s. 2d. for a 4-lb. loaf, and wheat at the local siding was then fetching 7s. a bushel. To-day the grower receives only 3s. 8d. or 3s.10d. a bushel at that siding, but he is paying the same price for his bread. I now propose to quote Lord Beaverbrook, who, in the course of a letter in the Montreal Herald, said -
In your leading article of October 18th, you put a direct question to me. In the course of this article you ask - “If there were a tax on foreign-grown wheat, would the English buyers be compelled to pay the price demanded by the
Canadian Wheat Pool? If they did, could Lord Beaverbrook maintain his position that England’s supply of food would not rise in price?”
I still hold to my declaration, for the following reasons : -
The freetrade market of Great Britain is being flooded with wheat from the Argentine and Germany.
Wheat is produced in the Argentine at less than 25s. a quarter (3s.1½d. per bushel), a price with which farmers, neither in Canada nor in Britain, can compete. Further, 340,000 tons of this wheat entered our ports in September of this year. This is ten times the amount imported from the Argentine in September of last year. British imports of Argentine wheat are, therefore, growing rapidly.
We are also receiving quantities of grain from East Prussia. This wheat is subsidized by the German Government to the extent of 13s. a quarter (1s. 7½d. per bushel), which enables it to be sold at 40s. to 44s. a quarter (5s. to 5s. 6d. per bushel) in the British market. This again is a price lower than that demanded by the Canadian or British farmers if they are to cover their expenses.
These are the facts on the wholesale side. On the retail side is the further fact that the quartern loaf now costs 8½d to 9d. .
But Sir Charles Fielding, a recognized authority in England on agricultural questions, has shown conclusively that the quartern loaf can be, and has been, profitably sold at not exceeding this figure, even when the wholesale price of wheat advances to 55s. a quarter (6s. 10½d. per bushel ) .
If Sir Charles is right, and there is no doubt of that, how is it that the loaf is now sold in London at 9d., when the wholesale price of Prussian wheat is 40s. to 44s. a quarter (5s. to 5s. 6d. per bushel), or when the cost of production of Argentine wheat is less than 25s. a quarter (3s.1½d. per bushel)?
The reason is that the middle-man is not passing the benefits of low, wholesale prices to the consumer. He is mulcting the public, pocketing the proceeds, and growing rich as the result.
– How long has Lord Beaverbrook been a spokesman for the Labour party?
– I am quoting him, not as a spokesman for the Labour party, but in support of my contention that low wheat prices do not necessarily mean cheap bread to the public, and that, conversely, an increase in the price of wheat - up to a certain point, of course - does not necessarily mean an increase in the cost of living in Australia. One cause of high prices is the continual fluctuation that takes place. If the price of wheat remained steady throughout the year there would be no speculation, and the millers and bakers would be able to assess their costs. The result would be a- decrease in the prices of flour and bread. Under a compulsory pool and a regular crop it ought to be possible to fix the price of wheat for the whole year, in quarterly periods.
– According to the Commonwealth statistics for March last, the price of bread is lower in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania than it is in Queensland.
– I have given the authority for the statement that I have made; and I can say from my own experience- that the price of bread to-day is practically as high as it was when wheat was bringing twice as much.
The wheat merchants say that they Iia ve no objection to voluntary pools; and that sentiment is echoed by a certain school of thought in the ranks of the farmers. The wheat-grower who sells his wheat to buyers in an open market has no objection to a voluntary pool, for the good and simple reason that the pool makes the price for him. He does not object to a large proportion of his fellow producers endeavouring by co-operative action to lift and to stabilize wheat prices, because it is to his advantage that they should do so. The wheat merchants can always undercut the pool in the price that they quote to overseas buyers. Japan purchases a considerable quantity of our wheat. It sends out, not half a dozen buyers to compete against each other, but one buyer. He obtains a quotation from the voluntary pool, and submits it to the private firms. Repeatedly those firms, knowing the price that the co-operative wheat pool has quoted, have effected sales at a reduction of Id. or -Jd. on that price. It may be said that, if an attempt were made to raise the price by organized selling, such buyers would be driven to purchase their wheat elsewhere. The position, however, is that the wheat pools in Australia have a very complete organization. They know what prices are ruling overseas, and the figure at which Japan can land wheat from the Pacific coast of America. This knowledge enables them to fix their price when they are negotiating with such a buyer. But on nearly every occasion they have been undercut. It is the policy of the wheat merchants to leave the cooperative, wheat pools to make the market, and then to undercut them.
It will he worth while, if I describe the policy generally adopted by the private wheat merchants, and examine their much vaunted claim to have had a lifelong experience in selling, as well as the contention that finance will be driven from Australia if this measure is put in operation. Before the introduction, of the bill the Leader (Mr. Latham) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) enlarged upon the difficulty of financing the proposal. Day after day questions were asked in this House expressing a doubt as to the ability of the Commonwealth Government to find the necessary money. Every honorable member was circularized by the Wheat Merchants Association; and it, too, queried the ability of the Commonwealth Government to find the money, although in the same communication it expressed the conviction that it could raise sufficient capital to finance a crop three times as large as we are likely to have.
– The honorable member will remember the remarkably conflicting statements that were made on behalf of the Government. * They justified the inquiry.
– I remember more clearly the conflicting statements that were made by the honorable gentleman and members of his party. Although the honorable gentleman queried the ability of the Commonwealth Government to finance the project, he has submitted a proposal which, if adopted, might involve the Commonwealth in a greater financial responsibility than will the bill. The proposal of the honorable gentleman is that every wheat-grower in every State, whether he is in the pool or not, shall be guaranteed 4s. a bushel for his wheat, no matter how or where the wheat may be produced or sold. The proposal of tha Government, on the other hand, may not, and according to some honorable members on this side will not, be applied to the whole of the wheat-growers of Australia. -Therefore, the financial obligation of the Commonwealth under the hill certainly will not be greater, and conceivably will be leas, than would be the case under the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition.
– In either case it would depend on the market, and the particular sales that were made.
– The honorable gentleman has not furnished us with any particulars; he has merely launched an amendment providing that 4s. a bushel be guaranteed without a compulsory pool. It appears to me that it would be impracticable to give effect to his proposal. He may be able to explain how that cun be done; but, looking at the matter honestly I fail to see its practicability, or the wisdom of the Government should it commit the taxpayers of Australia to such a financial obligation without some organized system of marketing. The critics of this measure ask where the finance is to come from. My reply is that the bill proposes to finance the marketing, not the growing, of the wheat. The problem that is exercising the mind of every wheatgrower in Australia is, where can he obtain the money to produce his wheat? Having been produced, the Government, will be under a financial obligation only if the price of wheat in the markets of the world is below that which it has guaranteed. If the price should drop to the phenomenally low figure of 3s. Gd. per bushel in the markets of the world, it would be below that at which the Australian wheat-grower could produce it; but, what is more important, it would be below the figure at which our competitors in other countries could produce it. I say deliberately, as one who has a knowledge of agricultural conditions in this country and who has worked in the wheat-field3 of the United States of America and Canada, that we have in Australia to-day the most skilled agriculturists and dry farmers in the world, and that under a proper system of production and marketing we could produce wheat at a lower cost than any other country. That is not simply patriotic “ gush,” nor is it an empty boast.
By way of interjection, on several occasions, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has asked which clause in the bill indicates that a ballot of the wheat-growers must be taken before the measure becomes operative. My answerto the honorable member is that the Commonwealth Government has no power totake a ballot of wheat-growers within a State, nor to dictate to them as to how they shall market their wheat. Obviously, as the Commonwealth Government has uoconstitutional power to attempt to control individual wheat-growers within theconfines of a State, it is not its function to take a ballot of such persons on a measure of this kind.
– But it could makeit a condition of the agreement that the States should take a ballot.
– They have all agreed to it already.
– That is so. If the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) desires to have definitely inserted in the bill a provision for the taking of a ballot I am prepared to support him. The wheat-growers generally are unanimous regarding the desirability of taking a ballot.
– The marketing acts of the States will not take effect until after a ballot has been held.
– The marketing acts of Queensland and New South Wales lay it down that legislation of this kind cannot become effective until a ballot of the producers concerned has been taken. The honorable member for Fawkner need not worry about that matter at all.
– And at those ballots the proposal has to be carried by a majority of 66 per cent.
– That is so, and it is a very important point. The question arises: How can a pool of this kind reduce costs? I want it to be clearly understood that, when I speak of reducing costs, I have not in mind any proposal for reducing wages. I said at the conference of growers in Canberra, and I say again now, that I see in this measure not so much an opportunity of increasing wheat prices, as of bringing down marketing costs. Extravagance is associated with many aspects of wheat marketing. I am more familiar with conditions’ -in Victoria, and on this subject I can speak authoritatively, because
I represent more wheat-growers, I. think, than does any other honorable member in this House. There is probably more wheat grown in my constituency than in any other area of its size in Australia. In Victoria one may see, during the harvesting seasons, three to six agents, at every railway station receiving wheat. I know of stations which receive less than 80,000 bags, and yet at such stations six receiving agents are in attendance. The result is that there are six stacks of wheat, six gangs of lumpers - frequently idle - and six different agents scrambling for railway trucks. There is inefficiency there to start with. Production costs can be reduced by the elimination of unnecessary agents, and by reducing their commission.
– The remaining agents will have more wheat to handle, and can, therefore, reduce their commission.
– That is true. Three years ago the wheat agents in Victoria found that there was not a living in the business for them all, and so, instead of some dropping out,, they approached the Wheat Merchants Association for an increase of their commission. The association granted their request, and raised the commission from 1 1/4 d. to ltd. a bushel. An increase of a farthing a bushel seems a small amount; but it has to be remembered that on the 47,000,000 bushels of wheat produced that year it represented an increase of £50,000, which had to be met by the farmers.
Wheat freights represent a big item of the revenue of all the wheat-producing States of the Commonwealth and the heavy losses which have been incurred by the railway departments of Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, within the last year have been largely attributed to the failure of the wheat crop. Let us see what happens in Victoria and the other States under the present system of competition which the wheat merchants are so anxious to perpetuate. A wheat train is made up of trucks for half a dozen different consignees. This involves a tremendous amount of clerical work to begin with, and also a great deal of extra shunting when the train arrives in Melbourne, as the trucks have to be sent to different destinations’. If all the wheat were consigned by the one authority there would be a big saving to the Railway Department, which should be able to reduce freights to the farmers^ and still obtain a greater net return. The same thing applies to chartering ships. It is obvious, that if there were one chartering agency for Australia it would be possible to. strike a better bargain with the ship-owners. In this way the farmer would be. able to receive more for his wheat, without there being any increase of price to the consumer.
The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) touches on the subject of bulk-handling. That is not directly associated with this bill, but. if there were, one organized, body for the handling of wheat throughout Australia it would facilitate the introduction of the. bulk-handling system. Already an attempt has been made in New South Wales to initiate this system, and its popularity is growing rapidly among the farmers. [Extention of time granted.] The value of the wheat, destroyed during the mouse plague of 1917 would have gone a long way towards defraying the. cost of silos. With the advent of good seasons, as surely as night follows day, we shall have the mice back with us again. It only needs another mouse plague in Victoria to bring about the end of the bag system, because the farmers will then rise in a tody and demand the introduction of bulkhandling.
One of the reasons why I am prepared to support any proposal for a change is that it may have the effect of abolishing the system of marketing wheat under the f.a.q. standard, a system which is immoral, to say the least of it. It provides no incentive to the grower to improve the quality of his wheat. There is machinery which separates the weed seeds, cracked wheat and other rubbish from the good grain, and if a good machine is set by a skilful operator a very high grade of wheat can be obtained. The farmers do not trouble to produce such a grade, however, because it does not pay to do so. They turn the second shoot into the main box, and put all the wheat in together. Why, they say, should they produce a superfine grade of wheat when it would be bought on the f.a.q. standard? One man may bring in wheat worth 2d. or 3d. a bushel less than his neighbour’s, but he will get the same price for it. The -buyer lumps it all together, and lets the good make up for the bad. That is the system in operation under the much flaunted efficiency methods of the wheat merchants. So long as the -farmers are prepared to tolerate it, so long will the system continue.
– Will the wheat pool alter that?
– I hope that under the pool, opinion may become so organized that a change will be inevitable.
– Is there any demand for this superfine wheat?
– There is. I believe that if we had a proper system of selling our wheat, not only according to grade but also according to its milling qualities, we should be able to produce wheat as much superior to that of other countries, and as much sought after in the markets of the world, as is our wool to-day. We should strive to produce not only a clean sample, but wheat of good milling quality. Two samples of wheat may look alike even to the experienced grower, but one variety may have ‘a much greater flour content than the other. For instance, 48 bushels of the variety known as Yandella King will produce as much flour as 50 bushels of Currawa, another variety. However, no consideration is given to that by the buyers. It is unthinkable that, the f .a.q. standard system of buying should prevail in regard to wool, or potatoes, or fruit, yet it is tolerated in regard to wheat. The wheat buyer likes the present system. The Wheat Merchants Association, which has been circularizing honorable members, and delivering homilies about efficiency, desires the continuation of the system because it is too much trouble to have the wheat graded. Different grades would mean different stacks, and different stacks would mean putting the wheat from those stacks into different trucks, which would be too much trouble for the wheat merchants. They like the f.a.q. standard, because the farmers who produce good wheat make up for those who produce something less good.
– Is wheat sold according to grade in any country ?
– Yes, in Canada. In that country there are certain standardized grades of wheat, according to which the grain is bought. A wheat buyer in the Baltic could buy next season’s Canadian wheat crop and know the exact grade of wheat that he would get, but a buyer of Australian wheat in England could only buy f.a.q. wheat. All he would know would be that it would be of fair average quality. The f.a.q. standard of quality and weight varies every season. It would be a wise .thing for us to have, say, six grades of wheat so that overseas buyers could purchase ahead with confidence. The retention of the f.a.q. standard is further evidence of the inefficiency of the present marketing system.
The sole motive behind the propaganda now being carried on by the Wheat Merchants Association against this bill is selfinterest. The association cares nothing for the welfare of the farmers. It knows that if a compulsory pool is formed it will be serious for it, and, therefore, it is circularizing honorable members against the bill and doing its utmost in the country districts to mislead the farmers as to the real intents of the Government. The method it has adopted of influencing the farmers is to discover a few persons in a certain district who are against the pool, and send along an agent to them with the object of strengthening their opposition and getting them to influence their neighbours against the pool. Soon afterwards a protest meeting is held, at which one of the opponents of the pool moves and another seconds a motion against the pooling system. This is carried, and the report is sent to the press that a largely attended meeting of wheatgrowers in the district decided by a majority of, say, 25 in a meeting of 50, against the pooling metho.d
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), in a speech in which he gave a lot of attention to the State Government’s view but practically’ none to the farmers’ position, said that if a loss of 3d. a bushel were experienced in connexion with the guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel, the Western Australian Government would have to provide about £487,000 to meet it. My reply is that if such a loss were sustained, the Commonwealth Government would also contribute a like sum towards it, and the farmers of Western Australia would reap the advantage of that. On the other hand, if the farmers of Western Australia do not accept the pooling proposition, they will, assuming always that the price of wheat is only 3s. 9d., as suggested by the honorable member, be nearly £1,000,000 worse off than they would otherwise be; but if they accept the Government’s proposition and such a loss is sustained, they will receive a greater advantage than the farmers of any other State in the Commonwealth.
I am vitally interested in this subject as a wheat-grower, and as the representative in this Parliament of many wheatgrowers. I know the difficult problems which face the industry. All I ask is that the farmers may be given the opportunity of hearing both sides of the case, so that they may draw their own conclusions, and voce accordingly.
– Why should not the Commonwealth Government meet the whole of the loss if there is one?
– If that were proposed the honorable member would howl even more loudly than he has done hitherto. The State Governments, which are vitally interested, are prepared to accept this proposal.
– Then why not apply the same proposition to sugar, cotton and wool ?
– I have no objection to the Commonwealth Government doing that.
– But I have. The honorable member is a farmer and has a personal interest in this proposition.
– I have admitted it. I represent wheat-growers in this House, and I find that the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) frequently holds very different views from myself on matters that affect the primary producers. I suggest to him that it is not his fault, nor mine, personally, that we are almost invariably opposed to each other. The interests of the people we respectively represent conflict. The various State Governments are financially committed to the extent of millions of pounds in connexion with the wheat industry, for they are, in effect, the landlords of the farmers.
– Four of -the State Governments have raised no objection to meeting the loss, if any, on a fifty-fifty basis.
– That is so. They have voluntarily accepted that obligation.
– The Government of Western Australia has notdone so.
– I except that Government from my statement. But the Governments of the other wheat-growing States have agreed to the proposal.
It is significant that the press of all the capital cities of Australia isconducting a vigorous campaign against this bill, as it has almost invariably opposed every effort that the farmers have made to market their products co-operatively. The opposition on. this occasion is, I believe, being carried on at the instigation of the Wheat Merchants Association, which is so vitally interested financially. On the other hand, it is gratifying to observe that a great majority of the country newspapers favour the policy outlined in the bill. I hope that the farmers will consider who are their friends before they follow the lead of the city press.
The suggestion of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) that the facts relating to this proposal should be printed in pamphlet form and circulated to every wheat-grower is worthy of the favorable consideration of the Minister. I suggest to the Minister that he should broadcast a speech in each State in explanation of the bill.
– There are many farmers without wireless sets.
– That is so, but the farmers who have the necessary equipment, would, I am sure, if the date of the Minister’s speech were announced beforehand, invite their neighbours to gather in groups to hear the address. The opportunity of hearing, at first hand, from the Minister what the bill really means, would be gladly availed of by them.
Wheat-growing is one of our greatest industries, and the wheat farmers can be trusted not to abuse the power that the Government proposes to clothe them with in connexion with this pool. In my opinion, no class in the community is more worthy to be trusted, politically and otherwise, than the primary producers. These men are sound in their outlook, and they know that the prosperity of their industry means the prosperity of the nation. I hope that the bill will be passed with an overwhelming majority, and that when the proposal is submitted to the farmers by ballot, they will show unqualified approval of it.
.- I am not a wheat-grower, and I do not think that there are any active wheat-growers in my constituency ; on the other hand the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) is an authority on the subject, and represents wheat-growers. I am surprised, therefore, to hear him say that there was not the shadow of socialism over this bill. Surely the honorable member could not have heard the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) say iri introducing the bill ‘that it contained the proposals of the Government for the stabilization of the wheat industry, and that it also indicated the general policy of the Government in connexion with the marketing of our great primary products. In these circumstances, we may expect similar proposals later in relation to other primary products. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham), and some other honorable members opposite, had a good deal to say about strengthening the bonds of empire, and ;t might have been assumed from their speeches that they were great imperialists. Yet only yesterday, at a conference of the Australian Labour party, held in Canberra, which was attended by the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), a Mr. Kilburn, of South Australia, who was elected to one of the conference committees, said, according to a report of the conference-proceedings in to-day’s Labour Daily -
Socialization must he in the minds of the people generally, as well as in the platform of the Labour party. The One Big Union, in his opinion, was the correct form of industrial, organization, and they must train the workers to take control-
In the light of that statement, how can the honorable member for- Wimmera hope to convince the farmers that there is no socialism about this hill?
In spite of the arguments advanced by the honorable member for Gwydir, to the effect that the wheat-growers want a pool, I remain unconvinced. In a recent issue of a newspaper published in the great wheat-growing country of Argentine, I read the following paragraph: -
Hundreds of our pettifoggers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, failures in their own professions, who, in order to live, draw near to the agrarian world (over whom they feel and presume themselves superior) improvising will-of-thc-wisp associations, clamoured to the high heavens that nothing better could be done for the salvation of the Argentine than to imitate the Canadian “ pool “.
The objective of the Labour party is the socialization of industry and government marketing, although it keeps that objective very quiet in the House and at election time. This proposal is a bait held out to the farmer by the Government, which is being ably assisted by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). That honorable member represents a wheat-growing constituency, but were it not for the Labour vote in his electorate he would not have the ghost of a chance of being returned. He has therefore delivered an interesting speech, informing us that the Minister for Markets is the great friend of the farmers, and that his speech should be broadcast throughout Australia. He also quoted figures supplied to him by the Minister in respect of bread prices, which figures the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), by quoting from the Australian Y ear-Book, had entirely disproved.
I rose mainly to refer to the Labour party’s socialistic objective, which is behind this bill and which the supporters of the Government are frying so hard to hide. Let me read to them some presentday happenings in Russia, from which country undoubtedly the Labour party draws much of its inspiration. The following extract, taken from The Times and published in the Melbourne Herald on the 4th March last, is an indication of what may follow if the Labour party achieves its objective : -
As a result of the collective organization of Russian farming, which is being operated by the Soviet Government, a steadily increasing number of Kulaks (well-to-do peasants) is crossing the . border into Poland with their families. Most of them are leaving their entire possessions behind.
The following are the details of Russia’s new system of collective agriculture : -
The farms are to bo worked by labour brigades taken from the peasants, under the control of brigadiers. Payment is to be according to the importance and the amount of work done by individuals or whole brigades. Nobody is to be allowed to receive the whole of his earnings. Forty per cent, will be withheld for at least a year as a guarantee for .the payment of fines for bad work and also to enable the Soviet to float loans. Confiscation of property and banishment is the punishment prescribed for peasants who quit their farms in order to escape work in the brigades. Half the peasants are now mobilized.
Government marketing is government price-fixing. The bill will certainly pass this House -
– This is not a Government marketing bill in any sense.
– It provides for Government price-fixing.
– The bill does not provide for price-fixing. The honorable member is quite wrong.
– There is to be Government representation on the board.
– Exactly. The Government is definitely fixing a price of 4s. per bushel, which may be attractive at the moment; but on the other hand it may mean a loss of millions to the Commonwealth. We are staggering along under a heavy load of debt already and we would have to resort to increased taxation to make good this loss. This is the usual experience of government trading.
I am not especially interested in- the wheat-growers or wheat-buyers, as such; I am interested in the bill from a national point of view. The Nationalist party is nationalist in name and objective, and its members take no part in offering to the farmers the bait which the Labour party is anxious for them to swallow. We take the national view, and, therefore, are opposed to the bill. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) and the Deputy Leader (Mr. Gullett) have fully discussed the details of the Government’s proposals, so it is unnecessary for me to dilate on them.
I rose .to dispose of the argument of the honorable member for Wimmera, who was anxious to tell the country what excellent work the Labour party is doing, without letting the general community know how he is beholden to that party. The farmers will be well advised to keep clear of any Labour legislation, and especially this measure, which is the first step towards the fulfilment of the Labour party’s socialistic ideas.
– I shall not detain the House long in closing this debate. Indeed, the arguments of the few opponents of this measure have been laid bare by so many other honorable members that there is really no necessity for me to reply. I take this opportunity of congratulating a large number of members on the other side of the House on the fine spirit that they have displayed in discussing this measure on non-party lines. It is refreshing to find such a spirit displayed on one of the most important measures introduced into this Parliament, affecting, as it does, one of our great primary industries. Of course there .have been exceptions, but it would be too much to expect all the members of the Opposition to eliminate party considerations, and I propose to devote my closing remarks in replying to the arguments of those exceptions.
The proposed amendments to the the bill, including one or two proposed new clauses, are now in the hands of honorable members. The amendments which have been made to the bill as originally introduced by me, are small and unimportant, but still are necessary to obviate any constitutional difficulties that might arise later. Because of our constitutional limitations it is impossible for the Federal Governm’ent to give effect to proposals of this kind without the cooperation of the States, and, therefore, it is important that in framing this legislation we should keep within our powers, and leave no opening for future trouble. Consequently it was necessary to overhaul the bill as originally proposed, and a number of minor amendments, including a new schedule, have been drafted. The new schedule does not materially differ from the original schedule. In the bill itself, as originally introduced, there were a number of clauses which were also repeated in the schedule. These will now appear only in the schedule, and, in view of that alteration and the addition of a few amendments, it was thought advisable to draft a new schedule altogether. The bill was introduced early in the session to enable it to be circulated among State organizations and the State Governments, so that they might carefully examine it and be able to collaborate with members of primary producers organizations in conference and suggest any improvements. That is exactly what has taken place. In essence the bill and the schedule are as originally introduced. The main principles of the proposals placed before the Canberra conference and considered by the growers’ representatives, have not been altered. The chief proposals are the establishment of a compulsory pool to be controlled by the growers; and a guarantee of 4s. a bushel at railway sidings, under agreement between the Commonwealth and the States. The remainder of the bill consists to a considerable extent of provisions designed to bring the proposals within the limits of the Constitution. The proposed new clauses to be inserted in the bill are the result of my collaboration with the committees of primary producers that have been appointed in the various States. These committees came to Canberra to discuss and assist in framing this legislation, so that the proposals as they now stand are beyond doubt the outcome of the deliberations of those engaged in the wheat-growing industry of Australia. I am concerned only with giving effect to these proposals, which represent the views, not only of the Federal and State Governments, but also of the wheat-growing organizations of Australia. Although I desire to pass the bill in its proposed amended form, I am prepared to consider any suggestions, and to deal with them on their merits.
I shall, now briefly refer to the criticism of the bill, much of which has already been effectively disposed of by honorable members on both sides of the House. I come first to the extraordinary amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). It has been described by many honorable members as impracticable, but to me that is the mildest form of criticism that could be uttered against it. The honorable member proposed that, without establishing a pool, the Government should guarantee 4s. per bushel to the wheat-growers. No more irresponsible suggestion could have emanated from a responsible member of this House. Surely the honorable gentleman has realized ere this that his amendment must bring ridicule upon him and all who support it. Indeed, I marvel that he expected to get any support for such a fantastic proposal. He did not deign to explain to the House either his reason for moving it or how effect could be given to it. Having unburdened himself of this freakish idea, he left it on the door-step and abandoned it. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) stumbled over it; but did not stop to see if it were breathing.
– I said I would not support any guarantee of 4s.
– I am pleased to hear the honorable member disclaim all responsibility for this weird conception of his leader.
– The Nationalists decided at a caucus meeting to-day to abandon the proposal.
– The amendment is so impracticable and absurd, and would bring such discredit on those who support it, that the Leader of the Opposition .would be acting wisely and decently if he withdrew it. Everybody seems to be ashamed of it. What a glorious scheme it would be for the wheat merchants ! The honorable gentleman would earn undying fame as the inventor of a scheme which had enabled the wheat merchants to get rich quickly. With no organization responsible for the administration of the guarantee, what would prevent the merchants from saying to the farmers, “ You are sure to get 4s. per bushel; you will lose nothing by letting us have the wheat for 2s. 6d.” The merchant would pocket the profit, and the Commonwealth would foot the bill. The proposal- is too absurd to be debated. Yet the Leader of the Opposition moved the adjournment of the House recently to call attention to the financial aspect of the Government’s proposals. He professed great concern as to the capacity of the Commonwealth to finance the guarantee.
– The bill was not before the House then.
– Yet the honorable gentleman’s amendment suggests that the financing of this pool is a minor consideration. He is prepared to commit the Commonwealth to a guarantee of 4s. without establishing any organization to administer the financial side of the scheme. The amendment has been so generally disowned that I am wondering whether the honorable gentleman intends to persevere with it. It could not possibly achieve any good, and certainly will not add to his reputation.With the other arguments of the Leader of the Opposition I have become more familiar through the reading of pamphlets that have been circulated throughout the wheat-growing areas of South Australia, and more recently of Victoria. They purport to be signed by farmers, and I find that they contain the same statistics relating to war-time pools and acreage under cultivation as were quoted by the honorable member for Kooyong.
– Those are simply official statistics.
– I was interested to discover the source of this propaganda, and fortunately a letter was sent to me which throws a great deal of light on the methods of the wheat merchants. Apparently a letter was sent to certain farmers asking them to sign an accompanying copy of a carefully drafted circular denouncing the pool. Unfortunately for the authors of the scheme, they made the mistake of addressing one of these letters to a farmer who does not approve of the views to which he was asked to subscribe, and he forwarded the letter to me. It reads - 25 Harrow-road,
St. Peters, 1 9th March, 1930.
I am enclosing for your consideration a review of the Parker Moloney Scheme and of the War-time Pools, also a covering letter to accompany same.
It is proposed to forward a copy of each to every member of Parliament in Australia. Also to prominent bankers and business-men.
I am asking about 20 prominent growers in South Australia to put their names to the covering letter. If you will make one to do this, please sign the covering letter and return to me as early as possible.
I have made all arrangements to have the “ review “ forwarded to those mentioned. There will be no cost to you. The “ review “ should make them think and pause.
Thanking you in anticipation.
Yours faithfully, (Signed)F. S. Alford.
Mr. Alford is a brother of the manager of Louis Dreyfus & Co., the prominent grain merchants, of whose activities we have heard a good deal during this debate. It is useful to know the source of these letters which, although purporting to be signed by wheat-growers, were originated by interested parties who are seeking to destroy the pool, professedly in the interests of the primary producers. The farmer was asked to put his name to a prepared statement, and assured that it would cost him nothing.
– He is not expected to sign it unless he agrees with its contents.
– The purpose of the propaganda is to create the impression that these circulars represent the considered opinions of farmers. Actually the letter has been framed by persons who are not farmers, and when they go to these lengths one wonders how much farther they may go in order to influence the opinions of the producers. It is possible that they seek these signatures from farmers who are to receive special consideration in the coming season. The whole scheme of propaganda is suspect.
One other statement by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) is worthy of the consideration of every wheatgrower. -
We have had plenty of experience of compulsory wheat pools inAustralia. I believe they were necessary in war-time; it was the only way available then for handling the wheat,but though the pools were necessary then, and there was every conceivable motive for them to work in harmony and with efficiency, there were yet gigantic losses, most astounding frauds, and lamentable corruption.
The inference is that if we set up a pool to be controlled by the wheatgrowers similar fraud, corruption, and loss will take place. That is a grave reflection on the wheat-growers. I refuse tobelieve that there are many of them who would be guilty of”astounding frauds and lamentable corruption.” If that is the best reason that can be advanced against these proposals, the honorable gentleman would have been wise not to utter it. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) also said that more criminality occurred in connexion with the State wheat pools than this country had previously known. The only inference to be drawn is that we must not establish the pool, and must not allow the wheat-growers of Australia to control their own business, because of the possibility of criminal practices. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) has most effectively answered the honorable member for Warringah, by pointing out that the man responsible f ir most of the fraud was an appointee of the party with whom the honorable member is associated. But that argument does not touch the matter under consideration. This is a proposal for a compulsory pool controlled by the growers. We have had no previous experience of a 100 per cent, compulsory pool, Australian-wide in its operation, and controlled by the growers themselves. To say the least, it is unfair for anybody to advance as a reason why we should not have a pool controlled by the growers, the argument that there have been corrupt practices in connexion with other pools. Therefore, the statements of the honorable member for Warringah do not apply to the proposal before the House. I do not know whether I should further refer to the honorable member’s” remark that this bill is an instalment of socialism and bolshevism, yet let us see how devoid of reason that argument is. Do honorable members expect that- it will “cut ice” among the primary producers who agreed to this proposal at a conference ?
– A handpicked conference.
– The speech of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) afforded the best answer to that suggestion.
– Surely it was a conference of men who were in favour of compulsory pooling.
– It was a conference of representatives of every primary producers’ organization in Australia.
– They wanted to get the agency work, and the great majority of those present were personally interested.
– The honorable member, no doubt, gets some satisfaction from that statement, but I doubt whether, if he said it a thousand times, he could convince even himself of its accuracy. However, the honorable member thinks it better to say something than to say nothing. I repeat that those assembled at that conference were drawn from every primary producers’ organization in Australia.
– Were the proposals made at Canberra unanimously accepted ?
– The proposals in favour of a compulsory wheat pool, with a guarantee of 4s. a bushel, as outlined by myself and submitted by Mr. Trethowan, President of the Farmers and Settlers Association, were unanimously agreed to.
– I do not think that the Western Australian delegates had power to agree to them.
– The, motion was put to the entire conference, and carried without a dissentient.
– That was rather a suspicious unanimity.
– I suppose that if the motion had not been agreed to unanimously, the honorable member would have criticized it on the ground of lack of unanimity.
– I like a healthy difference of opinion.
– Now the honorable member suggests that there was something suspicious about the resolution. It would be impossible to meet his wishes. The names of those who attended the conference were read out by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) this afternoon, and no honorable member opposite who desires to be fair would say that they were not sensible men, qualified to deal with a matter of this kind.
– Give us the names of the representatives of Tasmania.
- Sir Walter Lee was present for a while, and. he remarked that, as Tasmania produced very little wheat, he did not think that the growers in that State would be deeply interested. I do not see that that point is relevant to this discussion. I am answering the criticism that this is a wild socialistic idea. Queensland has not a Labour government in office at the present time; but the Minister for Agriculture in that State, Mr. Walker, expressed his entire approval of the proposal. Mr. Thorby, Minister for Agriculture in New South Wales, said that he was a 100 per cent, pooler, and he voted with all the other delegates in favour of the scheme. Since then there have been many conferences. The Victorian Country party unanimously agreed at its annual conference to this proposal. Surely the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) does not suggest that the members of that body have all become advocates of a violent socialism which he describes in his own peculiar way. When the division bells ring, we shall know what honorable members on both sides of the House think of the bill. The honorable member for Warringah will then, perhaps, be given a most effective answer.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and one or two other honorable members, who, no doubt, wanted to alarm consumers, referred to what might happen if the State boards put up the price of wheat for local consumption. That would be a matter entirely for the State boards to determine. It was suggested by the honorable member for Warringah and others that such an increase would cause great injustice to the consumers of bread. Many facts have been presented most effectively by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), and the honorable member for Wimmera; but, from whatever viewpoint we look at the matter, the history of wheat and bread prices disposes of the argument that the consumers would suffer by an increase in the price of wheat for local consumption. Our experience over many years shows that variations in the price of wheat are not attended by alterations in the price of bread. I shall quote the latest figures. In January, 1927, wheat was as high as 6s. 6d. a bushel, and last June the price fell below 4s. a bushel, while for the last few months it has been about 4s. 6d. a bushel; but, during the last two years, the price of bread has remained stationary, despite fluctuations to the extent of over 2s. a bushel in the price of wheat. It has not been suggested that the price for local consumption would be more than ls. a bushel over the export parity price.
– Under this bill is the grower to be given power to fix the price that the community must pay for his commodity ?
– The wheat-growers will elect the State boards, on each of which there will be only one government representative, and these boards will be given power to deal with matters such as the price of wheat for local consumption.
– And the grower is to be given power to fix the price that the community must pay for his product.
– Even if the board increased the price for local consumption by ls. a bushel, it would not mean that the price of bread would be raised. The millers now fix a certain price for flour, and, although they have an association, some of the millers break away from its arrangements and sell at a lower price than that fixed. Nevertheless, the grower and the consumer do not -benefit; the gain goes to the middleman. By properly organized methods such as are proposed, the middleman can be prevented from mopping , up profit to which he is not entitled. Listening to honorable members opposite, one might think that wheat was the only commodity, the price of which for local consumption was above world parity. Under the Paterson stabilization scheme, the price charged for butter in Australia has always been at least 4 1/2 d. per lb. above world parity. While the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) was sitting behind the last Government he was as mild as a sucking dove, and did not raise his voice against that higher local price. I point out also that under the dried fruits legislation introduced by the Bruce-Page Government, the price for local consumption has always been above world parity.
– - That’ does not make the practice right. It is about time that that sort of thing stopped ; and it is going to stop.
– When that practice was followed by a government that the honorable member supported he did not see anything wrong in it; but now that something similar is proposed by this Government, and he is as “ a v’oice crying in the wilderness,” he clamours for it to cease. He is consistent only in inconsistency. But every other statement made by honorable members opposite sinks into insignificance when compared with the most irresponsible of all, which was made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) last Friday. I have never heard a more wild or irresponsible statement. I do not know at whose instigation it was made, and I can only guess at its purpose. The honorable gentleman said “I tell the wheat-growers of Australia that it does not matter whether they vote for this pool or not, they can still get the guaranteed price.” I foresee that this statement will form the basis for another circular similar to that which I exposed to-day. The farmers will be told that, whether they vote for the pool or net, they will get the 4s. a bushel ; and if they should ask on whose authority assurance is given, the reply will be “ The Deputy Leader of the Opposition says so.” ‘
– It is quite clear that the wheat-growers will not get the guaranteed price unless they have a pool.
– I have pointed that out to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett). This is a joint proposal made by the Commonwealth and the States. The agreement that the States will have to sign forms the schedule to the bill, and only those States which sign it will come under the proposal. Nobody knows that better than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. His statement does him no credit. I take this opportunity to warn the wheatgrowers to ignore it. It is unworthy of a moment’s consideration.
I believe that the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) was actuated by a keen desire to do the best that he could for his own State. He said that the Commonwealth ought to bear the whole of any loss that might occur.
– I still think that it should.
– Already the representatives of the Governments of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia have given careful consideration to these proposals. They did not raise the point that has been raised by the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse). On the contrary, they have said that the States have some responsibility in regard to wheat-growing, and that it will be to their advantage, as well as to the advantage of the Commonwealth, if we can have a big production of wheat, and if the wheat producers are placed on a sound footing.
– What about sugar, cotton, and galvanized iron ?
– This industry is dissimilar from many others, because it is carried on in all of the States.’ I appreciate the argument of the honorable member for Forrest but I impress upon him the fact that the States have admitted that they have a share of responsibility in this matter, and that it will be to their advantage to shoulder it. If they accept their share of the responsibility when this proposal is given effect, it will be to their interest to provide every safeguard. If the Commonwealth alone were responsible, there would be no inducement for the States to see that the business was conducted on sound lines.
The interests of Western Australia will be safeguarded under the equalization scheme. At the present time that State enjoys an advantage in regard to freight amounting to 3/4 d. a bushel. That will be made up to it out of the equalization fund. The further point has been made that, if any loss is incurred it will fall more heavily on the smaller population of Western Australia. But, as the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) so ably pointed out, there is another side to that picture. If Western Australia comes into the pool, and there should be a loss of 3d. a bushel, the Commonwealth will bear half the loss; but if it should remain outside the pool, any loss will have to be borne wholly by its wheat-growers, and in that event the liability will be doubled.
– It would fall on them, and them alone.
– That is so. The honorable member for Forrest spoke as a representative wheat-grower; therefore, I cannot imagine why he should advocate a principle under which, in the event of a loss, the whole burden of it would have to be borne by the wheat-growers of his State.
– My ground for complaint was that this is only half a loaf, while other industries are receiving a full loaf.
– That is not an answer to the point that I am making. Under these proposals the Commonwealth will be responsible for one half of any loss that may be incurred.
There is a further point that the honorable member for Forrest may have overlooked, and that is the distribution out of the equalization fund of any extra amount that may be obtained by means of an increase in the price for local consumption. Let us assume the local consumption to be: New South Wales 13,000,000 bushels, Victoria 10,000,000 bushels, Western Australia 3,000,000 bushels, and South Australia 4,000,000 bushels. Before any distribution is made from the equalization fund those States that now have an advantage in regard to the price that they receive for wheat sold for local consumption will have that proportion made up to them. For example, let us assume that the price for local consumption is now 3d. a bushel in favour of New South Wales and Victoria. If, under the pool, there should be an increase of1s. a bushel in the price of wheat for local consumption, those States will first have their advantage maintained, and then the balance remaining in the equalization fund will be distributed among all the States. Western Australia will obtain her share on a production basis. I am of the opinion that the present Government in Western Australia isopposed to the principle of a compulsory pool ; but I can assure honorable members that these proposals were viewed favorably by the Government that has just gone out of office in that State.
– If a State should claim that it has an advantage of 4d. a bushel on the price for local consumption, and its claim is questioned, who will decide the matter?
– Any State that claims to have an advantage will have to put its case before the Board.
– When was this matter decided?
– It was laid down at the Canberra conference, and was finally agreed to at meetings of committees since held. Now, provision has been made in the schedule to give effect to it.
Those who in this House vote against the bill will withhold from the wheatgrowers the right to pronounce upon it. The bill cannot become law until the producers by ballot have declared for it. They should be given the privilege of saying whether they agree with or. disapprove of it.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Sitting suspended from 6.17 to 8 p.m.
In committee :
Clause 1 (Short title).
Message reported recommending appropriation for the purposes of amendments to be moved.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Parker Moloney) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of re venue be made for the purposes of amendments and new clauses to be moved by the Minister for Markets and Transport in a bill for an act relating to the marketing of wheat, and for other purposes.
Resolution reported, and - by leave - adopted.
In committee (Consideration resumed) :
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 -
Sections one, two and four of this act shall commence on the day on which this act receives the Royal Assent and the remaining sections of this act shall commence upon a date to be fixed by proclamation :
Provided that a proclamation shall not issue under this section unless and until an agreement in the form in the schedule has been entered into between the Commonwealth and at least three of the States.
.- Honorable members have understood from what the Minister has said that the compulsory wheat pool shall come into operation only if approved of by a ballot of wheat-growers in at least three of the States of the Commonwealth. The absence from the bill of any provision to that effect is conspicuous. This clause provides that the act shall come into force when proclaimed, with the proviso that no proclamation shall be issued until an agreement has been entered into between the Commonwealth and at least three of the States. I am aware that an amendment is to be moved later to provide for the taking of a poll of the wheatfarmers, and I mention the matter now in order to find out whether the Minister is prepared to accept the amendment.
– I have given this matter careful consideration, and I realize that it is necessary to make the position quite clear. As I pointed out in my second-reading speech, all we propose to do is to offer the States the basis of an agreement into which they may enter after they have taken a ballot of their own wheat-growers. In Queensland there is already a compulsory pool. I have placed the matter before the Crown Law authorities for an opinion, and they have advised me that it is not necessary to insert any provision in this bill regarding the taking of a ballot. In fact, they expressed the doubt whether any such provision, if inserted, would be constitutional. In the legislation under which the Queensland compulsory pool was established there is provision for the taking of a vote of their producers, and a vote was taken before their pool came into operation.
– Is there any provision in the Queensland legislation for other votes to be taken at stated intervals ?
– I believe that there is. In the New South Wales Marketing Act also there is provision for taking a ballot of producers. If those States become parties to the agreement under this proposed legislation they will take a ballot of wheatgrowers under their own legislation. The provision for taking a ballot is therefore definite and complete so far as Queensland and New Sout”h Wales are concerned. As for Victoria, I have received an assurance from the Minister representing the Victorian Government that a ballot will be taken before anything definite is done, and according to yesterday’s newspapers, the statement has been made by the Government of Victoria that the ballot will be taken within the next few weeks.
– Will it be taken before the Victorian Parliament passes its own legislation under these proposals?
– Yes. I have also a definite assurance from the South Australian Government that a ballot will be taken in that State. I placed this information before the Crown Law authorities, and they inform me that apart from any other consideration, we should be trespassing on State activities if we endeavoured to legislate regarding the taking of a ballot.
– The job is one for the States, not for us.
– That is so.
– It is their job, but could not the Commonwealth say that it would not enter into an agreement with any State that had not taken a ballot?
– We have already consulted the representatives of the States, and if we were to insert in this bill any provision regarding ballots its only effect, so far as I can see, would be to duplicate the procedure.
.- The Minister has, in effect, said that he has received an assurance from two State Governments that a ballot of wheatgrowers in those States will be taken before the pool proposals are adopted.
– I said that the legislation of two States already provided for the taking of a ballot.
– This Parliament has a responsibility of its own in these matters. It is for this Parliament to determine the conditions upon which it will authorize the Government to engage in any scheme such as this. oAs we all know, governments change. One day one political party is in power and a week afterwards it may be displaced by another. No government is bound by an undertaking of its predecessor unless it is a legal obligation. We all recognize that it is impossible to hold a government bound by a political undertaking of its predecessor, and this is a purely political undertaking. I cannot see that there should be any objection to providing somewhere in the bill, either in this clause or in clause 4, that a condition upon which the Government is prepared to engage in this general control of wheatmarketing is that the proposals -shall be submitted to the farmers of the States concerned, and shall be approved by a sufficient majority of them.
.- There is another angle from which this matter must- be viewed, namely, whether there should be provision for an expression of opinion of the growers in those States of which the governments ‘are not parties to the agreement. It is said that the Western Australian Government is not willing at the present time to take any action in regard to the establishment of a compulsory pool; but it would be of great value to those handling export wheat to know whether the farmers of Western Australia desire to participate in any form of control. I should like to know what the Government proposes to do in this regard.
– I do not yet know definitely that the Western Australian Government will not become a party to the agreement, but if it does refuse, I cannot see that any good purpose can be served by an authority other than itself taking a ballot of growers.
– In the case of the Dairy Export Control Board, the Commonwealth Government itself arranged for taking a ballot of producers.
– I presume the right honorable member thinks that if an affirmative vote were obtained in Western Australia, it would be in some way helpful to the pool authorities in their control of marketing. If a State Government were inclined to favour the proposal at all, it should at least provide the growers in that State with an opportunity for expressing their views, and if it were not prepared to go even so far as that it would not be likely to take much notice of a ballot taken by any one else.
.- I was amazed to hear the Minister say that he would not accept an amendment providing that it shall be a condition upon the Commonwealth entering into an agreement with a State that a genuine ballot of wheat-growers of that State shall be taken. There are all sorts of stories in circulation regarding the Government’s handling of this matter, one of them being that the Minister hand-picked his Canberra conference of wheat-producing interests, the unanimity of which he has so frequently mentioned.
– That is quite untrue. Can the honorable member name any wheat-growing organization which was not invited to send a representative to the conference?
– Then why are so many farmers against the compulsory pool?
– I am not suggesting that any organization was deliberately denied representation, but there is a strong feeling that the conference was not fully representative. One South Australian co-operative organization which was represented intimated that it could speak for its 6,000 members, but I know that it could not do so. It is possible that a majority of its members might favour a compulsory pool, but I know that a large number of them would oppose it. In any case the other 6,000 or 7,000 wheat-growers in South Australia were not represented at the conference. Enough doubt has been cast upon the representative character of this conference to cause many people to believe that it was hand-picked. Seeing that we have been told over and over again that the object of the bill is to give the farmers an opportunity to manage their own affairs, I cannot see why the Minister should refuse to accept the proposal that a genuinely representative ballot should be held in’ each State. Otherwise the Commonwealth Government should not use its power to coerce the minority of farmers in Australia. I hope that the Minister will include in the measure a provision making it obligatory upon any State to hold a ballot of all the wheat-growers and secure an affirmative vote before it enters into an agreement with the Commonwealth to become a party to the pool. The farmers have a right to express their opinion upon the subject. There is a real suspicion, in the minds of many people that this bill is the result of a well thought-out scheme by some of the cooperative wheat organizations of Australia that are going down-hill and that element in the Labour party which desires to obtain control of anything and everything.
– There is no such thought in the minds of the wheatgrowers.
– Then why not accept the suggestion that representative polls shall be held in the wheat-growing States? The Minister’s reluctance to do this emphasizes the necessity for it. Reference has been made by the Minister to the marketing acts of New South Wales and Queensland. Under both of those measures it is necessary to secure an affirmative vote of the producers before pools can he formed. The provision in the New South Wales act is that 66 per cent, of the farmers entitled to vote shall vote, and that there shall be a favorable majority of 66 per cent, of the voters before the scheme can become operative. There is a somewhat similar provision in the Queensland act. I believe that a 60 per cent, affirmative vote is necessary in that State. It is suggested that in Victoria a 55 per cent, vote should be able to carry the scheme, while in South Australia it is said that a bare majority will be sufficient. If there is the slightest sincerity in the advocates of this bill they will give the farmers a real opportunity to manage their own affairs. Of course there may be reasons why some honorable members opposite are not willing to do this. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) may think that the farmers are so soft in the head that they should be obliged, in their own interests, to pool their wheat. I realize that it is hardly practicable to insert a definition of “ wheat-grower “ . in the bill, for that might involve the preparation of a roll of electors; but I certainly consider that it should be made obligatory on the States to ascertain the opinion of the farmers before they become parties to the agreement with the Commonwealth. I intend subsequently to move an amendment of the clause to provide that a majority of wheat-growers actually entitled to vote must be recorded in any State before the Commonwealth is authorized to conclude an agreement with that State.
– It appears to me that some honorable members opposite do not understand the bill. The measure provides that agreements may be made between the Commonwealth and State Governments. It would be useless to hold a poll in a State if the Government of it were not prepared to make an agreement with the Commonwealth. The State Governments which become parties to the pool must agree to accept 50 per cent, of any loss incurred. Only if they are willing to do so will the Commonwealth enter into an agreement with them. I suggest to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) that he should repeat his remark about softheaded farmers to his colleague, the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan), who has said that experience has compelled him to support wholeheartedly the proposal for the formation of a compulsory pool. Reference was made by the honorable member for Wakefield to the coercion of the minority of wheat-growers. Is it not a fact that minorities are always coerced ? The honorable member referred to the provision in the New South Wales Marketing Act which required a 66 per cent, poll of the electors entitled to vote, and a 66 per cent, majority of the voters. Let us suppose that 10,000 farmers voted in a poll, 66 per cent, of them would be 6,600. The remaining 4,400 would be coerced by the decision of the 6,600. Those who believe in majority rule must also believe in the coercion of the minority. It must be apparent to the honorable member for Wakefield and the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), who is a champion of State rights, that it would be impracticable for the Commonwealth
Government to enter a State for the purpose of holding a poll of the wheatgrowers of that State. In any case, the representatives of the State Governments who attended the Canberra conference gave their word of honour to the Minister for Markets that they would take a poll of their wheat-growers before they entered’ into any agreement with the Common.wealth. The Minister accepted their word, and I suggest that we must accept it. “We are not dealing with individual farmers, but with the State Governments.
.- The question of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) and the reply of the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) have revealed a serious situation. Tha taking of a vote of the farmers is a condition precedent to the making of an agreement between the State and Commonwealth Governments; but the fact that the Minister shows a reluctance to provide in the bill for the taking of such a vote reveals a weakness in the measure. It appears to me, therefore, to be all the more necessary that the Commonwealth should accept the whole responsibility for any loss that might be incurred by the pool. If it did so, the difficulties that face us would not be so great, and I believe that the farmers would be more likely voluntarily to agree to a compulsory pool. Certainly they should not be compelled to accept the pooling system simply because the Government of their State is willing to bear 50 per cent, of any loss that might be incurred. In my opinion, we are in danger of differentiating between thu States in this matter, and wc may find ourselves up against a serious constitutional difficulty. In these circumstances, the Government would be wise if it accepted the whole financial responsibility for the scheme. It could justifiably do so, for it would be assisting Australia’s second greatest industry. The wheatgrowers of the Commonwealth have been called upon frequently to assist other industries. It is significant that the expense of the bounties provided for other industries has been borne “wholly by the Commonwealth, and I can see no substantial reason why we should depart from that principle in dealing with the wheat industry. Queensland has not been asked to accept responsibility for half the loss that may be incurred under the cotton bounty scheme, nor has she accepted any pf the cost of establishing the sugar industry there. When the Commonwealth Government agreed to assist the galvanized iron and wire-netting industries it did not make it a condition that the States should accept half of the responsibility. I suggest that the Minister, if he wishes this scheme to succeed, should agree that the Commonwealth shall be alone responsible for the guarantee, for at least a period of three years. If a State government refused to enter into a 50 per cent, guarantee, the farmers of that State, although not consulted in any way, would be debarred from the benefits of the pool.
– The honorable member wants a guarantee without the necessity to join the pool.
– Before passing this clause we should take a plebiscite of the wheat-growers to ascertain whether they are desirous of joining a compulsory pool. By doing that we should, be on sound ground, and if the decision were in favour of the scheme I do not think that any State government would object to it-
.- The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) has described this bill as an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States, and the Minister’s chief plea on behalf of the bill was that it provided for a farmers’ pool. He said that nothing would be done in the way of establishing a pool until the farmers themselves had approved of the Government’s proposals. The last appeal which the Minister made this afternoon - that this question should go before the farmers for their decision, because they were the interested parties - is a strong reason for both sides of the committee insisting upon this right of ballot being inserted in the bill itself. I understood the Minister to say that in’ Queensland a ballot had already been taken. But that State already has a pool, and the ballot taken on that pool cannot be considered to be taken on this pool.
– The agreement is being amended in 49 places!
– A State ballot in respect of a local pool is not a decision on this legislation. The honorable member for Gwydir said that at least 66 per cent, of the farmers were prepared to vote for the bill. If the Minister would stipulate in this legislation that the proposals must be carried by a majority of 66 per cent, of the farmers there would be little opposition to them. We were given to understand that there would be a bona fide ballot of the farmers, and that this scheme would not be forced upon unwilling farmers in any part of Australia by agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the State governments. Under this clause any three States could force the wheat scheme upon the whole of Australia.
– That is not so.
– Clause 16 provides that immediately the- agreement is entered into between the Commonwealth and any three States, the Commonwealth shall take possession and control of the whole of the wheat of Australia.
– I agree with that.
– The clause reads -
For the purpose of enabling the board effectively to control the export and the sale and distribution after export, of Australian wheat, the Governor-General may, by proclamation, prohibit the export from thu Commonwealth of any wheat except in accordance with a licence issued by the Minister.
– That refers only to export wheat, and not to the whole of the wheat of Australia.
– There is a corresponding provision in the bill defiling with interstate wheat.
– It is proposed that State legislation shall deal with intrastate wheat.
– The penalty for the carriage of wheat in contravention of that provision is £500, together with the confiscation of the wheat. In effect, this legislation will cover the “whole of the wheat of Australia, because the scheme may be enforced by any three States, including Queensland, which has no wheat to export, and which, as the Minister has said, held a ballot three years ago. The Minister should at least provide in the bill for a ballot to be taken, so as to leave no loop-hole for the Commonwealth to act in conjunction with any State government that may be in favour of the scheme to enforce it against the will of the farmers of that State.
– The remarks of the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) show that he did not grasp the purport of what was said a few minutes earlier by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), and which has been repeated in another form by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn). The honorable member for ‘Gwydir seemed to think that, so long as a ballot was taken in those States which proposed to enter into an agreement with the Commonwealth, it mattered not whether a ballot were taken either by the Commonwealth or by the State in those States which did not propose to enter into such an agreement. This bill may be said to be based upon three separate powers, the Commonwealth power to control export; Commonwealth power to control the interstate movements of wheat; and the State power to control the intra-state marketing of wheat. I presume that the State ballots to be taken will deal with the questions whether the growers are willing to agree to all these’ three powers being given; whether they are willing to allow their State board clothed with statutory authority to deal with intra-state marketing of wheat; and whether they are in favour of export and interstate control being vested in a Commonwealth board under a Commonwealth statute. If no ballot were taken, say, in Western Australia, what would be the position? I understood this scheme to mean just what the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) has said, that even if the intra-state marketing provision does not come into effect with regard to Western Australia because that State does not desire to take a ballot, and is not anxious to introduce intra-state marketing legislation, nevertheless the provisions relating to export and interstate control will apply to the whole of the States of Australia dealing in wheat. That would mean that the farmers of Western Australia would have to come under control as regards their export and interstate trade without haying the opportunity of expressing their opinion upon, it. I think that that is, the point which the ……. honorable member for. Perth referred tq. It seems to me that in order to do justice, the farmers of those States in which no State ballot is taken should be in some way consulted with regard to the proposed regulation of interstate trade and the export control. Unless a ballot is taken by the Commonwealth in a State where the State Government does not propose to take any ballot, then we shall be in the position of bringing the wheat-farmers of Australia into a scheme of export and interstate marketing under licence without having given them an opportunity to say whether they want the scheme. I think that the Minister will realize, from what I said a few days ago, that I am supporting the .measure generally but I regard this incomplete ballot provision as containing, a flaw. If we attempt to enforce a measure of this kind, imposing export and interstate control without giving the growers of a particular State, an opportunity of expressing, its opinion through the ballot, we shall be doing something very much in excess of what was done by- the late Government, which brought down various measures dealing, with, export control. In one instance it dealt with both export and and interstate, regulation, and in other instances with export control only; but in every case the producers themselves were consulted. I certainly think that the. Minister should give heed to what has been said on this clause.
,- During the second-reading debate I pointed out that no provision was being made in the bill for a ballot pf the farmers in the various States, and the Minister in charge of the bill contradicted me and asserted> that the bill did contain provision for a ballot. Despite, that, I have never been able, to find in the bill’ any provision for taking a ballot of the farmers to ascertain whether they are willing to. enter into the scheme.
– We. were then discussing the appointments to the board.
– I was npt doing Anything of. the sort.
– J understood tha); we were discussing the constitution qf the board.
– It has been said that, .through the board, the farmers are tq control the pool. On looking at the bill I find that the majority pf the board is to be elected by the farmers, but it may happen that some of the States will pass legislation providing for boards, a large proportion of the members pf which may be nominated by the State Government itself.
– That is too ab.surd
– Why not provide in the bill for all of the members of the board to be elected by the farmers? I believe that under clause 4 we shall be able to deal with the question of the ballot. On this clause I move-
That the words “ at least, three of “ be omitted.
The wording will th,en, be-“ entered into between the Commonwealth, and the States “. Section 99 of the Constitution provides that the Commonwealth shall npt by any lav? or regulation of trade, commerce or revenue give, preference to one State or- any part thereof ‘ over another State or any part thereof.. This legislation is for the purpose, of’ establishing a compulsory pool in Australia. The guarantee for one year is being, offered as a sop to the farmers-. At the secondreading stage, I expressed freely my opposition to compulsion of this, description. I do not think it will be good for the farmer, but I want him to decide tha matter for himself. I object, however, to legislation that will’ penalize any State that does not see eye to eye with the Commonwealth Government in regard to the method- of handling- its trade. I admit the power of the Government under the Customs- Act to control’ export, but
I doubt that any Minister for Trade and’ Customs, would dare to forbid the free export of wheat from ‘ Australia, I’ have pointed out how badly Western. Australia may fare under this legislation. In the event of a loss of 6.d. per- bushel on the guaranteed price, the taxation pf the people of that State will be, increased! by 30 per centi.
Mv. Stewart. - What would be lost by the wheat-growers of Western Australia if their wheat realized less than the guaranteed 4s. per bushel?
– I am thinking not only of next season but of the years to follow. This agreement is to operate for three years, and for such further period as the parties to it may agree. If the Commonwealth were to offer a guarantee for three years many Western Australian people, who are against the pool, might be induced to vote for it.
– Would it induce the honorable member to vote for ‘it?
– No. I opposed the duty on butter, because I feared that it would do a great injury to us, and we know now that it is injuring our trade with New Zealand. If I were a farmer T would not like to be compelled, regardless of my need for ready money, to hand over my wheat to a pool that could pay to me whatever first instalment it thought fit and the balance at its own convenience. I prefer to leave this matter to be decided by the farmers themselves ; but, to test the feeling of the committee as to whether the States that enter the pool are to have a preference over those States which do not participate, I submit my amendment.
– The effect of the amendment is that a proclamation shall not issue unless all the States have agreed to join the pool. This would enable a small State like Tasmania’ to prevent the big wheat producing States from entering the pool. The bill invites all States to subscribe to the agreement. No State will be excluded except by its own choice.
– What about section 79 of the Constitution?
– The clause was framed after consultation with the Crown law authorities. The honorable member must realize that if his proposal were accepted, any one State that does not grow enough wheat for its own requirements could render the whole scheme null and void. For these reasons, I cannot accept the amendment.
.- The Minister has rightly said that all States will have an opportunity to subscribe to the agreement, but if three of them do not accept it, they will nevertheless be forced under the scheme by the three that do. If any States choose to stand out of the pool they should be allowed to do so without penalty, but the bill will not permit of that. It proposes to deprive them of any advantages that the pool may yield, but to subject them to all the restrictions and disabilities that may be necessary in the interests of the three other States. An alternative to the proposal of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) is a provision that the pool must be approved .by a majority of the States and a majority , of the wheat farmers in the Commonwealth. If the scheme were thus endorsed the Government would have some authority for coercive measures. The power conceded to Queensland is absolutely unjust. That State consumes the whole of the wheat it produces, and has no right to dictate in regard to the export trade of the great wheat-producing States of Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. The Minister’s use of Queensland in order to ensure a three State majority for his proposal is not fair to the wheat-growers of Western Australia. I support the amendment.
.- Whilst I am not sure that the honorable member for . Swan (Mr. Gregory) has chosen the most appropriate place for challenging the inequity of the bill, I am in entire sympathy with his arguments regarding the way in which the financial benefits to the scheme will be made easily accessible to some States and difficult of access to others which, because of their financial difficulties, may not be able to raise the funds necessary to support the guarantee that will make the Commonwealth contribution available to. their farmers. Both South Australia and Western Australia are able to make ends meet only with the aid of federal grants, and even with that assistance South Australia might find it impossible to finance its share of the joint guarantee. If the amendment to be moved by the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), is carried, the marked departure from the intention of section 99 of the Constitution will he avoided. . Although Tasmania does not export wheat, its people, as federal taxpayers, are vitally concerned in the Commonwealth’s share of the guarantee.
– The guarantee should be the liability of the Commonwealth solely.
– Either the Commonwealth should accept the full liability or it should leave the business alone.
.- Before proceeding further we should understand the scope of the bill and whether the contention of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), is correct that clause 20 will give to the board complete control of the interstate and oversea marketing of wheat. The clause provides -
The board may -
control the export, the distribution and sale after export, and the interstate transfer of wheat.
– That refers to pooled wheat only.
– We should understand clearly whether the board will be able to control the export of wheat produced in States that do not contribute to the pool. If possible, I should like an Australian-wide pool established. If that is not possible I want the next best thing. But even a pool in one State will be better than none. At the same time, I do not wish to see disabilities imposed on farmers who have had no opportunity to express their views on this proposal. Subsequently we shall, no doubt, he endeavouring to persuade the Government to make this purely a Commonwealth guarantee, instead of one provided by the Commonwealth in conjunction with the States. There are overwhelming reasons why the guarantee should be provided entirely by the Commonwealth. When bounties are granted in other industries, we do not ask the States to assist in providing them. I understand that the real object of the bill is to do something to increase the production of wheat in the next two or three years, and thereby enable Australia to obtain an increased return for its exports of that commodity.
– I clearly indicated in my second-reading speech that the Commonwealth could not guarantee the whole of any loss that might be sustained through giving the guarantee.
– I fail to see why it could not be done. The Commonwealth accepted the whole of the responsibility with regard to a previous compulsory pool. In his speeches as a private member the Minister said that that was an ideal to which he would always subscribe.
– Does the right honorable gentleman say that, under the Constitution, the Commonwealth could give this guarantee without cooperating with the States?
– We could, undoubtedly, guarantee the payment of 4s. a bushel in all States without having to consider the matter of co-operation or agreement with the States.
– The States say that they have no objection to the proposal.
– They are objecting strongly. Western Australia’s objection is a very potent one. If a big loss were sustained, there is no doubt that, under the conditions in which Western Australia and South Australia find themselves, those States would look to the Commonwealth for financial assistance in their difficulties. The four exporting wheat States are New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia. Queensland is just about selfcontained in the matter of wheat. The opinion of growers in South Australia and Western Australia will be materially influenced by our decision in regard to the retention of the hill in its present form.
– I appeal to the Minister to make the position perfectly clear by placing in the measure a clause stating that a vote shall be taken in the several States with machinery provided by the State legislatures. The Minister said that arrangements along those lines had been made already, and that legislation was now being promulgated in the various States in that direction; but no such machinery has yet been introduced into the New South Wales Parliament.
– There is a marketing act in New South Wales, and that provides for ballots of growers.
– But other legislative action would be necessary before that act could be made to apply to this matter.
– If the farmers of South Australia voted against the pool, the Labour Government in that State could continue under the agreement.
– I am coming to that point. Not only should a ballot be taken, but provision should be made that a State in which the growers ballot themselves out of the scheme should not be bound by the arrangement.
– Under the Constitution we cannot differentiate between States.
– A good deal has been said by Ministers and supporters of the pool to the effect that there is almost unanimity amongst the farmers concerning the proposal. During the week-end, I have investigated the statements that have been made on this subject by certain honorable gentlemen in the past. I find that the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) speaking at West Maitland in July, last year, said -
I have always been opposed to compulsory pooling. I do not know much about the Marketing of Primary Products Act, but if it is a full brother to the Queensland Act, I advise growers to have nothing to do with it.
– That is not a correct report of what I said. I am opposed to compulsory pooling, unless the pool is under the control of the growers themselves.
– We have heard the name of Mr. Trethowan mentioned in the House to-day, and it has been said that because he is in favour “>f the proposal, a great number of farmers believe in it. That was the only inference to be drawn from the Minister’s words.
– I simply said that he was the mover of the resolution at the conference.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.This is what Mr. Trethowan said in the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1927 when the Marketing of Primary Products Bill was under discussion : -
I appeal to the House on the lines that we cun never have a successful and contented people if we tell them they must do this, that, and the other thing. Our producers want the freedom of action which the Government gives the labouring classes and the unions. Compulsion is abhorrent to the British race, and it is most abhorrent to Australians.
I quote that opinion of a leader of the farmers to indicate how necessary it is that there should be provision in the present bill to give the growers freedom to say whether or not they accept the scheme.
– In fairness to Mr. Trethowan, I point out that the bill provides for a ballot of the farmers.
- Mr. Buttenshaw, speaking on the New South . Wales bill in 1927, remarked -
There are a certain number of people who believe in co-operative effort. If we can induce others to come into the pool of their own free will and accord, well and good. But I would sooner see the opportunity for collective marketing go out altogether than that those who object to the pooling system should be brought in against their wills.
That is the attitude of a representative leader of the farmers with respect to their association with pools. In the face of that statement, what is the use of the Minister saying that he has come to an understanding with so and so that this or the other thing will be done? Is it not important that, in a matter dealing with the producer’s commodity, over which he has sweated for months, he should have some voice as to what should be done with it? What objection can there be to letting him say, by means of a vote, whether he wants his wheat to go into a pool or not?
– He will have that opportunity.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Then why not say sp by inserting such a provision in the bill. As to the paint raised by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), we must decide whether, when we get three States into the pool, we can operate all the machinery relating to interstate and export wheat with respect to all the wheat in Australia. Apparently that can be done, but I object to the provisions of this bill, under which the wheat could be disposed of in any way that the boards might choose. These points should be made clear before we proceed further with the bill.
– I propose to address myself exclusively to the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), who has proposed that the words “ at least three of “ should be omitted from the proviso, so that it would read -
Provided that a Proclamation shall not issue under this section unless and until an agreement in the form in the schedule has been entered into between the Commonwealth and the States.
I can quite understand the objections that the Minister has raised to this amendment. I want an assurance from him that he is satisfied that the clause as it stands does not offend against section 99 of the Constitution which provides -
The Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation .of trade, commerce, or revenue, give preference to one State or any part thereof over another State or any part thereof.
In the past the bills relating to export control pools and the like have been carefully drawn to avoid offending against this section, and they have been general in . their terms, applying to all States. It may be that the facts of the case brought about a differentiation between the States. Dried fruits, for instance, were produced, in fact, in three States, but the act was in general terms, and accordingly, did not offend against the Constitution. This measure, however, makes a new departure, in that it authorizes an agreement that involves the most extensive and intensive control of trade and commerce with respect to the three States entering into the agreement. If the clause is passed as it now stands the agreement, with all its terms regulating trade and commerce will apply in only three States. Obviously that would be a discrimination between those three States and the remainder. It is a matter of opinion whether preference would be given to the States that were in or to those that were out of the scheme. I have always regarded section 99 of the Constitution as mystical and mysterious. I have always thought that it ought to be possible to point to the State which had been preferred, before section 99 of the Constitution could be said to. have any application. In this case it might be difficult to say which States were preferred. If the Minister is satisfied, on the advice of those upon whose opinion he very properly acts, that an extended scheme of control of trade and commerce, such as that set out in the agreement, can be validly operated as between the Commonwealth and three of the States, I take it that that advice will apply to the whole of the provisions of the bill, and that it will be possible to make them applicable only to those States which come into the scheme. Under clause 16, power is conferred on the Australian Wheat Board to control the export and the sale and distribution after export, of Australian wheat. In order to effectuate that power the clause provides that the Governor-General may, by proclamation, prohibit the export from the Commonwealth of any wheat except in accordance with a licence issued by the Minister. Clause 16 applies to all of the States. Let us assume that South Australia does not come into the scheme - a likely contingency. Under clause 16 it would be possible for the Governor-General to prohibit the export of wheat from South Australia to Western Australia or to foreign countries, although the wheat-farmers had voted against the pool. An amendment is to be proposed later to limit the operation of clause 16 to wheat, the produce of the States which come into the pool. It may be urged that it will then be said by the Minister that that will be inconsistent with section 99 of the Constitution. If the Minister says that such an amendment of clause 16 would be objectionable, having regard to the provisions of section 99 of the Constitution, then by parity of reasoning he will be forced to accept the amendment of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) to the clause that we are now discussing. The Minister cannot have it both ways; that the extended degree of control conferred by the agreement may validly be operative in only three States, and that it is impossible to limit clause 16 to those States, which enter into the agreement. Accordingly, I should like him to give the committee an assurance that he regards the proviso to clause 2 as valid in its existing form. If he does so he will at least be unable to refuse on any ground associated with section 99 of the Constitution to limit the operation of clause 16 to the States which enter into the agreement.
Mr.PARKER MOLONEY (Hume-
Minister for Markets and Transport) [9.21].- Acting upon the advice which the Leader of the Opposition has suggested that I should seek,I give my assurance that clause 2 in its existing form willbe valid. The bill merely provides that an offer shall be made to all of the States to come under the scheme. It does not limit the offer to three States.
-but what will happen in the case of any State that does not accept that offer?
– If a State should refuse to accept the invitation of the Commonwealth to come into the scheme, surely it cannot charge the Commonwealth with having discriminated against it!
– It would be an entirely different matter if the Commonwealth proposed to pass legislation affecting only three States…
– At least three are provided for.
– It is not limited to three. We make the offer to all of the States ; but we say that the scheme shall have effect if at least three States come into it. No preference is suggested’ in the bill. That is the advice of the Crown Law authorities.
. -This clause has. been discussed for nearly 75 minutes. Much valuable time would have been saved had the Minister agreed to the simple amendment suggested at the outset by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), to lay it down in the bill that the States shall be directed to take a ballot of their wheat-growers before a compulsory pool shall be applied to them.
– I said that I would not accept such an amendment.
– The Minister has stated repeatedly that New South Wales and Queensland already have the machinery for the taking of the ballot. I point out, however, that the bill does not direct that a ballot shall be taken. I am surprised at the reluctance of the honorable gentleman to accept that proposal.
– Why have unnecessaary duplication?
– The Minister repeated what he said an the second reading of the bill, that though the measure relates only to. wheat, it indicates the general policy of the Government in connexion with the marketing of our great primary products. Perhaps it also indicates that the Minister is prepared to continue the pool against the interests and the wishes of the growers. It would not be to the, discredit of the Minister if he inserted a simple amendment go as to place the matter beyond doubt.
– I assure the honorable member that if I had any doubt about the matter I would accept the proposal. It is one to which, at an early stage, I gave serious consideration. I say definitely that already in the legislation of two States there is provision for the taking of the ballot and that a definite assurance has been given to. me by two other Governments, which are proceeding to take a ballot within the next few weeks.
– The Minister has repeated that statement so many times that we know it by heart. What wo are waiting for from him is a definite reason for his refusal to so amend the bill that those States that have not such legislation and have not promised to take a ballot will be directed to do so.
.- The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) asked that the States should have the right to ballot themselves out of this scheme if they so desired, and the Minister replied that under the Constitution such a course could notbe adopted because it would amount to differentiation. What will be the position of any State that, votes against the proposal? Its wheat will be commandeered by the pool.
– It cannot be commandeered.
– That depends upon the possibility of commandeering under the State law.
– The pool will take possession of the wheat. One clause says that a. certificate is to be issued to the wheat-farmer, which will give him the right to receive 4s. a. bushel upon the delivery of his wheat. What certificate is to be issued to the wheat-farmers in any State that turns down the pool?
– If they vote against the pool, their State willnot be in the scheme.
– That should be stated in the bill; and clause 16, which confers on the wheat board the right to control the whole of the wheat in Australia should be removed from the measure.
– If the farmers of any State vote against the proposal, that State will not enter into the agreement.
– But it will still be in the scheme so far as export control is concerned.
– The honorable member for Warringah asked whether the States should not have the right to ballot themselves out of the scheme, and the Minister replied that that could not be done because the Constitution did not allow of discrimination. That is the opposite of what the Minister now says, that if a State should vote against the proposal it will not be touched by the scheme. The honorable gentleman should give the committee a complete statement of his attitude with respect to any State that records a negative vote.
. -I understand that the Minister objects to the amendment of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), but this aspect of the matter interests me expressly as a member representing Tasmania. That State has been cited as one which might prevent the pool from being formed by refusing to come in. If there is a loss on the operations of the pool, the loss has to be borne by the Commonwealth as a whole, including Tasmania, which is to that extent, at least, interested. Many undertakings, such as the Murray River waters scheme, have involved the expenditure of Commonwealth money, of which Tasmania has provided its share, even though that State cannot be said to have derived any benefit from them. Surely the smaller States, which are less able to bear any loss that might be incurred by the pool, should have some say in determining whether or not the venture is undertaken. This is to be a Commonwealth pool, and it should be agreed to by a majority of the States, and the farmers in all the States should be given an opportunity of expressing their opinion.
It has been questioned whether the agreement proposed in this bill would violate section 99 of the Constitution. It seems to me that the agreement might also be contrary to section 92 of the Constitution. Clause 19 of the bill contains the following: -
Inasmuch as section 92 says that trade and commerce between States shall be absolutely free, we have to consider whether we have power to prevent the removal of wheat from a State which has not agreed to join the pool. A Stale such as Tasmania or Western Australia may, for what it considers to be a very good reason, decline to enter into the pool agreement, yet its wheat may, by proclamation, be prevented from being transported to another State. Tasmania, although she does not produce a great deal of wheat, does produce some. Most of that wheat is ground into flour and exported to other States, where it is used largely in the manufacture of biscuits, and wheat grown in the drier States is imported into Tasmania to be made into bread. Thus, any prohibition of the movement of wheat from one State to another may vitally affect Tasmania. These are legitimate objections to the agreement being forced on any body of wheat-growers who have not had an opportunity of saying whether or not they approve of it. I consider that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Swan is a good one, and should be considered in all seriousness by the committee. A vital principle is involved, one which really affects the basis of federation. I did not take part in the second-reading debate on this bill, because the representative of my State at the conference ofwheat-producers in Canberra said that Tasmania was not much interested in the matter and the Tasmanian Government would have nothing to do with the pool. Tasmania is prepared to take her part in doing what is necessary to assist the wheat-growers as a whole, but she is not prepared to agree to any proposals which may place an unfair burden upon one part of the Commonwealth as compared with other parts. I believe that definite provision should be made in the bill for giving the farmers an opportunity to vote on the pooling proposal, and the proposal should be put into effect only if approved by a substantial majority of the farmers.
– What is the use of giving the Tasmanian wheat-growers an opportunity to vote when the Tasmanian Government says that it will have nothing to do with the agreement?
– This Parliament should legislate for the benefit of the Commonwealth as a whole, and for all parts of the Commonwealth. The representative of the Tasmanian Government at the wheat conference in Canberra declared that Tasmania was not much interested in the proposals, but that is not a sufficient reason for denying the wheat-growers of Tasmania the right to express their opinion on so important an issue which so vitally affects them. Personally, I believe that the growers there would rather be free to sell their wheat how and where they please, but I would give them an opportunity of saying whether or not they favour a compulsory pool. If we are to have a pool at all I should like to see every State in it. I should be very sorry to see any State stand out if this is a good scheme. I do not like the scheme myself, and I do not think that it will confer any benefit on the growers. But the growers in all parts of the Commonwealth should be given the right to vote on this proposal, and provision to that effect should be an integral part of the bill. I cannot understand the Minister’s objection. Why will he not agree to it? It does look as if he is a little bit stubborn in this matter . I appeal to him, for the sake of his own reputation aud that of the Government, to agree to the amendment suggested by. the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker). I also support the amendment of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory).
.- Many bogies have been raised by honorable members on this side of the House who have suggested that it is intended to impose an obnoxious wheat pool on the wheat-growers in some of the States without their having an opportunity of saying whether they want it or not. Such a thing would only be possible if the Government of a State declined to take the action which it obviously should take. If the growers in any State are conscripted, as has been suggested, without having had any say on the matter, the responsibility will be on the State Government, and not on the Commonwealth. The onus of taking a ballot within a State rests with the State Parliament concerned.
– And the honorable member suggests that therefore it does not matter to this Parliament whether a ballot is taken or not.
– I do not suggest that. I agree that it is desirable that those who may be affected by legislation of this kind should be consulted. It is the duty of every State Government in Australia to take a ballot so that the wheat-growers may express their views So far from endeavouring to impose a wheat pool on the farmers against their will, the Minister has invited all the States to come into the pool agreement, and hold a ballot of their own farmers.
Mr.Francis. - The several States have different methods of taking polls.
– That is so. The honorable member agrees with me that if a ballot is taken it should be under uniform conditions.
Mr.Francis. - All the State acts would have to be altered.
– The responsibility for securing uniformity would rest on theState Parliaments, not on us. It must be remembered that this is not only a question of the export of wheat and of interstate trade, but also one regarding the conditions under which wheat is marketed within a State, in regard to which the State Parliaments themselves would insist on retaining control. The Commonwealth Government has no power to control the marketing of wheat or of any other commodity within a State. Many suppositions can be made as to what might happen, but if any of the dire results feared by honorable members do actually follow the passage of this legislation, it will be because a State or States have failed to take the action which the Minister for Markets desires them to take. The whole business strikingly illustrates the need for the granting of extended powers to this Parliament. If we had greater power we could assume the whole responsibility for the scheme, and lay down the terms and conditions of marketing within the States as well as outside them. I agree with honorable members who have said that it is desirable that polls should be taken, and go further and say that if there were a minority of 40 per cent, arrangements should be made, in their interests, to market their wheat through the. pool. I trust that the State Governments will give the wheat-growers an opportunity to vote on this subject; but that is their responsibility and not ours,,
.- The debate on my amendment has shown that more consideration should be given to the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) that the guarantee and the compulsory pool should, be considered separately. The Minister has spoken lightly of the constitutional difficulty which I raised, but if he obtained his advice from the same source as the Government obtained advice in regard to the proposed constitutional referendums, it may be necessary for him to alter his opinion in the very near future. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) said that he could not understand my references to the dried fruits pool. I pointed out that though the Dried Fruits Export Control Board’ had the power to export dried fruits, just as- the management of the wheat, pool would have power to export wheat, there could only be a dried fruits pool if the producers voted in favour of it.
– But there was no guaranteed price in connexion with the dried’ fruits marketing scheme.
– The Dried Fruits Export Control Act contains a provision that-
A proclamation under this section shall not issue unless and until, at a poll of growers taken in the prescribed manner throughout the Commonwealth, a majority of votes have been given in favour of the act being brought into operation.
As we may involve the country in an expenditure of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 in this scheme, we should at least ascertain whether the farmers desire it. There is a Labour Government in South Australia, and possibly the South Australian farmers may not desire a compulsory wheat pool. The Government, therefore, may not see fit to take a poll of the wheat-growers. Cn Western Australia the Government may not consult the farmers before agreeing to become a party to the pool. In these circumstances it is essential that the Government should insist upon a poll being taken. There should be a provision in this bill similar to the provision which I have quoted from the Dried Fruits Export Control’ Act. The honorable member for Wimmera has said that there is no guaranteed price in this case. It is not the guaranteed price that I object to so much as. the compulsory marketing, of the product. I strongly urge, honorable members to accept my amendment,, even though it, will involve a redrafting of the bill and the acceptance by the Commonwealth of any loss that may be incurred..
.- I desire to say a few words in reply to the remarks made by the honorable memberfor Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) in regard to the report in the Maitland Mercury of a speech I made some years ago in connexion with a proposal for the conservation of lucerne. After I had’ made, my speech a number of questionswere asked audi answered. One questionI was asked was whether- it would be wiset© deal with that business under theMarketing of Primary Products Act of New South Wales. I replied that I was= unf amiliar with the provisions of the- act,, but: if they were anything like the provisions of the original Queensland Marketing Act there was every reason foresee, for the Queensland act. was a dangerous! measure during; the first threeyears it was in operation. It led to a great deal of trouble until it was changed?: from a general basis to a commodity basis. At one period the fruit-growers had to take the Director of Marketing to the Supreme Court before they could get him to do what they wished him to do with their fruit. In the newspaper report of the meeting the statement that I made in reply to the question was included in the report of the main speech, and consequently my view was misrepresented. I did not say what the honorable member has suggested that I said. I have always been opposed to compulsory pooling except when the pool has been under the direct control of the producers. I am glad that the honorable member made it possible for me to correct this report, which had not previously come under my notice.
– I am glad to have given the right honorable member for Cowper an opportunity to make his explanation; but I am still in doubt about his real position. I gather that he does not deny that he made the statement, but that the circumstances were different. I refer now to the attitude of the honorable member for Wimmera, which is also difficult to understand. He says that he favours the farmers being given an opportunity to express their opinion on this subject; but added that as the Minister had obtained an assurance from the State Governments that they would not become parties to the pool until the farmers had been consulted he is satisfied. What I want to know is, what will happen if the State Governments do not consult the farmers. Surely it will then remain for the Commonwealth authorities to see that the farmers are approached. That is all that the amendment sought provides for.
– I believe that the State Governments will take a ballot.
– My point is that if they neglect to do so this Government should have power to see that it is done. I am amazed that the Minister should be satisfied with mere verbal assurances on an important matter like this. He has adopted an unreasonable attitude, and it seems to me that the silence of honorable members opposite indicates that they are not too well pleased with him for doing so.
– How could the Commonwealth compel the States to hold a ballot?
– It is not suggested that the Commonwealth should do so. We are merely asking that a provision shall be put in the bill that no pool shall be formed within a State unless a ballot has been taken. It must be apparent to everybody that although the farmers will have representation On the State boards in the event of the pools being formed, they will be practically powerless, as the final power will rest with the central board. On the point as to what will happen I quote the following statement made by Mr. Trethowan in the New South Wales Parliament during the debate on the 1927 Wheat Marketing Bill, which was drafted in terms, almost identical with those of the measure now before us: -
One of the worst features of this bill is the fact that although the producers are allowed to appoint certain representatives on the board, after they get on to the board they are absolutely controlled by the regulations which will be framed by the Director of Marketing and submitted to the Minister for approval.
That is exactly what will occur in connexion with this measure. The whole situation will be dominated by the federal board and the Minister, and the State boards will be practically powerless. That is another cogent reason why the farmers should be given the fullest possible opportunity to express their opinion of the proposal at the ballot box.
.- Seeing that the Minister has been given an assurance by the State Governments that ballots of the wheat-growers will be taken before the agreements are made, I hope that he will not accept the amendment. If the Government of Western Australia refused to hold a ballot of the wheat-growers in that State it would be useless for this Government to hold one, for even if it did so and obtained an affirmative vote it could not force the Western Australian Government to become a party to the agreement.
– If a pool were formed under those conditions, the Commonwealth would have export and interstate trading power.
– Which would be of little value in the case of Western Australia.
– The Government should be satisfied with the undertaking of the various States Governments to hold ballots. The bill provides that the wheat-farmers of the various States, with the exception of Tasmania, shall be given an opportunity of voting in respect of the establishment of a compulsory pool, and that if three of the five States concerned vote in the affirmative, the scheme will be given effect. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) suggested that there was a sinister motive behind the Government’s desire to pass this legislation, and that honorable members on this side who represent farming districts were silent on the subject. I can assure the honorable member that we are honest and sincere in our desire to pass this legislation. It is practically certain that in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia the farmers will vote in the affirmative, notwithstanding the propaganda that is being circulated in those States by the opponents of the compulsory pool. I trust that the Minister will stand by the bill and the agreement entered into between the Commonwealth and the States at the recent conference held in Canberra.
.- The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has moved an amendment to clause 2 to strike out the words “ at least three of” so that the clause will read “Provided that a proclamation shall not issue under this section unless and until an agreement, in the form in the schedule, has been entered into between the Commonwealth and the States.” The honorable member for Swan drew an analogy between what is proposed by his amendment and what was done by the late Government for the dried fruits industry. If I understand aright the reasoning of the honorable member, he was endeavouring to show that the amendment, if given effect, would bring about in the wheat industry the same position as obtained in connexion with the ballot taken in the dried fruits industry. I would point out that the proposed amendment would go much further than that. In connexion with the dried fruits, butter or any other industry for which the former Government brought down legislation for export and interstate control, a ballot was certainly taken in all the interested States. A ballot was taken of those engaged in the dairying industry which applied to all the States, and in connexion with the dried fruits industry in three or four States, but it was not necessary in either case that there should be a majority of votes east in each individual State. We were satisfied so long as we obtained a bare majority of the votes cast in the Commonwealth irrespective of State boundaries. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Swan would, if given effect, require a majority in each individual State, so that an agreement would be needed to !be reached between the Commonwealth and every State before the scheme could be proceeded with at all. That would be going much further than we went in connexion with the dried fruits’ industry. In that case we desired merely to obtain a majority vote of those interested in the Commonwealth irrespective of State boundaries. For that reason I cannot support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Swan. This difficulty which has been raised might be overcome by the Commonwealth taking a ballot in those States in which a ballot was not taken by the State authority. For instance, in Western Australia there is keen interest in this question, but the State~ Government may not see fit to join the scheme. The Commonwealth could take a ballot in that State in respect of that part of the legislation which is Commonwealth in character - the export and interstate control of wheat. I think that would overcome the difficulty of applying this legislation to people who had not been consulted about it.
.- I move -
That after the word “ States “ the words “ of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western . Australia “ be added.
Those are the four exporting States. I am sure that this amendment will please the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), for whose sincerity and experience I have the highest regard. I am also sure that the Minister would be disappointed if the pool were established, and only two of the exporting States contributed to it. We need not consider Queensland in connexion with this pool, because that State does not export wheat. It was argued on the second reading that voluntary pools could not operate successfully because of the market being interfered with by outside operations. It was, therefore, considered essential that the pool should control the whole of the wheat. In view of that argument the Minister must admit that the pool could not be properly conducted if only two of the exporting States contributed, to it, the other States acting independently. I, therefore, urge the Minister to accept the amendment.
– I support the amendment, because there is the suspicion abroad that Queensland is to be brought into the pool to make up one of the three States, which are necessary in order to operate the scheme. The amendment really carries out the intention of the Minister and makes the position clearer. I think he realizes that at least three of the exporting States should give an affirmative vote before the pool is established. All that the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) is doing in moving the amendment is to put into words the thoughts and expressions in the mind of the Minister. There seems to be a strange reluctance on the part of the Government to put into black and white the details of this scheme. It looks as though the provisions of the bill have been left purposely wide and ambiguous so that the Federal Board may later make regulations at will. Unless that is the intention, the Minister should accept the amendment and make the position clear.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 - “In this Act, unless the contrary intention appears - “ wheat “ includes such products of wheat as arc prescribed.
.- Wheat is defined so as to include such products of wheat as are prescribed. I ask the Minister whether it is really intended to control anything more than wheat and flour. I should suppose that the definition is intended to cover wheat and flour, and that there is no particular reason for including bran and pollard, and much less reason for including bread and biscuits. This definition, however, covers bread and biscuits, as well as bran and pollard. There is no need to control the manufactured products of wheat to this extent. All requirements will be met if the definition is extended to include flour. There may be some need, which I do not at present -appreciate, for including the by-products pf milling; if so, no doubt the Minister will explain the reason for this extended definition. I move -
That in the definition of “ wheat “ the words “ such products of wheat as are prescribed “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ flour.”
– This matter was thoroughly threshed out at the conference. The first proposal was to confine the definition to wheat and flour; but, subsequently, it was thought advisable to cover also bran and pollard. It is quite conceivable that control of the transfer of surplus bran and pollard from one State to another will be ‘necessary.
– Why should not that trade be free?
– The parties to the agreement may require this trade to be organized for their own protection, and in order to encourage dairymen and others to use larger quantities of concentrates. There may be good and substantial reasons for wanting to cont.rol the interstate trade in bran and pollard. The conference thought that the inclusion of bran and pollard was desirable; but obviously the board will not restrict the trade in these by-products unless that course is necessary.
– The Government intended to proclaim flour at once. Why not specifically include flour in th, definition ?
– The Minister has said that he has met in conference the wheat-growers and representatives of the millers; but has he conferred with the users of bran and pollard? It is essential that nothing be done to interfere with the free exchange of these products between States. The south-eastern portion of South Australia gets a great deal of its bran and pollard from Victoria, and we do not want any interference with that trade.
– Why should licences be necessary for the sending of bran and pollard across a State border?
– This trade has been carried on satisfactorily in the past, and hampering restrictions are undesirable. If the definition is confined to wheat and flour,’ we shall have some assurance that the trade in the byproducts of milling will not be hampered.
– All the States were represented at the wheat conference.
– That may be so; but all the interests were not represented.
.- The Minister stated that the millers would be satisfied if the definition included flour. In their communication to him they proposed that the words “products of wheat “ he deleted and that the word “ flour “ be inserted in lieu thereof. That would have limited the board’s control to wheat and flour. The millers, in their letter to the Minister, stated also -
As pointed out to you on a recent occasion, millers view with alarm the prospect of having their businesses controlled by people whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the millers, and having ample previous experience as a guide, desire to ask that amendments be inserted in the bill itself safeguarding the milling industry.
As the wheat is garnered it will be compulsorily acquired by the pool, from which the millers will buy their requirements. Before the miller grists the grain he must acquire it, and to acquire it he must buy it. I think that the control of the pool should cease when it has reached that stage. If it is to be controlled at every stage the operation will be too cumbersome. It is certainly not necessary for the protection of the industry. I, therefore, ask the Minister to limit the definition to wheat and flour.
– I support the amendment. I have said throughout that if a higher price is fixed for wheat for home consumption, and home consumption amounts to 50,000,000 bushels, an additional ls. a bushel will mean that £2,500,000 will have to be found. It has been argued all through the debate that no matter how high a price is fixed for wheat it will make no difference to the price of bread.
– Who said that?
– It was said by the member for Grey (Mr. Lacey), and by the Minister (Mr. Parker Moloney), and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) as much as said it.
– That qualification is useless. I did not say it.
– The trend of the argument has been that it does not matter how high the price of wheat may be fixed, it will not affect the price of bread.
– It should not do so.
– An extra ls. on 50,000,000 bushels for home consumption-
– It is only 33,000,000 bushels.
– It is 33,000,000 bushels for food alone, but the quantity required to meet the pollard and chicken food requirements of poultry- farmers and others brings up the total to 50,000,000 bushels. As I have already said, £2,500,000 will have to be found. It has been said that the’ price of wheat will make no difference to the price of bread, and that the millers are already charging too much for their flour. It seems to me, therefore, that the introduction of flour into the question means that the pool is to operate at the expense of the millers. The point should be made clear. It seems now that the millers are to be drawn into the pool, and that efforts will be made to fix the price of flour. This is a new proposal. We understood that this was to be a pool to deal with wheat alone. As the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) has pointed out, it was never intended that in its scope it should follow the wheat business through all its ramifications, from the time grain is brought into the pool until it is finally used in the form of flour or by-products. If the pool is to deal with wheat for pollard, bran and chicken food, I say that it was never intended to do so, and I think that the Minister should make it clear that it will not operate in regard to flour.
– In the interests of a favorable reception of the pool by the farmers of the various States, the Minister should define the meaning of “ products of wheat.” Already there is sufficient evidence of opposition to the pool without creating any more.
– There has been very little opposition. The second reading of the bill was carried on the voices.
– I have been informed from outside that there is strong objection to any proposal to interfere with wheat products. If the definition remains as printed, “ such products of wheat as are prescribed,” a further definition will be needed in the schedule, because there we find the following: -
The certificate to be issued pursuant to paragraph (c) of sub-clause 1 of this clause, shall entitle the person making the delivery of wheat to receive in respect of wheat of the 1930-31 season (a) an amount of 4s. per bushel less dockage (if any) on delivery of the wheat.
If wheat is to be defined as “ including such products of wheat as are prescribed “, persons delivering bran and pollard at a railway siding might be entitled to 4s. a bushel. It is far better to clear up the matter now than later on. If the definition read “ wheat includes wheat or flour “, there would be no misconception in regard to the matter, or misrepresentation as to what was intended to be done. Left as it is, all sorts of statements may be made to induce farmers to vote against the pool who otherwise would vote for it.
.- I hope the Minister will stand by the clause. Wheat will be sold for gristing into flour for local consumption at a price which we hope will be something above the parity price which will be paid for wheat to be used for gristing into flour for consumption abroad. In those circumstances, the value of the two offals will be entirely different. There must be some control over the price and movement of offal produced from wheat sold to the miller at 5s. a bushel, and over that of offal produced from wheat sold to the miller at 4s. a bushel. The bill has been well thought out by those who know a good deal about the business, and I am satisfied that the definition need not be altered.
.- The remarks of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) have thrown an entirely new light upon the proposal. I understand from what he has said that if identical wheat is gristed in the same mill for consumption in Australia, and for consumption abroad, there is to be a differentiation in the price of the resultant bran and pollard.
– He said that there would be a differentiation in the value.
– And I said that there would be need for some control either by the Minister or by the board.
– We are incurring enoughdifficulties in undertaking the pool without having two prices for the same material in the same market.
– If that is not done, it will mean making a present to the millers of a very large sum of money.
– The detailed control to be exercised is but faintly hinted at in the bill. What the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) has said lends weight to the words of his leader in supporting the amendment which the honorable member has opposed. If the agreement in the schedule is read it is apparent that the whole system of control which it is intended to set up by virtue of the agreement, is limited to whatever is meant by “wheat”. Now we are dealing with what is meant by “wheat”. In the agreement the term means wheat and anything prescribed which is a product of wheat, unless a contrary intention may appear. It may be said by the Minister that a contrary intention appears because he has expressed a contrary intention on the subject, and his mind is influenced thereby. But in reading the agreement one must read “ wheat “. as meaning the same thing throughout. Sub-paragraph 2 of paragraph 6 provides that the Australian Wheat Board shall -
The word “ wheat “ must include bran and pollard if prescribed, otherwise, according to the ideas of the Minister and the honorable member for Echuca, the scheme will fail. When we come to paragraph7 of the agreement the same position obtains. The 4s. a bushel will have to be paid on bran and pollard as well as wheat. Nobody on either side of the House intends that, whether he is in favour of or against the proposal. Unless some amendment is made, either in this clause or in the agreement itself, there will be an opportunity for confusion which I shudder to contemplate. It would be moderated by limiting the definition as suggested in my amendment, but even then it would still be necessary to deal with this point.. No one intends that the 4s. should be paid on flour, bran, or pollard because those commodities may be technically included in the definition “ wheat “. At some stage the Minister ought to introduce an amendment, either in this sub-clause or in the agreement, to make the position clear, and to prevent the natural interpretation of the agreement, as it at present stands, having an effect which would be directly contrary to the real intention of the Government.
– I think that there will be no necessity, as suggested by the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle . Page) to introduce an amendment at a later stage in order to define what the honorable gentleman means. This is an agreement which the parties will execute, and under it “wheat” will have the meaning that it has in the regulations. Clause 25 of the bill prescribes -
The Governor -General may make regulations, not inconsistent with this act, prescribing all matters which, by this act, are required or permitted to be prescribed, or which are necessary or convenient to be prescribed, for carrying out or giving effect to this act. . . .
I submit that “wheat” will have the meaning intended in the regulations, which will define wheat for particular purposes.
Clause agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.. During the week-end it has been pointed out to me that the French Government has introduced a super tax on Australian butter and Australian wheat, which will probably have an adverse effect on the western districts of Victoria which are the greatest dairying areas in Australia. On investigation I find that this is retaliatory action to counteract the prohibitive tax that we have placed on certain imports from overseas applying not specially to France but to all countries. France alone has increased the duty on our butter from 16s. 4d. to 49s. a cwt., and on wheat from 1s. 6d. to 4s. 7d. a bushel. According to a statement which apparently emanated from Mr. Voss, the Australian trade representative in Paris, France intends to impose additional super taxes on other Australian products. I am told that the action of the French Government does not affect the position very much with regard to wheat, as only a little Australian wheat has been exported to France during the last three years.
– Is that super tax general, or does it apply only against Australian goods?
– It is limited to Australian products. I am not quite sure what representations can be made in the matter, but if there is any country to which Australia can properly direct representations, it is France. The present financial troubles of the Commonwealth arise mostly from its war debt - which was at one time over £500,000,000 - incurred in an endeavour to assist France in the Great War. Recent attempts to restore our credit position in London have been largely negatived by the action of the French Government which, more than any other country in Europe at the moment, is trying to corner the gold supplies of that continent. For the first time during the past 200 years the Bank of France has larger gold reserves than the Bank of England, and a good deal of the pressure now exerted by London finance upon Australia is attributable to the competition of the Bank of France with the Bank of England. If there i8 any country that Australia has treated generously, it is France. After the war the school children of Victoria, and, I presume, of other States also, contributed magnificently to a fund to provide schools and public halls for devastated towns in that country. I suppose that no other country with the population of Australia assisted France financially to as great an extent as did Australia. Large amounts were subscribed to the French Bed Cross fund. I contributed £25 when I was not well able to stand it, and every other member of the community assisted the French people to the fullest extent. The French authorities should be told that our present position is due to, first, our efforts to help them in the war; secondly, our attempts since the war to help her in every way, even to the point of straining our charity; and lastly, to the effect that she has had upon the financial position in Europe by her accumulation of gold. France has a most generous soul. I regard her as the laboratory of ideals for the whole world. If this matter were put properly before her, I feel sure that it would be rectified. But if it is not, she must be made to understand that we have another weapon. At the present time, we import annually from France goods to the value of £3,700,000. I admit that we export a good deal more.
– £15,000,000 worth.
– France does not import from us any commodities that are regarded as luxuries ; she buys only what she is forced to take to keep her manufactures going. Our people may not only refrain from buying French goods, but may also cease to patronize shops that stock them; but I would not advise the adoption of that course until the Commonwealth Government had put the position as it appears from the point of view of Australia. I feel sure that if the question is approached in a proper spirit the French authorities will show that they are not ungrateful for our aid and extend consideration to us in our present diffi- culties by removing the cruel super tax.
.- This afternoon I had not the information necessary to support a question that I then asked. I have now received the following letter from the Sydney district of the Amalgamated Engineering Union: -
I am instructed by the above union, to bring under your notice tv copy of a resolution carried at a meeting, attended by over 500 members who are at present unemployed, after hearing addresses by leading industrialists, public men and professors of economics.
The resolution has been endorsed by my executive, and wc are of the opinion that, should such a proposal be put into effect by the Federal Labour Government, immediate results would be beneficial to the Australian workers, and many members of our class, who are at present destitute, could be provided with employment- “That the Federal Labour Government immediately increase the Australian note issue to the limit of constitutional powers.” V. G. Denchfield
The members of this union have to undergo’ a severe and lengthy apprenticeship in order to secure certificates of competency, just as members of the legal and medical professions have to obtain degrees before they can practise. I urge the Government to take action in this matter, because of the economic loss that is caused to Australia by these men being unemployed. According to figures that have been issued by the Commonwealth Statistician, on an average 500 men are unemployed throughout the year. That represents a loss to the community of £314,500. The wages that would bo distributed if they were in employment total £163,500. The circulation of that money among trades-people would act as a stimulus to business, and provide opportunities for the purchase of goods from Australian manufacturers. This Government has done its best to assist manufacturers to produce’ goods; but production is useless unless the community generally has the means to purchase them. I feel confident that the public would support the Government in whatever action it might decide to take in the direction of affording relief. I am not asking that ‘ these men he given a dole. According to statements that have been made by Mr. Philip Snowden and Mr. Lloyd George, the dole system was introduced in Great Britain with the object of avoiding a revolution. All that these men ask is that they be given the opportunity to follow their occupation. The country would suffer an economic loss if they were employed in digging post-holes or in carrying on dairying operations. I knew many of these men when they were boys. They have now grown to manhood, and they have asked me to use my influence to obtain employment for them. It is a heartbreaking position for a man like myself to be in. The Greater Brisbane Council recently applied to the United States of America for a loan of £1,000,000 to carry out a water scheme. It was offered the amount asked for at £92 5s. at 6 per cent. That means that the amount received will be only £922,500, whereas £2,200,000 will have to be sent out of this country in respect of that loan. Moreover, those who lend the money will accept only gold in payment of the debt. That the members of the Greater Brisbane Council are prepared to consider a loan on such terms is evidence of their incapacity. I have been reliably informed that the greater portion of this money has already been spent. Is that the way in which Australia can progress ? Are we statesmen that we allow such things to take place ? Now that this matter has been brought under his notice, I feel sure that the Prime Minister will do something to alleviate distress; I hope by such means as are now suggested. Simplicity is the groundwork of the scheme. The Government could make credit available to such bodies as the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage. We cannot expect the right honorable gentleman to go about looking for matters to rectify; it is for us to bring them under his notice. He is so full of humanitarian principles that he will resist no fair claim, but will do all he can to rescue this bright sunny Australia from the slough of despond into which the maladministration of the previous Government has brought it. The late Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), who is spending his time visiting Royalty at Buckingham Palace, does not care about the mess Australia is in as a result of his administration. We should not have to send gold out of Australia, or receive less than full value for every £1,000,000 we are supposed to borrow. I have touched only the fringe of this question; but at this late hour it is impossible to deal fully with it. If any one is offended because of what I have said this evening I cannot help it, for I have spoken only with a desire to rescue Australia from the ill effects of the maladministration of the late Government.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 May 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19300528_reps_12_124/>.