12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and offered prayers.
– Isthe Acting Prime Minister able to give the House any information regarding the result of the Prime Minister’s financial negotiations in London?
– Not yet.
-I rise to a personal explanation. I have been much misrepresented in the House and the country as being in favour of the Commonwealth repudiating its financial obligations. No proposal made by me evenapproximates to repudiation. But last week the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) made another aspersion upon my character when he said -
Thehonorable member for Adelaidehas adopted therole of mystery miracle man. He has toldushecan do allallkindsofthings,but hehas not told us how they can be done.
That is a gross misrepresentation. Twelve months ago I proposed that the Government, instead of borrowing more money, should utilize the credit of the Commonwealth through the Commonwealth Bank. That proposal was not adopted; on the contrary, the Government proceeded to further borrowing in a manner never hitherto adopted.
Mr.S PEAKER (Hon. Norman Makin). - Order! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the correction of anymisrepresentation.
– Subsequently I proposed that £20,000,000 worth of credit should be made available by the Com- monwealth Bank for the purpose of relieving unemployment. There is nothing ambiguous or impracticable about that suggestion. As, however, the statement has been made by the honorable member for New England that I am a mysteryman, and cannot explain my own financial ideas, I propose to adduce the evidence of a professor of economics.
– Order ! The quotation of such an opinion would beexceeding the bounds of a personal explanation. I cannot permit the honorable member to usea personal explanation to rebut an argument used by another honorable member in the course of. debate.
– With all due deference to you, sir, I am taking exception to what was in effect a reflection upon my intelligence. To retort merely that the honorable member for New England was wrong, would be tantamount to saying, “You are another.” Surely I shall be in. order in quoting the opinion of a university professor to prove that my proposals economically sound.
– If I allowed personal explanations to be utilized to reply to statements made in the House, there would be no finality to debate. If the honorable member has been personally misrepresented, he is entitled to set himself right before the House, but if he desires’ merely to amplify his views on this subject, or to rebut the contentions of the honorable member for New England, he must’ seek a more appropriate opportunity.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. Honorable members opposite may get : away with this misrepresentation for the time being, but it will be exposed sooner or later.
– In regard to the report that the Government intends to make available £50,000 to provide Christmas cheer for the unemployed, will the Acting Prime Minister explain whether the amount is to be apportioned to the States on a population basis, and by what authority it is to be distributed?
– The statement published in the press is without foundation. The matter is still under consideration.
– In view of the fact that the £1,100,000 plant erected at
Newcastle for the extraction of byproducts from coal, is working onlyhalftime and employing not more than 105 men, will the Acting Prime Minister take steps to ensure that the £100,000 appropriated by. this Parliament, for the repatriation of surplus coal-miners, shall not be wasted on an enterprise of that character ?
– All matters relating to coal and shale are now being investigated from every angle by a special committee. The right honorable member need have no fear that any money will be wasted in the manner he has indicated.
– Has the Minister for Home Affairs received a cablegram or other message from the Prime Minister since his interview with Signor Mussolini regarding the exclusion of Italian migrants from Australia?
– The Prime Minister has been kept fully informed of everything that has occurred in connexion with the matter to which the honorable member has referred.
– Has the Assistant Minister for Industry been approached with regard to the possible stoppage of work at the Broken Hill mines, and, if so, is it true that a bounty is to be granted on lead as a condition of keeping themines open ?
– Negotiations between the interested parties are proceeding, and theGovernment is awaiting developments.
– Will the Acting Minister for Markets andTransport state whether the Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Parker Moloney), as a result of his visit to France, has been able to obtain any concession from the French Government regarding the duty of 7s. a bushel imposed by it on wheat, or whether he has reached any general understanding on matters affecting trade relations between France and Australia?
– The matter is still under consideration. Inquiries are being made, and when I am in theposition to make a statement I shall do so.
– Of 90 returned soldiers employed in one section of the Sydney General Post Office, 62 have recently been given notice of dismissal. Seeing that their failure to obtain permanent employment is due, in many cases, to war disabilities, will the Acting Prime Minister take steps to have the dismissal notices withdrawn?
– Inquiries will be made, and a further reply given to the honorable member.
– In view of the promise made by the Acting Prime Minister that honorable members would be able to reach their homes for Christmas, will he say what business the Government proposes to introduce between now and the time the House rises?
– I said that I hoped honorable members would be able to get home for Christmas, and I still hope that it will be possible for them to do so, if they will assist the Government with the business of the House.
– Does the Acting Prime Minister propose to follow the practice which has obtained for many years, and inform honorable members as to the business which the Government proposes to bring forward?
– Surely it must have dawned on the honorable member by now that we are living in very unusual times.
– And this is a very unusual Ministry.
– There is also an unusual Opposition. I still hope that it will be possible for honorable members to get. home for Christmas.
Conference Between Board and Cabinet
– Has the Acting Prime Minister any information to give regarding the conference which took place a fortnight ago between members of Cabinet and the Commonwealth Bank Board ?
– I have no informa tion to give.
– In view of the near approach of Christmas, has the Acting Prime Minister notified the half million unemployed persons in Australia that the tariff amendments introduced by the Government have failed to provide work for them, and further, that the Government has no food to offer them, but only politics?
– I am rather surprised that the honorable member should ask a question in the language he has employed. I do not think that any member of this House, whatever side he sits upon, can be accused of lacking sympathy with the unemployed, and no honorable member can claim a monopoly of such sympathy. The Government and its supporters will do everythingpossible to assist the unemployed.
-by leave - Some time ago the member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) and several other members of the House drew my attention to the decision of the Railway Commissioners for New South Wales, to alter the present railway service to and from Canberra, and pointed out the many inconveniences which would arise. I immediately arranged for the Commissioner for Commonwealth Railways to negotiate on the matter with the New South Wales Chief Commissioner, and, in addition, I communicated with the Premier of New South Wales. It was decided to allow the present service to stand until such time as Parliament adjourned, but after that date the New South Wales Commissioners’ proposals would have come into operation. Further negotiations, however, have been productive of better results, and it has now been agreed by the New South Wales Commissioners that the 7.10 a.m. train service - Goulburn to Canberra - shall operate on two days a week, instead of one day as originally proposed. The days upon which the service is to operate will be decided later. It has also been agreed to continue running the daily train, Monday to Saturday, leaving Canberra at 8.20 p.m., connecting with the limited or first division of the Melbourne express at Goulburn, and arriving at Melbourne at 12 noon on the following day.
asked the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1.The following figures represent the position as at 30th June,1930: -
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Since 1st April, 1925, the following goods received the full benefit of the British preferential tariff: -
As regards (a) goods are regarded as being wholly produced or manufactured in the United Kingdom if, in the raw material used or in the finished goods, no manufacturing processhas been performed in any country outside the United Kingdom (other than Australia) which is being commercially performed in the United Kingdom. No goods are entitled to preference unless the final pro? cess of manufacture was performed in the United Kingdom, nor unless the goods were shipped in the United Kingdom for Australia.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the fact that the Government of New South Wales has introduced a moratorium, will the Commonwealth Government consider the introduction of a moratorium bill, making mandatory that in all foreclosures in respect of mortgages or advances, such foreclosures can take effect only on the condition that the mortgagees or institutions advancing the moneys would have to accept the properties on the valuations they were willing to advance such loans upon, and that all mortgagors should be paid the difference in cash with a discount of 10 per cent., or by extended payments without interest extending over three years?
– The Commonwealth has no power under the Constitution to enact legislation on the lines suggested by the honorable member.
Adultpopul a tion- Expenditure.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained, and will be conveyed to the honorablemember as soon as possible.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– On the 5th December the honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham)’ asked me the following questions, upon notice -
I have now been furnished with the following particulars: -
– On the 5th December the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) asked me a question, without notice, regarding certain additional information which I had promised to make available in connexion with a question asked by him on the 5th November, relating to Commonwealth employees. The information is nowavailable, and isas follows : -
Returned soldiers discharged during the period 30th June, 1920, to 15th October, 1930, equals 62.
The number of returned soldiers and returned nurses whose services were dispensed with during the period 30th June, 1929, to 15th October, 1930, was 32.
The number of returned soldiers whose services were dispensed with between the 30th June, 1929, and the15th October, 1930 was-
DevelopmentandMigrationCommission (and Development Branch, Prime
Minister’s Department) .
The number of officers on the Australian staff at 30th June, 1929, was 100, comprising fourteen officers of the Commonwealth Public Service (including oneofficer on loan from Defence Department and one officer on loan from Customs Department), and 92 officers appointed under the Development and Migration Act (including typistes and messengers ) .
On the abolition of the Development and Migration Commission five permanent officers of the Commonwealth Public Service and 20 officers appointed under the Development and Migration Act, who were engaged on development work, became officers of the Development Branch of the Prime Minister’s Department as from 1st July, 1930.
The number of returned soldiers whose services were dispensed with during the period 30th June, 1929-1 5th October, 1930, was two.
The number of returned soldiers whose services were dispensed with during the. period 30th June, 1929,to 15th October,1930,was6.
Personsemployed in Connexion with the Administration of the Federal Capital Territory.
The number of returned soldiers whose services were dispensed with during the period 30th June, 1929, to 15th October, 1930, was as follows: - Staff, 58; casual employees, 123; total, 181. This figure is included in the number, viz., 3,417, given in my reply to the honorable member on the 18th November.
RegulationsGoverning Clubs and Hotels.
– On the 10th December the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) asked me the following questions, uponnotice -
A reply was furnished by me in regard to parts 2 and 3, and I indicated that inquiries would be made in regard to part 1. I am now advised by the Administrator, Rabaul, that a licence was issued to the German Club under the conditions laid down in the Intoxicating Liquors Ordinance 1921-24.
– On the 5th December, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) asked the following questions, upon notice-
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
– by leave - I am pleased to inform the House that the complete success of the conversion loan is now definitely assured. It is, therefore, proposed to close the loan within a day or two. By that time I believe that the full amount of £28,000,000 will have been subscribed directly by the public. The Acting Treasurer undertook to close the loan as soon as £28,000,000 was received, and the action now being taken is in fulfilment of that promise. I am also pleased to announce that the number of subscribers to the loanwill be almost 100,000.. These subscribers are spread over a very wide area. Many applications from the remote parts of the Commonwealth are still coming to hand.
Mr.FENTON (Maribyrnong - Acting Prime Minister) [3.25]. - by leave. - I have to announce thatthe Government has asked General Sir John Monash to represent the Commonwealth of Australia at the inauguration of New Delhi in February next, and that he has consented to do so. During the inauguration ceremonies, Sir John will unveil the column which the Commonwealth Government has presented to the new capital of India. Early in the year, when the Government accepted the generous invitation of the Indian Government to send a representative to India, as the guest of that dominion, to attend this ceremony, it was anticipated that a Commonwealth Minister would be able to undertake the duty; but the unusual conditions through which the country is passing have made this impossible. However, in Sir John Monash the Government will have a splendid representative at this great ceremonial occasion.
– Recently, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) and the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) asked for certain information regarding the inspection of the petroleum oil bores near Lakes Entrance, Gippsland, by Admiral Sydenham of the British Navy. The report of that gentleman has now come to hand; but I have decided to hand it to the Minister for Home Affairssothatexpert officers of his departmentmay advise whether it should orshould not be released for publication.
The following papers were presented: -
Bankruptcy Act - Second Annual Report for period, 1st August, 1929, to31st July, 1930.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations amended -
Statutory Rules 1930, No. 142.
Service and Execution of Process Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1930. No. 147.
Assent to the following bills re ported : -
Income Tax (Salaries) Assessment Bill.
Income Tax (Salaries.) Bill.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
In committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendments) :
Clause 4 -
Section three of the principal act is amended by inserting before the definitions of “ the Territory “, the following definitions: - “ ‘ the Council “means the AdvisoryCouncil constituted under this act; “.
Senate’s amendment. - Leave out “ ‘ the Council ‘ means the Advisory Council constituted under this act; “.
. -When the Northern Territory Administration Bill was under consideration in this chamber a few days ago, the Government accepted an amendment, suggested by the honorable member for the Northern Territory, with the object of granting the residents of the territory representation on a local governing body. The Government, in accepting the amendment, made it a matter of government policy. It was provided that the Northern Territory should be divided into four sections, each of which was given power to elect a representative to an advisory council consisting of the four members so elected, with the Government Resident as chairman. It was the intention of the Government to give a certain measure of local government to the people by means of ordinances, but on the suggestion of the honorable member for the Northern Territory this was provided for in the bill. The idea underlying this amendment was that the people of the Northern Territory should be given some means of voicing their ideals and aspirations, and it was provided that they should have, through the advisory council, the power to make ordinances in connexion with certain subjects. The bill passed this chamber with little opposition. Many of those honorable members who objected to it were not enthusiastic in their opposition. Sincethe system proposed to be changed has not proved successful, and the failure of the commission to do the work expected of it is not due entirely to lack of funds, it was generally conceded by honorable members on both sides that it was not of much avail to have a development commission unless it showed a capacity to bring about development.
– That is a free and easy interpretation of the speeches made on thisside.
– A fairly accurate one. I think. The Senate has seen fit to interfere with the business of this Government, which was elected by the majority of the people of Australia.
– The Minister should not criticize the other chamber. Let him explain the amendments on their merits.
– It may well be left to the Chairman to determine whether I am doing that or not. This Government was elected by an overwhelming majority to carry on the affairs of this country, and one of the first declarations made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and by his Deputy (Mr. Gullett) was that, as the Ministry was faced with a serious financial position, they would do everything possible to help it to carry out its work. On many occasions they expressed their opinions about balancing budgets, and about the savings which should be effected. In pursuance of its policy of saving money for the people of Australia, the Government brought down certain legislation, and one of many such measures was that providing for the abolition of the North Australia Commission. Yet, notwithstanding the fact that that measure is designed to correct a mistake, the Opposition in another place, in a petty way, has refused to accept a bill which was passed in this chamber. The other House has adopted a similar attitude with regard to a number of measures sent to it from this House. There has been obstruction of the legislation of this Government. The obstruction has been deliberate, in some cases, and, in other instances, there has been petty mutilation of measures submitted. Take, for instance, the Central Reserve Bank Bill, which was received from this chamber on the 18th June-
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. McGrath).The committee is now dealing with amendments made by the Senate in the Northern Territory Administration Bill.
– I was referring to another piece of legislation which has been either mutilated or rejected.I shall content myself by saying that eight measures, including the Central Reserve Bank Bill, and 28 amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill–
– I cannot permit a second-reading speech at this stage. The Minister will kindly confine himself to the Senate’s amendments in this bill.
– I shall not proceed further on the lines on which I have been speaking, except to say that therehas been deliberate obstruction and deliberate mutilation.
– I submit that the Minister has made a direct reflection on the other branch of the legislature, and that his last remark is, therefore, out of order.
– Any reflection on another place must be withdrawn.
– I withdraw the remark; but the fact remains that mutilation and obstruction have occurred. , When this measure was under discussion in the Senate, one honorable gentleman said that the Minister for Home Affairs would be quite relieved to find–
– I submit that it is not in order to refer to a debate in another place of the current session.
– The committee is now dealing with the amendment made by the Senate in clause 4, and the Minister must confine his remarks strictly to it.
– When dealing with the amendments under consideration, an honorable gentleman in another place stated that the Minister for Home Affairs would be–
– I submit, Mr. Chairman, that the Minister is obviously evading your ruling.
– I wish to hear what the Minister is about to say.
– I do not know what is troubling honorable members opposite to-day. I am endeavouring to make a dispassionate statement of the matter as I see.it. My observations are of a non-partisan and non-party charac ter. When dealing with the amendments now before the committee, an honorable gentleman in another place said that the Minister for Home Affairs would be considerably relieved if that portion of the bill providing for the establishment of an advisory council for North Australia were deleted. My reply to the honorable senator is–
– I submit that the Minister is not in order in replying in this chamber to any statement, made in another place.
-I ask the Minister to confine his remarks strictly to the amendment before the Chair.
– My reply to the honorable senator is the action which I now take. I move -
That the amendment he disagreed to.
– What are the amendments?
– The amendments of the Senate have been circulated.
.- The Minister has seized the present opportunity to make a particularly unfortunate speech. There was no occasion for him to say what he did. He has not yet announced the amendments that were made to this bill by another place, nor given reasons why they should be disagreed with. It would appear that he holds the belief that this committee will assent to what he says, simply because it happens to be the policy of the Government, in spite of the fact that it distinctly was not the policy of the Government when it introduced this bill. The Minister has spoken as though this was a single-chamber legislature, and on the assumption that everything which this vacillating Government makes up what it calls its mind to do from day to day, ought to be accepted as a matter of course by both Houses of the Parliament. The amendments, which I have read, propose to strike out of the measure the provisions inserted at a late stage of the discussion of the bill in this chamber, for the appointment of an advisory council. When the Government introduced the bill it was opposed to the institution of such a council. The Minister has practically said, “ Gape, sinner, and swallow.” Those who do not agree that there should be in existence an advisory council would act altogether wrongly if they followed his advice given in this manner. This provision was inserted in the bill at the instance of the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson). His representations caused a change to be made in the inspired policy of the Government, and it is now argued that all other honorable members must “ gape and swallow.”I decline to be placed in that position. Every honorable member has a right to express his opinions, and to criticize whatever items of policy are brought down by the Government. Thisattitude of subservient acceptance of determinations that vary from day to day may suit very well those honorable members who, it is believed, support the Government; but it will not do for the members of the Opposition.
– There appears to be a good deal of misunderstanding regarding the provision that the Senate proposes to remove from the bill. The Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley) gave me every assistance in its preparation, and the proposal to insert it in the bill was made by me with his concurrence.
– And it was accepted as the policy of the Government.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) is not aware that it was the intention of the Minister to bring an advisory council into existence by ordinance. It was learned that certain of the conditions which had to be prescribed could not be laid down by ordinance, and that it was necessary to include them in the act. It is difficult to understand the mentality of those who have rejected this proposal. In the first place, they say that the people of the Northern Territory are being deprived of the last vestige of representation; yet, having agreed without compunction to the commission being abolished, they propose ‘to withhold from the people of the Northern Territory that which would give them representation ! No Complaint can be made against a proposal that will give each section of the Northern Territory representation on a body that will “advise the Government with respect to matters affecting the development of that country. The reason for the opposition of the majority of members of another place is beyond my comprehension. It certainly is not right to say that this provision was unacceptable to the Ministry, and was forced on them. If the Senate realized and appreciated the position, it would not persist with its opposition to the proposal, which gives to the people of the Northern Territory the only semblance of representation that they can ha-ve. I support the motion moved by the Minister.
.- The Minister complained that the Senate had obstructed the efforts of the Government to give effect to its policy of retrenchment, included in which is the proposal to abolish the North Australia Commission. As I understand the position, there has been no interference with that policy,’by another place, ‘ because it has agreed to the portion .of the bill which proposes to abolish the commission. Its objection is to the establishment of an advisory council. Probably it was influenced, as I have been, by the attitude which the Minister has adopted towards the administration of affairs in the Northern Territory. Since he has been in office, he has endeavoured to set up entirely new machinery; in short, that of mob rule. It is fairly obvious that, if the Seriate were to approve of this provision in the bill, the advisory council would consist of union organizers. That class of body is not likely to act in the best interests of the people of the Northern Territory as a whole; If the Minister proposed that the council should consist of cattlemen and the like, who have a stake in the Northern Territory, I feel sure that both Houses would support him. I am very pleased that another place has checked his endeavour to further the proposals that he has attempted to put into effect in connexion with the Darwin Town Council, by setting up nil advisory council similar in character, and I hope that that attitude will be maintained.
.- ‘ I hope that the Government will not accept the amendment of another place. I contend that it is impossible for the proposed advisory council to consist of union secretaries, as the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) ‘has suggested would be the case. I should not object if it were, because union secretaries are, at least, as good as those who disparage them. There is only one portion of the Northern Territory in which such a thing could occur, and. that is Darwin. But I have yet to learn that there is any reason why the people of Darwin should not have the representative they desire to advise the Government as to what they considered best in the interests of the Northern Territory. There are no organized workers worth speaking of in any portion of the territory outside Darwin : therefore, there would he on the council three representatives of the rural interests, one of the industrial section at Darwin, and a Government representative. Surely no objection can be urged against a proposal to give a voice to those who know what is best for the Northern Territory. . I listened to’ the debate that took place on the bill during its passage through this chamber. A few members have made a hurried trip through the Northern Territory, but they were not able to observe the conditions as closely as those who live there. We cannot advise either this or any other Government as to what is really needed.
– I was one of those who last week strongly opposed the abolition of the North Australia Commission, and I, therefore, disagree with the statement of thu Minister to-day that the Government’s proposals were received in a loose and casual fashion. Our opposition to the abolition of the commission was definite and well founded. We not only indulged in constructive criticism, but also made many practical suggestions- as the result, if not of our personal knowledge, at least of some, research on our part into the affairs of the territory. I, therefore, regret that another place has seen fit to endorse the action of the Government. Never before have I heard such a weak argument as that placed before honorable members by the Minister in favour of the abolition of the Commission, and I was surprised that the Government did not pay more attention and respect to the views of honorable members who were opposed to that action, and particularly the views of the honorable member for the Northern Territory, whose counter proposal is now the subject of controversy. While I am not prepared to dispute the decision of another place, it is surprising to me - and the Government can have no complaint on that score - that the other chamber went to the length of discarding the constructive proposal of the honorable member for the Northern Territory to appoint an advisory council. I cannot agree with the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), because 1 do not think that his remarks have helped the situation at all. I shall always resent the expression of such views, based as they are on class bias, by any honorable member on this side of the chamber. It is unreasonable to suggest that the people of Darwin - merely because they are unionists - should not be entitled to representation on an advisory council. I know that there are a lot of “ red-r aggers ‘’ there. We have read press reports of their actions, and although we know that they have played some part in retarding the development of the territory, we must admit that the system “‘pf administering the Northern Territory as adopted by the Federal Parliament during the last twenty years has been mainly responsible for its present position. No evidence has ever been placed before this Parliament giving the nature and extent of the actions of “ red-raggers “ at Darwin. Our knowledge of them has been’ gained largely from what we have read in the newspapers, and from what we have been told by people who have had some experience of the territory. No definite statement has ever been placed before this chamber of the real nature of the- actions of “ red-raggers “ at Darwin and their effect upon the administration of the territory. I, therefore, think that this House has no right to accept that sort of hearsay evidence, and to deny to the people of Darwin some voice in an advisory council. As a matter of fact, the moral effect of a council in which those people had some voice would be advantageous to the administration, because in all probability the representative of the “ red-raggers “ of Darwin would become an exceedingly helpful member. It often happens that when a “ red-ragger “ is given a position of some responsibility, he eventually becomes a conservative. He gets an insight into the affairs of government, and develops a sense of responsibility. He mixes with men of broad vision, and, if there is any good in him at all, it comes out under those conditions. An instance of this is the appointment of the famous Jock Garden as an alderman of the Sydney City Council. He is even getting friendly paragraphs in the Sydney Morning Herald, and is rapidly shedding the “ redness “ for which he has been noted. Then again we have the case of Tom Walsh, about whom we fought an election. He, at one time, turned this country upside down.
– He was doing the work of the Bruce-Page Government.
– To-day he is one of the stalwarts of the British Empire. I venture to predict that if the proposal of the honorable member for the Northern Territory is adopted and given effect, and an advisory council is appointed to which a “ red-ragger “ of “ Darwin is elected, more control will be exercised over the collective “ red-raggers “ of that town than would be the case under ministerial control from Canberra. I know that the most harmless men in this chamber are the greatest “ red-raggers “ outside. The proposal of the honorable member for the Northern Territory is perfectly rational, despite the objection taken by the honorable member for Perth. The honorable member for the Northern Territory has suggested the division of the territory into four sections. There would bo one representative for Darwin, and the other three sections would be represented by people perhaps not so “ red “ in outlook as the representative of Darwin. That would make for an even balance of control in that council. The objection raised by the honorable member for Perth to this proposal carries no weight whatever. This serious step which the Government has taken in abolishing the North Australian Commission - a body which certainly did good work in the few years of its existence - will bring about the return of the bad old days of governmental control, not from Melbourne as before, but from Canberra, where the affairs of the territory are likely to be absolutely forgotten. It is therefore necessary that we should give to the territory some form of local government - some representation. If we do that and it proves to be bad, the system can be altered, if not by this Government, then by some future government. I suggest, therefore, that we should respectfully request the members of another place to reconsider their decision not to agree to the appointment of an advisory council. Such a council would have no legislative powers. It would be purely an advisory body, capable of doing much good and little harm. As pointed out by the honorable member for the Northern Territory, the expense of its election and maintenance would not be more than £200 or £300 a year. I therefore think that an advisory council should be appointed, if only as a friendly gesture to ‘the people of the Northern Territory.
.- The Minister is to be congratulated on having moved that the amendment be disagreed to. I hope this action is a sign that the times’ are changing, and that the Government is going to assert its right to govern in accordance with the mandate from the people. If the members of another place had gone to the country most of them would have accompanied into oblivion many of their fellow Nationalists who sat in this House in the last Parliament; but though they still retain their seats, they have no authority from the people to speak on this bill or any other matter. The New South South Wales electors recently showed their contempt for the Nationalist organization by completely routing its candidates. The provision for an advisory council was inserted by this committee without a division, and with only a little petulant opposition from the remnants of the Nationalist party. The provision is fundamental. In the control of a territory whose population is not large enough to be entrusted with legislative powers, the Government must have the advice of an organization that understands the needs and desires of the residents and has local knowledge. This is a first step in the evolution towards responsible government, and if it should prove to have no other advantage it will be, at least, a very useful safety valve. I would have preferred the continuance of the commission, but as the Government has decided against that, I hope that it will insist upon the substitution of an advisory council which will give to the people of the Northern Territory, at small expense, a voice in their own affairs. They will be articulate through their chosen representatives on the council, and those who are administering the territory from Canberra will he guided by such expression of the opinions and desires of the people. Although the principle involved may seem small, it is vital to the residents of the Northern Territory, who, because of the wonderful service they are doing for Australia, are entitled to every consideration. The honorable member who represents them has lived in the territory, he knows the needs and wishes of the people, and the Government is to be commended for having followed his advice. The principle of self-government is dear to every British community, and we have no right to deny it to our kinsmen in the north.
– Whilst I did not approve of the; abolition of the commission, which has done good work since its appointment four years ago, I. supported the second reading of the bill, which was much improved by the amendment inserted at the instance of the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) to provide for an advisory council. There is no doubt that such a body would be of the greatest assistance to the administration. Our distance from the Northern Territory, and our limited acquaintance with its problems and climatic conditions, render the establishment of a local advisory body necessary, and we could hardly provide more cheaply for the representation of local opinion than by the creation of a small elected council whose cost will not exceed a few hundred pounds a year. Such a body would be of immense value to the Minister in time of emergency, and I believe it would have exercised a good influence during the recent disorders at Darwin. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) has expressed concern as to the damage an elected body might do. Probably if the council were wholly elected by the people of Darwin there would be good foundation for his misgivings. The “ reds “ there are responsible for the present unfortunate position of the Northern Territory; they compelled the closing of the meat works at Darwin, and have been the principal obstacle to all progress. No doubt if they controlled the council they would do all the things that the honorable member for Perth fears. But the council is to consist of a chairman and four other members elected by the people in different divisions.
– All the elected persons may reside in Darwin?
– They may; but some of them will be elected by the pastoralists and others in the interior. The only provision that need cause honorable members any concern is that which allows the Minister to redistribute the divisions from time to time. We have had previous unhappy experiences of the re-distribution of seats. 1 hope that another place will not persist in its objection to the establishment of an advisory council. The royal commission which inquired into the affairs of Norfolk Island recommended the establishment of an advisory council there. That was approved by the mem bers of another place, and, to-day, the Administrator has the advice of a council of six local residents. Therefore, another place cannot consistently object to the principle contained in this proposal. I believe that it is necessary, ‘and would be of great, assistance to the administration.
.- The Minister gave no reason for moving that the amendments be disagreed to beyond the broad general statement that the majority of members in another place are opposed to the Government. Of course they are; they were elected on a definite policy which is quite incompatible with the vacillation and ineptitude of the Government, whose policy cannot be discovered even with a microscope. The Governent started with the intention of abolishing the North Australia Commission and of letting it go at that. Later, at the suggestion of the honorable member for the Northern Territory, it was decided to substitute for the commission an advisory council. It is evident that the Government does not know its own mind from one day to the next. It has a single-track mind, capable of holding only one idea at a time.
– I rise to a point of order. There is nothing about the Government’s mind in the amendments before the committee.
– I remind the honorable member that he is wandering from the subject before the Chair.
– The Minister, in his speech, made no reference to the five amendments before us. He asked the committee to disagree with the amendments, although he did not seem to know what they were about. Upon consulting the journals of the Senate, I observe that there was a division on only one of the amendments, the other four being passed on the voices. Now, the Minister is asking this House to disagree with those amendments, although at least four of them were apparently accepted by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I observe that some of them were actually moved by Senator Barnes.
I believe that the commission should have been retained. It had been operating. just long enough to learn something about the territory, and would, if it were left to carry on, be able to do some real good for the place.
.- I believe in the principle of an advisory council for the Northern Territory, but I appeal to the Minister, at this stage, to alter the method of election. There is no reason why all the members of the council should not be residents of Darwin, provided they are elected by four separate parts of the territory. I should like to see a provision inserted to require that the councillors must be electors, and on the roll of the divisions which elect them.
– That would be all right.
– The council should be representative of pastoral and mining interests, as well as of labour interests in the territory. The Minister said that it was hoped, by the abolition of the commission, to save about £8,000 a year. There is no limit, apparently, to be imposed upon the amount which members of the advisory council may draw in travelling expenses, and we know that if they chose to run loose, they could easily spend more than £8,000 a year in travelling about the territory. L. believe that there should be a council, and I congratulate the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) upon having proposed it.
– This latest development in regard to the advisory council is another example of the lack of constructive statesmanship for which this Ministry has been noted since it took office. It is also a further proof of the Government’s utter inability to deal with large matters of this kind. The Minister, when moving that the Senate’s amendments be disagreed with, vouchsafed honorable members no information whatever, and it was only by moans of interjection that I was able to learn the nature of the amendments. His secondreading speech on this bill was hardly any more informative. He told us nothing this afternoon about the points of difference between this House and the Senate. I am convinced that the Senate is right in its attitude towards this bill. I do not deny that the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) is genuinely concerned for the welfare of the territory, but he is the only man on the Government side who seems to know anything about’ conditions there. The Minister spoke of the policy of the Government in regard to the territory, but what is its policy? He said that he would not have the Senate interfering with the Government’s policy ; but the Government never had any policy. In the first place, the Government introduced this bill providing for the abolition of the Northern Territory Commission, and then, as soon as the honorable member for the Northern Territory made the suggestion, it altered the bill so as to provide for the election of an advisory council. Evidently it was prepared to be moved by any suggestion put forward. The Minister said that it was hoped to save £8,000 by abolishing the council, and that this represented part of the Government’s general economy campaign by which the finances of the Commonwealth were to be rehabilitated. Then he went on to say that it was proposed to spend the £8,000 on sinking artesian bores. Perhaps he will be good enough to explain where the saving to the Commonwealth will come in. I ask the Government, would it not be better either to leave the commission as it is or, if the Government is not satisfied that it is doing the job properly, replace it by a nominated advisory council without going through the farce of holding an election?
– And be accused of packing the council.
– As it is, the election will be completely under the control of the Minister, who will have power even to fix the boundaries of the electorates. Apparently the Government intends, by regulation, to fix the number of meetings which the council may hold, and the expenses which the members of it may draw. In my opinion, it would be far better to leave things as they are. If the Government is not satisfied with the personnel of the existing commission it could alter it. It has been said that the principal object of the Government in introducing this bill is to save expense; but let honorable members think for a moment of the expense that will be involved in the holding of meetings of this advisory council. If one member of it lived at, say, Alice Springs, it would be a costly business to provide means for him to get to Darwin. Camel teams would have to be used to transport petrol to suitable points for use in the motor ears, and other heavy expenses would be involved in connexion with the peregrinations of the members of the council. It appears to me to be almost certain that all the members of the council will live in Darwin. “Why go to the pretence of electing men when the Government knows very well that Australian Workers Union organizers will be appointed? It would be less expensive to provide for the appointment of these organizers without going through the farce of an election. Let the Government for once do the straightforward thing, and appoint these men without adopting anyback-door methods.
– The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) has adopted an extraordinary attitude. “He has charged the members of the Governmentwith ignorance of the Northern Territory, and has said that my speeches on the subject have been “ incoherent “ and “ disjointed.” The honorable member used those two words very early in his parliamentary career, and whenever he finds himself devoid of arguments he falls back on them. Yet he has himself shown abysmal ignorance of the whole situation. For instance, the honorable member’s statement that camel teams would be required to carry petrol was made the other day by a member of Another place - he has merely repeated it.
– I did not know that anything like that had been said in another place.
– The honorable member also showed ignorance in other respects. He said that. Australian Workers Union organizers would be elected to the council.
– That is perfectly true, andI repeat the statement.
– The honorable member again shows his ignorance. The Australian Workers Union does not operate in North Australia. The fact of the matter is that the honorable member does not know, and will not make any effort to understand, the situation in North Australia. He said that the four members of the council would undoubtedly live in Darwin. He must have forgotten that provision has been made for them to be elected as the representatives of four different divisions of the Northern Territory. , The honorable gentleman’s speech, like many others that he has made, was uttered for political purposes, and was marked by an outrageous disregard for the truth. The honorable member forRichmond (Mr. R. Green) gesticulated excitedly, while he also made a number of incorrect statements. He said that it was extraordinary that, although a member of the Government in another place moved certain amendments to this bill, another member of it in this chamber is resisting them. He does not seem to realize that after another place had made a vital amendment to the bill, it was necessary for the Minister in charge of it there to move that certain consequential amendments should be made in order to prevent serious anomalies from occurring. Both the honorable member for Warringah and the honorable member for Richmond remind me of Middleton’s Rouseabout, who had no opinions or ideas of his own. The Government desires togive the residents of the Northern Territory a measure of local government, andI believe that most’ honorable members opposite are in favour of the adoption of that course.
– Hear, hear!
– I wish the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) would show his sympathy with these objects by influencing the members of his party in another place. The Government is of opinion that an advisory council, consisting of four persons, elected by the residents of different divisions of the territory, with the Government Resident as chairman, would make possible the articulation of the ideals of the people.
Motion agreed to.
Consequential amendments to clauses 5 and 6 also disagreed to.
Resolutions reported; report adopted.
That Mr. Fenton, Mr. Beasley and Mr. Blakeley be appointed a committee to draw up a reason for the House of Representatives disagreeing to the amendments.
.- On behalf of the committee, I bring up the following reason: -
Because it is the policy of the Government to give representation to the people of the Northern Territory, and the amendments made by the Senate will prevent the carrying out of that policy.
I move -
That the reason be adopted.
.-I object to the form in which the reason has been submitted. The Standing Orders require that when this House disagrees with amendments made by another place, it shall give reasons for so doing. It cannot be said that the mere statement that the amendments of the other place are not in accord with governmentpolicy is a real reason. It is only an alleged reason which does not in. any way affect the merits of the proposal under consideration. It is merely saying, in effect.
This is what we want,” when reasons should be given why certain provisions arc wanted. It appears to me to be quite probable that the other place will regard this so-called reason as a contemptuous disregard by thisHouse of the requirements of the Standing Orders. I,, therefore, ask the Minister to withdraw his motion and reconsider the matter with a view to drafting proper reasons.
Motion (by Mr. Bayley) negatived -
That the debatebe now adjourned.
– I submit that the reason agreed upon by the committee is full and sufficient. The Government desires to give the people of the Northern Territory representation on a local governing body. The amendments of another place would make it impossible to carry out that intention. It is for that reason that they should be disagreed with.
– The reasons given should be those of the committee, and not those of the Government.
– I am asking that they be adopted as expressing the policy of the Government, and I hope that honorable members opposite will accept that policy on this occasion, at all events.
Motion (Mr. Blakeley’s) agreed to.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Acting Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Forde) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act relating to advances on wheat.
Resolution reported and - by leave - adopted.
Debate resumed from the 12th December (vide page 1428), on motion by Mr. Forde -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The declared object of the bill is to assist the wheat-farmers of the Commonwealth. I agree that the present position of the farmers, and indeed, of many other citizens of the Commonwealth, constitutes a problem of such dimensions that, having regard to certain past events, and also to present circumstances, it is proper for this Parliament to consider the provision of assistance forthem. The position of large numbers of farmers is very serious indeed. The price of wheat has dropped to less than half of last year’s price. Many of the farmers are heavily in debt. They have difficulty in meeting their obligations, and they cannot see how they are to put in the next crop. The farmers of Australia were induced to extend the area under cultivation by a “ Grow more wheat “ campaign, which, if not inaugurated, was at least strongly supported by the present Government. The result has been a record production of wheat in Australia, and that has come about largely in response to the urging and solicitation of the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States. When one considers the magnitude of the wheat industry, and its importance to the Commonwealth as a whole, one finds it impossible to take any but the gravest view of the present predicament of the wheat-farmers, and I agree that some assistance to them is necessary. I desire to make that plain at the outset. But Government assistance, by way of loans, as proposed in this bill, or bounties, or any form of subsidy, cannot be a permanent solution of the problem presented to-day by the position of the great primary industries of wheatgrowing and wool-growing. The wool industry is in. much the same position as the wheat industry ; but the condition of the former is not so apparent, for two reasons. In the first place, there is more capital behind the wool industry than behind the wheat industry, and the urgency of the situation has not developed to the same extent as in the case of wheat. But the position of the woolgrowers generally, owing to the drop in prices, has become most serious. The second consideration to which I shall advert is that shearing occurs practically all the year round in one State or another in Australia, while the whole of the wheat harvest has to be garnered within ten or twelve weeks. The difficulty is apparent in the case of wheat, but substantially the same problem will shortly be brought under direct notice in connexion with wool.
– The base metal industry is in a similar plight.
– Yes. No system of subsidies or bounties can provide a permanent solution of the problems of these industries.
Owing to the specially difficult position of the wheat-farmers, and the necessity to preserve this industry in the Commonwealth, particularly having regard to the inducement held out by Federal and State Governments to grow more wheat in the current season, it is proper to provide assistance for the farmers, and for this Parliament to join in providing it, this year; but I do not for a moment think that any such measure can provide permanent relief. If permanent assistance is given in the case of wheat, it must also be furnished in the case of wool. I think that we shall have to give this assistance this year; but it should not be imagined that such assistance can be provided in succeeding years. Such a proposal would be financially impossible and economically unsound. If, as part of its general policy, this Parliament were to decide to provide assistance to the wool and wheat industries, it would have to do the same, I suggest, for the mining of lead and zinc, and possibly also of copper and silver. Then we should be in the position of having taxed all industries to help all other industries. Such a system, of course, would inevitably defeat its own object, and is is very obvious so long as we depend on sales in the world’s markets of a large portion of the product of the labour of our citizens.
Therefore, I consider this bill to be purely a temporary expedient to meet the present urgent contingency, and it should be associated with measures designed to deal with the real problem. We have to sell by far the larger portion of our wheat, wool and metals overseas. No market manipulation - not even the visit of a member of this Parliament to the United States of America, Canada, or elsewhere - can alter world prices, which have to be accepted for our exported products. The world’s markets are beyond manipulation for more than a very short period. Since, in order to exist as a community, we must grow these products at a profit, we must make it possible to produce wheat and wool profitably in Australia. From that, there is no escape; subsidies will not. solve the problem. There should be large reductions of governmental expenditure in order to bring down the cost of living, the costs of the farmers and of all other sections of the community. The farmer’s costs are represented, not only by the price of the articles which he, particularly, requires for the purpose of carrying on his industry, but also by the general cost of living in the community. All prices affect the farmers - many of them directly, and all of them indirectly.
Associated with this bill, therefore, should be a measure dealing with the tariff now in operation, which requires reconstruction in the light of world prices. It is impossible for us, a large exporting country as we necessarily are, to pretend that we are able to order our lives independent of those prices. It is obviously necessary for everybody to recognize, though possibly unwillingly, the necessity to reconsider some of our industrial legislation, both Commonwealth and State. I shall not go- over old ground, but I say that these three matters, government finance, the tariff and industrial legislation, must be considered in relation to the reduction of costs of production, including costs of distribution. There can be no solution of the difficulties of the wool and wheat, industries apart from the reduction of the costs of those industries. We may provide temporary alleviation this year, and that I believe must be done; but that will not provide a permanent solution of this most serious problem.
For reasons which I propose to state, I cannot regard the bill as satisfactory, and I propose to suggest an alternative.
– The bill is a good vote-catcher.
– I shall not refer to any such aspect of the measure as that. I propose to criticize some weak points in the bill, and to suggest a definite alternative for consideration by the Government. Then I shall ask the Minister very earnestly to consider the criticism and suggestions that I intend to make, and see whether it is riot possible to meet representatives of other parties in an endeavour to devise a scheme which would more adequately improve the situation. In addressing myself to the second reading of the measure on these lines, I desire to show that the Opposition is quite prepared to give the Government any assistance that lies in its power, and proposes to accept the responsibility of making definite suggestions. Apart from party considerations, there are weaknesses, dangers and difficulties in connexion with the bill to which the attention of the Government ought to be clearly directed.
I ask, first, what is the nature of the bill? Its outstanding feature is that it provides that the Government may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank, first, for advances to wheat-growers or to prescribed cooperative organizations on behalf of such growers, and, secondly, for guarantees to prescribed persons. I understand that those prescribed persons are the wheat merchants and millers. Although it has not been definitely stated that millers are included.,it appears to me that it will be essential to include them.
The guarantee, I point out, is. to be not 3s. a bushel f.o.b., as apparently is generally understood, but under clause 4,
– The bill distinctly states that the guarantee is to be 3s. a bushel fo.b., less handling charges.
– The condition of the guarantee to merchants and millers is set out in clear language in sub-clause 3 of clause 4. A merchant or miller will be given the guarantee if he contracts to pay the farmer 2s. a bushel; and sub-clause 2 of clause 5 provides that 2s. a bushel of tlie amount guaranteed shall be payable upon the delivery of the w7heat at a railway station.
– Sub-clause 3 provides for the imposing of such other conditions as are prescribed. Could not the Minister issue regulations making that extra 5d. a bushel payable?
– If it is intended that the farmer shall receive 3s. a bushel, less charges, why does not the bill say so?
– That is intended, although it is not clearly expressed.
– The point I am making is that it is not provided. I have already stated that, if “ the scheme be adopted, I anticipate that by bargaining, the farmer will get from the pool or the miller 2s. 5d. a bushel.
– In my second-reading speech I stated definitely that the payment would be 3s. a bushel f.o.b., less handling charges.
– The bill does not say so, whatever may bc the intention of the Government. It is important to note that the expenditure by pools and merchants under this scheme is to be 3s. a bushel.. The amount that will be received by the pools, and that which will be guaranteed and ultimately paid to the merchants, is to be no more than 2s. 5d. a bushel. As the amount to be found by the pools will bc 3s. a bushel, the pools will have to finance the handling . charge of 7d. a bushel in addition to approximately ls. a bushel in connexion with the placing of the wheat overseas. The merchants will spend 3s. a bushel, and receive a guarantee of 3s. a bushel, less 7d. a bushel for handling charges, that is 2s. 5d. a bushel, and in the case of ‘ exported wheat they will expend an additional ls. a bushel in delivering it overseas. The whole of that expenditure by the merchants will be a risk until the final adjustment of accounts. Both the merchants and the pools will have to take into consideration the chance of the price for wheat overseas being above 4s. a bushel. It is doubtful . whether the wheat merchants can be expected to incur the risks involved, having regard to this and other considerations that will probably suggest themselves to the minds of honorable members. The requirement that there shall be an expenditure of 4s. in the case of exported wheat, with a payment of 2s. 5d. to pools, and a guarantee of a similar amount to wheat merchants, shows that the bill is gambling on the likelihood of world’s prices exceeding 4s. a bushel. I am aware that there will be sales from time to time, and that in such cases financial difficulties will be avoided. It is unlikely, however, that there will bo much storing of wheat. The farmers will require immediate payment both from the merchants and the pools, and, accordingly, the financial strain will be greater than is the case in a norma season, when wheat is stored.
It is uncertain whether the intention is that 2s. a bushel shall be a first »ayment, and that the balance shall be paid subsequently.
-The bill does not say whether the additional 5d. a bushel is to be contingent upon realizations. I understand that that is not the intention of the Government.
– The Commonwealth Bank has agreed to advance 2s. a bushel f.o.b/ The bill merely proposes to raise the advance to 3s. a bushel f.o.b.
– That is on the assumption that the additional 5d. a bushel is realized. If the realization is not sufficient to account for it, when is it going to be paid ?
– There will be no difficulty.
– The impression of honorable members after hearing the speech of the Minister was that the farmer was to receive 2s. 5d. a bushel f.o.b., irrespective of realization. It appears that some honorable members regard the 2s. a bushel as a preliminary payment, the payment of the balance depending upon realization.
– That is what the Minister said.
– I do not know what exactly is the view of the Minister; nor do I ask him to say offhand whether there is to be a certainty of 2s. a bushel, and the chance of an additional 5d. a bushel, or a certainty of 2s. 5d. a bushel. The position ought not to be left obscure.
It appears to me to be very doubtful whether the wheat merchants will be able to come under this scheme. If they do not, on account of the enormous risk they would run - and I understand that all except one have already stopped taking wheat - the liability of the Commonwealth Bank, and of the Government, will be very greatly increased.
– The liability of the Government would not be increased.
– We know that the Commonwealth Bank will not accept it.
– The liability of both the bank- and the Government will be increased, so far as it is necessary to find finance. The bill is drawn up on the supposition that if the pools receive 2s. 5d. a bushel they can, in some way, finance that portion of the harvest which they handle. . They may be able to do so if they have the handling of only half the harvest ; but if the wheat merchants do not come under the scheme how are the pools to find the money to finance the handling charges of 7d. a bushel in the first place, and thereafter the ls. a bushel in connexion with exported wheat? Is it practicable for them to finance, not only that amount, but also such costs of sending the wheat overseas as must be met before payment for the wheat is received from overseas buyers?
There may be an answer to the particular points that I have raised. It is obvious, however, that they will require very careful consideration if the open market disappears from Australia. One of the objections to the bill is that it is almost inevitable that its operation will result in the disappearance from Australia of the open market and the sale of all our wheat under a pooling system. I! believe in the two systems working side by side, and in allowing the farmer the greatest freedom of choice in the method of disposing of his product.
– The bill provides for that.
– If the wheat merchants refuse to operate, or are forced out of business under this bill, then 1 say we shall bc entirely in the hands of pools.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the merchants should be forced into pools?
– No; I intend to suggest another scheme. It is obvious that that is a consideration which will gravely affect the financial aspect of the whole matter. However, this bill does not, in itself, give anything to the farmer. Its operation depends entirely upon the action of the Board of the Commonwealth Bank. No statement has been made by, or on behalf of the Government, as to the view and attitude of the Commonwealth Bank respecting this bill, but we know that within the last fortnight the Government itself made strong representations to the Board of the Commonwealth Bank to do its utmost to finance the wheat- of Australia, and that the bank agreed to advance 80 per cent, of the value of the wheat, which meant, and means to-day, 2s. a bushel f.o.b. Even after governmental pressure, that was all that the bank thought it proper to advance. It is now proposed to add parliamentary pressure to governmental pressure to compel the bank to advance more than the total present value of wheat. It must be admitted by all honorable members that that is the character of the -bill. It still remains open for inquiry whether such a bill is proper. There is no doubt as to its nature. The Minister, in his speech, said that although the bank had not yielded to the Government, it was hoped that it would pay great attention to the views of the Government when reinforced by the views of Parliament. The bill, therefore, asks the national banking institution of the Commonwealth to advance on an article admittedly more than its value. It is provided that the Government shall guarantee the bank against loss, and this pressure on the bank board will, probably, be defended by the Minister by saying that the whole Commonwealth will be behind the guarantee of the Government. But it should be observed thai there is no provision whatever made in this bill for raising the necessary money to honour the guarantee, nor is there any provision elsewhere in Commonwealth legislation for raising the money which must be spent to carry this scheme into effect unless the price of wheat rises substantially, and I contend that this Parliament should not gamble in wheat prices. Sub-clause 2 of clause 2 states -
There shall be payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is herein appropriated accordingly, the amounts necessary to repay to thu bank any amount dm1 to it under a guarantee given to it in accordance with the last preceding sub-section or otherwise, due to it under this act.
How much Consolidated Revenue is thereto appropriate? The Minister estimates that the amount of the advance required, on present price levels, will he £4,125,000. “We know that, on the Acting Treasurer’s own statement, if his estimates of revenue and expenditure are realized, there will, inevitably, be a deficit this year. Accordingly, there is no Consolidated Revenue left to appropriate for this purpose. Sub-clause 2 of clause 2 is. therefore, mere empty words, and, indeed, worse. It is a breach of a well-understood principle of responsible government.
– What about humanity?
– What humanity in Australia demands at present is, above all, sound and honest finance, and any divergence to unsound or dishonest finance will have the worst results for humanity in Australia. It has always been the practice - and, indeed, a recognized principle - that when Parliament provides for expenditure, it must also provide the means for meeting that expenditure. This bill infringes that principle. The only answer that may be made is that if the price of wheat rises everything will be all right. It is an entirely new principle of finance for the Commonwealth to gamble in prices of wheat. If the price of wheat remains as it is, it will be necessary to impose additional taxation next year to the extent of £4,125,000. If the price of wheat rises sufficiently, that taxation will not be required. This is a great liability to be undertaken by the Commonwealth, and there is in this bill no provision whatever to meet it. There should be a definite provision to meet this expenditure, as there was in the case of our war liabilities, which were met, out of revenue and loan. Those are the only sources for meeting the expenditure of the Commonwealth. On the basis of this bill, Parliament could pass any legislation at all providing for expenditure. Legislation ofthis kind is irresponsible in the fullest sense, and, therefore, highly dangerous. That is why I intend to propose an alternative to it. Adopting the principle of this bill, a Government and Parliament could make any promise, irrespective of the possibilities of carrying it out. In past elections we have seen that practice adopted, but in legislation we have never seen it until now.
It is wrong to subject the bank board to political pressure of this kind. If it is right to bring pressure to bear upon the bank board to compel it to depart admittedly from sound banking and financial principles in order to assist the wheat-growers, it is equally justifiable to ask it to do the same thing for the woolgrower, for unemployment, or for any purpose that is considered to be desirable. Accordingly, the principle embodied in the bill is an entry upon the direct road to national disaster because if a wheat advance may be financed in this way, surely anything could be similarly financed. Therefore, before this bill is passed by the House, it should be clear that the money is available from the bank.
– To what amount?
– About £4,000,000. The honorable member need not think that I shall dodge the real issue. Otherwise, until the amount is available from the bank, there will be sheer inflation, with its necessary and natural consequences. There is always what is known as seasonal inflation with the delivery of the wheat harvest and the bulk of the wool clip, but, in that case, the inflation of the note issue corresponds with the creation of real values. In this case, however, it is definitely proposed that money should be advanced to which no real value corresponds. Therefore, it is plainly a proposal for inflation, with the necessary results, which will bring about, in greater or less measure according to the amount of inflation, depreciation of value, increasing costs, insecurity in all enterprises, destruction of stability, growing unemployment, and ultimately if this went on indefinitely, widespread ruin. Accordingly, it should be made clear that behind any action taken by the bank in pursuance of the provisions of this measure, there is a real guarantee that the Government can find the money to repay any loss to the bank. If the Government has the money to repay any such loss there will be no unjustifiable inflation, but if the Government has not the money, then obviously, there is mere inflation. The real means to accomplish the end to be attained should be available before this measure is passed, and I, therefore, suggest that the Commonwealth Government should, instead of gambling in the price of wheat, make provision for finding the necessary money along the lines of sound finance. That might be done in part by a reduction of governmental expenditure. I am also prepared to agree to special taxation for the purpose of finding the necessary money, because I do not believe that it can be plucked out of the air. It has to come from other industries - from all the people of the Commonwealth. There might, in addition, be grounds in this case for raising a special farmers’ relief loan. Those are the three sources from which I suggest the money should be found - reduction of expenditure, taxation or loan.
As to the advance to the farmers, I should like to hear a clear statement on behalf of the Government as to what it proposes to do in the case of Queensland and New South “Wales. I understand that in Queensland the farmers are already guaranteed 4s. a bushel. If so, there is no necessity for any payment to be made by this Government to the farmers of that State. The farmers in New South Wales have been promised 7s. 6d. a bushel by the Premier of New South Wales. I presume that this Government is prepared to regard that as a bona-fide promise, one which the Premier of that State intends to carry out.
– Does the honorable member know that that is true?
– Of course it is true.
– That is . political trickery.
– It is political trickery if the promise which was made is not to be honored. On several occasions during the recent election campaign in New South Wales, Mr. Lang stated that in a certain year the Labour Government had obtained for the farmers 7s. 6d. a bushel, and what had been done before could be done again. Either that meant that he held out to the farmer the prospect that if the Labour party were returned to office they would receive 7s. 6d. a bushel for their wheat, or it meant nothing. Unless it bore that meaning it could have no significance, force, or effect in relation to any issues of the election. I suggest that the Commonwealth Government should bear in mind that undertaking given by Mr. Lang.
This is a bill for the making of advances on the security of wheat and possibly other cover. There appears to be a general idea ‘that the bill guarantees a price to the farmer for his wheat. We have already seen that there is some doubt as to whether the amount he is to receive is 2s. or a first ‘instalment of 2s. with a possibility of a further payment.
– The bill guarantees 3s. f.o.b.
– The bill does not offer a guarantee of a certain price; it provides for the making of advances which must be repaid. I refer honorable members to not only all the clauses in which the word “ advance “ is used, but particularly clauses 6, 7 and 8. Clause 6 reads -
Subject to this act and the Regulations, the advances shall he payable to the growers of the “wheat.
The growers are to receive an advance, and prima facie an advance means a loan. Clause 7 provides -
Subject to this act, the conditions under which advances shall be made and the terms and conditions under which advances shall bc repaid, shall be as prescribed.
Presumably, those are the advances referred to in clause 6. These clauses cannot refer to any payments by the Commonwealth to the bank, because the Commonwealth will not repay anything to the bank; it will pay on a guarantee. Therefore, it is clear that the advances are to be made to the wheat-growers, and are to be repaid. Clause 8 reads -
The security for any advance made under this act shall he as prescribed.
So this is a bill for advances to growers on security, and the advances are to be repaid at some undetermined time, and in some undetermined manner. Presumably, the security will be the farmer’s wheat; it may be his farm and stock. It seems to me that it is a mistake to deal with this problem upon the basis of advances or loans to farmers. Those who need assistance are already so heavily involved that a loan on the security of their crop for the present year will not afford them real help-; it will increase their liability next year, when the loan will have to be repaid. At most, the advantage to them will be only temporary.
– The bill refers to money advanced by private buyers to wheat-growers.
– I have read the clauses. Possibly they have a history ; they may have been lifted from some other measure, and may not fit the scheme which the Government contemplates. But, indisputably, this, as drafted, is a measure for making advances on the security of wheat, and possibly other property owned by those to whom the advances are to be made.
– The advances are to be made to the pools.
– If the honorable member will consult clause 2 he will find that the advances are to be made to the’ pools “on behalf of the growers.” Accordingly, the bill provides for advances to the growers on prescribed security, to. be repaid under prescribed conditions. I suspect that some of these clauses have been culled from another scheme.
– The bill means that the farmer is guaranteed 3s. f.o.b., and he will not have to repay that. But if the Commonwealth Bank advances 2s., and the wheat is sold for 2s. 9d., the bank will be refunded its advance.
– The Leader of the Opposition knows that it means that.
– I object to that cynical interjection. It may be that the intention of the Government is what the Minister has stated; if so, the hill does not clearly -express it, but when it is passed the rights of individuals, the Commonwealth Bank and the Government will be determined by the wording of the statute and not by the intentions of the Ministry.’ If the Government means that payment shall be made to the growers of particular amounts which are not to be repaid, such payments to be made through the Commonwealth Bank, which is to be reimbursed in accordance with a guarantee by the Commonwealth, there is no need for clauses 7 and 8, because the arrangement with the Commonwealth. Bank is dealt with in clauses 2 to 4.
– Could clauses 7 and 8 be deleted without prejudice to the Government’s intentions ?
– I advise the Minister to reconsider the drafting of the bill.
– The intention is to increase the advance from 2s. f.o.b. to 3s. f.o.b.
– But the bill does not provide that. The 3s. a bushel means nothing to the farmer ; all he will handle in respect of each bushel of wheat will be 2s. 5d. Nor does it mean anything to the pools or merchants. They will get only what they pass on to the farmer. Other features of the bill will require attention in committee. For example, it is probably intended that each bushel in the possession of a merchant shall not be treated separately, but that the merchant shall constitute a pool so that he will have to set off the gain on one bushel against the’” loss on another. At present it is arguable that there is a clear promise of 3s., less certain charges, in respect of every bushel. Of course the intention is to pay only on the ultimate balance.
What are the real needs of the situation. It is not the wheat-growers alone who are in difficulties. Growers of oats and fruit in some parts of the Commonwealth are quite as badly situated as the wheat-growers. In recent years the price of wheat has varied from about 6s. to 4s. 6d. a bushel at the beginning of this year ; now the price is less than 2s. Some farmers can carry on without assistance, and there is no need to go to their rescue with public money.
– The bill does not provide they they shall be assisted if they choose to stand out.
– The bill gives, to every grower the right to claim this advance. I suggest that a limitation should be imposed. Some farmers who have enjoyed good seasons and high prices for a number of years are quite able to finance themselves through the present bad season, and it is not necessary to give to them the benefits of this bill.
– Such farmers are few and far between.
– There are many farmers who paid for their land long ago, and have accumulated funds and assets; they do not need public assistance. The situation of others will not be met by an advance that is to be repaid. If the Government intends that the money advanced shall not be repaid, the bill should be amended to express that.
– Up to 3s. f.o.b. is not to be repaid.
– The clause 7 should be amended. This measure will be of no assistance to farmers who have no crop or only a poor crop this season. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) must have personal knowledge of hundreds of farmers who, for four years preceding the present bad season, had no crop at all; some of them had a poor crop this year, and a few have lost even that as a result of heavy rains. These are the men who are most in need of help, and they will get -“least. ‘
– The same objection applies to the Paterson butter scheme. Somemen may lose their entire herd.
– We are not now dealing with the Paterson butter scheme. I am trying to take a considered view of this matter.
– There is nothing to prevent the State Governments from giving help to the farmers if they wish to.
– If the Minister will contain himself, I shall try to get on with my speech. I suggest thatthere should be an immediate payment to the farmers to help them to meet pressing obligations, in so far as the moratorium provisions passed by various State Parliaments do not meet the position. This help ought to be in proportion to the need of the farmers, and should not be given where it is not needed. It could be given through established State organizations such as drought relief boards, and the like. I further suggest that steps be taken to make sure that the farmers obtain supplies of superphosphate and seed for next year’s crop.
– Most of them are wondering how they can get out of the hole this year.
– I am outlining a proposal designed to help those who are in a hole, and to give the most help to those in the deepest hole. The Government’s scheme would give no help at all to the men who have no crop, and very little to those with a bad crop. Sound financial principles should he followed in fixing the amount which this Parliament is prepared to vote, and I suggest that it should be about £4,000,000. Part of this sum should be distributed through the States in order to relieve the necessities of farmers,not merely wheatfarmers, but others as well. The States have organizations staffed by officers who know the needs of the farmers.
I also ask the Government to con- sider the vexed question of the exchange rate. Farmers might, with some justification, ask why, if the exchange rate is to be manipulated against, them, the currency should not be manipulated to some extent in their favour? The Government should recognize that the exchange is being controlled largely in the interests of the Government, and that it is being done at the cost of those who are exporting wool, wheat, and other primary produce.
– The exchange rate is controlled not by the Government, but by the Commonwealth Bank.
– The object of controlling it is to make possible an exchange pool on which the Government shall have first claim. If this were not done, the Government would have to go on the market, and buy its credits at the current rate. That would mean that increased taxation would have to be imposed, and in that way the burden would be spread equitably over all the people. At present the whole burden is being borne by the exporting community.
– If I had my way the exchange rate would go much higher than 9 per cent.
– If the Government does not accept my proposals, and rejects the amendment I am about to move,I am still prepared to consider the bill on its merits, and try to effect what necessary alterations I can in committee.I move -
That all the words after “ That” be omitted, with a view to insert inlieu thereof the following words : - in the opinion of this House, legislation should be introduced providing for the payment by the Commonwealth through the States of an amount of about £4.000.000 for-
financial assistance to wheat and other farmers who are in financial difficulties; and
assistance in providing superphosphates and seed for next season, the necessary funds to be provided by means of reduction of expenditure and special taxation or special loanfor farmers’ relief.”
I ask the Government to consider earnestly the pointsI have raised. I have not, in my speech, gone into matters of political controversy, I have not challenged the motives of the Government in introducing the bill, but have spoken simply of wheat, and the problem that it presents at the moment. I have tried to keep clear of anything which might inflame party feelings. I appeal to the Government to consider this matter carefully, to see whether it might not he dealt with at a conference of all parties in order to produce a scheme free from the objections which I have mentioned.
.- I appreciate the desire of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) to do something for the wheat-farmers and other farmers of the community, but the scheme he has put forward shows that he does not really understand the position as it affects the farmers to-day. I realize that this bill is merely an expedient to meet an immediate difficulty with which one section of the primary producers is confronted. There is need for a comprehensive scheme administered by a national organization to guard the interests of primary producers as a whole. While the Commonwealth Government proposes in this bill to afford some relief to wheat-farmers, it is certain that the State Governments will also have to take action in other directions if the primary producers are to carry on. A grant of £4,000,000 would be quite inadequate to meet the present necessities of farmers. The primary producers of the Commonwealth owe about £37,000,000 to storekeepers alone, and when we realize the low price they will receive for their crop this year, it is quite evident that £4,000,000 will not go very far towards meeting their liabilities. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that the Government was to blame for the present position, because it had advised the farmers to increase their wheat acreage. For my part, I accept my share of the responsibility for advising the farmers to grow more wheat, and I believe that if Australia had not this large exportable surplus the position of the country would be a great deal worse than it is.
The Leader of the Opposition referred to the position of the wool-growers, and said that their case also would require attention in the future. Many of those engaged in primary production carry on what are known as mixed farms; that is, they do some grazing, and grow some wheat. If there were any possibility of wool-growing and meat-producing becoming profitable in the near future, the need for legislation of this description would not exist: but, unfortunately, those engaged in mixed farming cannot expect to offset their losses in wheat-growing by their profits in these directions. This emphasizes the necessity for assisting those engaged in the production of wool. A further argument in support of this contention is to be found in the Quarterly Summary of Australian Statistics for 1930. A return dealing with wholesale price index numbers for jute, leather, wool, &c, in that volume gives the following figures, taking 1,000 as the base : -
This shows quite clearly that it is utterly impossible for those engaged in mixed farming to make up from wool their losses in wheat. Action should be taken at once to meet this situation.
The Leader of the Opposition said that this bill was a mere expedient. I realize, of course, that methods of this kind cannot remedy the causes of the troubles which we are facing. Any proposal made with the object of relieving the position permanently must be wider than this bill in its scope. From a broad view of national assistance, it must, to the greatest degree possible -
Anything short of a scheme to meet all these needs will fail to solve our problem. The press has commented in a damaging and,I submit, inaccurate way upon this bill. One newspaper stated that the Government would have to find £10,000,000 tomeet the loss that would be sustained on a guaranteed price of 3s. per bushel.
– What newspaper said that?
– The Melbourne Argus. That statement is quite misleading. The present price of f.a.q. wheat delivered at country sidings in New South Wales and Victoria is 2s. 7d. per bushel. Consequently, only 5d. per bushel would have to be provided to pay 3s. per bushel. On the present prices the aggregate amount that would be involved in giving effect to the proposal of this bill, provided that no additional organization had to be evolved, would be about £4,000,000. It appears to me that press statements of the kind to which I have referred are made for- the purpose of preventing the Government from administering the affairs of the country as it desires to do. I hope that, in the future, the press will express its views more moderately and accurately. The same newspaper contained a cablegram which practically con tra verted the statement made in the article from which I have already quoted, in that it indicated clearly that the tendency of the wheat market was upwards. This message, which was dated London, 10th December, read -
Futures are quoted us follows: - Liverpool - December delivery, 4s. 11 1/8d. a cental (2s. Hid. a bushel); March, 5s. 0 3/4d. (3s. 0 1/2d.) May, 5s. 2d. (3s. lid.); and July, 5s. 3jd. a cental (3s. 2d. a bushel).
This shows clearly that wheat-buyers operating on the overseas markets anticipate that prices will increase.
Another factor which should reduce the amount of any loss that this Government might have to meet is that the State Governments, particularly of Victoria and New South Wales, have already indicated that they intend to do all in their power to co-operate with the Commonwealth Government to assist the farmers. Last week the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture made a statement to this effect in reply to a question in the State house. If it was provided that the price of wheat for local consumption should be equal only to the price of wheat delivered in Liverpool, £1,000,000 would be obtained to offset the £4,000,000 to which I have referred. If, in .addition to this, the exchanges were reasonably unpegged, as I submit they should be, the position would be further improved to the extent of more than £2,000,000. It will thus be seen that there is no justification for the making of wild statements as to the amount of loss that the Government might have to make up.
The Leader of the Opposition accused the Government of having hesitated to take adequate measures to meet the existing situation ; but I remind him that our farmers have not come into their present position in a day, or a year. The fact is that for many years government expenditure has been improperly regulated. Large amounts of money have been expended by various governments on works of an unproductive nature. It is regrettable that, in both the Commonwealth and State spheres, insufficient regard has been paid to the nature of the public works put in hand. Huge sums of money have been borrowed overseas, and put into circulation in the most careless and irresponsible fashion. It was inevitable, of course, that those who lent this money would some day inquire carefully into the manner in which it was expended. It was equally inevitable that, when they discovered that the money was not being used to develop the great natural resources and primary industries of the country, but was spent on uneconomic and unproductive works, generally in densely-populated cities, they would cease lending their money. The Leader of the Opposition inferred, though he did not actually say, that this Government has pursued this policy. I deny the truth of that statement. While I do not blame any particular government of recent years for adopting this borrow-and-burst policy in order to satisfy the selfish desires of the people who have settled in the big cities of Australia, I will say, without any hesitation, that the Government of which he was a member was guilty in this regard. It spent money with greater prodigality than any other government. The result of spending these huge sums in the capital cities is that uneconomic works which have been constructed must now be maintained, and the rural population is being’ called upon to suffer in consequence. The Leader of the Opposition was hardly fair in his comments on this part of the subject.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– There is little doubt that, when money was borrowed and spent in an extravagant and irresponsible manner, interest charges rose, and this policy contributed largely to the present unhappy position of the primary producers. To show the futility of the proposal submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), let us consider the actual position of the farming section, whose produce is sent overseas to enable this country to meet its. commitments. In 1928 the wheat-farmer had to produce £1,200 worth of wheat, or 4,176 bushels, to meet the interest on a £20,000 bond, while at the present time, to produce grain to the same value, he would have to grow no less than 9,800 bushels. This shows that the farming section is called upon to face a task that is almost beyond human endurance. The mere making available of £4,000,000. to help these primary producers out of their present difficulty would not be sufficient. While I do not doubt thedesire of the Leader of the Opposition to offer a practical suggestion, his proposal shows that his knowledge of the primary industries is limited. Another of his statements was that all primary producers were in a similar position; ‘but that is not so. Of the total primary production of Australia, including manufactured primary products, 31 per cent. is exported. Almost the whole of the wool grown in Australia is sent overseas, and probably 115,000,000 bushels of wheat will be exported this year, which shows that the position of the wool and wheatgrowers is worse than that of any other section of primary producers. The Minister, realizing this fact, has brought down the present bill to provide immediate help for the wheat-growers, to enable them, to some extent, at any rate, to meet their commitments.
The Leader of the Opposition indicated that honorable members opposite were willing to give support to the proposals of the Labour party, in so far as they were consistent with the views of members of the Opposition; but until now that co-operation has not been forthcoming. The following extract from the press of the 26th November last gives an opinion expressed by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr.Page), the Leader of the Country party: -
The Country party Leader (Dr. Earle Page) to-day described the Federal Government’s failure to carry out the recommendations of the Canberra conference of wheat-growers as a further example of Labour’s extraordinary treatment of the farmer.
The present Government has done its utmost to help the. farmers in their dire necessity, and it has shown that it appreciates their position more fully than does the Country party, judged by its past actions. Immediately this Government assumed office, it submitted legislation in the interests of the primary producers; but the measure was defeated, owing to the action of certain members of the Opposition, both in this House and in another place. Therefore, at least some members of the Opposition have not come to the aid of the Government in its proposals to help the farmers. The action taken by the Labour party was in accordance with the definite desires expressed by organizations representing every section of the primary producing interests of Australia. I hope that in future all political sections will co-operate in promoting the welfare of the primary producers. I do not propose to discuss the legal point raised by the Leader of the Opposition regarding the actual intention of the Government. It is sufficient for me to know that the Government proposes to give the farmers 3s. a bushel f.o.b. for their wheat.
– Not 6s. 6d.?
– I have no intention to be sidetracked by the irresponsible statements of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, whom I remember urging the late Government to “ spend £50,000,000 bravely;” not in the interests of the farmers, but for the benefit of the large importing houses.
The business firms that have operated in the past in the handling of wheat will be placed at no disadvantage under this proposal. When a previous measure was submitted to guarantee to the farmers a certain price for their wheat, the private merchants indicated by circular to honorable members that they had sufficient funds in hand to finance the various organizations required for the marketing of the whole of the wheat of Australia. The Minister recognized that the private wheat agents had business ramifications throughout the Commonwealth, and they were invited by him to confer in this matter. They left the impression that they were prepared to assist in the development of the system of marketing contemplated under the present bill. Itis proposed to create competition between the private institutions and the cooperative pools, which will be permitted to act voluntarily under the scheme, and, no doubt, the efficiency .of the various organizations will thus be demonstrated. It has been claimed in the past that the private merchants who engage in the marketing of wheat in Australia do the work more efficiently than the voluntary pools, and the bill, when in operation, should show definitely which type of organization is the more competent to handle the growers’ wheat, at, this critical period.
– Will the competition under the bill be fair?
– Entirely so. Had the Government wished to exclude the private institutions, it could have done so. In many quarters there has been a consistent agitation to confine the handling of the wheat to the co-operative pools; hut the bill has been so fairly drafted that the private agents will he afforded an opportunity to work under the measure.
– The pools in New South Wales handle only 10 per cent, of the wheat of that State.
– It would have been a simple matter for the Government to take action that would have placed the private merchants at a distinct disadvantage. Under the bulk handling system in operation in New South Wales, where the control is exercised by a board, there will be no difficulty, in any circumstances, in handling about’ 22,000,000 bushels, and the New South Wales Government would have been quite willing to extend the functions of that, body, to enable it to deal with the whole of the wheat grown in that State.
I cannot understand why wheat is 2 1/4d a bushel cheaper in Adelaide than in Sydney and Melbourne. Probably, when this bill becomes operative it will do away with that inconsistency, and thus benefit the wheat-growers.
It has been contended that the Government’s suggestion for financing this proposal contains an element of risk, and that, therefore, it is necessary to move along the lines suggested by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) so as to make provision for any loss that may be incurred. The honorable gentleman did not indicate by what means the Government should reduce expenditure, and one can only assume that he has in mind a further reduction of the salaries of public servants. The Government is administering the affairs of Australia most economically, and has cut to the bone the expenditure upon the Public Service; therefore, it, is inadvisable for it to proceed any further in that direction. The difficulties that confront the people are so great, however, that drastic measures must be taken to cope with them. Australia borrowed millions of pounds for developmental purposes, and the maintenance of its industries, during the war period. Those industries are now struggling to exist, and more intensive organization is necessary. It is possible for the Commonwealth Bank, which has the backing of the people’s credit, to place at the disposal of the wheat-farmers sufficient to enable them to carry on. Not one of the 62,000 wheat-growers in Australia has made the basic wage this year. What would be the use of adopting the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition, arid allowing the States to raise a loan to enable the farmers to grow wheat next year? What was the cost to the States last year? The Rural Industries Board of New South Wales advanced £1,000,000, a similar institution in South Australia an amount exceeding £2,000,000, and Victoria approximately £1,250,000. The probability is that this proposed advance will merely permit the wheat-grower to discharge a small proportion of his immediate liabilities to storekeepers and others who, by giving him credit, placed him in a position to plant this season’s crop. The Governments of the States, and the people of Australia, must be prepared to find a great deal more than is suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, quite apart from anything that this Parliament may do.
– Our proposal is to find £4,000,000 over, and above the amount provided by the States. We propose to find real money for the farmers.
– Honorable members opposite are content to make suggestions, depending on others to take the necessary action, and allowing the industry meanwhile to become disorganized. The Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde) deserves commendation for having found time in the rush of work, and despite the weight of his responsibilities, to bring clown this measure, which guarantees to the wheat-growers some assistance from the Government.
– What will happen if the Commonwealth Bank declines to finance the proposal?
– It will have to. bear the responsibility for the consequences of ils refusal, and if Opposition members look to the bank to defeat the wish of this Government to meet the requirements o: the farmers, they will, have to share that responsibility. I do not desire that the Commonwealth Bank shall be the plaything of any political party. I admit that it has rights and privileges; but it cannot take from this Parliament, and the people of Australia the right to govern this country.
What is the real objection of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) to this measure? He has argued that it is unsound financially. According to to-day’s Sydney Morning Herald, the present price of wheat at country railway sidings is 2s. 7d. a bushel. On that basis, the amount required to finance this scheme would be only £3,170,000. Unfortunately, there is a possibility that a considerable amount of our wheat this year will not be of fair average quality, and there is little doubt that the quantity available for export will be less than is suggested by the revised official estimates of the State Departments of Agriculture. Hoes the Leader of the Opposition suggest that it would be wrong of the Commonwealth Bank, which has made advances totalling £17,000,000 to the different governments on practically unsecured credit, to find an additional £3,000,000 to permit of the continuance of this industry upon which our- national existonce depends? I contend that, if necessary, the whole of the people of Australia should come to the assistance of the wheat-grower in this period of stress, and support action that will enable us to prevent a more serious position from developing.
I support the bill; it is the be3t that I have been able to get. If the rest of the community are to remain solvent, the requirements of the man on the land must be met, Recently a deputation, representative of 1,200 storekeepers in New South Wales, waited on the Minister in Canberra, and placed ‘before him facts proving the absolute necessity for extra credit being made available to the wheatgrowers. The Government is fully seised of the seriousness of the position, and considers that it can be handled mom advantageously by the method which il now proposes.
– Will the extra 6d. a bushel do that?
– It will assist to that end. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were familiar with the conditions of farm life, he would realize how useful that extra 6ci. a bushel will be to the farmer; even though the total amount received by each farmer will amount in the aggregate to £138. When the wheat is harvested the small addition will be a valuable aid to him in connexion with his future operations. I am sorry that an additional ls. a bushel is not being provided.
Direct benefits will be conferred upon the farmers by the proposed advance, and many inconsistencies that might develop under other forms of assistance, will be avoided. The institution of any machinery that would place the responsibility upon outside distributing organizations is neither necessary nor desirable at the present juncture. The suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition that the farmers should be benefited by the raising of a relief loan, and the institution of some system of distribution, would he cumbersome and expensive to carry out. If money were borrowed and distributed to the farmers through the Rural Industries Board, or if a sales tax were levied, it would mean the establishment of an expensive ‘department, an increase in the Public Service, and the employment of a large number of persons in respect of the distribution of the money; whereas, under this bill the extra advance- of 6d. would be paid direct to the farmer through the ordinary channels of commerce without any extra expense or the appointment of boards or like bodies. I appeal to honorable members opposite to give earnest consideration to the grave position of the unfortunate men on the land to-day. Not only the wheat industry, but also the grazing industry is faced with disaster. We have heavy interest commitments both here and overseas, and the ultimate establishment of a national organization to grapple with our financial problems is inevitable. The Leader of the Opposition pointed to certain of our ills, which he contended could be remedied by a moratorium, but that I contend would not meet the position. A moratorium would only tend to delay action which should have been taken long ago to give relief to the wheat-growing industry. I do not wish- it to be understood that I am against the introduction of a moratorium throughout the various States, because that, I submit, is imperative in the near future. If we are to save the farmers from ruin we must take immediate action. It is therefore essential that we should establish immediately a wide and comprehensive organization representative of the industrial, public, and business life of this country, whose sole object would be the safeguarding of the position of the man on the land.
.- The honorable member who has just resumed his seat spent about five-sixths of his time pointing out the disadvantages of the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and about one-sixth of his time dealing with the advantages of the Government’s proposal. Though he* said that he deprecated a partisan attitude on this subject, he continuously attacked the Opposition parties. Tho position of the primary industries in Australia is at present so serious that it should be above party politics. Those industries affect the very basis of Australian life and prosperity, because they produce some 96 per cent, of the exports from Australia, yet they are in dire need of relief. Surely we should be able to discuss the position of those industries without party bias. I associate myself with the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition last week in connexion with the formation of a council of advice which would get together, and bring forward proposals not merely in this House, but throughout Australia - proposals which would bo sound and sane, and commend themselves to the community at large a3 well as to outside people with whom we trade, and which, when given effect, would enable us once more to enjoy prosperity. The position with which we are faced because of the introduction of this bill is vague, and I hope, by an amendment which I intend to move subsequently to provide more definite and more certain means by which we can give immediate and material relief to the wheat-growers. Although the Government says that it is prepared to back the bank in advancing 3s. a bushel f.o.b., it has not indicated where the money is to come from. During the last few weeks, we have been told by the Acting Treasurer (Mr, Lyons) that the deficit in this year’s accounts is some £6,000,000. In addition, the deficits of the States run into millions. It is therefore necessary to have some concrete proposition for finding money for the relief of this great primary industry. I shall first of all deal with the claims of the wheat-growers for consideration from this Parliament. Their position is desperate, and some tangible scheme of relief must be adopted immediately. There are two main grounds on which their claims can be urged. The first is the moral claim. A year ago the present Government urged the wheat-growers to grow more wheat. It indulged in expensive and extensive propaganda to that end. Letters that passed through the post were stamped “ Grow more wheat “. The growers were told that if they produced more they would get a return sufficient, at any rate, to meet the cost of production. The position to-day is that these men have grown more wheat, and they are asking in return, not for the cost of production, but for sufficient to enable them to carry on. Surely their appeal should., not be unheeded by this national Parliament and Australia generally. We have a record crop, the wheat-farmers having responded to the call of the Government. This Parliament is now in duty bound to do something to honour its obligations. The second ground is that the wheat-farmers have a national claim for relief on this Parliament and the people of Australia. The wheatgrowing industry is the second largest in this country from the viewpoint of the value of production. There are 62,000 wheat-growers in Australia, and 1 suppose at least 200,000 other men associated with the work of planting and harvesting wheat at various times of the year. Many towns throughout Australia are practically wholly and solely dependent upon the prosperity of the wheat industry. If we do nothing to assist them, not merely will the farmers themselves bo ruined, but hundreds of storekeepers will become bankrupt, and thousands of mou will be thrown out of employment. We cannot allow this great industry, which constitutes one of the big watertight compartments of the ship of state, to go under. “We must insist on its being maintained, despite the difficulties before us. An examination of the position in one State discloses how colossal are the debts surrounding this industry, and if we allow these debts to overwhelm the men on the land, thus forcing them off the land, those who take their places will bc less experienced. “We cannot, under any circumstances, permit such experienced men to be forced off the land. Take the position of New South “Wales. There are, roughly, 20,000 wheat-farmers in that State. They owe the Rural Industries Board £1,500,000 by way of advances, mostly with a lien on their crop. In addition, they owe machinery and fertilizer companies £1,000,000; the country storekeepers nearly £7,500,000 ; and the banks and mortgagees about £30,000,000. Then again they owe £500,000 in respect of Crown dues. Therefore, the total indebtedness of those men is approximately £40,500,000. The crop estimated to be harvested in New South “Wales this year is roughly 60,000,000 bushels, and if the return for the farmer is ls. 6d. a bushel, the total cash paid to the farmers will be £4,500,000. That is the position of New South Wales, and it applies equally to the other States. About 10 per cent.’ on the* total indebtedness of the farmers will he netted as the result of one year’s work. They are paying on these liabilities interest in some cases up to 10 per cent, and over. It is, therefore, obvious that most of the wheat-farmers will not have sufficient returns to enable them to live. They will have nothing with which to pay wages and to enable them to carry on. Something must be done immediately to give them relief.
– Who supplied the r. 1 g h 1 honorable member with the figures that he has quoted?
– They were supplied to me by a New South “Wales official who is closely associated with the farming .industry. The average rates of interest paid on various classes of liabilities are: Rank rate, 7. to 7^ per cent. ; overdue store accounts, 8 to 10 per cent. ; fuel and fertilizer accounts, 8 per cent. ; machinery, &c., 10 per cent.; ‘ second mortgages, 10 to 15 per cent. ; private guarantors above the bank rate, % per cent., or a total of about 9 per cent. ; and private stock and plant mortgages, 10 per cent, up to 20 per cent. It is obvious that, if the total value of the wheat being produced in New South “Wales is approximately 10 per cent, of the liabilities . I have mentioned, the amount available to cover the cost of living and industrial operations after interest charges have been met is negligible. If only an extra ls. per bushel were assured, an amount of £3,000,000 over the £4,500,000 at present available would be distributed, and that would make all the difference in the world to the farmers. Any failure to meet the existing circumstances of the wheat industry must, inevitably, cause widespread bankruptcy amongst farmers ; this must lead to the bankruptcy of storekeepers, which, in turn, will have its effect upon wholesale houses and manufacturing establishments which supply goods to the storekeepers. Thus, a tremendous shock will be given to the whole financial fabric. No matter how great the disinclination to adopt special measures for this purpose, the cry of the farmers for assistance at this critical juncture can no more be ignored than can the call to all hands to man the pumps on a sinking ship. The huge wheat industry must be placed on its feet again. How can ‘that be done? “We must give to it immediate assistance so that it may have a breathing space; and then we must provide for an ultimate cure that will enable the industry to become again the great asset that it has been in cue past, instead of the liability it seems to be during the present temporary depression. There should be no doubt as to what should be done at once. For the last year a definite policy has been suggested by all farmers’ organizations and those interested in the marketing and handling of wheat; it was adopted by the Commonwealth Government in February last and incorporated in the Wheat Marketing Bill, and was again advocated by the Wheat Conference at Canberra in November last. The suggestion throughout the year has been that, the local price of flour should be advanced to such an extent as would enable a reasonable average price for wheat to be struck over the whole crop. That, indeed, was the policy of the Government from the beginning of the year until a month or so ago. It is best expressed by the two resolutions carried at the conference of Ministers for Agriculture and representatives of wheat-growers, merchants, millers, &c, at Canberra on the 12th November. -
The principle there enunciated is substantially the some as was contained in the Wheat Marketing Bill, and I urge the Government to revert to it rather than proceed with a vague proposal which has the many disadvantages I shall enumerate. The people on the land want to know definitely how they stand; they want to be sure of a certain payment instead of a mere indefinite promise. In committee I shall propose an amendment that the money necessary to finance this legislation should be provided by means of a sales tax on flour. That would be a simple way of carrying out what the Government said it was willing to do when the
Wheat Marketing Bill was rejected in another place. On that occasion the Leader of the Senate (Senator Daly) intimated that the Government was prepared to relieve the States of their half of the liability under the guarantee.
The Wheat Marketing Bill proposed a guarantee of 4s. per bushel, and the States were to be held liable for half of any loss incurred. To-day the price of any loss incurred. The Government finally consented to waive the States’ guarantee and find half the deficiency between the price realized and the 4s. To-day the price of wheat is approximately 2s. and the Government proposes a payment of a further1s., which is half the difference between 2s. and 4s. The States are omitted from the scheme, but if the Government would impose a sales tax on flour, which would ensure that the local price would advance sufficiently to enable the extra1s. to be paid, it would be merely reverting to its former policy and at the same time making sure that the money required would be raised.
– That proposal was attached to a scheme of controlled marketing.
– In the present circumstances of Australia we must do something practical and concrete. The farmers should not be sacrificed merely because all the governments and the various authorities interested are not prepared to dot every “ i “ and cross every “ t “ of an agreement proposed by the Commonwealth.
– That was essentially a part of the last scheme.
– So far as the amounts involved are concerned, the position is practically the same to-day as it was a few months ago.
– Bread is already too dear.
– The farmer could be assured of a reasonable price for his wheat without bread being very much dearer than at the present time. To-day wheat is selling in. Liverpool at 3s. 31/4d. a bushel. In Australia, the price is 2s. 5d. a bushel. In other words, wheat for Australian flour is sold at 101/4d. a bushel less than the wheat which produces the loaf for the English workman. The honorable member for Melbourne will not suggest that the Australian worker with his higher wages is unable to pay the same price for wheat as his English comrade. In New Zealand, the price of wheat for local consumption is 6s. 2d.; yet the price of bread is not higher than in Australia. If the honorable member does not desire the price of bread to rise through the imposition of a sales tax on Hour, he should urge the Government to bring about an unpegging of exchange, which would increase by 4d. per bushel the value of the wheat to the exporter. If exchange were unpegged it would rise from about 10 per cent. to 20 per cent.; that increase would represent, on a price of 3s. 3d., another 4d. per bushel. With a sales tax of £4 a ton on flour, an additional1s. 6d. a bushel could be paid for the wheat consumed in Australia.
– I understood the industry would not accept anything less than a sales tax of £7 a ton.
– If the exchange were allowed to run to 20 or 25 per cent. and at the same time the tariff were reduced by 20 per cent - because the exchange now represents increased protection to that extent - we would get very much closer to not only an immediate, but also an ultimate solution of the problem.
– Does the right honorable member suggest that the Commonwealth has power to unpeg the exchange.
– It is largely in the interests of the Commonwealth Government’s accounts that exchange is being pegged at the present time. If the Government would intimate to the banks that it is prepared to deal with the whole of its financial commitments in a way that would enable this act of justice to be done, its appeal would not fall on deaf ears. The adoption of the course I have suggested would ensure that a definite sum of money would be forthcoming for payment to the farmers. The bill proposes an appropriation from the Consolidated Revenue. Already the revenue has been over-appropriated to the amount of £6,000,000, and the bill will merely increase the overdraft. In those circumstances, the scheme must be regarded as vague, nebulous, and of doubtful utility. We want to know where the money is to be obtained, and I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) that, if this proposal were linked with some specific act of taxation or other means of raising money, it would not bring about inflation, but would merely become one of the normal activities of the country. Although the Minister has discussed this matter with the Board of the Commonwealth Bank, honorable members are in the extraordinary position of not knowing whether the bank can find the necessary money. At the inception of this debate we should have been told exactly what the Commonwealth Bank Board is prepared to do. It is interesting to note that the Minister in charge of the bill said on the 12th November in answer to a deputation from the Canberra conference -
Mr. Forde declared that the Commonwealth Bank could not pay a first advance of more than1s.6d. to farmers, notwithstanding any guarantees that might be given by the Commonwealth and the State Government.
– I said that the bank would not.
-I am quoting from the report of the Minister’s speech, and later I shall quote from a statement made in the Senate. The Minister continued -
A first advance of 80 per cent. of the market value was usually paid. The bank could not depart from that practice. Eighty per cent. of the present market value was1s.6d. a bushel. The State Ministers for Agriculture, with whom he had conferred the previous day, had agreed on the proposal for the postponement of the payment of wheat-growers’ liabilities, where necessary. “ I suggested to the bank,” said the Minister, “ a first payment of 2s., but the bank definitely stated that after considering the present market value and the future prospects, together with the finances of the country, it was not prepared to give a higher advance than 80 per cent. The Board pointed out that all available resources were required for the financing of ordinary Governmental activities.”
On the 12th November the Minister said that, in the opinion of the board, all available resources were required to finance ordinary government activities. Now he asks Parliament to pass a bill committing the Government to an expenditure of millions of pounds without saying where the money is to come from. Such action is without precedent. Usually it is stated in bounty bills just how much the Government will pay by way of bounty, and sometimes the bill even states how the money is to be raised. That was done in the case of the Federal
Aid Roads Agreement. The Government should give some information on this matter, for the sake not only of Parliament, but of the farmers themselves, so that they will have some assurance that the money will he forthcoming. The Government’s overdraft in Australia amounts to about £2,000,000; there are £7,000,000 worth of treasury-bills afloat, and £20,000,000 is tied up in London. Yet the Minister makes vague statements to the effect that, as well as meeting all bur other commitments, the Government will find this money, which may amount to anything from £4,000,000 to £10,000,000. The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly) explained the attitude of the Government towards the wheat-farmers when he said -
As the Government has no funds, and cannot get the necessary finance from the Commonwealth Bank to pay a guaranteed price, it regrets that it is unable at present to grant any monetary assistance to the wheat industry.
Now the Minister, in a public statement, says -
Owing to the financial stringency, the Government cannot make any money available for a guarantee to wheat-growers without the assistance of the Commonwealth Bank, but it is prepared to guarantee to the Commonwealth Bank repayment of any loss involved on the disposal of wheat on which the advance is made. The Government relies on the bank to make this advance, in view of the possible effect of the unprecedented circumstances and the possible effect on every class of the community if some assistance is not given promptly to the wheat-grower … In anticipation of a favorable response from the bank, this bill is introduced to guarantee the bank in regard to the making of the advance. . . The bill authorizes the appropriation from Consolidated Revenue of the amount necessary to repay to the bank any sum due to it under the guarantee.
The Minister has conferred with the Bank Board since he made that statement, and it is only reasonable to askthat lie should give the House some information. I understand that this bill i3 to be rushed through the House to-night. Is that course being followed so as to deprive honorable members of an opportunity of thoroughly examining and discussing the measure?
– The Senate has no business to go on with, and it is desired to get this bill through so that it may he dealt with by that chamber.
– I object to the Commonwealth Bank being made a pawn in the political game. This matter of assistance to farmers should be dealt with on its merits. Up to a month ago the Government evidently favoured the idea of helping the wheat-farmers by enabling them to get a higher price for their wheat on the local market. Then it made a volte face, and said that it would .not consider imposing a sales tax on flour to help the farmers, because this would increase the cost of food. Yet the Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Parker Moloney), when introducing the Wheat Marketing Bill, said that any loss on wheat sold abroad would be more than made up by the increased price . of the wheat consumed in Australia. I can show the Minister how the farmers may be assisted without any losses being incurred, and in a manner which will satisfy every canon of sound finance. Let the Government deal with the situation by adjusting the exchange rate, and by imposing a small sales tax.
– The Government is in favour of raising the exchange rate, but has no power to do so. Only the Commonwealth Bank can do that.
– The measures we are now discussing are, after all, only palliatives, if the farmers are to be permanently assisted, it must be made possible for them to produce wheat more cheaply than they have been able to do. during recent years. It seems certain that wheat prices’ will be low for some years to come; therefore, production costs must be reduced. One of the first steps towards achieving that end would be to reduce the tariff. Dealing with the subject of increased costs, an experienced farmer in the Riverina district gave, in the course of a recent address, some very interesting figures. He said -
I will take the increased costs of wheat production first. The rail freight on a ton of wheat from Lockhart to Darling Habour in 1010 was lis. 2d. per ton, as against 18s. Id. per ton to-da.y - a difference of 6s. lid. pelton. The agents’ commission and handling charges in those days was Id. per bushel (now 1 1/2d. per bushel), a difference of ls. fid. per ton, or a total difference of 8s. 5d. pelton, say, 2$d. per bushel. A man owning 1,000 acres of land in this district, generally crops 320 acres and fallows 320 acres a year, which, taken over a scries of years, should average him 18 bushels to the .acre per year. After deducting, say, 30 acres for hay for his own requirements, it would leave him with 5,220 bushels; after deducting, say, 370 bushels for seed, would leave him a balance for sale of 4,650 bushels. The extra cost of rail freight and handling charges on this quantity at 23/4d. per bushel amounts to £53 5s. 7d. In pre-war days the standard wages for a first-class farm hand was from 30s. to 35s. per week and keep; to-day £2 15s. per week and keep. If a farmer crops 320 acres and fallows 320 acres, he must keep one man permanently on the farm, which means an extra cost of £52 per year. Some periods of the year it would be necessary for him to keep two men. However, his increased cost for wages during hay-making, harvesting, and cartage of wheat to the railway station would easily be another £10 per year: Total, £62 per year; increased cost of men’s keep, £26 per year. Take cornsacks during the period mentioned: they cost from 5s. to 5s. 6d. per dozen, as against 9s.6d. to 10s.6d. last season,adifference of, say, roughly, 4s. fid. per dozen.
The conclusion arrived at is that the expenses of a man working a 1,000-acre farm in that district are, roughly, £500 a year more than they used to he twenty years ago.
– How much more does the farmer have to pay in interest?
– On that subject, my authority has this to say -
His rate of interest in those days ranged from 5 to 51/2 per cent. To-day a man in a similar position would be paying from 7 to 8 per cent. However, I am well within the mark when I say he is paying 2 per cent. per annum more, which would amount to £60 per annum on his mortgage of £3,000.
Nothing is allowed for the increased price of land. The mortgage is reckoned as the same, but a higher rate of interest is paid on it. He concludes -
So, therefore, taking everything into consideration, I think I would be well within the mark to say the increased burden of costs of production on a 1,000-acre farm in this district, as compared with sixteen to twenty years ago, is well over £500; equal to a rental of 10s. per acre per annum. No farmer can escape these increased costs, no matter how economically he may live. If he has his property clear he may escape the interest costs. All farm implements, machinery, harness, wagons, &c., have gone up fully 100 per cent., even allowing for the extra width the machinery and implements may cover. The same applies to all building material, labour in connexion with fencing, tank sinking, &c.
At present prices, £500 represents the value of 5,000 bushels of wheat, which is just about the normal yield from 300 acres. Therefore, the whole value of a man’s crop from 300 acres would he absorbed by the increased costs. Since the statement from which I have been quoting was made, additional costs have been added by way of primage duty, sales tax, and dearer fencing wire. It is evident that something must be done to enable farmers either to reduce production costs, or obtain a better price for their product. It is no use helping the farmers to stagger through this year if they will be as badly off again next year. We must study the whole question of their debts, anddiscover some way of having’ them written down. The position to-day is that the farmers cannot carry on, and if large numbers of them become bankrupt, heavy losses will be suffered by those to whom they owe money. All interests which have the farmers in their debt should get together to discuss the situation. There should be, in effect, a meeting of creditors, which would determine the maximum amount of liability which the farmers can sustain, and the balance must be written off. The alternative is that thousands of farmers will go off their land, and their creditors will receive nothing at all. What I have suggested will have to be done eventually; why not do it now? The sooner we do these things the better it will be for Australia. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) that we must deal with this subject in a comprehensive way. All parties should cooperate in this matter. The debt could be consolidated to ensure equality of sacrifice on the part of everybody. If the Government really wishes to help the farmer, it can do so in this straightforward way - a way about which there is no element of doubt whatever. The. proposal to advance 3s. per bushel on wheat this year is in the clouds. We do not know where the money is to come from. If it is obtained by inflation, the farmers will be deceived, far they will he paid with money less valuable than the money they spent in producing their crop. I suggest that the Government should carefully consider the proposals that I have made, and, particularly, the suggestions that the exchange rates should be unpegged, and that a special sales tax should he imposed upon flour. These things can he done without causing any political entanglements, or disturbing the relations between the Commonwealth Bank and the Government. If the Government has to fight the Commonwealth
Bank Board over this subject, months may elapse before a decision is reached, and in the meantime the farmers will perish. Something must be. done immediately, and this Parliament is the body to do it along the lines I suggest.
In addition to the two suggestions that I have just made, I intend to propose in the committee stage of the bill, that after the words “ Commonwealth Bank,” in clause 2, the words “or other banks or institutions” be inserted. South Australia and Western Australia have for several years been marketing their wheat through a pool financial by the Cooperative Wholesale Society of Great Britain. It would be foolish, if, in a time of stress such as this, we turned our back upon this assistance. An amendment of this kind would remove altogether any sinister suggestion that the Government has a political motive in introducing this bill, and it would enable the whole subject to be considered in a non-partisan spirit, which otherwise would be impossible.
– I congratulate the Government on thedesire to help the wheat-growers of Australia of which this bill is evidence ; but I am not sure that this end will be achieved by the methods proposed in the hill. The positionwhich has developed in Australia in connexion with primary production is well known to all who have given anything like reasonable study to the subject. The outstanding fact which emerges from such a study is that if we are to maintain our position we must grow more wheat. Wheat and wool production are our main primary industries. It must be clear to everybody that Australia cannot afford to allow wheat production, which is the second in importance among our primary industries, to dwindle and, ultimately, cease. The only thing that could justify such an attitude would be the postulate that we could grow something else or develop some other sort of primary production to take the place of wheat. It is perfectly obvious, of course, that we could not do so. We should, therefore, do our utmost to support and maintain this industry.
The wheat-growers, like other primary producers, have been severely handicapped by the high cost of production in Aus tralia. It must he apparent to everybody that if the farmer is to continue profitable operations he must be given conditions which will enable him to enjoy some of the privileges enjoyed by Australians engaged in sheltered industries and callings. Put shortly, the position is that the Australian farmer cannot afford to keep others in bread for less than it costs him to produce his commodities. This fundamental consideration must be borne in mind by all who interest themselves in this subject.
I have been surprised at the almost callous attitude - I think I am justified in using that term - which some of the representatives of city constituencies have adopted towards the farmers.
– There is no evidence of that yet.
– I disagree with the honorable member. I have seen evidence of it to which I do not think it necessary to direct attention at present. It is unfortunate that some honorable members of this House do not attach to this subject the importance that should attach to it. If the wheat-farmer is allowed to drift out of production, or if it is made impossible for him to continue profitable production, a calamity which will have the direst consequences will overtake, not only those in rural areas, but also the city dwellers. If the doom that is impending should fall upon our farming community it will ultimately cause much more suffering to city people, whoare to-day indifferent to, if they do not openly deride, the claims of the farmers for assistance, than it will to the farmers themselves. If such an acute crisis should occur in this country the farmers will be able to stand it better than other sections of the community, for they will be able to put a chain and padlock on their front gate and retire to their homesteads. They will have the wherewithal with which to sustain their own lives. They will be able to produce for their own requirements. But I hesitate to think about what might happen to city dwellers.
I realize that the wool-growers are in a position which is equally, if not more serious, than that of the wheat-growers. The wool industry, more than any other in Australia, carries the people of this continent upon its back. Something will lui ve to be done to assi st t hat industry, but I do not exactly know what form the assistance should take. I believe that at no time since the war have the great majority of the wool-growers regretted more sincerely than they do now their unwisdom is allowing the organization we knew as Bawra to go out of existence. Such an organization could have done a great deal to assist the wool-growers in their present, position. That, however, is by the way. .
The duty with which Parliament is charged at the moment, is to devise the best means of assisting our wheatgrowers. Wheat-growing at 2s. 6d. per bushel, f.o.b., is quite unprofitable. It has already been stated half a dozen times during this debate that the cost, of ‘production must be reduced before any permanent relief can be afforded to our farmers. However much honorable members opposite may resent the suggestion, production costs will ultimately come down in Australia. Certain disabilities that are well known must be removed. To-day our farmers are heavily handicapped by the high cost of machinery, transport, cornsacks, and living generally. I do not think it unfair to say that the wheat-growers have been more severely hit than any . other section of the community - excepting, as I say, the wool-growers - by the conditions operating in the Commonwealth to-day. All these things conspire to make the occupation of land unprofitable, and Australia cannot afford to allow such a state of affairs to continue. Any proposal that would assist or tend to relieve the primary producer represents a line of policy that this Parliament should take without hesitation. If we cannot reach our goal in one step, we must proceed on the basis of compromise, and make our way towards our objective by instalments.. I insist now, as I have insisted before, in addressing myself to the problem of the wheat industry, that the great need of the farmers of. Australia is immediate relief. The broader proposal would provide the greater degree of relief, but it cannot be obtained with the celerity that the needs of the situation demand.
Three main relief proposals in the interests of the wheat industry have been submitted. The first .was a compulsory pooling scheme, with a guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel. The Government brought down a measure on those lines shortly after the Parliament assembled; and since the history of that scheme is fresh in the minds of honorable members, I need not dwell upon it. The second proposal, which was also rejected, was that a sales tax be imposed on flour sold for local consumption. That was suggested by the second Canberra wheat conference. The third proposition is the present bill, which provides for an advance to help the growers in their grave difficulty. I have no apology to offer for saying that the sales tax represents the only practical and statesmanlike attempt to relieve the situation. It was not based on a proposal for inflation ; it was a straight-out. suggestion that the whole of the people should be required to help to meet the difficulties of the farming section. I have been told in this House that a sales tax would be difficult to operate; but I have yet to be convinced that it would be impracticable for that reason. When the Sales Tax Bills wore under consideration in this chamber, one of the chief arguments advanced by the Government, and by the agent who was brought from Canada to advise in connexion with the proposal, was that this form of tax was particularly useful because it was not difficult to operate. The argument that it is not operable is designed, in the main, to relieve the Government of the responsibility of attempting to apply a-,tax that it believes would not be a vote catcher. I believe that that is the main reason why the Government has decided not to legislate in this matter on the lines of a sales tax on flour, and the distribution, over the whole of the people, of the hurden of relieving the farmers. We were assured, furthermore, that this tax would be objectionable because it would be an impost on the poor. I do not see thai it need be a tax on the poor; in the main, it would be paid not so much V- the noor as by the consuming public as a whole. It was contended also that the price of bread was already high, and that, therefore, the poor would further suffer; but I claim that no proof has been submitted that a sales tax on flour would necessarily increase the price of bread.
– What has been the experience in Queensland?
– I am not regarding this matter merely from a State point of view. If I took a narrow view, I would oppose such a tax, because in Queensland the farmer enjoys far more substantial benefit than farmers generally will receive under the bill before us. Instead of taking up a selfish attitude, and saying that because the Queensland farmer is secure 1! have no concern for the rest of the wheat-growers of Australia, I adopt the broader attitude, and say that, insecure as the Queensland grower is, the rest are less secure. The price of bread ought not to.be raised if a sales tax were imposed. [ go further, and contend that the price would be definitely reduced. The present high price of bread is due to the heavy distributing charges, which represent 2d. on every loaf. [Quorum formed.] If the Government were sincere in regard to a sales tax on flour, it could, in association with the State authorities, bring about the establishment of depots in the large centres of population that would result in reducing the cost of distribution by 2d. a loaf. The Premier of New South Wales, when engaged in electioneering recently, claimed that the price of bread need not be raised, even with wheat at 7s. 6d. a bushel. He clearly indicated that if that were to happen, a sales tax on flour would restore the balance. That, substantially, is the argument that I am advancing to-night. If a Sales tax on flour were properly operated - and I refuse to accept the view that it is not operable - the wheat-farmer could be relieved without resorting to the adventitious aid suggested by the bill, and concurrently the price of bread could be reduced.
This is the third measure brought down for the relief of the wheat-grower. It proposes to give a guarantee on the basis of 3s. a bushel f.o.b., but the amount that the farmer will receive is something less than that. Bound up with this proposal is the demand that the Commonwealth Bank shall release credits to cover a loss estimated to amount to approximately £4,000,000. The objectionable feature to me is that the Government has not given any indication as to the manner in which the financial obligation that it proposes to assume is to be met. The principal merit of a’ sales tax is that there” is no indefiniteness regarding the obligations and liabilities in which it involves the people.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) was indubitably right when he said that the bill represents an infringement of sound financial principles. However much the Minister may argue around that proposition, he cannot disprove it. Is there any reason why we should not be informed to-night of the attitude of the Commonwealth Bank towards this measure? If there is a reason for withholding that information, this House and the people should be given it. We know that the Board of Directors of the bank decided that it would not go beyond an 80 per cent. risk. But since that decision was made there have been conferences with this measure as a basis. I understand that yesterday representatives o£ the Government conferred with the board on this very proposal. Why are we not given the resultof that conference ?
– It is government policy, which cannot be divulged.
– Is not this Parliament entitled to know the result of the conference? Are we going to allow ourselves to be ‘bulldozed by the more or less somnolent honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) declaring profoundly that this is a matter of government policy. Secrecy has been unjustified from the moment that the Government came down with this proposal. It should be prepared to tell the House what is the basis of the measure, particularly in relation to finance. It shows scant courtesy when it refuses to recognize that obligation.
We know that this is an eleventh-hour production - that it was produced, so to speak, overnight - and we must make allowances to that extent;but the bill as it stands states definitely that the advances which are to he made under it are to be repaid. If that be the intention of the Government, it has given a wrong impression to the primary producers of Australia. I have not heard the Minister deny that that is the interpretation. If it is, I say without hesitation that it is not what the farmers expected, nor what they are entitled to.
For the reasons that I have given, and particularly because the hill is unsoundly based financially - if it has any basis at all - I accept it reluctantly, and with very pronounced misgivings. My reluctance arises from the fact that it falls far short of what could be offered. The best method of dealing with the crisis which exists in the wheat-growing industry is that which is embodied in the sales tax proposal. My reluctance also is contributed to by the fact that the bill has a political taint which is inescapable. 1 accept it with misgivings, because it has no sound financial basis and because the Government has not given, and cannot give it, that very necessary ingredient of success. Had the Government a sound financial basis for the operation of the measure, it would have indicated it.
I accept the bill at its face value; 1 do not, and will not, accept it as an instalment of the policy of the extremists and inflationists, nor as an anti-bank electioneering gesture. I fear - to use the vernacular - that the .Government is “ selling the wheat-grower a pup “.
We have been told that it is the intention of the Government to seek a dissolution, and to go to the country. I do not believe that it has the slightest intention in that direction. If there is a double dissolution, it will be brought about by those who sit on this side. It is the desire of the Government to approach the electors on a financial issue, in which will be wrapped up this proposal to help the wheat-farmer. Its idea is to pose as an injured innocent, and to declare that the Commonwealth Bank is the tyrant in the piece. It is patent that this is antibank electioneering rather than a sincere attempt to help the farmer; but I accept it as the best that the Government has been able to produce.
I propose to vote for the second reading of the bill; but I reserve to myself the right to endeavour to have it amended along the lines foreshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition.
.- 1 am
S ‘eased that even at this late hour the Government has seen its way to bring down this measure of relief for the wheatgrowers. It is unfortunate that it was not introduced a month ago, because, in many parts of Australia, the harvesting is over, and the wheat already on the market. I do not know how the Government intends to provide relief for those growers who. have already sold- their wheat at prevailing prices, but I hope that some means will be found of assisting them.. Never before in the history of Australia has it been so necessary for the Government to come to the rescue of a section of the people; I refer to the wheat-growers of this country. I have been growing wheat and wool for over 40 years, and I have never known a more serious position to face the wool and wheat-growers. Indeed, all our primary producers are selling their products at considerably under cost of production. The wool-growers are’ selling their wool at least 35 per cent, under cost of production, and the wheat-growers at from 40 per cent, to 50 per cent, under cost of production. The serious position of the wheat-growers is due,, to a large extent, to a drought which has, in some districts, lasted for three years. Notwithstanding the fact that there. .are. good crops in the different wheat-growing States, the farmers in certain , areas in New South Wales, “Victoria, and South Australia will . have, in some cases, only half crops, . and ..in, other cases, even less. Those growers-; are . in a bad position, and- will not be relieved to any extent by ‘ the- operation of this legislation. Those who have good crops will obtain relief. . It is unfortunate that the growers who have put up a gallant fight against adverse circumstances, having obtained poor returns for years, are now faced with a disastrous drop in prices, and unless something is done to give them immediate relief, a large number, if not the majority of them, will be driven off their -holdings. That would be a calamity to this country, and every government that has the interests of the whole community at heart should do everything in its power to avert it. The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Page) gave notice of an amendment which, if accepted, would substitute for the Government’s proposal a sales tax on flour. That, I think, would be preferable, and I intend to support the amendment, because it would make definite and practical provision for the payment of what I regard as a bounty under this legislation. I am opposed to the bounty system in principle, but I have no objection to a bounty being paid in this case, because something must be done to assist the wheatgrowers. I look upon this bounty as a small measure of protection to a section of the people who receive.no benefit at all from the protective policy of Australia.
– Was not a guarantee of 4s. a bushel a fair proposition?
– It was a much better proposition than this. The honorable member knows that a great many wheatfarmers were induced, because of the promise of a guarantee of 4s. a bushel, to sow larger areas of wheat than they would otherwise have done.
– They did not count on the Senate rejecting the Wheat Marketing Bill.
– I am not blaming this Government for the action of the Senate. This Government urged the wheatfarmers to grow more wheat, and most of them responded by incurring liabilities in respect of additional seed, manure, and labour. They are consequently much more embarrassed to-day than they would have been had they sown smaller areas. However, that is past and done with, and we must make the best of the present position. It would have been better for the growers had the Govern ment adopted the proposal of the conference held in Canberra a fortnight ago to place a sales tax on flour.
– What will be the position if the Commonwealth Bank refuses to advance 3s. a bushel, as provided under this legislation ?
– I am not concerned with the method of financing the scheme; that is the Government’s business. It is a great responsibility, and I admit that the Government has a difficult task ahead of it. It may be that the scheme will be financed by a special relief loan for farmers, as proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. A sales tax on flour would have been the most practical method of assisting the farmers, and I hope that the Minister will, when the bill is in committee, accept the amendment foreshadowed by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Page). As the Leader of the Opposition has said, this measure will afford only temporary assistance to the wheat-growers. It will not get them out of their difficulties, but it will help to a large extent in enabling them to round the corner and to carry on until better prices are ruling. It has been said that the imposition of a sales tax on flour would make bread dearer. That argu ment has little weight, because the price of bread should not be increased even if wheat were sold at 4s. 6d. or 5s. a bushel. In New Zealand wheat is at present being sold at 6s. 3d. a bushel, and yet the price of bread is about the same as it is here. In Queensland wheat is selling at 4s. 3d. a bushel, and the price of bread in Brisbane is 31/2d. for a 2-lb. loaf. The regulation of the price of bread is a matter, not for this Parliament, but for the State Parliaments. There should be some regulation of the price, not only of wheat, but also of meat, milk, butter, and other necessaries of life. Some system should be adopted under which prices could be increased to benefit the producer and decreased to the consumer. There is plenty of room for that to be done in respect of bread, milk, meat, and butter. The growers of mutton are not getting more than 2d. per lb. for their product, which is less than the cost of production. Under a proper system of distribution, the grower should receive 3d. per lb. for mutton. At that price he would suffer no loss, and the consumers, instead of paying8d. or 9d. per lb., should pay about6d. per lb. The same thing would apply to bread, milk, fruit, butter, and other commodities. The trouble to-day is that our system is wrong. We have no proper system of control and distribution of these products, and until some improvement is made, the producers will continue to produce at a loss, and the consumers to pay more than they should for their requirements. I do not think that all honorable members supporting the Government realize the serious position of the primary producers. Neither the wheat-growers nor the wool-growers can continue indefinitely to produce at a loss. People who are able to got an overdraft may continue to do that for a time, but, unless the prices of wool and wheat increase considerably, and/or production costs are reduced, the growing of wheat and wool will have to be discontinued. The reduction of the cost of production is absolutely necessary, and it must come whether honorable members like it or not. Honorable members opposite are afraid of the reduction of wages, and are constantly charging honorable members on this side of the House with attempting to bring that about. We would prefer wages to continue high if that were economically possible, but all costs must be reduced. The rate of interest must come down. Profits in those few industries which are prospering to-day, must be reduced; taxation, if possible, must be lowered, and nominal wages also must decline. I do not mean that the effective wage need come down. I believe that if the nominal wage falls even 50 per cent. the cost of living also will be so reduced that the purchasing power of the workers will be just as great as it is at the present time. A lower wage would mean the providing of far more employment, and the wage-earner would probably be better off, because £1 would buy twice as much of the necessaries of life as it does at the present time. We must also get higher prices for our primary products.
– Does the honorable member think that the farmer can get higher prices for his products if the wages of the purchaser are reduced?
– The nominal wage might be reduced, and still buy as much as the present wage does. Much has been said in this House, and outside, regarding the need for equality of sacrifice. Unfortunately, there are sections of the community that do not believe in making any sacrifice. The primary producers are already making a sacrifice; not only are they making a profit, but most of them a re suffering a heavy loss. Other sections should be sharing the burden, but the Commonwealth Government refuses to tax them. In those circumstances it cannot be said that the principle of equality of sacrifice is being applied. This country is facing the most serious financial and economic difficulties it has ever experienced. The main reason is that Australia is getting between £60,000,000 and £70,000,000 a year less for its primary products than before the depression began. The men on the land are the principal sufferers, but, because of the low prices for their products, the whole community is feeling the pinch. That shows the extent to which the whole community is bound up with the prosperity of the primary producers, and the need for doing everything possible to prevent their failure. Unless the Government comes to their aid they will be driven off the land, and that will be a national calamity.
.- After all, this is an emergency measure. The economic position of Australia is such that for many years it must be dependent upon the production of wealth from the land. The recent history of the wheat industry is familiar to all honorable members. Immediately the present Government came into office, it set about giving effect to one of its ideals - the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool, and a system of orderly marketing for the whole of Australia. Unfortunately, the Wheat Marketing Bill was rejected in another place, and ever since the Government has been trying to devise other means for succouring the wheat-growers. Quite recently, the Commonwealth Bank Board told the Government that it could not nay to the wheat-growers more than 2s. a bushel f.o.b. As the private wheatbuyers were already offering that amount, the growers had nothing to thank the bank for. If the Bank Board is so conservative that it is not prepared to take a risk when so many thousands of the primary producers are suffering extreme hardships, it is not doing its duty to the people. The Government has decided to offer the growers something better than the bank’s guarantee. The suggestion has been made that the community should not be called upon to make good any loss that may be sustained in connexion with this legislation,I refuse to believe that losses will be incurred, but, if they are they should be borne by the whole community. This country is largely dependent on the production of wool, wheat, and butter. During the last three years, the wheat-growers have suffered considerably, especially in the northern portion of Victoria. The community should be prepared to go to their assistance, and I agree with the honorable member forRiverina (Mr. Killen) that if the Government is not able to honour its guarantee of 3s. a bushel f.o.b., many growers will cease production. The average wheat-farmer is not in a position to transfer to any other industry. In the southern States, the average wheat farm consists of about one square mile of country, and that is too small an area for lamb-raising.
– What about lamb-raising in New Zealand ?
– New Zealand is a very rich country with a regular rainfall, wonderful grass, and an assured market. Conditions there are more favorable for lamb-raising than are the conditions in New South Wales, South Australia and Northern Victoria. Many men are growing wheat in Victoria on 400 acres. . The statement has been made that if the wheat-farmer goes out of business this year, some other man will take his place. The men now on the land have laboured for many years under very trying circumstances, and the Government should not permit them to abandon their holdings if they can possibly be kept on them. The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) was unfair when he suggested that this bill is only a political bait. Sir Frank Clarke stated in the Victorian Legislative Council some months ago that the Commonwealth Government had nearly sold a pup to the farmers, because it had no intention to pay 4s. a bushel for wheat, but he apologized after being assured that the Commonwealth could, and would. have paid that price.
– Why cannot the Government pay 4s. now?
– In the absence of a scheme for orderly marketing of ‘the wheat crop, the Government will not take, the risk of guaranteeing 4s. a bushel. But the Government can take the risk of guaranteeing 3s. a bushel. The only way in which we can effectively handle the wheat crop is through compulsory pools’. If a compulsory pool were operating now we should be able to dispose of wheat for milling purposes at 4s. 6d. to 4s. 9d. a bushel. It would not hurt the bakers or the consumers if that price were charged for it, because the price of wheat does not regulate the price of bread. When wheat was 7s. a bushel, bread was sold at lid. a loaf. Now: when the price of wheat is down to 2s. 6d. bread is still sold in many places at 10d., lid. and oven ls. a loaf. We are called upon to take a serious step, but it is justified. We cannot desert this great body of primary producers when they are faced with bankruptcy. In many cases their overdrafts have already been called up, and it is impossible for them to obtain financial accommodation of any kind. T believe that before long better prices will prevail for wheat. I am one of those who think that press reports to the effect that there is a huge carry-over of wheat in Canada and the United States of America, and that Russia has been dumping enormous quantities of wheat on the English market, have been inspired to a large extent by the wheat-buying agencies. I cannot believe that Russia, with her population of 170,000,000 people to feed, and still suffering from the effects of the great war and the civil war, can have anything like the quantity of wheat for export that she has been credited with having. If the banks in Australia advance sufficient to enable the growers to hold their wheat for five or six months, I do not think that the Commonwealth Bank will be called upon to pay one farthing as a result of this guarantee, because wheat will realize more than 3s. a bushel. I hope that the bill will go through both Houses without opposition.
.- Many honorable members have devoted a great deal of time to- discussing the serious position in which the wheatgrowers find themselves. It was unnecessary for them to do so, because there is no honorable member of this House who is not already fully aware of the position as it exists. However, the proposal of the Government will do little or nothing to alleviate that position, and I am opposed to the bill on that account.
– The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) docs not think as you do.
– He is entitled to his own opinion. The Government’s proposal amounts only to guaranteeing an extra 6d. a bushel. Of what good is that to a man whose crop is a partial or total failure?
– Does the honorable member favour granting a bounty on an acreage basis?
– 1 shall discuss that later. Some wheat-farmers will not harvest more than six or seven bushels to the acre, while others will be fortunate if they get back even seed wheat. What good will the extra 6d. a bushel over and above the market price be to those growers? On the other hand, there are thousands of growers who, while their return will be reduced owing to low prices, have for many years past been living on the fat of the land. They have had good crops, which they have sold at good prices, and they do riot need the Government to come to their assistance. The Government should assist only those growers who are in urgent need of help. That is what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) proposes in his amendment. His proposal is that a sum of money should be handed to the States by the Commonwealth to be used for specific purposes. . It should be applied first of all towards assisting wheat and other farmers who are in difficulties, and further, to ensure that they obtain supplies of superphosphates and seed for next season. That is a sensible proposal, which is more than can be said for the Government’s proposal to help all wheatgrowers indiscriminately. That would be nothing but a misuse of public money. In our ordinary daily lives we assist people according to their needs.
The Government cannot hold itself blameless for the position in which many farmers find themselves at the present time. For months the Government caused it to be blazoned from one end of Australia to the other that what Australia needed above all things was that the farmers should produce more wheat. When this proposal was first made in the House, I pointed out that the Government should urge the farmers to produce wheat more cheaply, not to produce more wheat. At the very time that the Commonwealth Government was telling the farmers to grow more wheat, the authorities in the United States of America were emphasiz- ing that there was too much wheat in the world, and were urging the farmers in that country to grow less wheat. The Australian farmers, in response to the Government’s request, increased their acreage, and, now that we are faced with an enormous yield of wheat, the Government is bringing forward this miserable proposal to increase the market price by 6d. a bushel.
– The farmers do not object to the proposal.
– Of what use would a straw he to a drowning man ; and yet we know that drowning men will clutch at straws. It would not be natural for the farmers to refuse this help, inadequate though it may be.
– Would the honorable member allow the farmers, in effect, to drown without offering them even a straw ?
– If the honorable member were one of a life-saving team, and 30 or 40 bathers were being carried out by the undertow, he would not go first to the assistance of those who could swim well, but would take the lifeline out to those who could not swim at all. Let the Government assist those farmers who will undoubtedly sink unless assistance is forthcoming. The wheat-farmers do not stand alone in their trouble. As was pointed out by the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen), many other sections of the community are also feeling the pinch; and why should the man who grows wheat receive assistance at the hands of the Government, while the man who produces hops or barley is allowed to look after himself.
– He is not producing for export.
– No ; but he is producing for a livelihood, and he is a citizen of this country. As such he is entitled to receive help from the Government when that help is needed. Honorable members have referred to the position of the wool-growers. We all know how serious their position is, but those engaged in wool raising have realized for some time that they must cut their losses, and get a new basis of production. Generally speaking, the same thing must, of necessity, apply to the wheat-grower. What is the real trouble with the wheatindustry at the present time ? The trouble is that we have attempted to grow wheat on land that should never have been growing it at all. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) represents a district which, under favorable conditions, produces splendid wheat. It is true, however, that we defied nature when we cleared the mallee scrub off the land, and pulled those enormous roots out of the soil, leaving the sand to be scattered by every wind that blows. In good seasons, when there is sufficient rain and an abundance of verdure to bind the soil, wheat can be produced in that area quite satisfactorily; but nobody knows better than does the honorable member for Wimmera that the land is not suitable for wheat-growing in bad seasons. The same may be said of large areas in South Australia, New South “Wales and, to a lesser extent, in Queensland. People have been growing wheat on what are really marginal lands, where the crop pays only in good seasons. Because we have had a number of exceptional seasons, with high prices, people have been encouraged to grow wheat on less and less suitable land. The time has now come when it no longer pays to grow wheat in such districts, and the people who have gambled by turning such land to the production of wheat, must cut their losses. From now on we must look forward to decreasing wheat acreages, but must strive to obtain larger yields. The average annual yield per acre for Australia during the last nine or ten years has . varied considerably. In 1925-26, which was, I think, our best year, the average yield was sixteen bushels per acre; in 1928 it was about nine bushels per acre; and last year it was about eleven bushels per acre. In such circumstances, how can we hope to compete with the wheat-growers of more favoured countries? Queensland is in a little better position. It is no uncommon thing to see a crop there yielding from 40 to 45 bushels per acre, and that off cheap land.
The farmers of “Western Australia are not in any need of assistance to-day, although they are asking for it. They have had four or five good years, in which satisfactory prices have ruled, and they should be in a sufficiently sound position to enable them to carry over this bad year. If world prices were satisfactory, and we were suffering only from drought conditions, the farmers would not be crying out to the Government for assistance. They would recognize that nature was taking a hand. But because the Government, in its unwisdom, urged that every possible acre should be put under wheat, the farmers feel that they are entitled to look to it for assistance. The receipts of the “Western Australian farmers will be lower this year than last vear, but, speaking generally, the wheat-growers there have clone very well in recent years. The reason for this is that they are nearer the world’s markets than the farmers of the eastern States, and are growing wheat on cheaper land.
As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, we should be seeking a permanent solution for the troubles of the wheat-growers. “We should first of all cease trying to produce wheat on land which is not fit for it, and which only in exceptional years can yield a good crop. The wheat-growers could be assisted materially, not only in this year, but in all future years, if the policy outlined by the Leader of the Opposition were adopted. If farmers were able to buy superphosphates and seed wheat at a reasonable figure it would make a tremendous difference to them. All the people who earn their living from the land could be assisted by the application of this policy to their particular need.
– A great deal more than £4,000,000 would be needed to help:all the primary producers.
– That is so; but it is proposed at present to assist those only who are in dire need of assistance. “We do not claim that sufficient money is available to assist all primary producers in necessitous circumstances; but suggest that ‘the treatment accorded the wheatfarmer should be accorded every primary producer.
Just as there are men trying to grow wheat on land unsuitable for it, so there are persons engaged in secondary industries, trying to make a living under uneconomic conditions. In some cases their factories are too far from their raw materials, and in other cases they are too far from the markets. Either of these circumstances would make it impossible for manufactured products to be marketed’ at a reasonable price. It cannot be expected that the people will continue indefinitely to pay high prices simply to enable manufacturing operations to be continued under uneconomic and inefficient methods. Before we can hope to meet overseas competition successfully, we must increase our efficiency. In the past we have relied upon extensive instead of intensive cultivation.
An examination of the provisions of the bill fails to disclose the source from which the money to pay this guaranteed price is to be obtained. All that the farmers have been told is that a certain price will be paid for their wheat.
Lately, we have been called upon to consider three other bills which have involved the expenditure of large sums of money, without being told the source from which the money would be obtained ; [ refer to the original Wheat Marketing Bill; the Port Augusta to Bed Hill Railway Bill, and the Gold Bounty Bill. As the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) has pointed out, while the Government might have found it difficult, when this proposal was first made, to intimate where the money necessary to pay the guaranteed price was to come from, there should be no difficulty in providing honorable members with this information now.
You, Mr. Speaker, together with other honorable members of the last Parliament, will remember that when the- Treasurer of the day, the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) could not inform the House of the source from which the £20,000,000 was to be obtained to give effect to the housing policy of the Government, he was vigorously criticized. The Minister in charge of this bill is in a similar position. Until the Government tells us definitely where the money is to come from we are unable to determine whether the proposal is sound or otherwise. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke, and, for my part, I shall refuse to do so. When the bill reaches the committee stage, I hope that certain amendments will be made to it, and that the Government will announce the source from which the necessary money is to be obtained.
.- I agree with the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) that there is no need to urge upon the members of the House the necessity for granting some assistance to the wheat-growers of Australia. I entirely disagree with the statement of the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) that certain ‘honorable members, who represent city constituencies, have shown a callous indifference to the welfare of the farmers. We all realize that if a serious crash occurred in our wheat industry the repercussion of it would be felt throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth. I also disagree with the statement of .the honorable member “ for Darling Downs that the Government, in introducing this bill, is endeavouring - to apply words which Sir Granville Ryrie frequently used in this House - to “ sell the wheat-growers a pup “. The Government has no desire whatever to deceive, or delude, the wheatgrowers. 1 do not think it necessary, at this stage, to refer to what the Government has already done to try to assist the wheat-growers. Its actions speak for themselves.
I intend to support this bill because it. provides the best means possible in present circumstances of helping the farmers. Other proposals have been made to achieve this end, but have been discarded in favour of this one. Four facts stand out clearly in connexion with this proposal. They are, first, that the intention of the Government is to assist the wheat-growers, whether it be by advances to pools, or to prescribed persons, namely, merchants; secondly, that a guaranteed price of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. is being offered; thirdly, that the initial advance will be 2s. a bushel; and fourthly, that the ordinary method of marketing wheat will not be interfered with. I understood the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) to say that to all intents and purposes this bill provides for the marketing of wheat by the pooling system.
– I said that I understood that nearly all the wheat merchants had already ceased to receive wheat, and that they would not be able to continue operating if this bill became law.
– That was not the original intention. Representations were made to the Government that the pools only should have the benefit of the Government backing of the advance; but that idea was abandoned, one of the reasons being that wheat was already being sold, and that it was too late in the day* to introduce a system of orderly marketing, a number of the State Parliaments being now in recess. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) said that the wheat merchants might not be able to come in and purchase wheat under the condition of an advance of 2s. I am sorry that the Government intends to push the second reading of this bill through to-night. In the event of the merchants being unable to participate in the scheme, we might find ourselves in a most difficult situation. The Government should devote ample time to the consideration of this measure before taking a step that might react upon the growers and upon the party to which I belong.
What is the position of farmers who have already sold their wheat to the merchants, or who have placed some of it in their hands, and accepted an advance from them? I shall probably be told that these cases will be covered by regulations; hut I should like to know the exact position of such growers. Looking through the bill, I fail to see any provision for a second advance by the merchants. Provision is made for an original advance of 2s. a bushel, -the merchants to receive a guarantee from the Commonwealth Bank, equivalent ‘to 3s. f.o.b. Wheat is now quoted at about 2s. 5d. a bushel f.o.b. at Port Adelaide. Suppose a merchant took the wheat of a South Australian farmer, advanced him 2s. a bushel and received a guarantee from the Commonwealth Bank that he would be recouped to the extent of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. Suppose, also, the price of wheat remained at the present level, and the merchant shipped grain on the basis of the price of 2s.. 5d. a bushel. [Quorum formed,.’] The handling charges of the merchants and freight are supposed’ to amount to 7d. a bushel, which is equivalent to a price of 2s. 7d. on board ship. I desire to know who is to receive the 5d. difference between 2s. 7d. and 3s. I have a shrewd idea who will get that 5d. ; but I find no information on the matter in the bill. I wish to be quite sure that a second payment will be made to the grower by “prescribed persons.”
Then, again, what is the position in regard to millers established in wheatgrowing districts? I notice that the Minister may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank for a guarantee to be given by it of 3s. a bushel less freight and insurance, and other handling charges incurred in the delivery of the wheat for home consumption. Assume that a merchant bought wheat at 2s. and sold it to a country miller at 2s. 3d. What is to become of the odd 9d. in that case? Perhaps the best way to meet the situation would be not to make the miller a “ prescribed person “ under the bill. The farmer would be aware that if he put his wheat into a pool he would be entitled to 2s. immediately, and would also be entitled to the difference between that sum and the handling charges to the port, and the price of 3s. I wish to be quite sure that the grower will get his fair share of the balance.
– We can see about that matter in committee.
– Yes; but I do not want this bill rushed through to-night. I listened attentively to the speech delivered by the Leader of the Opposition, and whether it was delivered from a party standpoint or with the intention of assisting the Government, the Minister and his officers should carefully consider what he has said. If the measure cannot be dealt with to-morrow it is important enough to have it considered tin the following day. I do not wish the Labour party to take any risks with regard to it.
– The whole matter can be disposed of in an hour.
– I thank the Minister for his assurance; but I do not share his cheery optimism when he suggests that the measure can be tightened up in such a short time.
– I mean that all the points raised by the Leader of the Opposition can be considered and replied to in, say, half an hour.
– It seems to me that many important points have been raised, and they should receive full consideration.
Another matter that occurs to me as warranting serious consideration is that, in the event of a mice or weevil plague, or a flood destroying the stacks of wheat on which the merchants have made an advance of 2s. a bushel, the Government would, probably, have to provide the whole of the 3s. We should give serious consideration to this aspect of the matter. In such a case the expenditure involved would be, not merely £4,000,000, but, possibly, the large sum mentioned recently by the Melbourne Argus and the Adelaide Advertiser.
– The country would be responsible for any inefficiency on the part of pools.
-It seems to me that that would be the position, and I am hopeful that the experience that voluntary pools have had would prevent mismanagement. It is too late to-night for me to examine in detail the criticisms offered by honorable members opposite. I support the bill, and I hope to see it improved considerably in committee. The Government should take full advantage of any legal advice tendered by the Leader of the Opposition, but I cannot support the ‘ amendment which he has submitted to the House. It provides that about £4,000,000 shall be spread over, not merely wheat-farmers, but every other class of farmer. If there is anything in the statement made by an honorable member opposite, that the Government is under a moral obligation to do something for the wheat-growers because it urged them to make large plantings, we should have to consider the returns of, not only the man who had failed, but also the man who had been most successful. Under those circumstances, I cannot support the amendment.
– I believe that every honorable member recognizes the necessity for this measure. Even the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) committed himself to that extent, and agreed that something should be done to assist the wheat-growing industry. Whatever disagreement there may be concerns the form that that assistance should take.
Broadly, it can be said that the great majority of the wheat-growers of Australia are to-day facing bankruptcy. There are various reasons for that, which perhaps it would not be out of place to mention briefly. First, as the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) has said, a very large area of the Australian wheat belt is situated in the low rainfall region. In my own district the average rainfall’ over the last ten years has been 10.39 inches - a precipitation that some areas in Queensland experience overnight^ - and for the last five years only 699 points. We have had an unprececented run of dry years, culminating in last year’s drought, which, in the opinion of many experienced wheatgrowers, was worse than the historic droughts of 1902 and 1914. The greater yield of wheat last year was due, not to a lack of severe weather conditions, but to the fact that our drought-resisting varieties of wheat and our improved methods of cultivation enabled us to produce under conditions that formerly would have made production impossible. As the honorable member for Oxley has said, Western Australia has had a run of fairly good seasons; but in South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales, the last four or five years have undoubtedly been the driest on record. Official rainfall figures have been kept at Wentworth since 1868,, and they show that in the aggregate the fall there during the last five years has been less than during any previous five years. The result has been that the Governments of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia have had to come to the assistance of the wheat-growers in the provision of seed wheat and f odder in some cases during the last two seasons, and in other cases during the last three seasons. Some settlers in my district have been compelled to approach the Victorian Government for advances to enable them to purchase seed wheat and fodder during three successive seasons. They have had to meet this season, not only the cost of growing their crop, but also debts and interest that had accumulated during the last three or four seasons.
This season, various factors led to the sowing of a very large area. In the first place, the settlers decided to plunge, in an endeavour to make up some of their past losses. A second factor was the appeal made to them by .the Commonwealth Government to grow more wheat; and a third, which probably was the most potent source of encouragement, was the projected legislation of the Commonwealth Parliament to guarantee a payment of 4s. a bushel for all wheat harvested. Although that measure had not actually passed this Parliament when the crop was being sown, both parties displayed a willingness to fix the guarantee at 4b. a bushel, and a proposal to that effect was put forward by the Opposition, but under conditions different from those which accompanied the proposal of the Government. It, therefore, appeared to the wheatgrowers to be an opportune time to make a plunge. A fourth factor was that a lot of land had been compulsorily spelled, and was practically all fallow. The result, was the sowing of a record area.
According to figures that have been supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician, the average acreage sown in Australia during the five years which preceded the present season was 12,7S2,657 acres. In 1930, the area sown was 18,167,000 acres - a tremendous increase, which has resulted in the production of a record crop. The average yield for the five seasons to which I have referred was 135,921,502 bushels. The yield this year has been variously estimated at from 180,000,000 to 214,000,000 or 215,000,000 bushels ; but I very greatly fear, that on account of weather conditions, and the fact that many crops will not yield as heavily as appeared probable earlier in the season, 180,000,000 bushels is about as much as is likely to be garnered.
Having dealt with the acreage and the yield, I come now to the question of price, the figures in relation to which speak for themselves. There is a tremendous problem facing the wheat-grower at the )> resent time. The average price for the » hole of Australia, free on rails at the seaboard, for .the five years which preceded the present season, was 5s. 1-kl. a bushel. The deduction of 7£d. a bushel for rail freight and handling charges, and of 3d. a bushel for bags, made the net return to the grower 4s. 3d. » bushel, and the total average value of the harvests £29,140,000. The present, price of 2s. 5d. a bushel f.o.r., after allowing for the deduction of 7d. a bushel for freight, and handling charges and 3d. a bushel for bag3, makes the net return ls. 7d. a bushel, which on a harvest of 180,000,000 bushels will make the total return £13,550,000.
Let us consider the position that would obtain under the present proposal of the Commonwealth Rank, which this bill seeks to supersede. An advance of 2s. a bushel f.o.b. would mean a net return of ls. Id. a bushel. From the total harvest of 180,000,000 bushels there would have to be withdrawn 15,000,000 bushels for seed, leaving a balance of 165,000,000 bushels for sale, which at ls. Id. a bushel would return to the growers £8,940,000. an average of £144 to each of the 62,000 growers - a pitifully low cash advance in return for interest on plant and ‘capital, cost of superphosphate and chaff, taxation of all kinds, shire rates, and a year’s labour of the wheat-grower and his family. “What difference will this measure make? It proposes an advance of 3s. a bushel f.o.b., which means 2s. net to the grower, or ls. 9d. after deducting the cost of the bags. That represents a cash payment of £232 to each grower; which, small though it be, at least would place him in an immeasurably better position than the advance which the bank has expressed its willingness to make. On the present price, that proposed advance would mean a loss of 7d. a bushel, or of £4,700,000 in the aggregate. It has been suggested that that is a large sum for the Government to meet. The obvious answer from the point of view ‘of the wheat-growers is that it is a question whether they individually or the general public should meet it.
There are various ways iti which I suggest that, this difference could be bridged. The price of wheat for local consumption ought to be at least 4s. a bushel. Even that is considerably below the cost of production. Professor Perkins, of the Department of Agriculture in South Australia, at the. Turret Field Experimental Farm, found that the cost of production on the basis of an average return of 19 bushels to the acre - compared with an average of lOi or 1.1 bushels for the State - worked out at 4s. lid. a bushel. If the price for local consumption were fixed at 4s. a bushel, it would return £.1,650,000 on the 33,000,000 bushels consumed locally, leaving a potential loss of £3,050,000. These figures assume that the market remains where it. is to-day.
– Does the honorable member endorse the figure arrived at by Professor Perkins as a fair average estimate of cost?
– Lt is exceedingly difficult for any person to make an estimate of cost; I would not attempt to do so. Figures can be made to prove anything. If one were to ask farmers in different districts to make an estimate, a different reply would be received from each. Farmers are only human, and generally claim that they are producing at a loss. That characteristic is responsible for the gibe that farmers are the only section of the community that can lose money all the time, rear their families, live well, and die rich, but the number of rich farmers is very few. There is no doubt, however, that whatever may be the position of farmers in normal rimes, they are receiving to-day a price far below the cost of production, and have been reduced to the level of the Russian peasant. I’ should not care to contemplate an endeavour being made to reduce the cost of production to 2s. 5d. a bushel f.o.b. I do not think it possible for us to produce wheat at that figure. I go further, and say that neither can any other country do so. Mention has been made of the marked disparity between the prices of wheat, flour, and bread. The following extract from the Melbourne Age indicates the close preserve that exists among those who deal with the farmers’ wheat: -
An example of the lengths to which the bread trade combine is prepared to go is afforded by the extraordinary experience of Mrs. H. Jaekel, a local farmer’s wife. Mrs. Jaekel found it necessary to bake her own bread, and her fame as a bread-maker brought to her several neighbours with commissions to provide their bread. Mrs. Jaekel had been in the habit of securing supplies of a special yeast from Melbourne. Apparently the trade beard of the activities of the farmer’s wife, and issued instructions to the yeast-making firm to cut off her supplies, a3 on this last occasion she ordered yeast the linn returned her money with an intimation that they would not fill the order. The incident has left local people wondering why the powers of the Government are not set in motion to curb the activities of an organization capable of such a display of arrogant intimidation.
The following is a further extract dealing with the bread war in Horsham: -
Price .Reduced to (in.
Keen competition has led to a bread war in Horsham. The announcement that one baker had reduced the price from lOd. to 7d. for a 4-lb. loaf has been followed by the intimation that other bakers had lowered the price to Od.
I am not suggesting that the price of bread in country towns should be taken as a criterion of what bread prices generally should be, but I suggest that prices have been kept artificially high for so long that there is now a scramble to sell at more reasonable prices. The tremendous reduction in bread prices, as indicated in the extract, bears out the contention of honorable members on both sides of the House that the price of wheat for local consumption could be increased to at least 4s. a bushel without affecting the price of bread. If that is not done, it will mean, in effect, that the people of Australia are taking advantage of the necessities of the wheat-grower to obtain cheap bread. Such a policy is not fair to the farmers. I agree with honorable members who say that the present artificial pegging down of the exchange to 9 per cent, is unfair to the exporting industries, including wheat-growing, because it means that the grower is being defrauded of from 2d. to 3d. per bushel in respect of all his wheat. That, in turn, automatically reduces, by that amount, the price, of wheat for local consumption. It really means that under the 80 per cent, rural credit advance, the Commonwealth Bank is enabled to offer 2d. a bushel less as the first advance, because of the artificial pegging of the exchange. It has been said that the Commonwealth Bank and private banks ave responsible for the pegging of the exchange
– And the Government.
– I understand that the Government is favorable to the unpegging of the exchange.
– The Government has made representations that the exchange rates should be higher.
– That is an important statement, because it clarifies the position, and clears the Government of any blame. The real culprit, apparently is the Commonwealth Bank in conjunction with the private banks, which, against the interests of the exporting industries, and against the desire and the policy of the Government, have artificially pegged the exchange down to a basis of 9 per cent., when, according to various estimates and the best authorities, it should be nearer 20 per cent.
– Professors Copland, Giblin, and Dyason, say that the exchange should be as high as 20 per cent.
– On that basis, and taking £100,000,000 worth of exports, the primary producers, or the exporters of primary products, are, at present, being defrauded of £11,000,000. If the exchange were unpegged the farmer would receive an extra 2£d. or 3d. a bushel, which, on 130,000,000 bushels, would amount to £1,500,000.
– Would there not be some contra costs?
– Yes. It would cost the Government more in transmitting funds to London. It would cost the general taxpayer more. There are also contra costs to the wheat-grower himself in respect of the importation of superphosphates and other farming requirements. But the debit account, compared with the credit account, would be of minor importance in the event of the exchange being unpegged. With an increase in the price of wheat for local consumption, and the unpegging of the exchange, the loss to the Government, under this legislation, would be negligible:
Like the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), I accept this bill as the best method of relief that can be obtained in the circumstances. I regret that it was not introduced a fortnight ago, to enable us to give these proposals mature consideration. I pay a tribute to the Government for desiring to give some relief to those engaged in the wheatgrowing industry. The Leader of th<? Opposition (Mr. Latham) when criticizing the bill, referred to the objections of the private traders, and intimated that some of them would refuse to work under the scheme.
– They have already done so.
– I think that the honorable member is confusing the temporary withdrawal of the buyers from the market while this bill is under discussion with a permanent withdrawal. I do not think that the traders contemplate a complete withdrawal from wheat-buying operations.
– I think they do.
-I know of one private buyer who intimated to the Minis ter in my presence, that he would not operate under this legislation. The way out of the difficulty is for the Government to make this measure applicable to voluntary pools only, because that would have the effect of diverting the greater part of the wheat to the voluntary pools, and enormously simplifying the task of ad ministering the scheme. The Government took the view, and I think rightly so, that as the wheat merchants had already bought a certain quantity of wheat, chartered ships, appointed their agents, obtained their dunnage sites at the various sidings,’ and engaged their staffs in the belief that, they could carry out their operations in the normal way, it would be unjust at this late stage to stop their activities. So, in effect, it said to them, “ Go ahead ; you can function ia the usual way. We wish to give a guarantee of 3s. a bushel for all wheat produced in Australia, and we ask you to market it to the best advantage, at the lowest cost, so that the 3s. guarantee will cost the country as little as possible.” I think that the Government has dealt fairly with the merchants. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) has said, it will mean, in effect, that each prescribed agency will be a pool within itself. Each agent will pay an advance to the grower, and be recouped by the Government.
Much of the machinery of the bill is to be provided by regulation. I do not favour that procedure as a rule, because there is always an element of danger in government regulation, but in this case it is justified. The Minister has agreed with the merchants and others prescribed under the bill to set up ari advisory council consisting of the prescribed agencies, to confer with him and the officers of his department in issuing regulations under this measure. That is a fair proposal on the part of the Minister. There is this point to consider: Should the price of wheat exceed 3s., who will get the excess? That is a matter that we should try to tighten up in the bill. Undoubtedly, if there is any loss, the Government will bear it; but it is possible that it may pay nothing, because when cleaning up at the end of the year the price of wheat may pan OUt at 3s. 3d. a bushel. If a private buyer cleans up 2s. 9d. a bushel the Government will subsidize him to the extent of 3d. a bushel. If he cleans up at 3s. 3d. a bushel, there is nothing in the bill to compel him to return 3d., or any portion of it, to the grower whose wheat he has handled. Of course, we have, as a check upon private buyers, the existing voluntary pools, some of which are excellently organized. In Western Australia, ‘South Australia, and Victoria, pools have been established, and they bear fair comparison in the sense that they market wheat to the best advantage at the lowest cost, and return the total net proceeds to the growers. If the price of wheat exceeds 3s. 3d. a bushel, the Victorian voluntary pool, for instance, would return to the grower the additional 3d. If, on the other hand, the private buyer pocketed that 3d., he would not be likely to retain his reputation, or receive the patronage of the wheatgrowers the following season. It has been asked what incentive is there under this legislation to the private buyers to render the best service. What is to prevent them from paying out this money in the way of advances, and getting rid of the wheat as quickly as possible, at any price offering, on the principle that the Government will make up any loss. There is this check: that the private firms will be in competition with the pools, aud thai, under this bill, there must be a return presented to this House. Take, for instance, the firm of Louis Dreyfus and Company. If the Government has to pay 4d. a bushel in respect of the wheat handled by that firm and only 3d. in respect of the wheat that passes through the voluntary pool, the reputation of private enterprise will suffer. In the friendly rivalry between the various agencies there will be some incentive to give the best service to the growers and the Government.
– I do not think there will be any danger of anybody slackening down.
– No ; I have crossed swords with the private firms on many occasions, hut I recognize that they are reputable concerns, and are not likely to lend themselves to any shady practices under legislation, designed in the stress of circumstances to relieve the position :>f the Australian wheat-grower.
– Who will get the 3s. - the firm or the grower?
– The firm, which will make an initial advance of 2s. to the grower. It will be out of pocket that 2s. plus, say, 7d. for railway freight and handling charges. A further 5d. will be due to the farmer. The firm will present to the Government an account for 3s., and I’ understand that the Minister has already drafted an amendment to make provision for the further payment, to the grower.
– I have several amendments prepared.
– The grower will receive 3s., less freight and handling charges. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) stated that whilst it was impossible to disregard the present circumstances of the wheat-grower, this legislation is merely a palliative. I agree that it is only an emergency measure, and that we must do something else to place the industry on a firm basis for the future. ‘ It is distasteful to the wheatgrowers, and certainly to me as their representative, to come as a mendicant to any government to ask for this or that grant from public funds. The wheatgrowers do not want charity, and, as I have said on former occasions, if they are given a fair chance, if they aro relieved of customs taxation on their requirements and such special imposts as the primage and sales taxes, and given some security, they will compete in the markets of the world without asking favours of anybody. The primage tax on corn sacks for this year’s harvest is a gross injustice. On my £150 worth of corn sacks, to be filled with wheat, I have had to pay £6 as primage tax. I suggest, in the interests of the Government and Australia as a. whole, that if the burdens are .lifted from the producers of wool, wheat and dried fruits - if, in racing parlance, the leads are taken out of the saddle and they are given a free run - they will hold their own in the markets of the world and ask no favours of this or any other Government.
The Leader of the Opposition has objected that the bill does not provide for the raising of any money to meet the liability that it will create. The answer is obvious: How can the Government make definite provision for the advance of an unknown amount? Possibly, no money will be required. The honorable gentleman said also that this bill means, in effect, “ to him that hath shall be given “; in other words, the man who grows most wheat and needs assistance least, will get most. Every bounty approved by this Parliament is paid on a production basis. That is true of the bounties on wine, cotton and canned fruits. Moreover, the man who grows the most wheat does not necessarily make the most money. In the dry areas, prior to the present season, the farmers who lost most money in my district were those who worked their land most, manured it most heavily, and took the most care in grading their wheat. One man might reap 1,000 bushels, but the extra amount spent on superphosphate and in working his land might give him a worse’ net result than was obtained by another farmer who reaped only 500 bushel’s. There is another fact: Very often the man who grows the least wheat is the most inefficient farmer; in isolated instances, he may be a lazy farmer. Yet, if theyard stick of the Leader of the Opposition were employed, the man who grew the least wheat would get the most bounty. In exceptional cases that might result in subsidizing inefficiency and discouraging the grower who works hardest and adopts the most up-to-date methods.
The honorable gentleman said also that this bill is the direct road to financial disaster. Again, the answer is obvious: If the farmer is left without assistance, he is not on the road to disaster; he has reached disaster. The advances, the Leader of the Opposition said, are to be repaid at some undetermined date, and in some undetermined manner. If the bill stated that this transaction is to be cleared up by the 1st November of next’ year, it would be an advertisement to the world that, whatever the state of the market, the 135,000,000 bushels of Australian wheat must be sold for whatever it will realize before that date.
– The Leader of the Opposition merely pointed out flaws in the drafting.
– I have rarely seen bills presented to this House that did not disclose faults of draftsmanship. Amongst the bills that were defectively drawn and required considerable amendment were some introduced by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) in more leisurely circumstances than have attended the drafting and introduction of this measure.
– Why does the bill refer to an advance? Is the money to be repaid by the wheat-grower?
– That, I understand, is also the subject of an amendment. Undoubtedly, the intention of the Government is that the grower shall be guaranteed 3s. f.o.b., and I suggest that the Minister should propose an amendment to make clear that there should be no obligation on the part of the grower to refund any amount received by him under inch guarantee.
I hope that the bill will be passed, and that the private merchants will co-operate with the Government. I believe it will be in their interests to do so, and to recognize that the present position is grave, and that all must pull together in trying to get the wheat-growers out of their difficulties. In spite of what is being said to the contrary, I know that the great majority of wheat-growers in all the States are in favour of this bill. Amongst telegrams I have received from all States, is a copy of one. sent from Sea Lake, in my constituency, to the Leader of the Opposition -
Crowded meetings wheat-growers and traders radius 50 miles held to-day implores you support wheat bill as appalling position all sections community necessitates immediate dis posal wheat as harvested. The present prices so low ruin faces 70 percent. wheat district communities. Three shillings advance would liquidate portion liabilities sufficient carry on
The last sentence in the telegram is the kernel of the whole situation. The growers have liabilities and creditors They do not want this money to spend upon themselves. Every penny of it if ear-marked ; it will pass from the hands of the farmers to other sections of the community, and its circulation will be of benefit, not only to the growers and traders, but to the workers and those engaged in the secondary industries. The passage of this bill will be conferring on the farmer, not charity, but something to which he is justly entitled, and something which is approved by all sections of the community in the wheat-growing districts.
Sitting suspended from 12.2 a.m. to 12.30 a.m. (Wednesday).
Wednesday, 17 December 1930
.- The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) said that the assistance to be given to the wheat-growers was not charity, but something to which they were entitled. I agree with him. The Government has a moral obligation to help the wheat-farmers through this time of difficulty. Wheat-farmers all over Australia were appealed to, not only by the Prime Minister, but by the State Premiers as well, to grow more wheat. They responded loyally and well; they have fulfilled their part of the contract. The Government proposed to guarantee them 4s. a bushel at country stations, and had the Wheat Marketing Bill not been rejected by the Senate, the farmers would have been receiving that price now. The farmers can thank the Nationalist members of the Senate, who so often profess to be friends of the primary producer, for the fact that the Wheat Marketing Bill was rejected. I was surprised to hear the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) question the sincerity of the Government, and impute to it unworthy motives. The Government has shown that it is sincere in its efforts to do something for the primary producers, more especially for the wheat-growers. It first brought in the Wheat Marketing Bill, and when that was defeated, the Commonwealth Bank Board was appealed to to render what assistance it could to the farmers. When it was seen that the bank’s offer would bo of little use to the farmers, the present bill was framed, and is now before honorable members for their acceptance. Personally, I do not think that 3s. a bushel f.o.b. will recoup farmers for the cost of producing wheat. However, it is apparently the best that can be done in the circumstances. The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) said that the farmers would not benefit under this proposal at all. He likened it to throwing a straw to a drowning man. As I said by interjection at the time, he would probably allow the man to drown without throwing him even a straw.
The honorable member for Oxley went on to say that wheat was being grown in Australia on unsuitable land. I spent years in the mallee districts, “and I know men who carried their swags into those places years ago, and who are now independent. I have been given to understand that no better wheat is produced anywhere in the world for milling purposes than that grown in the Wimmera district. The honorable member for Oxley said that the growers would not benefit under the Government’s proposal. I prefer to take the word of those honorable members who are themselves wheat-growers, as are the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), and the honorable member “for the Riverina (Mr. Killen), both of whom believe that the farmers will benefit.
– The honorable member for Oxley said that the proposals would not. benefit those farmers whose crops had failed, because they would have no wheat to sell.
– It seems rather a coincidence that the main opposition to this bill has been coming, not from Country party members, but from those Nationalist members who represent what, in Victoria, we call Collins-street farmers, and who, in New South Wales, I understand are called Sussex-street farmers. I should like to see the wheatgrowers guaranteed at least the actual cost of producing the wheat, but as that cannot be done, I am pleased to support this measure which proposes to guarantee them 3s. a bushel f.o.b. The bill was hurriedly drafted, and it has been admitted by the Minister that several amendments will have to be made in committee. One objection urged against the bill was that the Government’s proposal would not benefit, those who had failed to produce a crop. That, however, is the principle followed in all our bounty legislation, including the Gold Bounty Bill, which has just been passed. Only those who produce can hope to benefit. As was said by the honorable member, for Macquarie (Mr. Chifley), by interjection, to make the Government’s proposals apply to those who failed to produce a crop, would be in the nature of putting a premium on inefficiency. For instance, if the Government were paying a bounty on tobacco, it would not bc right that the farmer who neglected his crop, so that it was destroyed by blue mould, should participate in the benefits of the bounty to the same extent as the man who had taken care of his crop. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) spoke about providing the farmers with seed for next year’s crop. That is not the issue before us at the moment. We have to find some way of relieving the farmers of their immediate and pressing embarrassments. Let us get over the first hurdle first; we can attend to the other matter later. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) denied that the Minister gave an undertaking that the farmers would receive 4s. a bushel at country stations had the Wheat Marketing Bill been passed. I have consulted the record, and I know that the undertaking was given, and the farmers would be receiving 4s. a bushel for their wheat now. had the bill not been rejected.
– The Opposition objects to this bill principally because it has. been introduced by the wrong party.
– I trust that when the bill reaches the committee stage, certain amendments will be made to it along lines suggested by honorable members on both sides of the chamber. The measure was drafted hurriedly, and, consequently, is not perfect. Like the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), I should like to see a provision inserted to ensure that farmers who have already sold their wheat will get the benefit of the guaranteed price. I should also like to see a provision included in the bill for dealing with prescribed persons who obtain more than 3s. for the wheat that they sell. I hope that the measure will have a speedy passage through both Houses of the Parliament, and that the wheatgrowers will get the assistance that they are fully entitled to receive, and that Parliament is morally bound to give them.
– I protest emphatically against the manner in which this bill is being rushed through the House. It is one of the most important measures submitted to honorable members this session. The Minister’s secondreading speech upon it was made on Friday, and on this, the next, sitting day we have been called upon to pass the bill through all its stages. No one can deny that this procedure will prevent the bill receiving that thorough consideration which its importance merits. These views have been expressed by supporters of the Government, and I reiterate them.
I am a straight-out opponent of the bill. The measure outrages an important principle which the Nationalist and Country parties have maintained stoutly for many years.
– Then why is the Country party supporting the bill?
– I do not know, but I am confident that it will bitterly repent having- done so. This is the first occasion upon which a government 0has brought down a measure involving the expenditure of millions of pounds without making provision for raising the money. The bill provides that farmers shall be paid 3s. a bushel for their wheat f.o.b., or 2s. a bushel at country sidings irrespective of their financial position. In my opinion, such “a provision is entirely unjust. A number, of farmers are not in necessitous circumstances, and some have actually made a profit on the year’s transactions, yet they are to be granted assistance from the public funds in common with those who through unforeseen and fortuitous circumstance* have been seriously embarrassed.
– No wheat-growers hav, made a profit on wheat-growing this year.
– I disagree with the honorable member. It has already been pointed out that the farmers of Queensland have been guaranteed 4s. per bushel for their wheat, and they will suffer no loss on the season’s operations. Guarantees have also been made in other States. I am opposed to the bill because it does not discriminate between those who are in real need and those who are not. It may be said that the bounty bills passed by this Parliament hitherto have not discriminated between those engaged in the same class of production. But two wrongs do not make a right. Even though every other bounty bill has inflicted an injustice upOn the citizens of Australia there is no need why this one should do so.
The Minister in charge of the bill has told us that the measure may involve the country in the loss of £4,125,000.
– No one can say that definitely.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL That is perfectly true. Some honorable members have argued that there will be no loss, and some have even been sufficiently optimistic to believe that we may get more than 3s. per bushel for our wheat. Those who are thoroughly informed on the subject, however, believe that a heavy loss must fall upon the country if the bill is passed.
How does the Government propose to raise the money to meet such a loss? Instead df providing for it, it is attempting to shuffle its responsibility on to the shoulders of the Directors of the Com- monwealth Bank. It could have imposed additional taxation to meet any loss.
– If it had done so, the honorable member would have roared even more loudly.
– In my opinion’, the introduction of this bill, without provision for raising the money to meet the loss that will be sustained, is a tragic and gross violation of one of the basic principles of responsible government, and I shall not be a party to it. Those who support this bill will find that it will have a boomerang-like effect. It will recoil upon them to their own serious hurt.
The Commonwealth Bank has stated clearly that it cannot find the money to advance 3s. per bushel on the wheat that will be harvested this season. Only last month this subject was discussed at a conference of State Ministers of Agriculture in Canberra, which agreed to the following motion: -
That the conference of Ministers of Agriculture, in view of the decision of the Commonwealth Bank, cannot agree to the proposals for a bounty or for a guaranteed price, owing to the impossibility of finding the accessary finance.
In these circumstances there must be something very wrong with the proposal, yet the Government is persisting in it. In my opinion, the supporters of the Govern ment have insisted upon the introduction of the bill in this form in order to assist them to build up a case against the bank< ing institutions of this country, which they will use later for electioneering purposes.
– Does the honorable member intend to support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition?
– I do.
– That is open to the same objection.
– 1 disagree with the Assistant Minister. Provision is made in the amendment for the raising of the money necessary to give effect to it. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the Commonwealth Bank has declared definitely that it cannot with safety advance more than 2s. per bushel on wheat this season. If it is compelled to advance 3s. per bushel our currency will have to be inflated.
Every honorable member <t on this side of the chamber has, at one time or another, declared in clear and definite terms that he is opposed to such a policy. If the currency is to be inflated to the extent of at least £4,500,000 for the purpose of making an advance to the wheatgrowers, what justification is there for opposing inflation for other purposes.? The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) said that it was customary to make advances during the wool and wheat seasons against money that will be returned to the Government; but the present proposal is to advance money that will never be returned to the Treasury. I do not intend to be trapped into supporting the inflation of the currency, even to assist the wheat-farmers. The Sydney Morning Herald has pointed out that on the 18th November the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) stated -
An advance by the bank of 3s. per bushel, as requested by the conference, would have involved, (on the basis of a 200,000,000 bushel harvest) an overpayment (on export values) of £8,333,000, to be recovered by a higher price on wheat for local consumption, or from Government revenues (direct taxation).
I am prepared to accept those figures in preference to those given by the Minister, who said that a loss of 3s. a bushel on a 200,000,000 bushel harvest would amount to £4,125,000.
– In one case the figures represent the cost at the railway sidings, and in the other instance the f.o.b. price is taken.
– That does not account for the tremendous difference. The honorable member for Swan also referred to the sum that would have been involved had the 4s. guarantee been agreed to. He said that the price of 4s. would have involved an overpayment of £18,333,000, to be recovered in the same way. The payment of £8,333,000 would have meant an. increase of from Id. to 2d. in the price of the 4-lb. loaf ; but if the proposal for a 4s. guarantee had been carried, it would have caused an increase in the price of the 4-lb. loaf of 7d. If honorable members representing industrial electorates are prepared to place this additional disability on the workers, I am not ready to impose it oh the:’electors of
Warringah, who, speaking generally, would be in a better position to meet it. Senator Daly, speaking in another place as recently as the 4’th December, said -
As the Government has no funds, and Ca.nnot get the necessary finance from the Commonwealth Bank to pay a guaranteed price, it regrets that it is unable at present to grant any monetary assistance to the wheat industry. . . The present financial stringency prevents any monetary assistance being granted.
Yet to-day the Government brings forward a measure in which it blindly undertakes to provide this money by simply asking the Commonwealth Bank to find it. It says that it will re-imburse the bank; but it makes no suggestion as to how the money is to be raised. It knows perfectly well that it has no intention to re-imburse the bank. When the Acting Treasurer made his. budget speech, he pointed out that the Government was likely to be faced with a deficit at the end of the financial year of from £12,000,0000 to £15,000,000, or it might be from £8,000,000 to £10,000,000; but, on the present figures, there is rio doubt that the deficit will amount to at least from £6,000,000 to £8,000,000. How, therefore, can - this Government reimburse the Commonwealth Bank for an advance on wheat to the tune of another £5,000,000 or £7,000,000? The only way in which it could be done would be by inflation of the currency, to which I am most strenuously opposed. So long as I remain in public life, I will not sacrifice the earnings of the people who, by thrift and rigid self-denial, have gathered together small sums of money. [ cannot understand honorable members opposite being so blind to “the teachings of history as not to realize the untold misery and suffering that such a policy would impose on the workers, if it were put into effect to any considerable extent. To those honorable members who say that this policy is advocated by them in the interests of a deserving section of the community, I would point out that, if inflation is justified in the interests of the farmers, it cannot well be denied in the case of the unemployed, whose position is, if possible, worse than that of the farmers.
– They will get something, too, and before this House rises.
– The skeleton is being brought out of the cup board! Now 1 am more than ever convinced that .the stand I am taking is the correct one, in view of the statement of the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway), re-echoed by other honorable members opposite, that inflation of the note issue is proposed to provide further unemployment relief.
– Those words were noi used.
– Lei me read the terms of ‘the “ Gibbons “ resolution -
That the Commonwealth .Bank shall “ release credits” for the following purposes: -
To finance the requirements of the Commonwealth Government in connexion with all services covered by parliamentary appropriation.
To meet that portion of the internal loans maturing during the financial year which has not been otherwise provided for.
To provide for financing State and Commonwealth loan works programmes up to a limit of £20,000,000.
To provide financial accommodation through the Commonwealth Bank, trading banks, State financial institutions, and, if necessary, through insurance companies, lo be used for productive purposes in primary and secondary industries, the ultimate amount of credit to be issued under this head to be determined by the effect upon the commodity price levels.
The credit under the various heads to be made available for an interest rate not exceeding 5 per cent, per annum.
Why stop at making this demand on the Commonwealth Bank to assist the farmers? Are not those persons engaged in the wool industry in just as difficul) a position as those growing wheat? Is not the army of- unemployed in the metropolitan areas in the Commonwealth to be considered? Those members who have pledged themselves to protect the savings of the people of this country should oppose any species of inflation, no matter of how minor a character it may be, particularly in view of the fact thai it would lead to the wholesale inflation that is contemplated by the party in power. The measure is a mere trap to introduce inflation of the currency with a view to fta extension on a larger scale at a later date. Why assist the farmers as distinct from all other sections? It has been pointed out that, while some farmers have done well, others are down and out, and have no crop at all ; but for the latter nothing is to be done. Are we to lay down the principle that every section of the community that loses its living must be compensated by the Government? “When I return to Sydney at week-ends, I am met by men who have lost positions ranging from a few pounds a week up to £1,000 per annum. I am interviewed by industrialists who have had no work for months, and by clerks, including women, who see no prospect of employment. While I have every sympathy for the farmers, I cannot ignore the fact that other sections of the community are equally entitled to consideration. Under the moratorium legislation of different State Governments, the farmer is in an infinitely better position than workers in the city who have no home and no means of existence. Within the next six months, the ranks of the unemployed in the cities will be augmented considerably. In some cases, the tariff has wiped out entirely the livelihood of men and women. Business failures have resulted in many persons losing the whole of the money they have invested. I do not wish to be considered an alarmist; but 1 believe that in the capital cities, particularly- Sydney, within the next six months, there will be financial disasters greater than have ever been experienced in Australia, unless the Government pursues a different policy from that which it is now following, and that the claim of thousands of city dwellers for assistance will be just as great as, if not greater than, that of the farmers to-day. I have every sympathy with the farming community, but I owe a duty to other sections, and am not prepared to shout for the farmers merely because they have more political pull than some other sections. What is being either done or suggested for the big army of clerical men and women workers who are penniless and starving? There are proposals of the character of that which we are now discussing, and relief works for the horny-handed sons of toil, but never any suggestion that something should be done for clerical men and women workers who are suffering to-day as keenly, and as direfully, as any section in Australia. The sufferings of the farmer are insignificant compared with theirs.
According to the Minister, the estimated loss under this proposal is something over £4,000,000 ; but, as the honor- iT>3:i able member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) pointed out, in the event of a mice plague or other disaster the loss would be very much greater than that. It is proposed that this scheme shall be worked by pools ; yet no provision is made to ensure their efficiency.
– A body will be appointed .to govern the pools; and protection can be afforded against the ravages of mice.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Gross inaptitude and mismanagement characterized previous pools in New South Wales, and, I understand, also in South Australia. If that experience is repeated, the losses that this country will have to bear will be colossal. It appears to me that the Government is embarking on an uncharted and unknown sea. It has no idea what is to be the final cost that this country will have to face, nor where the money is to be found.
Whenever the position of the farmers is under discussion, the remedy suggested is a reduction of costs. That, 1 think, is the definite platform of both the Nationalist party and the Country party.
– It is very indefinite, I am afraid.
– It certainly applies to the Nationalist party; and I have heard it stated bymembers of the Country party that it is a plank also of their platform. But as soon as a proposal is brought forward to dip into the public purse and to impose taxation on the Australian community for the benefit of one section. , it arouses far greater enthusiasm. That is the position in which we are to-day. I am opposed to the fixing of an Australian price, and the dumping of our surplus production in other countries at a reduced price. The Australian people should not be asked to pay exhorbitant prices for what they produce in order that the surplus production may be sold at a reduced price to the teeming millions of Great Britain and other countries.
– What about the Paterson butter scheme?
– Tt ought to be discontinued. All such fictitious schemes for dealing with our primary production should be similarly treated. We, as a Parliament, should reduce the cost of production, so that our own people may not be placed at a disadvantage by reason of the high cost of living, and so that the farmers may be in a position to compete with other nations of the world.
– If the honorable member were Minister for Markets, would he knock out the Paterson scheme?
– I would. I have always regretted the vote I gave in favour of imposing upon the people of Australia an additional 3d. a pound for the butter that they consume. I have never voted for a similar proposal, and have no intention of doing so. It is wrong that butter which is produced in Australia should be sold on the other side of the world at a cheaper rate than that charged to the consumers in my constituency, and in other parts of Australia. Such a system should not be tolerated for a moment. It is amazing that those who call themselves Labour representatives should be prepared to put up with it. But they appear to bc willing, not only to countenance that form of extortion, but also to take a peculiar and unique delight in imposing further disabilities upon their supporters, crushing them under the weight of taxation and high cost of living, merely in order that they may purchase a group of votes here, there and elsewhere. I wonder how long the electors of West Sydney, Flinders and other industrial constituencies will countenance it? My constituents are groaning under the system, and I am not backward in telling them what I think ought to be done ; that’ is, that an honest effort should be made to reduce the cost of production.
– If the honorable member were Minister for Customs would he wipe out the sugar embargo?
– I have a scheme for dealing with that, which I shall produce at the right time. I would not bolster up the sugar industry in other than the tropical zone. It is not right that it should be bolstered up in Other places. But I doubt very much whether this so-called Labour Government will have the courage to take action along those lines. I shall be amazed if it attempts to do anything of the kind, because its eye is fixed as unwaveringly on the votes that may be won in Herbert as on those in any other electorate.
I shall scrutinize with interest any proposal that the Government may bring down at the completion of the present farcical sugar inquiry. That inquiry is the most scandalous piece of political chicanery of which I have any knowledge. This body is peregrinating round the country; no evidence is being taken on oath, and there is no cross-examination of witnesses.
– Yes, there i3.
– The inquiry, when completed, will be utterly valueless. It is merely a sugar-doodle, and no one is taking the slightest notice of it. The remedy is to cease talking and to take action to reduce the cost of primary production. There -are many ways in which this can be done, and until we reduce costs we shall not start on the road to prosperity. Our industries must be placed on a basis which will enable them to compete with similar industries in other parts of the world. Only by that means shall we he able to produce real wealth and bring new money to this country. The honorable ‘ member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), who takes a keen interest in the wheat-growing industry, has said that under this scheme the Government will not have to find any money for advances. But his argument has been fully answered by other speakers and even by the Minister himself, who said that it would be necessary to raise £4,500,000.
– I said that taking the gloomiest view it might be necessary to raise that amount, but that probably the Government would not be required to find any money.
– We know that the Assistant Minister is the statistician of the Cabinet, and is, therefore, unlikely to understate the position. The honorable member for Wimmera spoke of the benefits to be derived by the farmers from this legislation, and referred to the fact that the grower, who was unfortunate enough to have little or no crop would get no assistance if the provisions of existing bounty acts were adopted in this case. Surely provision can be made in this bill for the alteration of the existing bounty system, which is clearly wrong, so that justice may be done to a deserving class of the community.
– What would the honorable member do to help the farmer?
-! would support the proposal contained in the amendment of the. Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). Although 1 am against selecting certain sections of the community for special consideration, yet I am prepared, in existing circumstances, to support proposals to assist the wheat-growing industry. The amendment of the Leader of the Opposition proposes that the farmer shall be assisted, first, by cutting down governmental expenditure to the extent of £4,000,000 ; secondly, by levying taxation ; and thirdly, by raising a special loan. Under the Government’s proposal we do not know where the money is to come from, but if a tax were placed on flour we would have the money in hand. [ am not strongly in favour of a sales tax on flour, because once it is imposed it will be difficult to withdraw it. I prefer the raising of a special loan for the relief of the farmers. That is a legitimate, and sound financial proposal, and is infinitely preferable to the incomplete scheme which the Government has put forward. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, this legislation, if given effect, will start Australia on the road to national disaster. Et involves a departure from sane and sound methods of finance, and it should not be tolerated by any honorable member in this House who has the welfare of this country at heart.
– Any one who has an atom of sense must recognize the necessity for this legislation, and the Government is to be congratulated upon attempting once again to assist the wheatgrowing industry. The growers are to-day caught in a cleft stick. They cannot help themselves, and it. is essential that the Government should assist them in order to prevent a national calamity. Honorable members opposite have found fault with this legislation. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) has adopted an uncompromising and hostile attitude. He was opposed to the previous proposal of the Government to create a compulsory pool with a guarantee of 4s. a bushel. That measure was carried by this House and defeated by the colleagues of the honor.able member for Warringah iri another place. The. poor farmers and the country storekeepers, who have recently been knocking at the doors of Commonwealth and State Ministers in their quest for assistance, have the Nationalist and Country party members to thank for the present deplorable position of the wheat-growing industry. After listening to the speech of the honorable member for Warringah, I am convinced that we should be thankful that there are few men like him in the public life in Australia. He has the ideas of a troglodyte; he fails to realize that the wealth of this country is derived from the soil, whether it be by mining, the growing of wheat and wool, the making of butter or any other process of primary production. There are, of course, countries that derive tremendous wealth from other sources than secondary production. Great Britain is a case in point. . That country has exercised a dominating influence upon the world for many years, and its acquisition of countries like India, Egypt, South Africa and others, which are now subject to its dominion, its banking system, the development of it3 manufactures, its domination of the seas through the control of shipping during the last century, have enabled it to secure a tremendous advantage over other countries. In fact, it is the marvel of the age that such a relatively small country should occupy the position that it does in the world to-day. It derives enormous revenues from outside sources, but even it has not the compensating advantage that Australia has. Great Britain has a tremendous population which relies principally upon imported foodstuffs. Australia, on the other hand, produces millions of pounds worth of products over and above its own requirements. The mechanization of industry has had a remarkable effect, upon production. Take the wheat industry, with which we are now dealing. I suppose that there are fewer people employed in that . industry to-day than ever before, and yet this year we have a record crop. The use of mechanical devices and the impetus that scientists have given the industry in respect of the discovery of droughtresistant and varieties of wheats suitable for the dry parts of Australia, have led to a tremendous increase in the production of wheat, and we are now faced with the problem of disposing of it at pricess which will show a reasonable return to the grower. It is unfortunate that the wheat market, which a few months ago appeared to be sound, has suddenly collapsed, largely because of the dumping of Russian wheat in Great Britain. The effect of that has been to disorganize the whole of the world’s market. ‘ Not only has it caused trouble in Australia, hut it. has brought about disaster in the United States of America and Southern Europe. Many honorable members opposite contend that to grow wheat profitably we must reduce the costs of production, but I submit that it is impossible for many of our “farmers to reduce their costs further. That is confirmed by the following extract from a letter which I received ro-day from an established farmer -
If tin: whole of the agricultural workers received no wage? at all and thu wheat was carried free of charge and the bags provided by the storekeeper gratis, growers could not possibly show a profit at the present, ridiculously low prices for wheat which they are asked to accept.
The statement by some honorable members that the present position of the wheat industry is due solely to the heavy burden placed upon primary producers by awards of the Arbitration Court is not borne out by the experience of those who have been on the land. The remedy for the existing state of affairs is not to be found in a reduction of the purchasing power of the people to whom we wish to sell our primary products. “Why is it that we cannot sell in the industrial centres the same quantity of butter as was marketed twelve months ago? The answer is that the purchasing power of the people has decreased.
– Because of the unemployment which the present Government has created.
– I deny that. The problem of unemployment is world-wide, and the present Government is not responsible for the fact that millions of men are out of work in the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States of America. During fourteen years of anti-Labour rule in Australia, tremendous sums were borrowed abroad. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) fails to realize that very many people in his electorate, and in the district of Warringah, are making their living in what one might term “ go-getter “ avenues of employment. They are dependent foi* their living, directly ot indirectly, on loan moneys borrowed abroad instead of producing their own requirements from the land. The unscientific land laws are a deplorable feature of rural settlement. On the one hand are great areas of land held by monopolistic companies, and on the other hand large numbers of farmers trying to live On less than a reasonable living area. As the youngest of ten children reared on a farm of 220 acres, 3 speak with a full knowledge of these facts. It is better for people’ to be living on the land, even if they handle less money, than to he earning £5 or £6 in such electorates as Henty and Warringah on money provided from oversea loans. The children reared in the industrial centres of great cities are not so healthy nor so great an asset to the country as they would be if their parents were working on a reasonable living area in the country. Whenever the Labour party has endeavoured to ensure that living areas would be available for those prepared to occupy them, it has met with intense hostility on the part of those who are now opposing the bill before the House. The responsibility for the present defective land system does not lie at our doors; it. is due to the fact that for many years Labour had no voice in the government of the country. Even when Labour came into power in New South Wales and the other States it found that the greater portion of the land had been alienated from the Crown, and could only be repurchased at prices which made it impossible for an ordinary man to secure a living area. ‘
– What have . Labour governments done to remedy that state of affairs?
– It is almost impossible to remedy many of the troubles brought about by the alienation of land from the Crown. By the time an estate is compulsorily acquired, the valuation contested in the court, the area subdivided, and the successful applicants placed on the blocks, the cost of the hind is such as to make it not worth acquiring. We have had that experience in connexion with the irrigation districts. Old ideas of what constituted a living area had to be jettisoned and millions of pounds owing by the settlers had to bo written off. Those sums, however, were still owing by the State, and the consequence is that those starving clerks of whom the honorable member for Warringah spoke arc taxed directly or indirectly to make good the losses due to the excessive prices paid for the resumption of land alienated from the Crown in the so-called good old days when Labour had no say in the Government. I mention these matters because many honorable members, who have been reared in city areas, have no knowledge of the problems of the man on the land.
– What will the Government do if the banks do not find the money ?
– That problem will have to be solved by the executive; but I think the bank must find the money. Possibly a special loan to finance the scheme could be floated, lt will be the responsibility of the Government to devise ways and means for financing the scheme if the Commonwealth Bank will not do what is required.
– That is very clear and illuminating.
– It is at any rate as clear and illuminating as the generalities contained in. the honorable gentleman’s amendment, and his reference to a reduction of expenditure and special taxation. How is expenditure to be reduced; at the expense of old-age pensions? Of course the honorable member will deny that, as he will disclaim any specific item of reduction to which he is asked to commit himself. In a vague way, he spoke of special taxation, but he did not indicate what he had in mind. Mere generalities are employed by members of the Opposition to camouflage their real intentions. No harm can be done by asking the Commonwealth Bank to finance the advance to the wheat-farmers as the bill proposes.
– The Government asked the directors once, and they refused.
– If the ‘ bank ignores Parliament it takes upon itself n terrible responsibility. In such a contingency, emergency measures must be adopted. The strength of a national institution like the Commonwealth Bank lies in the fact that it is guaranteed by the Government. That means that my property, and that of the honorable member, can, in the last resort, be taken and disposed of to meet the obligations of the bank. The directors alone have power to issue currency and extend credit, and if they are not prepared to do what is necessary it will be just as well to know their attitude. I .know of advances on sound security that have been refused by the Commonwealth Bank.
– The bank has offered the stereotyped excuse that it does not do that class of business. Good customers have been driven away from the bank because they could not get the accommodation they required. I amaware of one man whose property was valued at £40,000 at a time when land values were booming, and he could not get from the bank one shilling of overdraft. No matter what may be said by their apologists, the directors of the bank ure not acting in accordance with what is considered ordinary sound banking practice.
– What does Duffy say?
– I do not know Mr. Duffy’s ideas on banking, but I hope he would give reasonable consideration to any request made to the board. It is obvious that if Australia were assailed to-morrow by an enemy, and its cities and properties were threatened, the Commonwealth Bank Board and every financial institution would strain every effort to finance proposals for the most stubborn resistance. To the farmer who is faced with the possibility of bankruptcy, despite the fact that he has reaped a record crop, it does not matter much whether he loses his property to an enemy or to the bailiff. Our concern should be to save him from disaster. Honorable members opposite interjected this afternoon, “What does it matter if one man goes off the land? Another man will go on in his place The departure of experienced men from the land represents a tremendous national loss. Many land-holders have practically grown .out of the soil. They are inseparably attached to the districts in which they were reared, and their hearts would he broken if they were driven off their holdings. Any reasonable scheme to save these men from ruin should receive the whole-hearted support of every honorable member. Briefly, the bill provides that there shall be an advance of 3s. a bushel f.o.b., for f.a.q. wheat, the first payment to bc 2s. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) seemed to me to ‘misrepresent the purpose of the bill. I do not suggest that he did not know what the clauses meant; I have too much respect for his ability to believe that. But he made a great point of his discovery that one clause might be interpreted to mean that the farmers would have to repay the advances made.
– That is what the bill says. Probably the Government meant something different, but it was not able to set out what it meant.
– The honorable member knows that the bill was drafted by the officers of the department.
– It does not matter how careful the officers of the department may be, anomalies will creep in, and clauses have to he amended. Evidently the Leader of the Opposition thought that it suited his party purposes to try to convince the farmers that they would have to repay the advances. Of course, the advances are made in the first place by the bank to the wheat pools against wheat held in store, and when the wheat is disposed of, the advances will be repaid by the executives of the pool. I deplore the fact that the Leader of the Opposition was not able to refrain from the legal splitting of straws. This bill is merely the preliminary proposal ; the law will be the act as it is finally passed by Parliament. I feel sure that had the Leader of the Opposition inquired of the Minister what was meant by the clauses to which he referred he would have been told. Instead of making that inquiry, however, he preferred to create a doubt in the minds of the farmers by suggesting that the money given as a first payment has to be repaid.
There is plenty of evidence available to prove that the farmers, in common with other sections of the community, are suffering severely because of Australia’s war indebtedness. So much money has to be paid away in interest on this debt, that there is too little left to promote ordinary business enterprises. The section of the community which suffers least as a result of our indebtedness is that which was shrewd enough to realize on its other investments, and put the proceeds in’to war loans. The bondholders now appear to be the sheltered members of the community when compared with the rest of the people who have their capital locked up in primary or secondary industries. Not only are the farmers suffering from heavy taxation, but they are also handicapped because of the limitations of the Constitution. The Commonwealth Government cannot take effective steps to control the marketing of produce without the co-operation of the States, and the States are ‘no better off from a legislative point of view, because they have no control over produce coming in from neighbouring States. This should convince every one of the need for abolishing the present State Parliaments, arid for unifying and simplying government. This would make for cheaper and better government, and what is more important, the Parliament of the Commonwealth would be able to deal satisfactorily and expeditiously with crises such as this when they arise. The honorable’ member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) ‘ ‘asked whether the granting of this assistance to farmers was to be regarded as ‘an indication that every one who has lost his living was to be compensated by the Government. 1 point out to him that the primary producers are in a different position from any one else. The wealth which the honorable member for Warringah observes in his electorate represents either the accumulated surplus from primary production, or rests upon a foundation of borrowed money, for which the lands of Australia have .been mortgaged. It is time that the lavish borrowing of new money overseas ceased, because it’ has led to over-centralization in the big cities. Sydney presents probably the worst example in the Commonwealth of this undue centralization. Anti-Labour Governments indulged in an orgy of borrowing, and spent the money, for the most part, unwisely. They built railways through country that would not justify the building even of a road, and this extravagance has brought about the present condition of affairs. Yet honorable members opposite can suggest no remedy other than to reduce wages. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) who has achieved fame by having a butter marketing scheme named after him, must be mortified now to observe that the consumers, due to the lessening of their purchasing power, are not able to buy the amount of butter they bought previously, and are using’ substitutes for it. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) quoted figures previously used by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), but those figures related to Liverpool parity prices for wheat. They ure not a reliable guide, because Australia exports large quantities of wheat to the East, and at the present time Japanese buyers are in Australia purchasing wheat. I believe that there is room for a great expansion of our wheat trade in the East. If we had proper representation there, the market could be developed enormously. As the purchasing power of the population in those countries improved owing to the introduction of better conditions, so would the demand for our wheat grow. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition states that a sum of money, approximately £4,000,000, shall be set aside for distribution through State instrumentalities to “ wheat and other farmers “. “Other farmers “, would include, presumably, pig-farmers, poultry-farmers and wool-raisers, and £4,000,000 distributed among all these would not provide much for each. The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) said that his leader’s scheme was better than that qf the government, under which, he stated, the well-to-do farmer who had a good crop, would benefit to the same extent as the man whose crop- failed, and would receive no benefit whatever from the proposals in the bill. I remind him that the sugar embargo, which he supports - which as a Queenslander he dares not oppose - also provides that the wealthy sugar-grower shall derive benefits just as much as the poor, struggling sugar farmer. It is remarkable how inconsistent honorable members can be. In Queensland, where there is a compulsory wheat pool, the wheatfarmers are, thanks to the Labour Government who introduced the scheme, very favorably situated. The Commonwealth Labour Government has honestly tried to grapple with and solve the problems confronting the primary producers. Its way has been difficult, because it has found the loan market closed against it. Large overseas overdrafts were left behind by the last Government, and this Government inherited a legacy of unemployment unprecedented in the history of the Commonwealth. Notwithstanding all this, the Government’s policy has resulted in a favorable trade balance for the first time for many years.
– We had a favorable trade balance two or three years ago.
– I have no recollection of it.
– In 1928-29 the balance was £1,500,000 in our favour.
– That was brought about by the manipulation of finances.
– It was achieved by the export of gold.
– The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) is a keen student of this subject and I have no doubt that he is correct.
The Government has had to face unprecedented circumstances in trying to give effect to its policy, and has also been hampered by a hostile Senate in regard to its banking proposals.
– The Senate passed the Port Augusta to Red Hill Railway Bill.
– That was because the South Australian senators dared not vote against the measure.
The Commonwealth Bank Board, I regret to say, has not been sympathetic towards the Government. I hope that this bill will not only pass this chamber, but will also have a safe passage through another place. If it meets the same fate as the previous Wheat Marketing Bill met there, we shall be provided with the strongest possible argument for abolishing the Senate. It will have proved itself reactionary, conservative and one-eyed, and a useless appendage to the legislative system of the Commonwealth.
Mr. HUNTER (Maranoa) [2.19 a.m.J. - The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) has delivered a typical electioneering speech. He dealt exhaustively with the administration of the previous Government, but hardly mentioned the bill. Queensland, while not a wheat-producing State like Western Australia, New South’ Wales and Victoria, will harvest more wheat this year than in any previous season. Our farmers sowed more wheat because the Government promised to pay 4s. a bushel for the crop. This promise induced many small graziers and cattle men to buy machinery and put virgin country under wheat. The result may be that they will incur a loss in respect of these operations; but this may not occur, because the lowest price of wheat for local consumption in Queensland is from 8d. to ls. in excess of the highest price of wheat in the other Eastern States. The wheat-farmers of Queensland are, therefore, better off than the farmers elsewhere in Australia. The guarantee of the State Government is also reassuring to them. The wheat industry of Queensland is highly organized. A compulsory pool is in operation, which means that there are no private agents operating. All the wheat is sold by the Board direct to the local millers and relations between the millers and farmers have invariably been amicable.
There is nothing wonderful about this bill. It does not even provide for a decent marketing scheme, such as the Government promised early in the year.
In fact, it guarantees nothing but 3s. per bushel for wheat f.o.b. at country sidings. We are not even told how the money is to be obtained to pay the guaranteed price. The responsibility for finding it is being thrown upon the Commonwealth Bank, although there is no absolute certainty that the bank will accept it. The Government has a majority in this House and can force the bill through, but it cannot force the bank to provide the money. There are two means by which the money may be found. An inflation of the note issue may be brought about, or extra taxation may be imposed. The latter method would be preferable to the former in my opinion. Inflation would mean that the value of our £1 note would be reduced. Although credit might be theoretically increased by £4,000,000, no more real money would be in circulation. What would happen would be that the money already in circulation would be depreciated in value to the extent of £4,000,000.
If the bank refuses to make a first advance of 2s. as the Government desires, honorable members opposite will be in a position to say that an attempt was made to obtain this advance, and that the Government was not blameworthy because its efforts did not succeed. It seems to me that the directors of the bank are not being treated fairly. We have just heard a threat against them if they fail to do what the Government desires. It seems to me that if there is one bank directorate in the Commonwealth which can be relied upon to do the fair thing by the people it is that of the Commonwealth Bank. The directors of the private banking companies all have a private interest in the banks they control. If they make mistakes in their work they will suffer financial loss, whereas if they make a success, they will reap an advantage. But the directors of the Commonwealth Bank have nothing to lose in discharging their duties. Neither have they anything to gain. They are in a unique position. They have charge of the bank in a fiduciary capacity. For this reason, they should not be subjected to threats, nor should insinuations be made against their honour and integrity.
I know that the Government desires to do something spectacular to assist the farmers, although I also give credit for an honest desire to meet a difficult situation. If it can honestly promise 3s. per bushel for wheat’ under the conditions set out in the bill, it can just as honestly promise 4s., as it did six months ago. If it can work the 3s. trick now, there is no reason why it should not work by the same means the 6s. 6d. trick, or even the 7s. 6d. trick which Mr. Lang promised to perform. The money can be obtained from the same source as the money for ti ic 3s. advance. It is of no use the Government saying what it would have done if the Senate had not stood in its way. The party opposite knows th it it could not have paid the 4s. a bushel that was formerly proposed. It intended to make up that amount by increasing the price of flour sold’ for local consumption. Now, when the Government is asked to provide for the proposed payment of 3s. a bushel in the same way, it says that it does not favour a sales tax on flour, although that is the only possible way in which the 4s. could have been paid. It was intended under the former bill that lb’ local price of flour should be so increased as to cover any loss on wheat sold overseas. If a sales tax had been decided upon, the Government would have adopted the only honest and business-like method of assisting the wheat-growers.
The statement has been made on many occasions that the only permanent way of helping the man on the land is by reducing his costs of production. No sooner are those costs mentioned than honorable members on this side are accused of a desire to reduce wages ; but, on examining the position, one concludes that wages comprise only a small percentage, of those costs. Probably half the number of those engaged in woolgrowing, for instance, do not pay wages, except at shearing time. The man on the land is loaded with the accumulated costs caused by the tariff, high wages and manufacturers’ methods. So long as the prices of his commodities were high, he was able to carry those costs; but now that world prices are low, his only way of escape from his difficulty is by decreasing bis costs of production, which means that everything he requires must be obtainable at lower prices than those now ruling. So long as the present system of pandering to the large industrial centres at the expense of the people in the country obtains, the producers will be compelled to load the prices of their commodities wherever they possibly can. It is useless to complain that bounties to producers, such as that provided under the “ Paterson “ scheme, are uneconomic, until the man on the land is relieved of the high costs that have been forced upon him. I shall encourage him to load his prices to the people in the crowded centres, because the sooner he takes that course, the sooner will the city people be forced to see the futility of the economic policy that has been pursued. The city dwellers cannot reasonably expect the farmers to sell their wheat and butter locally at the .same, prices as those obtained for ..them on the world’s market. The man on the land is not supplied with such goods r.s clothing at London prices. 1 agree entirely with the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Page) that we should adhere to .ho original proposal of the Government, and offer the farmer 4s. a bushel for his wheat by placing a sales tax on flour consumed locally. This could be provided for by means of a special bill. The present measure throws upon the Commonwealth Bank the onus of saying that sound banking practice prevents it from providing the money required to give effect to the Government’s proposal. The Government will not now be able to tell the people, as it did in connexion with the guarantee of 4s. a bushel, that “the Senate would not agree to the measure “ ; it. hopes to be able to say. The Common.wealth Bank stood in our way “.
It was remarked by the last speaker that the Government had been forced to do many things because of the financial position of Australia. Members of the Opposition have referred to the overdraft in London inherited from the late Administration ; but I point out that the present Government has increased the total overdraft from £3,000,000 to over £10,000,000. The honorable member who has just resumed his seat also declared that fourteen years of anti-Labour government accounted for the huge amount of borrowing that has taken place in Australia ; but I point out that, during the seven years in which the Bruce-Page
Government was in office, while the indebtedness of the Commonwealth was increased by £12,750,000, that of the States was increased by £207,000,000. Queensland, which had a Labour Government for fourteen years, added to- its debt during the period to which I have referred to the extent of five times the amount of debt for which the Bruce-Page Government was responsible. Therefore, if there has been over borrowing, the responsibility lies mainly with the States. During the last election in New South Wales, Mr. Lang advocated a policy of increased borrowing. It is rather strange to hear Labour members in this House deploring the borrowing policy of other parties, when, in New South Wales, the Labour Premier recently fought and wo” an election on a policy of increased borrowing. -While supporting the amendment submitted by the Leader of the Country party, I shall vote for the second reading of the bill, hoping that necessary alterations will be made in committee.
’ [2.43 ft.m.’. - I cordially support this bill. The prodigious crop of wheat that Australia has produced this season redounds to the credit of the Government, which urged the farmers to increase their output. Some honorable members seem to regard it as almost a calamity that we have so much wheat with which to deal; but the magnificent harvest furnishes further evidence that Australia is able tq hold its own as a- primary producing country.. Despite the talk about depression,, and other disparaging remarks concerning Australia, this country can produce sufficient to feed millions of people, and the present crop of wheat will be of inestimable value, not only to this country, but also to the Empire generally. The proposal of the Government to’ -come to the rescue of the farmers is a creditable one, because, if the growers were left to their own resources, ‘the private wheat-dealers would take advantage of their predicament. Fortunately, the present Government isprepared to use its powers to protect the farmers -in their’ hour of dire need. Any government that could guarantee the primary producers an adequate return for their labour would be recreant to its duty if it did not come to’ ‘their assistance. 1 I recognize, of course ‘tha’t an Opposition’ is expected to belittle the proposals of the party in power to legislate in the interests of the community generally; but honorable members opposite have made but a feeble attempt in that direction. They are trying to make the Government look small by asking it from what source is the money to be derived for the payment -of the proposed advance on wheat. Although the farmers of Queensland have been promised’ 4s. a bushel for their grain, nobody in’ that State has asked where the money is to come from.
I should like the Government to make a special effort to see that neither Russia nor the Argentine is permitted to supply Great Britain with wheat to the exclusion of the Australian growers. I hope that for. the sake of a few million pounds the Government will not fail to ensure the provision of the necessary finance. It would be a severe blow to this., country if it were to lose the export of £16,000,000 worth of goods merely because another nation offered to supply the commodity, for £500,000 or £1,000,000 less than the price that we wished to obtain. The Commonwealth Bank should be able to come to our assistance in that respect. We have been told by honorable members opposite that the Government’s proposal is economically unsound. If would be more unsound to allow a considerable portion of the crop to- go to waste: When a business man, after carrying on his operations for a period, finds that he has stocks that < will not carry oyer because they will go out of fashion, he offers them at cost price. The Government . should consider the wheat crop in that light, and not allow any over-supply to go. to: waste because of a lower offer being made by another nation. I have no. doubt that the Govern-: ment, is- alive’ to. that aspect . of the matter. The Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) is acquainted with the position on the other- side of the world, and we can depend upon it that neither, the Argentine nor Russia will be allowed to under-sell us. -
What right has the : Commonwealth Bank to’ presume to dictate to this Government? The Nationalist party; when in power, appointed some of its partisans to the ‘directorate of the bank, and those men are now acting in collusion with our opponents. Are they to be permitted to hold up this nation indefinitely, and to impoverish it while there is an immense production? They will have to be brought to their bearings. . We are here by the will of the people, with a mandate to give effect to our policy. The Commonwealth Bank did not hesitate to allow the National Government to tell the people that it would make available £40,000,000 for a housing scheme. Because they are partisans, and practically tools of the Nationalist organization, are these men to be permitted to prevent the Government from giving effect to its policy? There are in Australia men with securities to the value of thousands of pounds who cannot obtain an advance from either the private banks or the Commonwealth Bank. It is about time that the Government made a change.
-Who appointed the chairman of the board?
– The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) may be able tobull-doze his own caucus, and cause it to split into country and city sections, but he will not be allowed to dictate to those who sit on this side. In New South Wales, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) is the leader, deputy leader, and whip of the city section of the Nationalist party, and the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Gardner) the leader, deputy leader, and whip of the country section. That is the outcome of the disunion caused in the party by the honorable member for Darling Downs.
I regard the bill as a genuine effort to come to the rescue of the wheatfarmers. They are a body of men who should be assisted in a crisis like the present. They havedone immense service to Australia in producing golden grain, and the Government must be placed in a position to make the Commonwealth Bank amenable to its policy rather than the tool of its enemies. If the bank will make advances, the Government will be able to relieve all the unemployed. I do not think there will be any loss under this scheme, because the wheat will realize more than the amount advanced.
The proposal of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) is only a subterfuge, and would not benefit the farmers in any way. It may find favour with the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), who represents the baby-farmers of Manly, but will not commend itself to the genuine farmers, whom we are desirous of assisting. The honorable gentleman argued that we should assist only those who are in necessitous circumstances. If that is the right principle to adopt, only the necessitous members of this Parliament ought to. be paid, and those who have bulging bank balances should give their services free. An honorable member who can command the payment of £3,500 in return for remaining out of Parliament for three years should not receive any parliamentary allowance.
I did not hear the speech of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), but I have no doubt that he is opposed to the bill. His propensities resemble those of the cactoblastus, which will attack tomatoes or other vegetable growth if it has no prickly pear on which to feed.
I commend the Government for its action in this matter, and hope that when the bill comes before another place it will not be blinded by the prejudice that it displayed towards a previous proposal to guarantee to the wheat-farmer a payment of 4s. a bushel. That proposal has had beneficial results to our nation, because it has placed us beyond the possibility of a famine for a number of years. The Government can store in silos whatever quantity of the present season’s crop is not needed immediately. If it will ensure the proper harvesting and marketing of the grain Australia will benefit materially.
My electorate does not produce wheat in any great quantity, but it is capable of supplying the present population of Australia with that commodity as well as with butter, cheese, vegetables, milk, meat, flour, fish and all other necessaries of life; it can even provide oyster cocktails for those who fancy them.
It is a cheap jibe to say that this action is being taken by the Government because of the votes that are likely to be gained thereby. We win votes because we do what is sound and advantageous to the people. The Opposition, when in power, acted in a way that was repugnant to every section, except that which i3 controlling our finances and exploiting the people. These friends of theirs contribute to their party funds and enable them to carry on, in return for which service _ they endeavour to provide opportunities for them to exploit, the farmer. The Government is circumventing those attempts, anc! I am pleased to lend it my support in that direction.
– I support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition, and if that be defeated I shall vote for the proposal of the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Page), because I believe that, whether it is considered as drafted,- or as it is intended to work in, the bill will not give to the farmer the best value for the- liability which it proposes to place on the country.
Before submitting reasons why the bill does not assure the best value for the liability that it proposes to place on the country, I wish to refer to the improper haste with which the measure is being pushed ahead. The drafting of it is “ a perfect scream”. I know that its introduction was a last minute decision, and that the measure was drafted in a hurry ; but the very least that any sincere government would provide is a decent period for its consideration in committee, and an adequate opportunity for the officers of the department and members of the House to look into, check over, and consider the proposals advanced for its improvement, particularly that of the Leader of the Opposition.
I have no desire to be particularly critical of the Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde), who, apparently, is the only member of the Government who is doing any work. I admit that, up to the end of last week, another member of the Government performed a great deal of work, and became due for a spell. There is no doubt that the Minister in charge of the bill is severely overworked, but what I object to is the conceit with which he says that the criticism of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) cnn bp disposed of by himself in a speech of half an hour’s duration. The Minister has learned, during the last couple of months, all the patter . which he so fluently has used in this debate. He treats the whole subject with shallow frivolity, as if the problem of the wheat industrywere not serious. What makes it particularly important that we should carefully examing the bill is that, according to the report of the publicity officer of the caucus, as published in the Labor Daily, this bill has been drawn up by a subcommittee of three of the most unreliable members on the Government side of the House. Those honorable members have made certain promises at various times. There are people who make promises because they genuinely want to please others. There are people who make promises because they are too optimistic to realize that their promises are incapable of being fulfilled. But there are some people who cunningly and deliberately deceive others by making promises which they know cannot be fulfilled. I place two members of that subcommittee in the first category - the Minister and the honorable member for Calare (M.r. Gibbons). The Minister has made the most astonishing promises in regard to the employment to be brought about as a result of the various tariff schedules which he has introduced. I believe that, being naturally reckless, he is also naturally hopeful of his promises being fulfilled. That, also, to some extent, applies to the honorable member for Calare, but not to the third member of the committee. He knew that his promise to open the coal mines within a certain time could not be carried out. I have been asked by farmers in my constituency what is to happen under this legislation in respect of the wheat which has already been sold to merchants. The Minister has said that such wheat will bo covered by the bill, but I ask under what provision is that wheat covered if the buyers, who at present provide the open market, do not seek to become prescribed persons under this legislation and, therefore, may not apply for the guarantee, and may not be prepared to advance the difference between what they have paid for the wheat and the 2s. provided in the bill, or the 3s., less certain charges, as provided in some specious promises, but not in the bill.
– How will 2s. bc paid on delivery in respect of wheat already delivered ?
– That is one point adil to be explained. Another point that arises in respect of the difference of about <5d. between the 2s. to be paid on delivery and the final price promised hut not laid down in the bill, i3 whether regulations will be drawn up to ensure the payment of that 6d. The most serious defect of the bill is that it makes no provision to ensure that the farmer shall be actually paid his cash. The Government is simply gambling on the price of wheat. It is presenting to the Commonwealth Bank a “dud” cheque, which may, or may not be honored. The Government is taking no steps to see that funds are provided, and is gambling on an increase in the price of wheat. Upon that depends the chance of the farmer receiving the price that he has been promised for his wheat. The adoption of either the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) or that of the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) would make available real cash for the farmer, and relieve the pressure placed ou the Commonwealth Bank to compel it
T.o print worthless currency. Although I do not doubt the sincerity of some honorable members supporting the Government in their desire to help the farmers, yet I submit that the difficult position of the wheat industry has been taken advantage of by some of the astute tacticians who <direct the policy of the caucus. If the Commonwealth Bank honours the “dud “ cheque of this Government, a precedent will be created that it will be difficult to resist in the future. This bill has been introduced for the purpose of bringing pressure to. bear upon the Commonwealth Bank to betray its trust to its depositors. l~f the bank refuses to betray that trust, and the price of wheat does not rise, the gamble which this Government is taking may provide it with a certain amount of political capital to start a hue and cry against our reliable banking system. That is one intention behind the bill, and the acceptance of either of the amendments which have been foreshadowed would correct that by ensuring that genuine funds were available to meet the Government’s obligations under this legislation. The next defect in the bill is the discrimination which is made between wheat marketed through the pool and that marketed through the private merchants.
That discrimination is so severe against the merchant who handles wheat in. the open market, that it is probable that he will not operate under .this legislation. Tn that case the farmer, certainly for ‘this year ‘and possibly indefinitely, will not have at his disposal alternative methods of disposing of his wheat. The growers have been particularly well served because of the two systems operating side by side. The competition between the pools and the private merchants has brought about a valuable standard by which the efficiency qf .the management of the pools can be judged, and I am glad to say that, that efficiency is becoming better and better. The competition of the pools also keeps the open market on its mettle. The third defect in the bill which has caused considerable debate is in respect of the assistance that the additional guarantee will give to the farmer. If the Government is able to provide a payment of 3s., it will be made on a yield basis. In that event, the farmers who need money most will ger least, and those who need it least will get most. I do not suppose that 10 per cent, or even 5 per cent, of the farmers are showing a profit this year. I know of farms on which the yield this year is over 30 bushels to the acre. Some of the farmers were able to get a cash payment of 2s. a bushel up to last week, and that .means a return of £3 to the acre. The cash outgoings for sowing and harvesting the crop have been between 40s. and 50s., including fallow, but excluding interest on capital. There is left for the farmers enough to pay the cost of living and provide a little towards the interest bill. Under this legislation such growers would be treated generously ; the extra 15s. or 16s. an acre with which it would provide them would put them in a sound position. Within ten miles is land which was bought for approximately the same amount per acre during the last six or seven years. It has experienced a succession of dry seasons, and the yield will be not more than five or six bushels an acre. The advance under this bill of about an additional 6d. a bushel will not help such growers appreciably; a little more money will -be available for their creditors, but they will not be helped to put in the next crop or to buy food and clothing for themselves and their families. In that respect the amendment suggested by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) will be a great improvement. If all farmers were to be helped substantially to buy superphosphates for next year, they would be relieved of the necessity to find the necessary cash, and their small resources would be released to meet the essential costs of living and the purchase of spare parts for machinery, &c. Nearly all the States have introduced some form of limited moratorium which prevents the deserving farmers from being embarrassed by the liabilities created up to this year, but gives to them.,no assistance for carrying on their industry in the following year.
The bill is defective in the three respects I have mentioned. It does not provide for financing the payment to the farmers ; it merely gambles in finance, and it contains a threat to the Commonwealth Rank. It proposes discrimination which may lead to the permanent elimination of a7i alternative market for wheat, and the payment is to be made on a yield basis instead of according to the needs of the grower. Moreover, the proposed advance is to be limited to wheat. Growers of other crops are not given any assistance although they need it badly. The amendments moved by the Leader of the Opposition would overcome these defects. The price prospects are such that the country must re-organize the wheat industry so that it will be possible to grow wheat at the pre-war price of 10s. a bag at the siding. That problem must be tackled by a reduction of costs and an improvement of marketing methods. This will entail a revision of the tariff and industrial conditions and the practice of economies, so that the burden of taxation may be lightened. But wheat to-day is much below the pre-war price, and to tide us over the desperate period of reconstruction some form of assistance to the farmer is necessary. The most logical form is that indicated in the amendments which the Leader of the Opposition has forecast.
.- I intend to support the bill, although I recognize that it is capable, of important improvements. There is room for difference of opinion as to the best methods by which relief can be afforded to the farmers, and I associate myself with the suggestions which have emanated from the leaders of the parties on this side of the House. At the same time, 1 do not qualify my view that the farmers are entitled as a minimum to the assistance proposed to be given under this legislation. From the introduction of new protection, inflation has been practised at the expense of the primary producers. The result is apparent in the constant drift of population from the country, and the building up of great cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. For many years, the urban population of Australia has been riding on the backs of the country population; now, when, for the first time, we have a proposal to give a reciprocal measure of assistance to the country, it is made only when the farmers are almost on the verge of extinction. The influence of the cities has been one of the worst features of Australian politics. A striking illustration of that is the distribution of the one shilling paid for a loaf of bread. Of that amount, the wheat-farmer receives only 1-Jd.; the remaining 10 1/2d. is shared by the millers and bakers, and their employees. Where is the justice in paying to the carter, who delivers the bread, as much as is received by the farmer who produces the wheat? Carters are receiving £5 a week to deliver an average of 110 loaves daily. Recently, tenders were called for the supply of bread to the camp of unemployed at Blackboy, in Western Australia. A tender was accepted at 5£d. a loaf. Other examples which have been mentioned during this debate show clearly that the price of bread is governed, not by the price of wheat, but almost entirely by the cost of processing and delivering. For that reason, the Government might with propriety have introduced a sales tax on flour, because by that means money for the payment of the guaranteed price to the farmer could be provided without necessarily increasing the price of bread. If I were a representative of farmers, I should strive so to organize them that they could enforce the payment of not less than 6s. a bushel for wheat sold for local consumption. In England, at a time when the wheat market is lower than for many years, the millers are able to buy wheat for 3s. 6d. a bushel. The corresponding price in Australia, having ‘ regard to the-‘ ratio of wages and cost of living, would be about 7s. a bushel. Therefore there could be no just ground for objection if the farmers demanded 6s. or 7s. a bushel for all.
The ‘proposed payment to the wheatgrowers is simply another phase of a very illogical system which Australia has adopted for the assistance’ of its industries. By one method or another, we have been helping every city industry; usually high tariff duties are the first step, and they are followed by the fixation of high wages. Thus the conditions of the urban population are made more easy, but greater burdens are imposed upon the people in the country. If this system is fair and sound when applied to the city, it should be adopted in respect pf the primary producers also. They are entitled to get the benefit df whatever standard of living is set up in this country. I. know that the extension of this principle to the wheat industry will lead sooner or ‘ later to ‘ similar applications from wool-growers, and the producers of fruits’ and metals. If such applications’ arc received, I shall support them, but not because they are logical and proper. The whole System of artificial’ assistance is illogical, and eventually every industry will !be taxed to support the others. When this abuse becomes general, the’ Australian people may realize the folly of’ it and revert to sound business methods.
There .are a few defects in this bill which. I. hope- will be . remedied in committee.- In the first . place, the scheme - - will ; provide no assistance to. .many wheat-growers who are most in need of it. That may not be a serious, cause of. complaint .against, the measure,- because this year the crops hare, been ‘fairly uniform. Only, a small proportion of- them have been a. failure.. Nevertheless, the Government .should set aside .some money -to be distributed by, the States, to assist those., farmers whose. crops , naive been, ruined by, rain, &c. Provision, should also.be ma.de for enabling. farmers .to obtain., supplies .of- seed and, manure, for-next season. I, believe that, the- merchants .-ire being treated unfairly. under these proposals. They should be given a fair deal, although, of course, no sectional interests must be allowed to stand in the way of helping the farmers. The merchants have performed a very useful office in connexion with the harvesting of- this year’s crop. Had this measure been brought in two months ago, the merchants might not have gone to the expense of chartering ships. But now this and other expenses have, been incurred, and the merchants should be afforded an opportunity of carrying on the business they have initiated. Under the bill the merchants appear to be guaranteed 3s.. a bushel, but they are to receive it only if they pay the same amount to the- farmers. . How, then, are they to make their profit? They have to use their own- capital, and. that capital is performing a very useful function just now. They are entitled to receive interest on it, and to make some profit as well.. It is of the highest importance, that the open market should be maintained, and I hope that the Government will amend the bill so as to ensure to the merchants the same allowance for handling charges; :&c, that is made to the pools. Another class which needs special protection under this proposal comprises those fanners -! who have already sold their wheat. ,to: .merchants and others. The bill provides Aha t the merchants must pay-to the- farmers, a first advance of .2s-., -if the merchants themselves are to take, advantage ,of . the guarantee. Many merchants, however.,’ may. have acquired wheat for less than the guaranteed price, and may- prefer to go on with their contracts, having nothing to do with the guarantee. In that case the farmers who have sold to them will not .obtain the advantage of the guaranteed price. The Government should make it clear that all farmers are to receive- a first advance of 2s.., and a gross advance of 3s. a bushel. , . . ‘.’ .
The last, and perhaps- most important defect in the Government’s proposal, is that no provision appears to be- made for financing it. The Government cannot, shirk its responsibility, or place it upon the Commonwealth Bank. It would be most unfortunate if, after Parliament adjourned, it was learned that the bank was unable to . finance- the scheme, .and that no advance would be available to the farmers. The Government .should, have told the House just what arrangements it has made with the Commonwealth Bank Board. The objectionable feature of this bill is that it is being used as a means of driving a wedge into the policy of the Commonwealth Bank Board. While I appreciate very much the fact that the Government is, even though under pressure, taking some action at last to assist the growers , I cannot compliment it on its dealings with the Commonwealth Bank. We know that the matter of currency inflation is mixed up with the proposal. If this House and the Senate pass this bill, we know also that the Government will use that as a direction from both Houses of Parliament to the bank that it must find means of financing the scheme. That does not represent the intention of the Houses of the Parliament. Such a view might find favour with a majority in this House, but I nin quite certain that a majority of Senators would be opposed to it. The necessitous condition of the wheat farmers is being used by the Government to bring to bear unfair influence on the Commonwealth Bank Board. I hope that the amendments I have indicated will be made, but my first concern is that the farmers shall, before Christmas, be assured of an immediate advance of 2s., and a gross payment of 3s. for their wheat.
.I support the Government’s proposal as likely to afford some relief to the wheatfarmers, who are passing through a time of unparalleled difficulty. The Government has endeavoured during this session to serve all sections of the community. Industrialists have been helped by amendments to the Arbitration Act; secondary industries by new tariff schedules; and the wheat-growing industry was to be catered for by the proposal contained in the Wheat Marketing Bill which was rejected by the Senate some months ago. The present proposal is another effort to do something for the wheat-farmers who, I believe, are as deserving as any section of the- community. This scheme will assure to the farmers a definite return for their wheat, and, by placing in circulation a large sum of money, will benefit the community as a whole. It will be giving effect to a plank of the Labour party’s platform, which is to pursue a rural policy calculated to help all sections of primary producers. The Government’s proposal cannot be construed as merely a political gesture. Perhaps this measure is somewhat belated, but it meets with the approbation of those who should know what the farmers need. I am not an expert on wheat, but I have been assured by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), and by wheatgrowers in my own electorate, that while they might wish for something more, this proposal represents a real contribution to the solution of their problems. Honorable members opposite referred , to the financing of the scheme, and declared that the Government’s proposal was an effort to undermine .the directorate of the Commonwealth Bank. If I were a member of the Government, I should want to know from the Commonwealth Bank directorate why they informed the Prime Minister a few months ago that the Bank would advance 4s. a bushel for wheat, while they are now prepared to advance only half that amount. Making due allowance for the difference in the market price of wheat, the altered attitude of the Commonwealth Bank Board still seems inexplicable. Let us assume, as honorable members opposite suggest, that the Commonwealth Bank Board will place obstacles in the way of putting this scheme into operation. I believe that before long, not only, in regard ‘to” wheat;, but also in regard to the relief of unemployment, the Commonwealth Government, whether it be Labour or Nationalist, will have to consider very seriously whether five or six directors of the Commonwealth Bank are to be permitted to hold up the business of the nation. These gentlemen may be excellent bankers, but they are, none the less, political appointees. Had a Labour Government been in power when they were appointed, we should have chosen men for the position, and the Opposition would not have hesitated to say that we, having appointed them, could expect them to carry out our policy. Why, I ;i ask,- has Australian finance been handled by the banks in one way under the last Government, and in a different way under this Government? When the last Government was in power, unlimited money was available, and no bank directors ever thought of pointing out that the country was heading towards bankruptcy. In 1928-29, the signal was set for “All clear.” In 1929-30, the first year the Labour Government was in power, the economic situation had, according to bank directors, suddenly hecome appallingly bad.
– The present Government re-appointed the Chairman of the bank directorate.
– I am not a member of the Government ; perhaps if I had been he would not have been re-appointed. I am not at all alarmed by the suggestion that an attack is being made on the management of the Commonwealth Bank. I submit that the Government should take whatever action is necessary to cope with the present situation. What we need today is measures, not. men. Honorable members opposite may–say that we desire to exploit the position to obtain a political advantage, and that for that reason iiic bank directorate will not advance the money that is needed.
– The honorable member must be thinking things like that.
– I admit that with my political experience such thoughts are not entirely absent from my mind. In any case, suggestions have been made to that effect by honorable members opposite. There can be no doubt that the farming suction of the community requires reasonable help. Just as I was prepared’ to help the industrialists and those engaged in secondary industries, so I am prepared to help our primary industries. I sincerely trust that this bill will be supported by a majority of honorable members on both sides of the House, and that it will bc passed by another place with a handsome majority. I certainly believe that it will have the support of the people at large.
.Various honorable members have drawn attention to what they regard as the defects of the bill, but these are minor faults which can easily be corrected. The bill was hastily drafted, and things done in a hurry are not always, done well. I give the Government credit for having a sincere desire to assist the farmers. I am hopeful that when the Minister circulates the amendments he proposes to move, they will be satisfactory. These amendments should be in our hands now so that we could be considering them* Undoubtedly t, the wheat-farmers of Australia are in a. worse position to-day than at any other time since the war. Many of them are insolvent and cannot continue operations. Our country storekeepers, merchants, agricultural machinery makers, and superphosphate manufacturers have carried many farmers until they can carry them no further. I have an intimateknowledge of the superphosphate industry, and I know that one of the largest firms is carrying £1,200,000, and another £500,000 in book debts. These debts have accumulated during recent years. It will be utterly impossible for the companies to supply fertilizers this year except for cash.
High hopes were’ entertained that this year’s crop would relieve the position of the farmers to a very large, extent; and so assist the merchants, storekeepers and” others who have given them credit; but apparently these high hopes will be disappointed. The Government, early in the season, appealed to the farmers to put a record area under wheat, and an enthusiastic response was made to the appeal. Not only the Prime Minister, but every State Premier, urged the sowing of every available acre. The result is that this year Australia has a larger area under wheat than ever before in her history. No doubt the promise of the Government to guarantee 4s. a bushel for the wheat was a big incentive to the farmers to do their best. In many cases unsuitable land was put under crop. Some land not properly fallowed, and some stubble land was certainly incapable of producing satisfactory crops. In many instances, farmers mortgaged their properties up to the hilt to obtain money for seed, superphosphate and cornsacks, in the hope of retrieving their fortunes; and others even went heavily into debt with the same object, although they believed that by so doing they would not only help themselves but also help the nation. The result of all this is that Australia will this year, probably, have an exportable surplus of 150,000,000 bushels of wheat, which she will send abroad either as wheat or flour. It has been said that the amount of wheat grown in Australia is only about 3 per cent, of the world’s production, but what really matters in this case is the exportable surplus. When honorable members realize that this year we shall have a surplus nearly as great as that of Russia in her palmiest days, and even approaching that of the United States of America, it will be admitted that we are no small factor in the world’s wheat market. It may be said that the United States of America produces 850,000,000 bushels of wheat per annum, but with her immense population she requires a large proportion of her production for home consumption. The fact that Australia will this year export 150,000,000 bushels in wheat or flour has, undoubtedly, tended to depress prices on the world’s market. If we had had only our normal exportable surplus of between 80,000,000 and 100,000,000 bushels world prices might not have been so seriously affected.
Some time ago a conference of representatives of farmers, wheat merchants, consumers and others interested in wheat production was held at Canberra with the object of considering ways and means of meeting the difficult situation which faced the industry. A request was made at that conference that a sales tax of £7 4s. per ton should be imposed on flour for local consumption. Approximately 650,000 tons of flour are used annually in Australia. It is calculated that 48 bushels of wheat go to the ton of flour. It will be seen, therefore, that about 32,000,000 bushels of wheat are required for local consumption. Had the Government imposed the sales tax on flour for local consumption at the rate proposed, it would have meant an all round increase of f3id. per bushel in the price of wheat.
– -That’ would not have’ made the price any higher than that provided in this bill.
– It would have insured the Government against any loss.’ However, the Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde) informed the conference that, as’ such a proposal might result iri an increase in the price of bread, he could not accept it. . Subsequently, the conference suggested that a sales tax’ ‘at the’ rate of £3 . 12s.. 6d. per ton should btimposed on flour,- which would have increased the price of wheat by a “fraction over 3d. per . bushel all round. But’ the Government was unable to -accept even this proposal,, although it. was assured that it could not result in’ any serious- increase in the price of bread. The Acting Minister made it clear that hb would not agree to any proposal that would increase the price of bread to the consumers. I intend to show that an increase in the price of wheat by anything from 6d. to 2s. per bushel should not affect the price of bread. During the war years the price of wheat for home consumption was fixed at 9s. per bushel for a whole twelve months. At that time the highest price at which bread was sold, to my knowledge, was ls. Id. cash and ls. 2d. booked. To-day, in some country districts where wheat is being bought for ls. lid. and 2s. a bushel the price of bread is lid. and ls. per loaf. If there is not barefaced robbery going on somewhere, I do not understand the position. Undoubtedly, bread should be cheaper than it is. Prices in the suburban areas range from 9d. to lOd. per , loaf. The average price of wheat in 1912, on the seaport basis, according to the Commonwealth Statistician, was 4s..’ -Id. while to-day it is only 2s. ‘5d. Deducting 7d. a bushel in each case for freight and handling, the respective charges at country stations would”‘1 be 3s. 6d. a bushel in 1912, and from ls. 9£d. to ls. lOd. a bushel at the present time. The value of one bushel of wheat was sufficient to purchase seven 4-lb. loaves iu 1912, and approximately two and a half 4-lb. loaves iri 1930. In 1912, one bushel of wheat would purchase seven cornsacks, but only two and a half cornsacks in 1930. The cost of practically everything else that the farmer uses has increased proportionately; Oh the other hand, wages in the milling aud baking industries are’ over’ 100 per cent, higher than they were in 1912; when wheat fetched 4s. Id. abushel! Bread has to bear not only the burden of the higher wages paid to’ millers, but ‘also the exceptional increase in the wages’ of bakers and carters. Here are the Melbourne figures -
The wasteful system of distribution is largely responsible for the high prices of bread, meat and milk. Often half a dozen motor vans draw up in a street, perhaps not more than 20 chains in length, to serve individual householders with a pound or two of meat, or a threepenny loaf of bread. The men on the land are selling below the cost of production, but the people are not getting the benefit of it.
I intend to place on record the value of the wheat used in the manufacture of a 4-lb. loaf of bread. This loaf requires 4 2-7th lb. of wheat, which produces 3 lb. of flour, 12-14th lb. of bran, 5-14th lb. of pollard, and l-14th lb. of waste. The following figures have been carefully compiled : -
On the above basis, if the price of wheat increased 6d. per bushel, the value of the wheat in a 4-lb. loaf would increase 429d. ; if the price increased ls., the value would increase .857d. ; if the price increased ls. 6d., the value would increase 1.2S6d.; and if the price increased 2s., the value would increase 1.714d. It should be noted that 60 lb. of wheat will produce 42 lb. of flour, 5 lb. of pollard, 12 lb. of bran, and 1 lb. of waste. If, together with the unpegging of the exchange, a sales tax of £4 a ton were applied to flour, I believe that we should make up any loss in the event of the wheat not realizing more than 2s. a bushel at country stations.
The average wheat yield in Victoria is estimated at 12 bushels, or four bags to the acre. The first advance under the present pool in Victoria is ls. 6d. a bushel, which, after paying for the containers, leaves the grower ls. 3d. a bushel,
Or 3s. 9d. a bag. This means that the total income per acre will be 15s. I listened carefully to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) who spoke of a crop that had yielded 30 bushels to the acre. Such crops are few and far between. The average yield was estimated three or four weeks ago for the State of Victoria this season at 12 bushels to the acre. The best average that I remember in that State is 17 bushels to the acre. Assuming that bags represent a cost to the farmer of 3d. a bushel, he receives only 15s. after his first advance to cover all his costs, including rent or interest on his land, ploughing, numerous cultivations, drilling, seed, fertilizers, harvesting, cartage, and] a number of smaller operations, interest and sinking fund on plant, wages, living expenses, repairs, &c. Assuming that the farmer eventually receives 2s. a bushel net, less 9d. for the bag, it means that he is returned £1 ls. an acre to pay for all the operations that I have enumerated. The farmer would get a crop only once every two years from most of his land. The following cablegram from Winnipeg, dated the 24th November last, appeared in a section of the press -
The Canadian wheat pools estimate that returns to farmers have declined from 20 dollars 40 cents (£4 ls. 8d.) an acre in 1925, to 6 dollars 92 cents (£1 8s.) an acre in 1930. based on the current price of wheat.
So we have the spectacle of wheat giving a return of £1 8s. an acre to the farmer in Canada, as compared with £1 ls. an acre, less bags, in Australia.
It is interesting to note the wheat prices obtained in the last few years in order fully to realize the slump that has occurred, and the terrible predicament of the farmers. The following table shows the prices ruling at the beginning of August for Australian wheat delivered in the United Kingdom, as published iD Broomhall’s Corn Trade Y ear-Book : -
– That, is due, not to inflation, but to deflation.
– I am afraid that inflation would place us in a worse position. It would bc like giving a teetotaller a glass of whisky; the remedy would be worse than the disease. Under this bill it would be necessary for the Government to provide a first advance of 2s. a bushel, plus charges of, say, 7d., which is approximately 1 1/2d. to 2d. above the actual value of the wheat at the seaboard. It is on the strength of the guarantee given by the Government that the payment of 2s. a bushel at country railway sidings, and of approximately 7d. a bushel for handling charges, will be made. But it is not clear how and when the balance will be paid. I presume that any surplus over and above the guarantee will be paid to the growers.
I have had considerable experience in regard to advances made on wheat by the voluntary pool in Victoria, with which I have been associated for many years. The usual practice is for from 75 to 80 per cent, of the value of wheat, plus ordinary handling charges, to be advanced at the time of delivery. This year that pool will handle probably 60 per cent, of the total crop, and it is making a first advance of ls. 6d. a bushel’, in addition to 6d. a bushel to cover part of the handling and rail charges. That advance, which is equal to only -2s. a bushel f.o.b., is being provided by the Commonwealth Bank. Yet some millions of bushels of this year’s crop have already been sold for 2s. a bushel at country stations, which represents a price considerably in excess of 2s. a bushel at the seaboard. Therefore, unless there was a considerable slump in the price, there is no chance of a loss being incurred, and there is very little risk in guaranteeing 2s. a bushel at the seaboard. The present price is so low that there U little likelihood of its dropping still further; the tendency should be upward. When a high price rules, there is always room for a fall. That was the position last year, and, unfortunately, the Victorian pool made a loss. That loss was a small one - in the vicinity of 3d. a bushel. I understand that many of the wheat merchants lost ls. 9d., ls. 10d., and even 2s. a bushel. The wheat market is an extremely delicate one, and any shortage of supplies or any failure of the wheat exporting countries would immediately cause prices to rise substantially. I do not hold any special brief for pools; but, I am certain that, under existing conditions, they are able to return a much better average net price than any other organization. I am in favour of the sales tax; but probably the Government would be more ready to countenance an amendment of the bill to provide for the guarantees to be made through any pool, whether it be a contract, a compulsory or a voluntary pool. Such a system would simply give to those pools a monopoly of the handling of the wheat, and that is what the Government proposed in previous legislation.
– What about those States in which a pool does not operate?
– There are good pools in Western Australia and Victoria, and a fairly good one in South Australia. The pool in Queensland is on a compulsory basis. I understand, also, that there are two pools operating in New South Wales, and if they were alive to their responsibilities and their opportunities they would be activelyengaged in procuring business. I believe that there are 20,000,000 bushels of wheat in New South Wales silos that practically have no owner; they were placed there by farmers for storage purposes.
– The pools in New South Wales have lapsed.
– I can see no difficulty in the Government making advances to those States where there is no pool. I have no desire to set the merchants on one side. There are three big wheat merchants.
One has definitely stated that he is not going to operate, another’ is doubtful whether he will or not, and the third is awaiting instructions from his principals. We are in a state of national emergency, and must consider the interests of the farmer and what he means to the general com in unity. Any action that will help him should be taken. The pools would mot use a monopoly unwisely. If the business were done through them a fairly decent local price would be obtained, and that would remove from the Government amy liability or responsibility in connexion with the making of an advance of 3s. a bushel. If the Commonwealth Bank knew that the whole of the wheat was to go through the pools, and that the price of local consumption was to he fixed, it would not hesitate to make the advance asked for. I purposely supplied particulars in regard to the increase that might take place in the price of bread, if the price of wheat or flour were increased, so that honorable members might realize that only a very small advance was likely to be made. As a matter of fact, I believe that the price of bread is so high at the present time that it would not be increased, even if the price of wheat for local consumption were fixed at 4s. 6d. a bushel.
I am not able to support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). I intend to support the bill ; but I am keenly anxious that it shall ibc amended so as to enable the fixing of a local price for wheat that would increase the average net realization for the season’s crop, and thus decrease the liability of the Commonwealth Government. At most, the proposal of the Government is only a palliative, and merely a temporary measure ; but, nevertheless, it is very welcome. Every load that the primary producers are carrying must be removed. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) has shown clearly the extent to which they are loaded. It is possible to work a willing horse to death. When prices for meat, wool and wheat were good, I did not complain in this House about the burdens which the farmers had to carry, particularly as a result of the tariff ; hut the conditions are becoming so bad that every one associated with primary industry claims to be unable to carry the burden any longer. While they were doing well, they wanted others to do well also.
– There is no duty on cornsacks, yet the price has been raised.
– The primage duty of 4 per cent, on - cornsacks and superphosphate ingredients represents a burden on the primary producers of £185,000. In addition to the oppressive charges, duties, and taxation, that the. farmers have to bear, their afflictions are legion. Honorable members are aware that, in Victoria, the wheat belt about ten days ago had a rainfall ranging from 2 inches to 10 inches; and as late as last night there was an additional fall over the same area ranging from 1 inch to 3 inches. That will enable honorable members to realize the position in which the wheat-growers of that State are placed. Other afflictions with which they have to cope are floods, droughts, tempests, fire, ball smut, flag smut, rust, grasshoppers, locusts, footrot, takeall, and - last, but not least - the never-ending series of panaceas that are offered by both State and Federal Governments, who know absolutely nothing of the business of growing or marketing wheat, and which get us nowhere. It is many months since Commonwealth and State pools were first mooted, and notwithstanding the fact that the wheatgrowers are down and out, and are dragging down with them hundreds of thousands of other people, nothing has been done to help Australia’s greatest industry.
I do not know whether this bill will prove a dud, but I sincerely hope that it will not. I intend to support it to the utmost. Although it contains some defects, they can be removed in committee.
.During the early part of this session, the Government made an honest endeavour to assist the wheat-grower, and was strenuously opposed by honorable members opposite. A lengthy investigation of the matter revealed the necessity for a guarantee of 4s. a bushel as a minimum payment at country railway sidings, but a bill giving effect to that proposal was rejected by another place. Subsequently, the price of wheat declined, and other means had to be devised to assist the wheat-growers. While the debate on the last measure was proceeding, honorable members were deluged with literature by the wheat buyers, who claimed to be in a position to finance a crop of 200,000,000 bushels. But what has been the result? As the market has been adverse to the selling of wheat, they have let the growers down.
During the last New South Wales election campaign I went through a number of the wheat-growing districts of that State, and at one place I saw a consignment of old wheat, which I was informed had been sold on the previous day for ls. lOd. a bushel. Every wheat-grower knows that, for milling purposes, old wheat is superior to new season’s wheat. If that consignment had realized 4s. a bushel, it would have been little enough. The wheat-growers who were sharefarming, told me that they were unable to carry on. What would happen to their shares in the event of their being ruined? Those men work for practically no return at all. The merchants have first call on any proceeds, rates and taxes are then deducted, and what is left, which is usually little or nothing, is given to the share-farmer. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) and the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) advocated the imposition of a sales tax on flour, which, they contended, would not increase the price of bread. I fail to follow that argument, because the price of bread fluctuates with the price of wheat. A sales tax on flour would increase the price of that commodity by over £7 10s. a ton. The price would be nearly doubled, and there is no doubt that if that took place the bakers would meet the tax, not out of their own pockets, but by increasing the price of bread to the consumers. Tasmania imports most of its wheat from the mainland. A few months ago the price of bread in my electorate was 8d. per 4-lb. loaf. At the same time the price of bread at Albury, which is situated in the midst of a wheat-growing area and has a flour mill, was lid. for a similar loaf. Although freight has to be paid on the wheat shipped to Tasmania, bread there is 3d. a loaf cheaper than it is in the Riverina. That is an extraordinary position, and warrants an inquiry by the State Governments con- cerned. I do not think that the Commonwealth Government has any power in respect of price fixing.
– Could not the State Governments fix the price of bread ?
– I would be pleased if they would. According to the present price of bread, wheat should be at least 5s. a bushel. The fruit-growers of Australia are in a worse position than the wheat-growers. They have to pay a freight of 3s. 6d. on every bushel of fruit sent overseas, and in many cases their return barely pays the freight. Whereas the wheat-growers pay only 9d. a bushel freight, and their return is somewhere about 2s. 3d. If a sales tax were imposed to assist the wheat-growers, the fruitgrowers, who are in a worse position, would have to bear a portion of that burden. I support the bill because it will afford relief to the wheat-growers. The fruit-growers will also have to be assisted if they are to place their next season’s crop on the market. I would be prepared to support the amendment foreshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) if it provided for the raising of £4,000,000 to assist not only the wheatgrowers but also other growers of primary products. The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) said that the wheatgrowers of Western Australia do not need assistance. That statement has not been contradicted by honorable members representing Western Australia, but I feel sure that when they speak their view will be quite different from that of the honorable member for Oxley, because it is practically impossible to produce wheat profitably at present-day prices. Had the Wheat Marketing Bill been passed by the Senate, and a guarantee of 4s. given, we should have had control of the whole of the wheat of Australia, and been able to finance the crop, and to place it on the world’s market. Wheat is to-day leaving these shores for the East, and other countries, and we know that the merchants are not handling it for the benefit of their health. They are out to make large profits, whether the season is good or bad.
– All the merchants are not in that position. The honorable member for Echuca said that last year some of them lost as much as1s. 9d. a bushel.
– That would not be the case in respect of the majority of the merchants. They are usually oh safe ground. In their propaganda against the Wheat Marketing Bill, they stated that they had sufficient funds at their disposal to finance the whole of the wheat crop of Australia. When that hill was defeated that money was not forthcoming. Their promise has not been carried out, and the growers have been left stranded. I support the bill, because it will give the growers sufficient relief to enable them to carry on until better times arrive. I feel sure that the wheat market will recover. We cannot prophesy what will happen next year. There may be severe droughts in other parts of the world. The honorable member for Echuca read out a long list of pests that affect primary products. Drought is the worst enemy of primary production. We cannot combat it, although we can combat pests. If. the bad weather that we are now experiencing continues throughout harvesting operations, millions of bushels of wheat will be lost to this country. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) said that there were lots of poor crops of from four to five bushels to the acre. We cannot remedy that. This bill makes provision for assisting those who have good crops. I suppose that this year the harvest throughout Australia will average about 20 bushels. If a grower averages ten or eleven bags of wheat per acre over a large area, he is likely to make a profit; but, if, on the other hand, he is an inefficient farmer, and his crop fails, the assistance that he is likely to get under this legislation will be of little or no avail. The honorable member for Oxley said that this legislation will not assist the growers who do not. produce a certain quantity of wheat per acre. The same thing applies to sugar. If it were not for the assistance that the Queensland sugar industry receives from the people of Australia generally, much of the inferior sugar country of that State would be totally unproductive. I hope that honorable members will support the bill unanimously and that it will meet with no opposition in another place.
– I regret very much that the Government delayed the introduction of this measure until so late a period of the session. The House assembled on the 30th October, and for seven weeks the Government has limped painfully along a barren road without accomplishing anything of advantage to the counrty. Now we are obliged to sit all night to’ consider the most important measure of the session, with the exception of the futile proposals to balance the budget. The Government’s conduct in regard to this matter is not fair to honorable members or to the wheat-growers. I do not like the measure’. It suggests hurried draftingby over-worked officials, and one cannot be sure that it expresses the intentions of the Government, or means what it says. Unquestionably, something substantial must be done to help the whea t-growers through the troubles they are experiencing. The present state of affairs is unprecedented in the history of the Australian wheat industry. The price of wheat is lower than at any time for the past 30 years, and costs of production are higher ; under such conditions continued production is impossible. The assistance proposed in the bill may tide the growers over their immediate difficulties,but this will be only a palliative. If wheat production is to be continued on the scale that is necessary to the solvency of Australia, something better than the relief now proposed must be given. The first essential is a reduction of the cost of production. Honorable members opposite are continually saying that a reduction of costs will accomplish nothing. Having regard to the state of the world’s wheat markets it is obvious that if Australia is to continue to export wheat in competition’ with other countries, the costs of production must come down. For years the farmers have been labouringunder the burden of high customs duties. They were able to carry on while the prices of their products were payable, but now, when the market has collapsed, it is impossible for them to carry on and pay their way. The position has to he faced; it is futile to shut our eyes to facts. Thecost of all the farmers’ implements must be reduced. Wages have fallen all over Australia. Some honorable members seem to be obsessed with the fetish that high wages must be maintained, but the rationing of work, so that men are being compelled to take one week off in every four, means that already wages have been substantially reduced. The sooner everybody realizes that he must take a fair share of the consequences of economic readjustment, the sooner Australia will be able to compete in the markets of the world. My chief objection to the bill is that it contains more than a threat of compulsion to he applied to the Commonwealth Bank.
– How can there be compulsion? What control have we over the directors?
– The bill provides that the Government shall make certain sums available through the Commonwealth Bank, and having regard to what we know of recent negotiations, that suggests that the Government is endeavouring to coerce the Board of Directors. Such a policy should not be approved by this Parliament. Either the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition or that to be submitted in committee by the Leader of the Country party would be preferable to the provisions of the bill. The Leader of the Opposition provides for help to be given to the farmer to prepare for next year’s crop. Those who have harvested a crop this year will have some cash togo on with, but it will be only sufficient for their immediate necessities; by seeding time they will be without the wherewithal to purchase seed and superphosphate. The Leader of the Opposition has moved an amendment in the following terms:-
That in the opinion of this Blouse, legislation should be introduced providing for the payment by the Commonwealth through the States of an amount of about £4,000,000 for -
financial assistance to wheat and other farmers who are in financial difficulties: and
) assistance in providing superphosphates and seed for next season, the necessary funds to be provided by mean’s of reduction of expenditure and special taxation or special loan for farmers’ relief.
Other farmers besides the growers of wheat are in difficulties. For instance, in my own electorate are many farmers who depend entirely on the production of barley and oats. The low price of wheat will have a bad effect on the market for oats and barley; indeed, I fear that these commodities will he practically unsaleable, and the growers of them will be worse off than the wheat producers. Under this legislation, however, only the wheat-farmers will receive assistance, whereas the adoption of the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition would provide relief for other necessitous men on the land. I shall support the amendment, and if it is not carried I shall vote for the proposal of the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page). Probably, of all the relief measures that have been proposed it is the most acceptable to the wheat-farmers. Professor Perkins, of South Australia, first formulated the suggestion that a sales tax of £7 4s. per ton should be imposed on flour in order to provide a fund for the payment of ft guaranteed price to the wheat producer. The practicability of the scheme was proved, and I believe that it could have been put into operation without causing any increase in the price of bread. Unfortunately, the Government left this important matter until the last moment, as if it were not aware of the precarious position of the wheat-growers. With other honorable members belonging to all parties, I have on several occasions waited on the Acting Minister, for Markets and Transport (Mr . Forde) and the Acting Prime Minister (Mr.Fenton) to acquaint them with the urgent needs of the industry, and there was no reason why the Government should not have brought in this measure of assistance much earlier in the session. The delay has had a detrimental effect on the country, for millions of bushels of wheat have been already lifted, and it is doubtful whether the growers who have sold their grain will get any advantage under this legislation.
– Does the honorable member suggest that action should be deferred ?
– No; I am complaining that although the Government knew the urgency of the situation, it has dilly-dallied, and apparently even this belated measure is introduced only to force the hands of the Commonwealth Bank Board.
– Does the honorable member want the bill withdrawn ?
– The Government Whip must not attempt to misrepresent my attitude. I know the conditions under which the farmers in my own electorate labour, and I have said that it is essential that some assistance be given to them immediately, but this bill does not go far enough to give the help they require. We have been told that some growers will not need help; they cannot be many. It has been authoritatively stated that if the wheat-farmers in South Australia had to meet their obligations 75 per cent. wouldbe unable to do so, and at least 50 per cent. would be forced into the insolvency court. That being so, temporary relief in some form must be afforded at once. In addition to the other help that has been suggested, I support the Leader of the Opposition in asking that exchange should be unpegged. The burden of a pegged exchange has been on the producer too long, and particularly at the present time he is entitled to “ an open go.” The Government has given no indication that the Commonwealth Bank will be prepared to meet the obligation which it is being asked to shoulder. What is to happen if, after Parliament adjourns and members have dispersed to all parts of Australia, the bank refuses to advance the money?
– We shall call Parliament together again.
– What would be the use of that if the Commonwealth Bank still refused to advance the money?
– If nothing could be done by calling Parliament together, it would be patent that the Commonwealth Bank controls the affairs of this country.
– Would it not be better to adopt either of the amendments, so that the farmers would be assured of some assistance, at any rate? The imposition of the sales tax on flour would not hurt any one in Australia. It appears, however, that the Government has set its mind on putting this measure through, and proposes to use it as the thin end of the wedge in coercing the Commonwealth Bank directorate.
– I desire to state my reasons for supporting the bill, We could spend much time debating the pros and cons of the situation without getting any nearer to solving the problem which confronts the wheat-growers, namely, how are they to get more money for their wheat than they would be likely to get if it were sold on the open market at world parity prices. I represent one of the largest wheat-growing districts of New South Wales, and have conversed with many of the farmers. They are not at all concerned with the ethics of this proposal, or with the motives of political parties. They only care to know whether it is within the power of any Government. State orFederal, to help them out of the difficulties in which they find themselves as the result of the record low price for wheat. We know that the Commonwealth Government has been almost flogged to death by critics for not having done anything to help the wheat-farmers. Honorable members on this side of the House, including members of my own party, have been demanding almost daily for weeks past that the Government should do something before the House rose. The Government has at last come down with a proposal which is closer to what the farmers want than anything mooted since the Wheat Marketing Bill. I did not expect that the Government would make this last-minute effort. I realize that if the Government had stood to its guns, as it had a right to do, in view of the treatment which its Wheat Marketing Bill received in the Senate, the farmers were going to be in a very bad way in the new year, and honorable members on this side of the House would not have been able to make out a very strong case against the Government. Now that this proposal has been put forward, the only important question is, can the Government deliver the goods ? If it can find the money with which to advance 3s. a bushel, f.o.b., within a reasonable time, and without bankrupting the country, I do not think that any criticism of the proposal is called for from this side of the House. Certainly, such criticism would not be appreciated by the farmers, and I doubt, very much whether the farmers would be concerned with our opinions in any case. If, however, the Government cannot find the money, if this is a sort of thimble and pea trick, designed to place certain political parties in a difficult position, and to make an election issue for the Government, it will have a boomerang effect, and the Government, I am sure, will suffer more than its opponents. I do not believe that it is fair to charge the Government with such trickery. I have no doubt that, honorable members on the other side, who represent wheat-growers, know just as much about the position as we do, and I am sure the Government is not going to send them out to be politically slaughtered for a despicable piece of political chicanery engineered in Canberra for election-winning purposes. I believe that the Government is sincere ; that it realizes the gravity of the situation, and recognizes that something must be done, not only in the interests of the farmers, but of the community as a whole. If the farmers go bankrupt in thousands, as seems possible, it will be a great deal more difficult to end the prevailing depression and prevent a complete financial debacle. The farmers’ troubles do not end on the farm. From there the effect spreads to the country store; from the store to the bank; from the bank to the warehouse, and thence to the Commonwealth Bank itself. The ramifications of agricultural finance extend throughout the whole financial edifice of the Commonwealth. The Government, I believe, is justified in taking almost desperate measures to save the situation. I agree with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. M. Cameron) that this action has been somewhat delayed, but the Government may be excused for waiting, in the hope that things would take a turn for the better. The situation has not improved, nor has it grown worse. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) said that it would be impossible for the price of wheat to fall any lower, and that it might increase. There is a ray of hope in that. The proposal embodied in the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) is not a helpful one. He suggested that the cost of government should be reduced, and the money saved devoted to assisting the farmers. I remind honorable members that the cost of government cannot be reduced immediately. If -the Government decided upon such a policy now, a special session of
Parliament would have to be called to give effect to it. The Estimates would have to be revised, wholesale dismissals would have to be made in the Public Service, and the Government’s .entire programme reconstructed for this financial year. It is not worth delaying the bill in order to put into operation such a complicated scheme of reform. The second part of the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition is that special taxation should be imposed to raise money with which to help the farmers. I wish he had been more explicit on that point, because, in my opinion, it was a very dangerous suggestion. The people of Australia, are ripe for mischief over this matter of special taxation. We are apt to forget that the State Governments are piling on taxation faster even than we are. The tax-paying public are almost in a frenzy about it. There would, I believe, be a panic if we put through a proposal to help the farmers, and relied upon raising money by some form of special taxation.
The Leader of the Country party (Dr. . Earle Page) also moved an amendment, his proposal being that a sales tax should be imposed on flour. I am not satisfied that a sales tax could be collected without its resulting in the price of bread being increased, and I do not think that the people of Australia would stand for any increase in the price of bread at this time. If the State Governments would cooperate with the Commonwealth Government with the object of fixing the price of bread, it might be possible to impose the sales tax in a way that would work smoothly, without causing a serious dislocation of our economic structure. 1 do not say that the Commonwealth could impose the sales tax without running the risk of increasing the price of bread, because it would certainly cause a substantial increase in the price of flour. We should look very carefully at this proposition before accepting it. It is a thing that could not be done in a day. Certain machinery would have to be set up for the purpose. It could not, in any case, solve the difficulties of the wheatgrowers quickly. When the amendment to impose this tax is moved I shall support it as an additional means of safeguarding the position of the wheatgrower; but I am not prepared to accept it as an alternative to the bill.
I wish to refer to the position of the Commonwealth Bank. I do not think for a moment that the bank should be coerced by Parliament. It has been suggested by certain members that as the Government has failed to coerce the bank, it is seeking to make Parliament an instrument for doing so. It would be serious to take an action of this kind, for it would have repercussions throughout the country. But the farmers must be saved. If they are left to the mercy of the world wheat-buyers they may be ruined. Parliament should, undoubtedly, come to their rescue. If no other method of assisting them can be devised than by asking- the bank to make this advance, we must be prepared to take it, even though it may be risky and novel. It is not always possible to be on the safe side. In desperate cases, desperate remedies have sometimes to be applied. We are in danger of losing sight of the. fact that the Commonwealth Bank was established by the Commonwealth Parliament. It is not like the private banks, which were brought into being by private enterprise; it was deliberately established, not to enter into competition with the trading banks, but to serve the nation in times of great national need. Honorable members on this side of the chamber have always insisted that the real value of the bank is not in its ability to compete with the private banks, but in its capacity to function for the benefit of the nation, particularly in times of stress. During the war, the bank enabled this country to surmount difficulties which previously would have been considered insurmountable. It proved to ‘be sufficiently elastic to meet all the needs of the country. In fact, it worked miracles, even under the charter conferred upon it by this Parliament which, in the opinion of many people, was nothing wonderful. To-day no one doubts that the bank at that time saved Australia from financial disaster, and no one bothers to discuss the methods by which the salvation was effected. To-day, Australia is facing an economic crisis of the utmost severity, and the nation has a right to expect the bank to stretch its resources to the widest possible extent to meet the situation. I do not suggest that this should be done in normal circumstances, but the times through which we are passing are un precedented. The private banking companies and other financial institutions are unable to assist Us to any great extent. Consequently, we are entitled to look to our own bank to help us, not only to save the farmers, but to put an end to the unemployment drift, and to stabilize industry generally. We should ask the bank to come to the assistance of the nation, not by adopting illegitimate methods of finance, but by acting reasonably in accordance with the needs of the situation. If Parliament passes a bill which makes it necessary for the bank to find a sum of money to meet a national emergency, the bank should find it. If in calling upon the bank to do this we commit a grave error which has disastrous consequences, we shall have to answer to the people; but I submit that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the suggestion that the bank should be called upon to assist the democracy to overcome its difficulties.
It has been proposed that we should ask the bank to find an additional £4,000,000 to enable an extra 6d. per bushel to be paid to the farmers for their wheat. Is this beyond the resources of the institution or the financial capacity of the nation? If we have reached a situation which makes it dangerous for us to ask for this extra accommodation, we have in very truth come to the dead finish. The announcement that this was the case would probably cause a panic. E suggest, however, that it is not impossible for the bank to grant this extra assistance. We all recognize that Sir Robert Gibson is a fine man with wide banking experience ; but the mere mention of his name should not. terrify this Parliament or scare honorable members to death. It is not as though we were asking the bank to go beyond the limit of safety. Sir Robert Gibson holds his office by Government appointment, and is, in effect, the servant of the Parliament and the people. If both Houses of the Parliament request him, as executive head of the bank, to find this money, he should make every effort to find it, unless the; bank is itself in an unsound position.
The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) has suggested that the Government has done an unheard of thing in introducing a bill for the expenditure of £4,000,000 without making provision for the raising of the money. He has asserted that this is an abrogation of all sound principles of parliamentary finance. In my opinion, that is begging the question. Parliament has not the the money, and it must look to the bank to provide it. What is a paltry £4,000,000 in comparison with the resources of Australia?
– How much do we owe the bank already?
– I understand that the amount is about £17,000,000.
– It is more like £45,000,000.
– I do not think it is anything like that sum; but even if it were £145,000,000 the farmers must be saved, if possible, and every possible avenue for finding the money to save them must be explored. If necessary, we must take a chance. We should not attempt to dictate to the bank, nor are we doing so, for Parliament is proposing to guarantee the funds of the bank against any loss that may be incurred in the making of this advance.
– The bank cannot make the money.
– I suggest that we should leave it to the authority thatwe have put in charge of our currency to devise ways and means of making available the credit that we need.
– Why not raise the money by a sales tax or a loan?
– I have already dealt with that aspect of the question. It would take some time to provide the money by either of those means, and the matter with which we are dealing is urgent. If the bank finds the money, and we discover later that the price at which our wheat is sold is not high enough to recoup the institution, we could impose the sales tax, or even float a loan to provide the balance needed. We must bear it in mind that the farmers are the backbone of Australia.
– We already owe the bank £20,000,000 in London, and a great deal more here.
– When the patriotism of the people is appealed to they respond magnificently. If the appeal for subscriptions to the £28,000,000 conversion loan had not been based on patriotism, I doubt if half the money would have been received. There is quite a good prospect that no loss will be involved in making this advance,but if there is a loss we could take steps to recoup the bank the amount involved. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) is very cynical about the whole project; but if he represented several thousand wheat-growers, his ideas on the subject would be a little more flexible. The Government could do nothing more practical than say that Parlia ment will guarantee the money to the bank. The Government is being urged day by day to do something for the farmers, and I do not intend to refuse this measure of relief. Some honorable members on my own side object to the Government’s proposal, but refuse to say what they want.
– The honorable member ought to be sitting on the other side.
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) is the most hide-bound conservative in the House. Unless Australia is actually bankrupt, a big effort will be made as the result of the gesture of this Parliament in its effort to save the wheat-growing industry. If the day comes when the. Commonwealth Bank calls upon Parliament to provide it with the means of meeting this guarantee, I believe that the bulk of the people will respond as liberally as they have responded to the recent appeal for loan funds.
.A. measure of the importance of this bill should not be submitted to the House at this late stage of the session, when there is little opportunity to analyse and understand its contents.For many weeks the Government has been urged to take definite action in the interests of the wheat-growers, and there was ample opportunity during the past week to give honorable members reasonable time to consider the measure. I doubt if half a dozen members of the chamber are clear as to its provisions. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), despite his experience of farming and wheat marketing, is entirely at sea with regard to the proposed advances and the method of payment, I fail to understand who is to receive the difference between the advance of 2s. and the guarantee of 3s. a bushel. The House is a1s0 entitled to know something about the method of financing the proposal to be adopted. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) seemed to favour political control of the Commonwealth Bank.
– Not at all.
– He said that this Parliament should control it, but I point out that the directors of this bank are not the servants of the Government, and I hope that for all time they will be free from political interference. A list of amendments has been tabled, and I doubt whether half a dozen members know how the bill will operate, and how the money is to be paid. A great collapse lias occurred in the prices of our primary products, such as wool, wheat and metals. I read in the press yesterday that, wheat was being used as fuel in the United States of America, because it was cheaper than wood. The farmers in South Australia have experienced bad times for a number of years, and similar conditions obtain in the Mallee and in the Riverina. The wheat lands of “Western Australia are comparatively new settlements, and owing to soaring prices the cost of production has been so dear that most of the farmers are under heavy obligations with respect to the immense areas that have been placed under crop, with the result that the larger proportion of them are on the verge of bankruptcy. If the men on i ho land fail, the repercussion will be greater in the cities than in the country. I understand that one manufacturer is afraid that he will have to discharge 1,000 workmen in the New Year. We must recognize the absolute necessity to keep the farmers on their land. I have received the following telegram from Western Australia : -
At a massed meeting of farmers held at Perth yesterday, under the auspices of the Primary Producers Association, the following resolution was carried: - That this conference views with alarm the serious position of the wheat-growers, partly due to the abnormal fall in world prices, which threatens the very existence of the industry, and, whilst bonuses to other industries and high tariffs pertain, demands that the Federal Government pay a bonus equivalent to 4s. per bushel at sidings on all wheat marketed for 1930-1931 season, thereby enabling the farmers to carry on their occupations. The farmers of this State are faced with absolute ruination, their financial position as a result of the depressed prices being precarious, great unrest prevails in thu industry, as this State is entirely dependent on primary production, mainly wool and wheat. It is imperative to obtain some relief. Please use every effort and influence in giving effect tn the resolution.
I was pleased to hear the statement of policy submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) in regard tothe future of this country. The wheat, wool and metal industries arc the three great primary industries of Australia, but not one of them can be carried on to-day at a profit, unless a big increase occurs in the value of their products or a substantial reduction takes place in the cost of production. This and previous Governments have granted bounties, imposed embargoes and given assistance in other ways to the secondary industries of Australia. I want, to see adopted a policy that will benefit, no section particularly, hut will compel every person to stand upon his own level. I do not believe that the primary producer would object to giving away something with’ a view to building up industry in this country. But when embargoes, bounties, and other special concessions are obtained as a result of pressure upon a particular party, how can honorable members complain when others, who. are affected by those unjust and unfair measures, say, “You have made the cost of production so heavy that you must give us some assistance.” I suppose that the sugar industry is costing Australia £7,000,000 a year. I have no objection to some assistance being given to that industry; but how can the fruit-grower be expected to carry on under the conditions which the present assistance imposes? What would be the position if legislation were passed requiring that the price of wheat in Australia should bc that at which it could be imported into Australia? Such a policy would resemble nothing more than taking in one another’s washing, and we would build up costs until the whole structure collapsed. I should much prefer the Government to apply for a loan of £5,000,000, and to assist the industry by a bounty of 6d. a bushel on wheat delivered at railway sidings. That would involve an expenditure of £4,000,000, but it would save the Government from being involved in the intricacies of this measure and the difficulties of administering the scheme which it propounds. The Leader of the Opposition has suggested that assistance might be given through the States to those who are particularly distressed, and a conference convened by the Acting Minister for Markets has recommended that there should be a sales tax on flour, which it is estimated would provide for a payment of 6d. or 7d. a bushel. Failing the adoption of either of those suggestions, I am compelled to accept the offer of the Government. I realize that, in the parlous condition of the Commonwealth today, and because of the difficulty of obtaining the necessary funds, the Government cannot go further than it has gone. Every communication that I receive on the matter from Western Australia requests me to urge the Government to guarantee the payment of 4s. abushel ; but I know that the Government cannot go so far as that. The imposition of a sales tax on flour would enable it to escape from this difficulty without very much trouble. The Cabinet has asserted that it cannot agree to a proposal that may entail the raising of the price of bread by1d. or 2d. a loaf; but, as I pointed out when the original Wheat Marketing Bill was before this House, its proposal to guarantee 4s. a bushel would, if adopted, have raised the price of bread by 7d. a loaf.
I hope that the Government will make a special effort to resume amicable relations with those nations in Europe that have been fairly big buyers of our wheat in the past. It is a pity that the attitude adopted by this Government has caused the Government of France to impose a duty of 7s. a bushel on our wheat. An article in the Melbourne Argus recently pointed out that special representations were being made by Canada with a view to inducing the Government of France to grant special conditions in connexion with the sale of Canadian wheat. It is probable that France will need 80,000,000 bushels of wheat in the near future, and I hope that Australia will be able to obtain a share of that business. The action that has been adopted towards Italian migrants, also, raises a big possibility that we shall lose our trade in wheat with that country. This means a great deal to Australia, and to the future of the wheat industry
This scheme will be all right for the present year; but if the price of wheat does not increase, Australia cannot continue to produce at the existing cost of production. The price of everything that the farmer requires is probably 50 per cent. greater in Australia than in any other country. It is remarkable what little influence the primary producer has been able to exert in this Parliament. Time after time legislation has been introduced increasing the burden that he has to carry. If that burden is not reduced considerably, there will be a big crash. It is absolutely deplorable that this country, which is so richly endowed by nature, should be in the position that it occupies to-day. Our only hope in the future lies in an alteration of our policy that will enable us to market our goods overseas. We are further than any other country from the markets of the world, our cost of production is the highest in the world, and we have to compete with low-wage countries. How can we expect a man to open up new country when we continue to impose obligations on him?
I regret that the bill has been brought down in such an imperfect state. There is to be an advance of 2s. a bushel, either by an outside buyer or by the Commonwealth Bank through a pool. If wheat is bought by a private purchaser, who will get any value from the guarantee under this measure?
– The farmer.
– I should like the honorable member to show me where the bill says so.
– That provision is made in clause 6.
– Before the measure becomes law, I want to know what every clause in it means. I hope that the Minister will remove any uncertainty when the measure is in committee.
.Judging by the debate that has taken place upon this measure, it is evident that honorable members are unanimous in their desire to assist the wheat-growers; but there is not the same unanimity on the point that the needy farmer only should be assisted. The bill provides that assistance shall be granted to a wheat-grower whether he is wealthy or in necessitous circumstances. The amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), which I propose to support, makes the provision that those who are in the greatest need shall receive whatever assistance this country is at present able to provide.
The method proposed for rendering assistance to the wheat-grower has been criticized by the majority of those who have spoken. Some honorable members opposite have attempted to defend it, and have claimed that it means that certain things will be done that they wish to see done; but, as the bill has been drawn, not one of those is specified. The best minds in this House, and those who are accustomed to analysing such measures, do not understand what the bill purports to do. It has been drawn hastily and carelessly. There, is no justification for that, because we have been dawdling away our time since we reassembled, and have not done very much real work.
Tho first objection to this bill, and one upon which there should be no difference of opinion, is that it does not clearly propose the manner in which the assistance to the wheat-grower is to be financed. There is evidently an attempt to coerce the Commonwealth Bank. The Minister said, in effect, when introducing the bill, that the Government had already pleaded with the bank to give more assistance than it had stated its willingness to give, and that the bill, if passed, would give expression to the will of Parliament that the bank should act in that way. To ray mind, it is a most improper gesture. If this Parliament is unable to bring down definite proposals to vender the necessary assistance, it would do far better to leave the matter alone. It is shirking the position to suggest that the currency should be inflated, and that values should be maintained at any price; but there are many people who are ready to accept such a proposal, because it is the easiest course to follow. The Government will not face our financial problem. It delays its consideration from day to day, hoping that the position will improve. Unless something is done immediately to remedy our ills we shall be faced with national disaster. One defect of the measure is that it will give assistance to those who really do not need it, and who really have no right to call upon the community for help. We have the evidence of honorable members, who are best fitted to inform this House, that many of the wealthy wheat-growers will make a profit even on this year’s transactions.
– Where are the wealthy wheat-farmers ?
– There are many who, if not wealthy, live as if they were. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker), who is one of the best informed wheat-growers in this House, told us that in his own district there are farmers who expect to make a profit out of this year’s transactions. Prices of wheat have, in past years, been high, and if the growers could not make a profit then, the temporary assistance that we are now able to give to the industry will not save it from destruction. Many farmers, because of drought and other disadvantages, are suffering severe hardship. They are badly in need of assistance, yet they will not come within this legislation. Why give assistance te farmers who do not need it, and at the same time allow those whose crops have failed to become bankrupt? It is the bounden duty of this Parliament to assist the unfortunate producers. Many thousands of our farmers who grow barley, oats, peas, fruit and other products have for some years past been in precisely the same position as the wheat-growers are in to-day. Under this legislation they will have to share the burden imposed upon the community in order to assist some wheat-grower who really requires no help at all. But if the amendment foreshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition is embodied in the bill, the small farmer who has a poor crop will obtain assistance sufficient to carry him on until next year, at all events. We could assist agriculturists generally by bringing about a reduction in the cost of fertilizers. The Commonwealth controls to some extent the price of fertilizer, because it supplies the raw material. The cost of transport is a tremendous item in the price of superphosphates, and a careful investigation into the possibilities of reducing these costs would do. far more for the wheatgrowing industry than this temporary assistance is likely to do. There are primary producers other than wool and wheat-growers, although some honorable members appear to have little sympathy with them. There are the fruit-growers and those engaged in the mining industry, who, because of the fiscal policy of this country, have probably suffered more than any other section of primary producers. All sorts of remedies have been suggested for the relief of the sufferings of the agriculturists, but if we are to continue to compete successfully in the overseas markets, production costs must be reduced. How is that to be brought about? The cost of production can be reduced without ‘ even reducing wages. The majority of honorable members have always advocated closer settlement. They have said, “ Put men on the land, because primary production is the staple industry of this country “. W e have encouraged and assisted many men to go on the land, and many who were really unfitted for the work are now unable to make u living. Much of the land cultivated for wheat-growing is not suitable for that purpose. It was only because of the high prices ruling of recent years, that these farmers were able to carry on at all. If the figures quoted by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) are correct - and there is no reason to doubt their authenticity - it is clear that for years those engaged in wheat-growing, at least, in New South Wales, have not been able to carry on the industry profitably. If the industry in that State is in debt to the extent of £40,000,000 the little assistance that this legislation will afford will not rehabilitate it. We must organize the primary producers. That is admittedly a difficult task, because most farmers are opposed to any form of organization in the industry. But unless they are efficiently organized, as are the producers of other countries, notably Denmark, it will be impossible for them to compete successfully with those in other parts of the world. Much of our arable land is overcapitalized. Even the value of the houses on many of the small farms on which peas, barley, and fruit, as well as wheat are grown, is as much as that of the land itself. The cost of the machinery and plant generally, which is used probably for only a few weeks of the year, is as much as that of the land. That is one of the drawbacks of closer settlement. If some solution is not speedily found for the small farmers’ difficulties, the wealthier farmers will acquire the smaller holdings so that the machinery and plant can be utilized for the whole of the year. The alternative is to institute some system of co-operation to permit of the constant use of plant and machinery. Production costs must be lowered. The overhead cost of farming is crushing the small producer. This bill will by no means solve the problem of the wheat-growers. The Government, as it is at present constituted, is unable to give effect to any comprehensive and sensible scheme for assisting this industry, and it will not accept the offer of the Opposition to co-operate on non-party lines. Each side of the House mistrusts the other, and if this problem is to be solved, it will first have to be investigated by a special body, consisting of a few earnest andpractical men. The bill, although it has several defects, would be considerably improved if the amendment foreshadowed by the Loader ‘of the Opposition were inserted in it. I shall support the amendment, because it is .an honest attempt to assist those who are suffering’ severe hardship. Honorable members supporting the Government do not seem to realize that any assistance or bounty given to one section of the community has to be paid for by the other sections. The bill itself is of little value, and were it not possible to amend it, I should vote against the second reading.
– At the outset I protest on behalf, not only of the Opposition, but also, I hope, of the whole Parliament, against the extraordinary presentation of this bill, f doubt whether a measure has ever been presented in such an inept and slovenly manner. Mainly because of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, we now have put before us in the early morn- ing two whole pages of amendments almost equal in length to the bill itself. That is probably without precedent. I fear that we have not even yet come to the end of the many glaring omissions from this measure. I call the attention of the Minister to another amazing omission so that the draftsmen may be again set to work to revise the bill, and bring it into something like presentable form. Clause 4 provides for a guarantee to be given by the Commonwealth Bank of 3s. per bushel, less freight, insurance and other handling charges incurred -
In other words, 3s., f.o.b., is to be paid in respect of wheat placed on board ship for export or delivered to a miller for home consumption. But, apparently, no provision is made for the guaranteed price to be paid upon wheat delivered to a miller for gristing into flour for export. That involves the omission from the scope of the bill of some millions of bushels of wheat. This is further evidence of the haphazard preparation and presentation of this wretched measure, in connexion with which the Government has given the most remarkable exhibition of general incompetence that we have had during this Parliament, and that is saying a great deal.
I applaud the principle of the bill, but despise the means by which the Government proposes to give effect to it. The measure appears to have four definite objectives. First, it is a foolish and childish attempt to embarrass the Opposition, politically. Secondly, the bill makes a fanatical shot at the wheat merchants by forcing them to do something exceedingly onerous and grossly unfair or be pushed out of business. Thirdly, the bill proposes sheer blackmail of the Commonwealth Bank Board.
– Order ! The honorable member may not allege blackmail against the Government, andI ask him to withdraw that word.
– I do so. The bill is a shameless attempt on the part of. the Government to browbeat the Commonwealth Bank Board into a course of action that would be entirely unworthy of it. . Finally, this measure is an illusory scheme to benefit the wheatgrowers. To them it will prove as real and refreshing as a summer mirage. We all desire to help the farmers, particularly the wheat-growers, in their present plight. For that reason I approve the principle of the bill. But the wheatgrowers need immediate cash, not merely promises. I desire them to gel something over and above the present price of wheat. The House should honour the half promise made by the Government to the farmers when it invited them to grow more wheat this season. Also, I want the farmers to receive real money, and to get it promptly. The Government offers to them no certainty at all. This bill is merely a promise of money, if it can be obtained at the point of the pistol from the Commonwealth Bank. The Government’s offer of a guaranteed price is very heavily conditioned, and the practicability of it is open to the gravest doubt. In other words, the offer is not real. The Government says that it will pay to the farmers as a bounty on this year’s crop an amount exceeding £4,000,000, and that it. will obtain the money from the. Commonwealth Bank. The fact is that the Government has already unsuccessfully approached the bank for a smaller sum. Many weeks ago it applied to the bank for an advance of 2s. 6d. a bushel f.o.b. The Acting Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Forde) said that he interviewed the chairman of the bank board on many occasions, and that the board resolutely refused his request. It is interesting to refer to the Minister’s speech in this House only a few weeks ago, when he explained why the bank had not been able to see its way to. grant the 2s. 6d. f.o.b. for which the Government was then pressing. The honorable gentleman said -
After mature consideration, the bank board decided that it could not increase its present advance of 80 per cent. of the current market value of wheat, and could not accept the guarantee by the Common weal th and State Governments of a first advance of 2s.
There the Minister admitted that the bank had already given the matter mature consideration, and that the Commonwealth Bank would not accept the guarantee, not alone of the Commonwealth, but of the
Commonwealth and State Governments combined. In view of that statement I cannot understand how any honorable member, who has at heart the interests of the farmers, can be satisfied with this so-called offer. It is conditioned in all manner of ways, and cannot be paid unless the bank is beaten to its knees and bludgeoned into submission. The Opposition offers real money, which would be paid promptly. The bank cannot honestly and conscientiously yield to the act of political violence which the Government contemplates. One would imagine that it had never made any effort to accommodate the Government and the various sections represented by the supporters of this proposal.
– Who said that?
– The honorable member should have heard the speech of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), who revealed himself to be a very prince of paper money. What has the Commonwealth Bank done to assist the Government ? In London alone it has advanced, without security other than a promise to repay some day, £20,000,000, to enable the interest obligations of the Government to be met. It has also made additional advances within Australia. The fact is notorious that the bank has advanced to the full limit of its deposits, if not in excess of them; it has drawn on the whole of its resources both within and beyond Australia to help the Government, and, like the private trading banks, has gone as far as it safely can to keep private enterprise going. In other words, the bank cannot find the money required for the purposes of this legislation except by withdrawing it from industry and thus bringing about more unemployment, or assenting to an inflation of credit and an increase of currency. That, in brief, is the relation of the bank to the Government. Therefore, I repeat that this bill is not a substantial offer to the farmers. It merely opens the first round in the war against the banks. It hoists the flag of inflation. A few weeks ago, before this inspiration had entered the minds of Government supporters, the policy of the Labour party was to provoke a clash with the Senate on the Central Reserve Bank Bill in order to bring about a double dis solution. Ministerialists were very brave only a few days ago, but their courage seems suddenly to have dissipated. They have abandoned the notion of appealing to the people for authority for the proposed inflation, and now they are endeavouring by a most unworthy expedient to force the Commonwealth Bank to make available £4,000,000. We have heard from well-informed representatives of the rural industries that wheat-farmers are not the only primary producers who are in difficulties. The wool-growers, the orchardists and others are in similar straits, and the liberation of this £4,000,000 by the issue of more notes will be merely the beginning of inflation on a grand scale. We know that if the board does surrender, the fight for. inflation is over, and the era of inflation has arrived. I ask honorable members, and particularly those on this side of the House, to consider just what this proposal means. I pray that the bank will recognize the issue, and will stand firm, as it has done in the past. The Commonwealth Bank is the creation of a former Labour Government. Recently the present Government had in its hands the reconstitution of the Commonwealth Bank Board, and it reappointed the retiring chairman, Sir Robert Gibson, for a further period of seven years, and also appointed a special Labour representative. Therefore, the dominant member of the board is actually a Government appointee, and we are treated to the unedifying spectacle of honorable members opposite walloping their own joss, and launching this destructive attack upon their own institution. This is the most sordid and dangerous thing which has been attempted by any Government for many years past. The bank is now carrying an unprecedented responsibility. It is the mainstay of the country, the very Gibraltar of our credit at home and abroad. The members of the bank board have said that if they are to pursue a policy consistent with sound banking, guard the interests of their depositors, and preserve the national credit, they cannot do even as much as the Government is asking of them. Yet the Government is so lacking in a sense of responsibility that it is attempting now to undermine the position of the board. This attempt by the Government is the biggest banking hold-up in history. Ned Kelly wasn’t in it with this Government.
– Will the honorable member answer one question? Are we a Parliament ?
– No, I do not believe that we are. We have ceased to be a Parliament, judged by the once accepted standards of parliamentary practice.
– Is the guarantee of Parliament to be worth anything?
– The Government has borrowed £20,000,000 on overdraft from the Commonwealth Bank in London. Already we owe the bank several million pounds in this country, and it is not possible for that institution to find more money without withdrawing it from industry, thus causing additional unemployment. The alternative is to engage immediately in a policy of currency inflation. It is extraordinary to hear honorable members on both sides of the House attacking the Commonwealth Bank, which should bc entirely outside the field of party politics. The Government’s present proposal is just another of several which have recently been put through the House with the idea of forcing the hand of the Commonwealth Bank Board. Only the other day we passed the Gold Bounty Bill and the Port Augusta to Red Hill Railway Bill. Both of those measures provided for large expenditure by the Government, and the Government has no money, and no prospect of getting it. It is faced with a deficit this year of from £6,000,000 to £8,000,000, and one of £15,000,000 to £20,000,000 next year, unless it reduces expenditure. Yet it brings down, and has passed through Parliament, measures authorizing the expenditure of millions of pounds.
– We inherited a big deficit from the Government to which the honorable member belonged.
– This Government has piled up a bigger deficit in six months of this year than the Bruce-Page Government accumulated in nearly seven years. The real purpose of the Government’s’ recent bills,* and particularly of this one/’ is to bludgeon the Commonwealth Bank Board into submission, or alternatively, to make an appeal to ignorance, and political passions, in the hope of uniting the electors against the Commonwealth Bank, should there be a double dissolution on this issue. If the Government wishes to make this a test issue, let it come out. into the open, and fight the question in the electorates. I’ shall be very disappointed if the Commonwealth Bank Board yields to this outrageous demand. It has nothing to fear from the party opposite. The Government’s proposal is not a real offer of help to the farmers at all. All the Government says, in effect, is that it will give a certain measure of help if it can bully the board into submission. The Government can give effect to its proposals only if the Commonwealth Bank Board is prepared to betray the trust imposed in it by the people. What will be the position pf the Government if the board refuses to advance the money? In that case it can do nothing for the farmers. The Government would be well advised to fall back on one of the propositions which have been advanced from this side of the House, and either impose special taxation from the proceeds of which farmers could be helped, or raise a straight-out loan, to be known as “ The Farmers’ Relief Loan.” If it refuses to do that, it must wait for six, or perhaps eight months until it goes to the country, and gets authority to force the bank to pursue a policy of currency inflation. I cannot see any virtue in the Government’s proposal. The Opposition wishes the Government to advance real money to the farmers, not just a special issue of paper money which will depreciate the value of every £1 note already in circulation. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) made a sincere offer to the Government to co-operate with it in framing acceptable proposals for the relief of farmers, so that it would be possible to make immediate cash advances to them. We do not believe the Government’s offer to be of any value, and we are totally opposed to the manner of its making. We do not care particularly whether the Government imposes a sales tax on flour or raises a special loan, but we do desire, above all things, that some substantial measure of assistance should be given t,o the farmers as quickly as possible. I appeal to the Minister to drop this wretched enterprise on which he is engaged, this entirely unworthy attempt to hold up the Commonwealth Bank, and endeavour to evolve a scheme which will bc of real use to the farmers.
– I have listened with what patience I could to the bombastic ranting and political humbug indulged in by speakers opposite-
– I object to the expression “political humbug.” The word ‘ humbug “ means to deceive.
– If the words used by the Acting Minister are objectionable to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, they must be withdrawn.
– I did not call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition a political humbug; I merely said that we had listened to speeches which contained a lot of political humbug. I withdraw the statement if it is objectionable. The honorable member who has been addressing the House for the last 20 minutes has criticized every proposal introduced by the Government, including the Port Augusta to Red Hill Railway Bill and the Gold Bounty Bill. When the honorable gentleman was knocking at the cabinet door for a portfolio he said on one occasion in criticism of the Treasurer of the day, the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) : “ Let us spend £50,000,000 bravely.” When the exTreasurer refused to accept his advice, he referred to him as “ the most tragic Treasurer Australia has ever known “.
– On a point of order, I ask whether the remarks of the Acting Minister are relevant to the Bill?
– They irc as revelant as many remarks made by other honorable members.
– I am pleased the views of the Deputy Leader of the. Opposition are not shared by all honorable members opposite. Some fine speeches were made on the bill during the night, notably that, delivered by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) who undoubtedly had the welfare of the farmers at heart. The honorable gentleman made it clear that the Government had not the money available to make this advance to the farmers, but that it was entitled to ask the Commonwealth Bank to help it to assist the wheatgrowers in a time of national emergency. Apparently the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would be willing to drive all the farmers into the Bankruptcy Court, and, as his remarks were received with approbation by some of his colleagues of the Nationalist party, they would be willing to adopt a similar course. I am delighted, therefore, that there are some honorable members opposite with breadth of vision and democratic ideals. If an honorable member on this side of the chamber had made the speech delivered by the honorable member for New England, he would have been accused of being an inflationist, a repudiator, and everything else of the kind.
I cannot accept the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition. It would get us nowhere, and certainly would riot help the wheat-growers out of the difficult position in which they are. The honorable gentleman proposed that £4,000,000 should be ‘made available to assist not only the wheat-growers, but all the other primary producers. This would mean that the wheat-growers would get practically none of the money. The honorable gentleman talked of giving the farmers something after the Government had reduced its expenditure. 1 must remind him that expenditure has been reduced in every reasonable direction. If half the public servants of the Commonwealth were dismissed, the wheat-growers would not be assisted to any material extent. Immediate action is needed to relieve their position. The proposal of the Leader of the Opposition is a sham and a delusion. The matter of providing superphosphate and seed wheat must he considered very early next season. The Commonwealth and State Governments must realize their responsibility in this matter. It is quite likely that some unorthodox action will have to be taken to meet the requirements of the case. It is of no use for us to blink the facts and to beat the air. The Leader of the Opposition suggested . that the £4,000,000 to which he referred could be raised by special taxation. Is not sufficient special taxation being imposed already ? As I pointed out in my secondreading speech, the loss that may be sustained by the Commonwealth in. connexion with this guarantee will not exceed £4,000,000, even if the most gloomy view is taken of the facts. I am glad to say, however, that the Governments of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia are considering the introduction of special legislation to provide that the price of wheat for local consumption shall be 4s. a bushel.
– That is surely the least that they can do.
– I have within the last day or two had a conversation with Mr. Dunn, the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture, and he informed me that his Government is favorable to this proposal ; so, I understand, is the Government of Victoria; and the Government of South Australia is giving consideration to the matter. I have prepared certain figures which set out the position clearly in the event of certain States fixing the price of wheat for local consumption at 4s. and other States not doing so. The details of these calculations are as follow : -
The foregoing calculation is based on the assumption that all the States come into the scheme. This is not likely, as the growers in Queensland and Tasmania are assured of more than 3s. a bushel. By excluding these two States the position will work out thus -
Assuming that Queensland and Tasmania do not require the guaranteed price, but that Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia will agree to a price for local consumption of 4s. per bushel, and that Western Australia will not do so, the position will work out thus -
Assuming that Queensland and Tasmania do not require the guaranteed price, but that Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria will agree to a price for . local consumption of 4s. per bushel, and that
South Australia will not do so, the position will work out thus -
Assuming that Queensland and Tasmania do not come into the scheme, and that no local consumption price is fixed in any State, the position will he roughly thus-
I propose in committee to move certain amendments which will become operative only in the event of certain States agreeing to fix the price of wheat for local consumption at 4s.
– Does the Minister say that the maximum loss that can be sustained will not exceed £4,000,000?
Mr.FORDE. - I do not disguise the fact that there may he a loss, but the gloomiest view of the situation would not justify the assumption that this will exceed £4,000,000. There is, of course, an element of gamble in the whole business; but I am sure that the nation will willingly accept this risk with the object of assisting the farmers. I appeal to all the political parties in the Commonwealth and State Parliaments, which urged the farmers to grow more wheat with the object of correcting our adverse trade balance, to do everything possible to protect this industry. It is not the fault of the farmers that the bottom has fallen out of the wheat market. The farmers responded nobly to the call that was made to them, and they should receive every assistance from the different Governments.
Certain members of the Nationalist party, who have been kept informed of the view of the wheat merchants, have deprecated any interference by the Government with this industry, but there is ample justification for every step that the Government has taken to assist the farmers. The position is beset with difficulties. Had the Government pursued the course of least resistance, it would have swept aside every appeal made to it, but by doing so it would have been recreant to the trust reposed in it.
Certain questions have been asked during the debate about how the scheme in the bill will be financed. I thought I had made the position quite clear in my secondreading speech. The Commonwealth Bank will find the initial advance of 2s., which will be paid to the voluntary pools upon the delivery of wheat at the rail sidings, and so much of the remaining shilling as will be necessary to meet freight and other charges will he provided from time to time.
– This is not provided for in the. bill.
– It is impossible to provide everything in the bill, but the Government will have power to make regulations. It is nonsensical for the Leader of the Opposition to quibble on such matters. I have circulated certain amendments designed to remove any doubt that there might be in connexion with the method of financing the crop.
– What the Minister has said is inconsistent with the terms of the bill.
– The Leader of the Opposition is again quibbling.
– The bill provides that advances shall be made to the growers and not to wheat pools.
– There is no doubt whatever about the meaning of the language of the bill. The bank will provide the money that is necessary, and the Government will refund it to the extent of any loss that is incurred on the final realization of the crop.
– Has the bank signified its willingness to do this?
– The bank has not replied to the communications sent to it, but I am confident that if the bill is supported by an overwhelming majority of honorable members the bank will come to the assistance of the Government.
Question - That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Latham’s amendment) stand part of the question - put. The House divided. (The Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority . . 28
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 - (1.) The Minister may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for the making by that bank, either directly to growers of wheat or to any prescribed co-operative organization on behalf of such growers, of advances in accordance with this Act, and may guarantee to that bank the repayment of any advance made by the bank in pursuance of the arrangement. (2.) There shall be payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is hereby appropriated accordingly, the amounts necessary to repay to the bank any amount due to it under a guarantee given to it in accordance with the last preceding sub-section or otherwise due to it under this Act.
.I do not desire to re-discuss the general arguments that were addressed to the House upon the second reading of the bill. This, however, is a most objectionable clause, because it pretends that this Parliament is to give something to the farmer under the measure. In fact, the clause provides only that an arrangement may bo made with the Commonwealth Bank for the making of advances. The proposal is unsound, unsatisfactory, indefensible, and undefended. It is peculiarly limited in its terms, and provides that advances may be made to growers of wheat, or to any prescribed co-operative organization on behalf of such growers. “ Person “ and “ corporations “ have meanings, hut “ organization “ has no legal meaning at all. The reply may be made that the difficulty will be met by prescribing something and calling it an organization. In this loose hill, which deals with only a few million pounds, that is perhaps a sufficiently good answer! I was interested to hear from the Minister that an amendment that I moved to the second reading of the bill was quite useless, because it provided for only £4,000,000, and the farmers would, therefore, get nothing. The Minister went on to say that he expected that, in the one event, £700,000, and in another event £2,000,000, would be paid under the bill. That is an example of the looseness of statements to which honorable members are becoming accustomed from this Ministry. The Minister in charge of the measure stated, and re-stated, that the maximum amount that need he provided, even on a pessimistic calculation, was £4,000,000. But this clause provides for an entirely unspecified amount to be applied by the Commonwealth Bank, if the Government can induce it to depart from recognized banking and commercial principles. Why limit the benefits of this remarkable measure to the Commonwealth Bank instead of giving other banks a chance of sharing in them? If there is a genuine desire to make the bill work satisfactorily, why not give opportunities for assisting to other banks and institutions? It is provided under the. bill that pools and persons dealing in wheat are to be treated on an entirely different basis. The pools are to receive the advances; the merchants are to get a guarantee of the payment of an ill-defined ultimate bounty. Why should not the pools and the merchants be placed on the same footing, since the bill is not designed as an indirect means of forcing the merchants out of business? I propose to move, later, that after the words “ of such growers “ the words “ or to any other prescribed person “ be inserted.
I call the attention of the Minister to 1 matter of drafting. Reference is made in this clause to prescribed organizations. Some of these bodies are corporations, and, therefore, are legal persons. In clause 3 a different provision is made for guarantees to prescribed persons. No distinction is made between persons and organizations. Some organizations, such as corporations, -are, in law, persons, and the distinction which is sought to be drawn does not exist. Some persons who would be prescribed under clause 4 are companies. Some of the organizations referred to in clause 2 are companies, and accordingly the bill is not so drawn as to distinguish between an organization which may, by being prescribed, be brought under the advance provision, and corporations which may be brought under the guarantee portion of the measure. If it is intended that clause 2 shall be limited to pools, and clause 4 to merchants, that ought to be provided in clear terms. At present the measure is loosely worded, and almost unintelligible.
– I- move -
That after the word “ Australia “ sub-clause I, the words “ or any prescribed bank and/or institution “ be inserted.
My first reason for this amendment is that the existing practice of several Australian pools, notably those of South Australia and Western Australia, is to obtain their finance through the Co-operative Wholesale Society of Great Britain, which for many years has done that business most satisfactorily. In times like the present, when there is very great difficulty in arranging for private finance, it would be stupid to cut across any existing connexions that enable us to handle these matters. The amendment also makes it possible for the resources of the ordinary trading banks to be made available for this business in the same way that the resources of the Commonwealth Bank will be available.
My second reason for proposing the amendment is that, if the Minister and the Government are honest in claiming that their sole desire is to assist the wheatgrowers of Australia, and not to use this measure as a challenge to the Commonwealth Bank Board, this will provide them with the most effective answer that could be made to the latter suggestion. With a view to removing the objectionable suspicion that may be caused by the limitation of this business to one bank, and because the funds of that bank are limited on account of its efforts to finance the different Australian Governments, 1 urge the Minister to accept the amendment.
– The Leader of the Opposition has endeavoured to make the committee believe that the bill, as it stands, is not intelligible. 1 point out, however, that a regulation can be made specifying the prescribed co-operative organizations to which advances may be made under theprovisions of clause 2. It is probable that some such organizations will not be companies.
I cannot accept the amendment of the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Page). It is not necessary, because the Commonwealth Bank can arrange with any other bank for the provision of the necessary finance. Provision is made to enable the Commonwealth Bank to guarantee merchants, and there -will be nothing to prevent those merchants from taking those guarantee?; to their own banks. Any pool or distributor will be able to get from the Government a guarantee that any bank will recognize, and upon which it will make finance available.
– I should like the Minister to consider further the point raised by the honorable member for Cowper, in regard to the financing of the Western Australia and South Australia pools. The Victorian pool is financed by the Commonwealth Bank, but those of South Australia and
West Australia are financed by the Cooperative Wholesale Society of Great Britain. The question arises whether they are not to be given the privilege of having the guarantee applied to them. The Minister, of course, will have the right to examine the conditions, and to ensure that the necessary safeguards are provided.
– Could not the Commonwealth Bank in London arrange with the Co-operative Wholesale Society of Great Britain?
– Will the Minister assure me that the Commonwealth Bank can give the guarantee to that society?
– I have gone into this matter, and am assured that the difficulty in Western Australia can be overcome. The giving of a guarantee to the Commonwealth Bank will be ample. The Government has definitely made up its mind on that point, and its decision cannot be altered.
– Let us assume that the Co-operative Wholesale Society of Great Britain makes an application to the Commonwealth Bank, and it is not granted. The matter may not come within the purview of the Minister; he may be giving the Commonwealth Bank the right to say “yea” or “nay”, and thus the matter will be taken out of his hands. I know the direction in which his sympathies lie, and I should be quite prepared to leave it to him; but if the Commonwealth Bank is appointed a government agent, and is allowed to come between the Government and applications from such societies as the Cooperative Wholesale Society of Great Britain, irrespective of the wishes of the Minister, an alteration of the clause is necessary.
– The Government holds the view that there is no danger.
.I hope that the Minister will favorably consider the amendment. The clause vests in him complete power. Many years ago, when this co-operative society agreed to finance the Western Australian pool, that business had been refused by the Commonwealth Bank. This is an opportunity to obtain finance that the Commonwealth Bank would probably welcome. The Minister need not go beyond that institution unless he feels that the circumstances justify such action.
– . I stress the point raised by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), that it rests entirely with the Minister to either widen the range so as to include institutions other than the Commonwealth Bank, or to confine it to that institution. The use of the word “ prescribe “ in the amendment ensures a determination by the Minister as to whether or not any bank or other institution shall be so prescribed. From the Minister’s point of view, it is a perfectly safe amendment, and I hope that he will see his way to accept it.
– I understood the Minister to say that the difficulty raised by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr.. Stewart), in repetition of something that was said previously by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) could be met under the bill by making it possible to deal with the Co-operative Wholesale Society of Great Britain. As the bill stands at present, the only guarantee which the Commonwealth is authorized to give is a guarantee to the Commonwealth Bank. Further, the whole bill is founded upon the Commonwealth Bank making an advance or giving a guarantee. Therefore, there is no room for the introduction of any other bank or institution.
– The attitude of the Minister can be due only to his ignorance of the history of the financing of the Western Australian wheat pool. Originally the Commonwealth Bank handled that business; but in the very difficult times that were experienced in 1923 or 1924, it unfortunately found itself unable to continue to do so, and consequently the management of the pool were obliged to seek other means of obtaining finance. Fortunately, they succeeded in coming to an arrangement with the Co-operative Wholesale Society of Great Britain, andsince that time the whole of their business has been handled by that society most satisfactorily. I believe it was in 1925 that the business of the South Australian pool also was undertaken. The point that I stress is that this society originally entered this field of operation because of the strain that was imposed upon the resources of the Commonwealth Bank, Those times were not nearly so difficult or so strenuous as the present. On behalf of not only the wheat-farmers, but also of all those who are compelled to arrangeprivately for the raising of overdrafts,I urge that steps be taken to ensure that that finance which comes from outside Australia, and which is independent of the resources of the Commonwealth Bank, shall still he available. It is an addition to the existing financial structure of Australia, and I trust that the Minister will see his way to grant this reasonable request.
has said, the Western Australian farmers do sell their wheat through the Co-operative Wholesale Society of Great Britain. I, myself will sell through that agency about 18,000 bushels of wheat this year. I suppose that I am more interested in this bill than is any other honorable member, and I have no hesitation in accepting the arrangements made under the bill for the payment of advances. Clause 4 states -
– That provision does not cover the position that I have mentioned.
– -The right honorable member wants to extend the arrangements for the payment of advances beyond the co-operative society.
– It will be for the Minister to say whether it should be extended or not.
– It will he for the Minister to say whether the arrangement is to be made through the Commonwealth Bank. That bank has a branch in London, and it can come to an arrangement with the Co-operative Wholesale Society of Great Britain. The bill enables that to he done. Therefore, the suggestion of the right honorable member for Cowper, to extend the arrangement to a’ wider field, is totally unnecessary.
.The Minister,in replying to the right honorable member for Cowper, quoted from clause 4, which deals with “ any prescribedperson “. That is an entirely different matter, because that clause deals only with the power to make advances, and not with any organization or institution that might desire to make advances for the purpose of this provision. I mention that so that there may be no misunderstanding in respect of the amendment of the right honorable member for Cowper.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted (Dr. Earle Page’samendment) be so inserted - put. The committee divided. (Temporary Chairman - Hon. R. A. Crouch.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I move -
That after the word “ growers “, second occurring, sub-clause 1, the words “or to any prescribed person”, be inserted.
This amendment, if accepted, will place merchants, for the purposes of this bill, on the same footing as the pools, and will involve the abolition of the distinction between guarantees and advances.
– I cannot accept the amendment. The bill will no doubt be difficult to administer. Honorable gentlemen opposite have pointed out the difficulty of raising the necessary money. The wheat merchants, when they were fighting the Wheat Marketing Bill early in the present year, said that they had £20,000,000 of foreign capital at their disposal for the purchase of wheat, and even when I was in consultation with them recently, they made it clear that, between them, they had available foreign capital of approximately £20,000,000. I, therefore, do not anticipate that they will have any difficulty in making the first advance of 2s.
– Did they say that they were prepared to operate under this measure?
– No. They said that they were opposed to all forms of government interference with industry. They did not believe in the bill and considered that there should be no guarantee at all. They wished to be allowed to conduct their business in their own way without hindrance from Commonwealth or State Governments. They also said that if the bill became law they would co-operate with the Government.
– Mr. Darling expressed a doubt on that point.
– That is so. He expressed a doubt as to whether he would join in with the Government.
– No one can doubt my attitude towards the co-operative movement in Australia, because I have supported it on every occasion.I have attempted to secure 100 per cent. co-operation on the part of the wheat-growers, and it is for that reason that I heartily support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposi tion. Evidently the Government is determined to limit the number of buyers in this country. The Minister has said that there is available to the wheat merchants, £20,000,000 of foreign capital.
– I said that the wheat merchants stated that.
– Whether the amount is £20,000,000 or less, it seems to me that, in view of the present financial position of Australia, we should avail ourselves of every available penny of outside capital.
– If the merchants do not buy in Victoria, the pool will receive 90 per cent. of the wheat of that State.
– I understand that the purpose of this legislation is ostensibly to assist the wheat-growers, and I know of no better method of raising prices than to increase the number of buyers. Honorable members on the Government side seem to think that 3s. may be the maximum price obtained, but the market may so alter as to bring about higher prices. Why not put the buyers in the position of pooling the whole of our wheat ?
– In what way does this clause limit the number of buyers?
– The amendment is that the Minister may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for the making of advances by that bank, either directly to growers of wheat or to any prescribed co-operative organization, on behalf of such growers, or to any prescribed person. If the amendment is accepted there will be an additional avenue through which wheat may be handled.
– I move -
That after the word “ repayment “, sub; clause 1, the word “monthly” be inserted;
This would mean that the Commonwealth would repay to the bank on monthly balances instead of at some indefinite future date. There would be a direct responsibility on the Commonwealth to find ready money to finance the scheme.
– I very much regret that the Government did not accept my previous amendment and I am certain that if the Minister for Defence will consult with the organization that handles most of the Western Australian wheat, he will regret his opposition to my proposal. I suggest that he should communicate by telegram with that organization so that he may get a reply in time to allow any amendment that may be desirable to be made in another place. Because of the defeat of that amendment it is unnecessary for me to move the others which would have been consequential upon it, but I move the following further amendment : -
That after the word “ act “ at the end of Hub-clause 2 the following words be inserted: - “and there shall be payable into the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the purpose of providing for repayments to the bank or institution Tinder this sub-section all moneys obtained by the imposition of a special sales ta,x on flour “. 1 was gratified to hear this morning that the Minister does not contemplate that the whole of the money for the advance of 3s. will have to be found by the Commonwealth Bank, but that steps are being taken by the Governments of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland to increase the local price of wheat to ensure an increased average price over the whole crop. That is contrary to the Minister’s earlier statement that it would be wrong to increase the price of flour and so possibly cause the price of bread to be raised. Now apparently he is pleased with the steps that the State Governments are taking.
– I am assured that the fixing of 4s. for local consumption will not involve any increase of the price of bread.
– When speaking on the second reading, I said that, if the price of wheat for local consumption were fixed at 4s. and the exchange were unpegged, the Commonwealth would be absolved of almost all responsibility. It would mean an addition of 4d. a bushel to the price which the farmer would get over the whole of his crop, because about one-sixth of the total crop is used for local consumption.
– The right honorable member’s amendment is irrelevant to the bill and therefore cannot he accepted.
– I still urge the Government to introduce, before these sittings terminate, legislation on the lines of the Wheat Marketing Bill, which has been asked for by every conference of representatives of the industry.
– The mention of proposed State legislation raises a question as to what is in the minds of the State Governments. Does the Victorian Government, for instance, intend voluntarily to raise the price of wheat for local consumption in order to benefit the Commonwealth by a reduction of its liability; or does it contemplate that the extra amount received through the fixation of a local price of 4s. shall be given to the Victorian growers over and above the amount guaranteed by the Commonwealth? In view of the liability which the Commonwealth is accepting under this legislation all the States should follow the example of Victoria, and the amount so raised within t he States should, be paid into a common fund for the reduction of the Common: wealth liability. I apprehend that what the State Governments have in mind is the raising of an additional sum to be paid to the growers within their boundaries in addition to what the Commonwealth is guaranteeing.
– lit that event the guarantee would not operate, because the growers in those States would have received more than 3s. without its aid.
– Is it likely that the Government of New South Wales would legislate to increase the price of wheat within that State if other governments did not do the same? The effect of such action would be to reduce the Commonwealth liability, not in New South Wales only, but throughout the Commonwealth. The people of that State would be taxed by the increased price of wheat for local consumption for the benefit possibly of South Australia and Western Australia, which did not take similar action. I suggest that in his negotiations with the State Governments the Minister should make that clear. All the State Governments should introduce legislation to increase the price for local consumption to 4s., which is very low, and back it up by a price-fixing tribunal which would ensure that the millers and bakers did not unduly increase the price of bread.
That is the least that the States can do in view of the action taken by the Commonwealth Government. The State Governments are financially interested iti the success of the wheat industry. They have advanced millions of pounds to the settlers for seed, fodder, &c, and they are depending on the money from the wheat crop to liquidate a portion of that debt. They have liens over the crops of thousands of settlers, and because of them are actually the greatest growers of wheat in the Commonwealth. Having regard to those circumstances, the Minister will have a strong case to represent to the States in favour of the introduction of legislation on the lines I have suggested
– In consultation with me, the Ministers for Agriculture in New South Wales and Victoria wore apprehensive that something might happen to prevent the Commonwealth Government from getting the necessary finance to pu: this scheme into operation, and they showed their anxiety to help the Commonwealth in every possible way. 1 understood that the 4s. to be fixed by the State Governments for wheat for local consumption was to be paid into a pool in order to assure the acceptance of the scheme by the Commonwealth Bank, and reduce the loss that might have to be borne by the Commonwealth. I shall investigate further that aspect of the matter. As the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) has pointed out, the wheat-growers are largely indebted to the State Governments, which therefore are interested in ensuring the success of this scheme.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 -
Subject to this Act advances under this Act shall be paid in repect of wheat of fair average quality produced by a grower during the 1930-31 season:
Provided that in respect of wheat of les? than fair average quality, as determined by a prescribed authority, an advance of such lesser amount, as is determined by the prescribed authority, than that which is payable in respect of wheat of fair average quality may be made.
– Subsequent clauses provide that payment shall be made to the growers by the pools or merchants receiving cbe advances “ upon delivery at a railway station or other usual place of delivery.’’ If the conditions set out in clauses 4 and 5 are strictly complied with by the merchants or pools, it will be impossible to make these advances apply to past deliveries of wheat.
– I know that a lot of wheat in South Australia has been delivered into the merchants’ stacks and paid for. In other States also, wheat must have been sold and delivered. A strict reading of the bill raises some doubt as to whether wheat thus disposed of will be covered by the 3s. guarantee. I hope the Minister ‘ will take steps to ensure that all farmers who harvested wheat this year will be placed on an equal footing. .1 know that he has said in an airy fashion that various things can be done by regulation, but we have had past experience of his optimism. I would like to see a definite provision in the bill that the guaranteed price will be paid in suspect of all this season’s wheat.
– If an attempt is made to give effect to the suggestion of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker), to pay the difference between the price received in the case of sales already made and the guaranteed price, numerous complications will arise. In many cases wheat was sold long before it was harvested, and those who disposed of their crops before this legislation became operative must take the responsibility. It is easy to raise points of this nature; but it will readily be seen that those who sold wheat at, perhaps, ls. lOd. a bushel will now be claiming the guaranteed price.
– I trust that the Acting Minister (Mr. Forde) will insert some explicit provision in the bill to meet the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). It is quite true that, during the last four or five weeks, many necessitous farmers in northern New South Wales, and also in other districts, sold their crop before it was harvested. There should be no difficulty in tracing the wheat, the payments for which have been made direct to the growers. There should be a definite record as to the price obtained, and of the quantity sold. Common justice demands that every wheatfarmer in Australia, whether forced by necessitous circumstances, or who happened to be producing in an early district, should be placed on exactly the same basis as those who have not yet sold their crops. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) contends, wrongly I submit, that those who have sold at a lower price should not receive the guaranteed price. This matter should be definitely settled, not merely by a statement by the Acting Minister, but by a definite provision in the bill, which could, if necessary, withstand any appeal to the court. 1
– -I trust that the Acting Minister (Mr. Forde) will accept the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). This measure has been designed to assist the farmers, and particularly those who, through sheer force of circumstances, were compelled to dispose of their “wheat before it was known that the Government proposed to give a guaranteed price. There has been unfortunate delay in the presentation of this measure, and in some cases it has been very difficult . for farmers, particularly those in early districts, to hold on to their wheat. If this measure is to provide the maximum benefit to the wheat-producers, some provision should be inserted on the lines suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, in order to assist particularly those who, as I have said, through force of circumstances have been compelled to dispose of their wheat.
.If the bill does not already provide that the full amount of the guarantee shall be paid to those wheat-growers who have already sold their wheat, an amendment to that effect should be inserted in this clause. The sales of wheat could, I submit, readily be traced, because, under the system adopted by buyers, a delivery certificate is given to the sellers. Personally, I think that the position is already covered in the bill, because it was intended that all sales made prior to the passage of the bill should be included. Those who have previously sold wheat should receive the benefit of the guarantee. If the bill does not provide for such cases, there would be no danger in inserting an amendment. The delivery certificates would show the quantity sold, and- the price paid, which would be a check upon any improper practice.
.- I trust that something definite will be done to meet the case of growers who have already sold their wheat. I agree with the views expressed by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) that many needy wheat-growers and those producing in early districts have already disposed of their crops. The presentation of a measure to assist the wheatgrowers has, owing to the difficulty surrounding the situation, been somewhat delayed; but, if those who have sold their crops are not to receive the guaranteed price, considerable dissatisfaction will result. I remind the Acting Minister (Mr. Forde) that, at a conference of wheat merchants held recently, one wheat merchant said that he had that day purchased 150,000 bushels, which clearly indicates that, up to that time, there had been a fair amount of trade. I cannot see where any difficulty will arise in cases where growers have received advances from the wheat merchants, unless such merchants fail to become one of the prescribed persons provided for in the bill. I take it that there has been no outright sale under ls. lOd. a bushel, and it seems that provision could be made for the Government to bring the amount up to 2s.; but I do not know what could be done in respect of subsequent advances made to the growers. If something definite is not done, there, will be a great deal of dissatisfaction on the part of those who have already sold their wheat.
– I know that the Acting Minister (Mr. Forde) intended, and still intends, that those who sold their wheat prior to the passage of the bill shall receive the benefit of the guaranteed price. I’ rose more particularly to ask whether it would not be wise to include in the bill a definite provision to that effect; I know the Government fully intended to protect those who were compelled to sell earlier than others. As the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) rightly said, quite a number of those who disposed of their crops were in necessitous circumstances, and it would be an act of gross injustice to deprive them of the full guaranteed price. The transactions in connexion with early sales are definitely closed, and as the wheat may be in the hands of merchants or other prescribed authorities, there is an opportunity for manipulation.
– Could not the transactions be checked by the. delivery certificates?
– There should be no difficulty in tracing early sales. One of the. conditions under which a person should be a prescribed authority should be, I submit, that all his transactions in wheat this season shall come under the scheme. If a merchant bought at1s. 10d., the price should he brought up to 2s. a bushel, and subsequent payments could bring the price up to 2s. 5d. a bushel, or whatever the net return will be. There appears to be no difference of opinion on this point; but the only issue is whether the position can be met by a definite provision in the bill.
.- I have gone very, fully into this matter, and submit that it is unnecessary to insert an amendment on the lines suggested in the bill. On wheat sold through co-operative organizations, an advance of 2s. a bushel will be available, and prescribed persons appointed under this measure will be expected to pay a first advance of 2s., and an additional1s., less certain costs, later on.
– What will be the position if certain buyers refuse to become prescribed persons?
– If they refused after paying the first advance, ft is easy to understand that there would be a rush to the pools. I feel certain that no wheat merchant would stand out in the way suggested by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker). The merchants have assured me that if the measure becomes law ‘they will co-operate with the growers. An amendment which I have circulated applies to wheat grown and sold from the commencement of the 1930-31 season up to the date of the passing of this measure.
– The Acting Minister (Mr. Forde) has given a satisfactory explanation with respect to wheat sold to a merchant who subsequently becomes a prescribed person, but it is possible that some merchants may not become prescribed persons. The Minister seems to take it for granted that they will all wish to become prescribed authorities in, order to retain their business. It is quite possible that a small mill-owner may buy wheat direct from the farmer, and may not eventually apply to become a prescribed person. Hemay buy wheat in competition with pools and merchants, and because ofthat competition will subsequently have to pay approximately 3s. In many cases such buyers have already purchased wheat at about1s.10d. and 2s. a bushel, but, according to the bill as I read it, there is no provision under which the Government or the bank can ascertain that such sales were made and what prices were paid. The Minister appears to have overlooked that point, which should be further considered before t he clause is passed.
– The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), who has been in close association with the Acting Minister (Mr. Forde) in connexion with this measure, said that the Government intends to do what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) suggests. Will not the Acting Minister’ accept an amendment in order to secure those who have already sold their wheat? Although the Acting Minister has assured the committee that such persons will be safeguarded, definite provision should be inserted in the bill in order to remove all possible doubt.
. -I am very much impressed with the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), who has shown chat a real difficulty exists. Honorable members on this side of the chamber believe that the Minister intends that the difficulties mentioned shall be met. We should pay attention to a gentleman of his legal attainments. The first four words, “Subject to this act”, suggest a limitation. If they were not inserted, it might be contended that advances should be paid . in respect of wheat of fair average quality, irrespective of whether it was sold, I also direct attention to sub-clause 2 of clause5, which provides that the rate of advance shall be 2s. per bushel of the amount of any advance, payable upon delivery of the wheat at a railway station or other usual place of delivery. I understand that provision would apply only to wheat delivered after the passage of this measure unless it is specifically provided in the bill that it shall apply to wheat delivered and sold prior to the passage of the bill.
– I will have the point raised by the honorable member considered by the draftsman and, if necessary, an amendment will be inserted in another place.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 -
In respect of wheat which is marketed through any prescribed person the Minister may arrange with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for a. guarantee to be given by that bank to that person of three shillings per bushel less freight insurance and other handling charges incurred -
Amendment (by Mr. Forde) proposed -
That the words, “this act”, sub-clause1, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “those sections”.
– I direct attention of the committee to the phraseology of sub-clause. 1.. It provides that where wheat “is marketed through” any prescribed person, the advances in respect of it shall not be made under this act. In ordinary commercial practice, wheat is “ sold to “, or “ delivered to “ an individual for him to do something further with it by. way of sale or conversion intoflour.What would be the position of a grower who delivered wheat which was accidentally destroyed before the merchant had time to do anything with it ? Could it be said that that wheat had been “marketed through “ the person who bought it ? .I mention this as a possibility, because of the difficulties that may arise owing to the vagueness of the phraseology.
Amendment agreed to.
.Subclause 2 provides that in respect of wheat which is marketed through any prescribed person, the Minister may arrange for a guarantee to that person of 3s. per bushel, less freight, insurance, and other handling charges incurred. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) hasalready pointed out that the net amount to be received by the grower will be approximately 2s. 6d. As freight, insurance, and other handling charges vary, according to the locality in which the wheat is grown, I suggest that the word “ less “ be omitted, and the words “inclusive of” inserted in its stead.
– A later amendment, which I intend to move, to insert after the word “ delivery “, the words “ to such other payment by that person to the grower “ will meet the point raised by the honorable member.
– The Minister’s amendment cannot do that.
– To ensure clarity as to amount to be received by the grower, I move -
That the word “ less “, sub-clause 2, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ inclusive of “.
– Before this matter is dealt with,I should like the Minister to consider what may happen in the case of wheat delivered tobe manufactured into flour for export. I addressed some arguments to the House at the second-reading stage to show that, in its present form, the bill provided for a net guarantee of approximately 2s. 5d. per bushel to the grower. If the amendment suggested by the honorable mem- ber for Perth. (Mr.. Nairn) is accepted, careful consideration will have to be given to other provisions. The point which he has raised is an important one. I am not clear as to what is the intention of the Government.
– Unless the amendment moved by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) is accepted, the bill will not do what the Government intends it to do. 1 assume that what the Government really intends is that the guarantee of 3s. per bushel shall be inclusive of all payments such as freight and other handling charges; but, as I understand the provisions of the measure, the amount to be received by the grower, after meeting freight and other charges, will be approximately 2s. 5d. Under this clause, the person who incurs freight and other charges will not be able to reimburse himself. Consequently, only 2s. 5d. gross will be paid to the grower.
– The phraseology of the clause is that usually employed in measures of this kind. The clause provides for the payment of a certain guarantee, less freight and handling charges. I have no doubt that the Minister will accept the interpretation of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). If freight and handling charges were uniform throughout, the Commonwealth, there would be no difficulty about the matter.
– The phraseology of this clause is in keeping with that used in other similar measures. The meaning of the clause is perfectly clear. I cannot accept the amendment.
– Has the Minister nothing to say with regard to the position of wheat delivered to a miller, not for consumption in Australia, but for the purpose of being manufactured into flour for export? As the clause stands, there is a possibility that such wheat may be excluded from the guarantee, or, more probably, that in respect of it the amount paid shall be 3s. per bushel, without any deduction.
– Mr. Knowles, the Acting Solicitor-General, has advised me that paragraph b of sub-clause 2 covers the position whether the flour is exported or consumed locally.
– Apparently there is to be a distinction, because paragraph a enacts that the payment shall be 3s. per bushel, less freight, insurance, and other handling charges, in respect of “ placing wheat for export on board a ship at the port of export “. To test the feeling of the committee, I move -
That after the words “ consumption to “, paragraph (b), sub-clause 2, the words ‘‘or for manufacture into flour for export by “ be inserted.
.-I move -
That the word “the”, second occurring, sub-clause 3, be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ a first “.
The sub-clause as proposed to he amended will read -
Any guarantee given under an arrangement made in pursuance of the last preceding subsection shall be subject to a first payment by the prescribed person to the grower of the wheat of 2s. per bushel upon delivery of the wheat.
I should like to know if the Minister is satisfied that millers in wheat-growing districts, who are prescribed persons as provided for in this clause, will be required to pay to the growers not only the 2s. a bushel, but practically another 1s. as there will be no freight tot he seaboard and practically very few handling charges to be incurred in respect of the wheat they purchase.
– I accept the amendment, and can assure the honorable member that wheat delivered to a local mill will get the full benefit of any advantage derived through freight to the seaboard not having to be paid.
Amendment agreed to.
– I should like to know if this sub-clause is so watertight that a merchant may make no advance but 2s. a bushel.
– It is not.
– I move -
That after the word “ delivery “, second occurring, sub-clause 3, the following words be inserted, “to. such other payments by that person to the grower “.
This amendment will meet the criticism that hasbeen offered - that the hill provides for no guarantee of a payment beyond the initial 2s. Regulations will deal with the conditions of the payment of any amount due subsequentto the first instalment of 2s.
. -Although this amendment allows for the making of regulations to provide for the payment of more than 2s. a bushel, it still does not require that a further payment shall be made and it is left to the Government to determine how much more, if any, shall be paid. The bill does not provide that the grower is entitled to what we have been calling the 2s. 5d. a bushel, but if the amendment is adopted he will be entitled to a first payment of 2s., and such further payments as the Government may prescribe. The matter is, therefore, left in the hands of the Government. The amendment, however, does not provide for the payment of handling charges to any person. That is apparent from what the Minister said when he declined to accept the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Perth, although in his reply on the second reading he said that this particu lar amendment would cover the amount of the handling charges advanced by the pools and merchants. We find now that it deals only with the payment to the grower of amounts beyond the original 2s., and we know that the grower never receives any payment made to a pool in respect of handling’ charges. It must be clearly understood, therefore, that under this amendment the grower receives 2s. plus something more as determined by the Government; but that the pools and the merchants alike have to provide for all the handling charges, freight, insurance, &c. Incidentally, I may point out that the amendment recognizes the validity of my earlier criticism
Amendment agreed to.
– I move -
That the following sub-clause be inserted: - “ (4a) Any guarantee or payment given or made under the preceding provisions of this section shall be in respect of wheat of fair average quality produced bya grower during the 1930-1931 season:
Provided that in respect of wheat of less thanfair average quality, as determined by aprescribedauthority, guarantees and payments may be given or made of such lesser amounts, as are determined by the prescribed authority, than those which may be given ormade in respect of wheat of fair average quality.”
The object of this amendment is to provide that the amounts guaranteed and paid under clause 4 are in respect of fair average quality wheat and are subject to dockages in the same manner as the amounts advanced under clause 2.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Mr. Fords) agreed to-
That after the word amount “, sub-clause 5, the word “ for “ be omitted and that after the word “ bank “, second occurring, the words “ becomes liable “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ has to pay “.
.- No provision seems to have been made in the bill to protect merchants. They are to receive something like 2s. 5d. a bushel, but are required to pay the full amount to the growers without any regard whatever to interest on the capital they have to employ if they desire to operate under the bill, or to any profit to which they are entitled. If a merchant pays 3s. for wheat and is only guaranteed 3s. there is no margin whatever for him. I hope that it is not the intention of the Ministry to cut out the merchants. I understood from the Assistant Minister’s speech that the Government intended to give these people an opportunity to operate. No such opportunity will be afforded if the measure is carried in its present form. If they do operate, it will he with the certain knowledgethat they will lose, not only the interest on their capital, but the expenses which they incur in connexion with their operations. I ask the honorable gentleman to enlighten the committee as to the position.
– I support the remarks of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn). Apparently, various hands have played a part in the drafting and planning of this measure. I believe that a large number of those who have helped to bring it forward were actuated solely by the desire to aid the farmer. Others, however, were only prepared to help the farmer, provided that in doing so they would also injure the merchant. There is considerable doubt as to whether the provisions of this measure, as they are at present couched, will induce the merchants to operate at all. If that doubt proves a fact, it will have the effect of depriving farmers of the open market as a channel through which to market their wheat, for some time, if not indefinitely. In the Labor Daily of Tuesday, the 16th December last, there is a leading article headed, “ Labour and the Farmers.” It deals in detail with the plight of the farmer, and towards its conclusion states -
Of comae, however, all such things are expedients, arepalliatives of the existing economic system. What is really needed is the organization of society on such lines that the production and distribution of wealth shall be deliberately planned by central authorities; that is to say, by competent representative bodies appointed by the people. In a word, what is wanted is socialization. Neither the farmer nor any other member of society is really safe, so long as production and distribution are left to the anarchistic methods of capitalistic individualism.
That indicates clearly that there are forces at work to try to hamstring the existing access to the open market.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 5 - ( 1 . ) The rateof advance payable under this act in respect of wheat of fair average quality shall be three shillings per bushel less freight, insurance and other handling charges incurred -
Amendment (by Mr. Forde) proposed -
That at the end of sub-clause 2 the following words be inserted: - “and further instalments of any advance shall be paid at such times and in such circumstances as are prescribed.”
– I merely desire to point out that under this skeleton bill we are setting up some sort of undescribed organization, to handle an enormous business. This clause is an indication of the amount of work that will have to be done in con ducting what, in effect, is an Australian wheat pool, for the purpose of carrying out the terms of the measure in certain of its attributes. It will necessitate tremendous clerical expense and the keeping of voluminous records, and there is no chance of the existing Department of Markets being able to handle the business. There will be an infinity of work in addition to that already carried out. Track will have to be kept of all these payments, to be made at such times and in such circumstances as are prescribed, and tables will have to he kept of all wheat deliveries by the Commonwealth, as well as by the pools and the merchants. The Commonwealth cannot accept, without supervision, the records that it finds in the offices of such concerns. This clause is an example of the perplexity and the extensiveness of the system, and gives effect to a criticism that I made in my second-reading speech.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 6 agreed to.
Clause 7 -
Subject to this act, the conditions under which advances shall be made and the terms and conditions under which advances shall be repaid shall be as prescribed.
– I move -
That after the word “ the “, first occurring, the words “ terms, and “ be inserted.
This amendment and the one that I shall move later to the clause are designed to meet the fear expressed by honorable members that it is intended that the growers shall be required to repay advances made to them. There is no such intention. It is considered that the reimbursement of the advances can be secured out of proceeds of the wheat under the terms on which advances will be made. Accordingly, it is deemed unnecessary to create any misunderstanding by referring to repayment of “ advances.”
– I am glad that the Minister has removed this provision, which would undoubtedly have caused a lot of difficulty. The term “ advance “ is used in this bill only in relation to payments to the growers, and not to payments to pools or merchants. I have no objection to offer to the amendment, hut I inquire why clause 8 is left in to provide that “ The security for any advance made under this act shall be as prescribed,” in view of the acceptance by the Minister of the suggestion which I made with regard to clause 7. Is it desired that the grower shall give security to the Commonwealth Bank?
– Some security must be given to the bank, under the Rural Credits Act.
– That could be effected by arrangement between the pools and the bank. Is it not better to leave the matter to be arranged in that fashion rather than to allow the Government to come in and prescribe what the security shall be.
– Such a provision may be necessary.
Amendment agreed to.
– I suggest that the word “ advances “ shall be deleted and the word “ payments “ be inserted in lieu thereof. Any payment made by the Government with regard to wheat already sold can hardly be termed “ an advance “. I contemplate cases that will arise in which, if all growers are to be placed on an equality, it will be necessary for payments to be made direct to certain growers. The wheat will not have gone through the prescribed brokers or through pools. If the wheat is already sold it may not be legal under this measure as it stands to make the payments that are prescribed under it “ as advances “. The alteration that I have suggested would cover all cases.
– I support the proposal of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker), and, to put the matter in order, I move -
That the word “ advances “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ payments “.
I urge the Assistant Minister to accept the amendment. It is obvious that if the money has already been paid out it is a payment, and not an advance. It is amazing that legislation drafted in this indefinite manner should be submitted to Parliament. The Minister all along appears to have adopted an extraordinary attitude. The grower who is hardest hit and has to get rid of his wheat at a lower price than that now offered should be protected, and that can be done by altering the word “ advances “ to “ payments “.
– I cannot accept the amendment. Advances will be made to cooperative pools, and the choice of the word has been thoroughly considered by the parliamentary draftsman. The Government desires that it shall stand.
– I move -
That after the word “ advances “ the words., “and payments” be inserted.’
That covers both advances to cooperative societies and pools, and payments made to persons and wheat-growers, who have not marketed their wheat through prescribed persons or through pools. If such a provision is not inserted, there will be no power to make payments to these people.
– I support the amendment of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker), because I want to protect the interests of the growers. If these words are not included in the bill there is a probability of the court ruling that there is no authority to make payments as advances. That would mean that the persons whom the Minister is most desirous of assisting could not be assisted by this means. If the amendment is not agreed to, Parliament will, probably, have to be called together soon to do what the Minister now declines to do. If the Minister is really desirous of helping those most in need of assistance, he will accept the amendment.
Amendment (by Mr. Forde) agreed to-
That the words “ and the terms and conditions under which advances shall be repaid “ be omitted.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 8 agreed to.
Clause 9 -
Where any question arises under this act as to who is the grower of any particular wheat, the question shall be determined by the Minister, and the determination of the Minister shall be final and conclusive.
.- .1 move -
That thu following words be added to the clause: - so as to absolve the bank and the Crown
Ito n i any chinn from any person in respect thereof.
The rival claims of persons who profess to be entitled to the proceeds of the wheat should not be settled departmentally. 1 agree with the clause so far as it affects deliveries of wheat to the Crown ; in such cases the decision of the Minister should be final. But a good deal of wheatgrowing is carried out on the sharefarming principle, and all sorts of claims may arise in respect of the wheat grown. The Minister should not be concerned with such rival claims; they should be decided between the claimants.
– I sec no reason for the inclusion of this clause in the bill at all. Why should citizens be deprived of their ordinary rights and the determination of who is the rightful claimant to the proceeds of the wheat be made by the department, except prima facie? There is no objection to the department saying that, in its opinion, A is the person entitled to the proceeds of the wheat; but that should not deprive B of his rights. The effect of the clause will be to deprive citizens of their legal rights. Their claims will be settled finally and conclusively by a departmental decision. That is opposed to the general principles of British law, one of the characteristics of which is that the rights of citizens shall be determined by law, not by the decision of a departmental authority. In recent years many objections have been raised to infringements of this sound and salutary principle, as those who have read Lord Hewart’s book. The New Despotism, are aware. I see no reason why the decision should not be left as in ordinary affairs. Should the Minister decide in favour of A, and B presents a claim for payment, the contending parties should be entitled to fightout the matter. I object to the substitution of the discretion of a Minister for the ordinary method of determining rights according to law in the courts of the land.
vision which is usual in bills of this character.
– This is a unique bill.
– No Minister would make a decision until after a careful examination of all the circumstances had been made by departmental officers.
– That is the objectionable feature of the clause.
– In my opinion, the determination of the Minister should be final and conclusive.
– I protest against the insertion of this clause, because I object to the rights of citizens being taken away by the determination of public servants. I have nothing to say against public servants as such; but I do not think that Parliament should place in their hands the determination of matters which should he left to the judiciary or Parliament. Under this clause citizens will, have no right of appeal whatever.
.- 1 cannot understand the desire of the department to concern itself with the thousands of disputes which are likely to arise under this measure. Instead of carrying out its proper functions, the department will be engaged in settling disputes between rival claimants. Is it actuated by obstinacy, or by a desire to usurp the functions of the judiciary? Disputes between private citizens should not be determined by a Minister; private citizens should be entitled to settle their disputes in the courts of the land.
.- I agree with the contention of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) that clause 9 should be deleted. Its inclusion in the bill will serve no useful purpose. The Acting Minister (Mr. Forde) stands to lose nothing by the deletion of the clause. Private citizens should not bp deprived of their rights by any determination of a Minister, or by a departmental decision. I hope that the Minister will agree to the omission of the clause.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 10 (Power to call for information).
– I rise again to protest against the inclusion of clauses in the form of clause 10, which confers a tremendous and unnecessary power upon the Minister and departmental officials, and does not limit, as it ought to limit, the production of books and documents, or the giving of information, to books, documents and information in the possession of the person served with a notice.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 11 to 13 agreed to.
– I move -
That the following new clauses be inserted: - “12a. - (1.) Any person who sells any wheat for interstate transfer at a price less than four shillings per bushel delivered to a purchaser in a State other than that in which the wheat is produced, shall be guilty of an offence.
Penalty: Five hundred pounds. “ (2.) Any agreement or contract for the sale or purchase of wheat for interstate transfer at any price less than four shillings per bushel delivered to a purchaser in a State other than that in which the wheat is produced, shall be null and void. “ (3.) The Minister (or any person thereto authorized in writing by him) may, by notice in writing, require any person to produce any contract or agreement in his possession relating to the sale ofwheat for interstate transfer. “ (4.) Any person who refuses or fails to comply with any notice given under the last preceding sub-section shall be guilty of an offence.
Penalty: Five hundred pounds or imprisonment for two years. “ 12b. - (1.) The Minister (or any person thereto authorized in writing by him ) may issue licences, for such periods and upon such terms and conditions as are prescribed, permitting the carriage of wheat from a place in one State to a place in Australia beyond that State. “ (2.) The Minister (or any person thereto authorized in writing by him) may require any person to give security, in such form and to such amounts as are approved by the Minister, for compliance by the person with the terms and conditions of any licence issued to him under this Act. “ (3.) Where the Minister is satisfied that any person to whom a licence has been issued under this section has contravened or failed to comply with any term or condition of the licence, the Minister may cancel the licence, and the licence shall thereupon cease to be of any force or effect. “12c. - (1.) Any person who being the holder of a licence under the last preceding section, contravenes or fails to comply with any term or condition upon which the licence was granted, shall be guilty of an offence.
Penalty: Five hundred pounds. “ (2.) Except as provided by the regulations -
the owner or person having possession or custody of wheat shall not deliver any wheat to any person for carriage into or through another State to a place in Australia beyond the State in which the delivery is made; and
a person shall not carry any wheat from a place in one State into or through another State to a place in Australia beyond the State in which the carriage begins, unless, in either case, a licence has been issued under this Act permitting that carriage of that wheat, and except in accordance with the licence so issued.
Penalty: Five hundred pounds. “ (3.) Any wheat which is, or is in process of being, carried in contravention of this section’, shall be forfeited to the King. “ 12d. Sections twelve a, twelve b and twelve c of this Act shall not commence until a date to be fixed by proclamation.”
Proposed new clause 12a is designed to secure a minimum price in respect of wheat which is the subject of intra-state transfer, and intended for consumption in Australia. It is thought to be onlyjust to obtain from the price of wheat consumed in Australia some contribution towards possible losses on the wheat which is exported. Recently I had an interview with the Ministers of Agriculture for Victoria and New South Wales, and I understand that there is every likelihood of the Governments of those States introducing legislation to provide for a local price for wheat for home consumption. The South Australian Government also has a similar proposal before it. The clause has been copied from a clause in the Wheat Marketing Bill, which was before the committee earlier in the year. Proposed new clauses 12b and 12c provide the machinery necessary to control interstate traffic in wheat. The clauses are similar to provisions in the Wheat Marketing Bill and to sections in the legislation “controlling the export of dried fruits.
. Section 99 of the Constitution provides that 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. The power now sought in these new clauses is under the trade and commerce power of the Constitution. In connexion with the dried fruits legislation it was held that there must be identical provisions applying in all the States; that any proclamation issued would have to operate throughout the Commonwealth. Should only one State, for instance, fix a price for wheat for interstate transfer, all interstate transfers would have to be licensed.
– Unless such State took upon itself the right to acquire all the wheat arriving within its borders.
– Under proposed new section 12a, any person who sells any wheat for interstate transfer, at a price less than 4s. a bushel, will be guilty of an offence. That would. apply throughout the Commonwealth. Suppose that only Victoria fixed a price of 4s. a bushel. Owing to the provisions of the Constitution, in the light of which this new section has been drafted, the position would be that no sale could take place for transfer to any other State of the Commonwealth, except at 4s. a bushel.
– Would that be so in the case of Tasmania?
– It would apply to all the States. The provisions for the issue of licences, under proposed new section 12b, and the penalty for the carriage of wheat in contravention of its provisions would have to apply to every State of the Commonwealth. Clause 12a prohibits sales at less than 4s. in every State of the Commonwealth. These sections if brought into operation, and limited to certain States would be invalid under section 99 of the Constitution; but they have been drawn in the light of that provision. Therefore, it will be recognized that the effect of legislation of this nature is necessarily to impose restrictions on all interstate trade, even though it may only be required to make a very limited restriction. There are transfers in wheat between Victoria and Tasmania and Tasmania and Victoria. There are also the ordinary arrangements under which Riverina wheat is marketed through Melbourne on account of the railways constructed by Victoria in the Riverina wheat district, with the consent of the New South Wales Government. These transactions would be controlled by this legislation, even though only Queensland had fixed the price.
Mr.FORDE (Capricornia - Acting Minister for Markets and Transport) [9.16 a.m.]. - The position would be as stated by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) if only one State fixed the price of wheat for home consumption, but there is no intention of proclaiming this clause unless three States do so.
– I did not hear the Minister previously give that assurance, which removes my objection to some extent.
– Three States may consider it necessary to do so in order to prevent dumping and the breaking down of the home consumption price fixed by a State.
– These three new sub-sections completely change the whole complexion of the bill, and bring it to that point in connexion with which an amendment 1 moved was ruled out of order. The practical effect of these amendments is that instead of pressure being brought to bear upon the Commonwealth Bank Board to find the money, the greater portion isto be provided, I trust, by increasing the price of wheat for local” consumption.
– They provide the machinery for so doing.
– Yes. The Government has again come round to the point from which it started last February. It has been influenced by passing breezes, but has been more or less anchored to the one spot, and I am glad to realize that the anchor is still holding. I regret this more or less clumsy method of legislation which will probably lead to a’ certain amount of constitutional difficulty, and possibly legal action.I am sorry that certain of its provisions have not been omitted, and that the simpler method of imposing a sales tax on flour has not been adopted.
– I regret the passage of this measure, which can be regarded only as most unsatisfactory, for the reasons that the previous speaker regards as satisfactory. The perpetuation of this practice of penalizing ‘the workers and the masses of the community, in the interests of one section, is unfair and unjust, and must, at some stage, be discontinued. I regret that it is being perpetuated in thismeasure.
Proposed new clauses agreed- to.
Preamble agreed to.
A bill for an act relating to advances on wheat.
Amendment (by Mr. Forms) agreed to -
That the words, “ and for other purposes “, be added.
Title as amended agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments and with an amended title; report - by leave - adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Forde) - by leave - proposed.
That the bill be now read a third time.
– I express my regret that the Government and the Minister in charge of the bill have paid no attention to the offer which I made in all good faith to confer on this measure in order, if possible, to improve it. I am sorry that the Assistant Minister, in his reply to the secondreading debate, dealt with the whole matter in a purely party spirit.
– I desire very briefly to say that I regret the way in which this measure lias been handled. I submit that it has been drafted in such a way that it will undoubtedly lead to endless litigation, and necessitate amendments being made at an early date. No other bill has been submitted to this House in the way this measure has been. I protest against the draftsmanship of the bill. I do not know who is responsible; but the drafting is most disgraceful from a parliamentary viewpoint.
– It is most unfair of the honorable member to say that; the Parliamentary Draftsman has done good work.
– I am not concerned as to who drafted it.
– That is a reflection upon an efficient officer, and should be withdrawn.
– I do not. intend to withdraw my remarks. As a member of this House, I am entitled to expect bills to be presented in a manner vastly different from that in which this bill has been drafted, which is most unsatisfactory, as is shown by the sheaf of amendments which have been circulated. I reiterate my protest against the attack which is being made upon the Commonwealth Bank, and of the shuffling of the responsibility of this Parliament on to the shoulders of the Commonwealth Bank Board, which will have to decide what this Parliament should decide.
– I cannot allow the remarks of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) to pass without comment. The circumstances in which this measure was introduced were unusual.
– The honorable member is to some extent responsible.
– The Government is to be commended for its action in introducing this bill, even at this late hour. I remind honorable members that ‘ its introduction, which I admit is somewhat belated, was largely influenced by the representations made by wheat-growers from one end of the country to the other who implored the Government not to suspend the present sittings of the Parliament before doing something to alleviate their distress. These representations were supported by the representatives of 1,200 country storekeepers in New South Wales who urged the Government to do something. When I moved the adjournment of the House to bring the serious position of the wheat-growers again under the notice of the Government, I was supported by a number of honorable members opposite. A similar motion was moved in another place by a member of the Opposition, and in the closing hours of the present sitting strong representations were made to the Government by members of the Opposition and others which resulted in the introduction in most unusual circumstances of this important measure. In justice to those officers who worked so hard to draft the bill in the limited time at their disposal. I wish to say that in view of all the circumstances they did their work well. They were asked at very short notice to draft a highly important measure so that it could be introduced last week, thus affording, as ari act. of courtesy, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), the Commonwealth Bank Board, and interested firms an opportunity to peruse it over the week-end. Had the Govern- ment occupied the week-end in winnowing the grain from the chaff, in an endeavour to remove all difficulties and doubt, such unfair and unwarranted criticism would not have been made.
– But the measure as it now stands is entirely different from what it was when introduced last week.
– The Government has done a fair thing. During the debate the Assistant Minister has met the Opposition very fairly. He has accepted certain amendments submitted by them, and I think that at least some members of the Opposition have dealt fairly with the bill, which they have endeavoured to improve. The Government is to be congratulated upon its introduction, and I am sure it will be welcomed from one end of Australia to the other. The officers of the Crown Law. Department, who drafted it, have rendered very valuable assistance.
– It is not so much the drafting of the measure which meets with disapproval, but its nebulous character.
– A definite charge was made by the honorable member for Warringah that those who drafted the measure did not know their job. It is an unfair attack upon public officers.
– It was not an attack upon the public officers, but upon those responsible for the introduction of the bill.
.I think the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) misunderstood the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), otherwise his remarks would not have been so heated. What the honorable member for Warringah intended to convey was that the idea behind the measure was so vaguely expressed that it was impossible for us, and those who were not in close association with the Government, as was the honorable member for Wimmera, to fully appreciate what was intended. Even at this late stage, I enter my protest against the bill. To my mind, it is bad in practice andvicious in principle, and if this sort of thing is. to continue it can result only in the condemnation of our democracy, and the end of democratic government. In the future, instead of holding ejections to decide which political party shall conduct the business of the country, such contests will take the form of an auction. Because I realize that we are now approaching that point, I again protest against the bill. My only regret is that our numbers on this side are not sufficient to warrant my calling for a division in orderto show once more that some of us are opposed to this legislation.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. My remarks with respect to the drafting of this bill have obviously been misunderstood.
– The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), is entitled to make a personal explanation only if he has been misrepresented.
-I have been misrepresented by being charged with attacking the law officers who drafted this measure. I made no such charge because I have no complaint against the technical draftsmanship. My complaint was in regard to the nebulous way in which the whole proposal was drafted, which has rendered necessary the insertion of numerous amendments.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill returned from the Senate with a message intimating that it insisted on its amendments disagreed to by the House of Representatives.
Motion (by Mr. Fenton) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until 8 p.m. this day.
House adjourned at 9.32 a.m. (Wednesday).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 December 1930, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1930/19301216_reps_12_127/>.