12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at, 2.30 p.m., and offered prayers.
Mr.R. GREEN. - Yesterday certain members of the Labour party flew from Melbourne to Canberra because of the possibility that their votes might be required in a critical division. Will the Treasurer assure the House that the cost of their travelling will not be filched from the public purse?
– Any special expense incurred by honorable members in coming to Canberra to attend the sittings of the House will not be a charge against public funds.
Repatriation of Miners
– I ask the Prime
Minister whether the Government has come to a decision regarding the £100,000 that was voted by this Parliament for the repatriation of surpluscoalminers?
– Presumably the honorable member is aware that a committee was appointed to investigate that matter. Upon that committee the former Assistant Minister for Industry (Mr. Beasley) represented the Commonwealth Government. His place was taken by the present Assistant Minister for Industry (Mr. Holloway) and a report has been received by the Government. The £100,000 has been available ever since it was appropriated by Parliament ; the Government has merely awaited a decision by those interested regarding the best means of employing the money.
– Does the Prime Minister intend to afford the House an opportunity to discuss the report ofthe royal commission on the sugar industry before any further agreement in regard to it is made?
– I had hoped that the report of the commission would have been available earlier, and I have been urging that the investigation be expedited. I am now advised that the report will be presented before the end of this month. As soon as it is received, it will be placed on the table of the House, and honorable members will be afforded an early opportunity to discuss it.
-I ask the Minister for Home Affairs what arrangements, if any, have been made to provide food relief for the homeless and unemployed men in the Federal Capital Territory?
– Extensive arrangements have been made for the employment of both single and married residents of Canberra. Upon my assumption of office provision was made for travelling unemployed to be accommodated at one of the camps and to receive 9s. ‘worth of rations. Recently a further ration to the travelling unemployed was made available. Upon arrival here they are given food relief very much in excess of what is granted in any of the States, and upon departing they are entitled to a further ration.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether a date has been - fixed for the proposed continuation at Ottawa of the economic discussion that was commenced in connexion with the last Imperial Conference? If so, will Australia be represented?
– The Prime Minister of Canada has informed me that his Government has been in communication with the Government of the United Kingdom, which has suggested that August of this year might be a suitable time for the resumption of the conference. I have replied that that month will be suitable to my Government, and that the Commonwealth will be represented.
Misrepresentation in Election PROPOGANDA
– I rise to a personal explanation. During the last session, on at least two occasions, I charged the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) with having, as campaign director for the Nationalist party in Nc.v South Wales, issued a faked photograph of myself and published in the press some of my personal private letters. Both of these occurrences created consternation in my electorate. Within the last few days the honorable member has assured me that he had no knowledge of, or association with, this particular propaganda, and that it caused as much surprise to him as to me. I gladly accept his assurance, and I take this opportunity to withdraw unreservedly the charges I made against him.
– Is the Prime Minister able to afford the House any information regarding the Naval Agreement recently reached by the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, and can he say how it will affect the safety of Australia’s communications with Europe?
– I hope to be able to make a statement on the subject in the course of a few days.
– Can the Minister for Markets give to the House any information concerning his negotiations with the Government of France in regard to the heavy duties imposed on Australian wheat imported into that country? Has a reduction of the duties been promised ?
– In Paris I had a lengthy conversation with the French Minister, for Commerce in regard to wheat and Australian trade with France generally. We agreed that proposals upon this subject should be exchanged by the Governments of the two countries. My department is now dealing with the matter.
– What arrangements are being made for the appointment of a staff for His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, and is the Defence Department to bear the expense of that staff?
– I shall make inquiries, and let the honorable member have the information as early as possible.
– The Prime Minister will probably remember that before his departure for London I asked him what steps were being taken to revise the Standing Orders of this House, and that he promised that the matter would receive consideration. I now ask whether he has given this subject consideration, and whether any steps will be taken in the near future to revise the Standing Orders?
– I should like to have an opportunity to bring the committee together to complete the revision of the Standing Orders, but we are living in such hectic times that it is not easy to get the task completed. Several Governments have made efforts to revise the Standing Orders, but with little success. I sincerely hope that w*’ shall be able to arrive at some finality soon, and that our Standing Orders will be improved as a result.
– A considerable time ago the Government set in motion an inquiry into the retail price of petrol in Australia. Has that inquiry been completed, and, if so, is the Government of the opinion that the price of petrol should be reduced?
– Yesterday, in reply to a question on this subject, I stated that the Government had, on the previous evening, received the report of the committee of inquiry, but had not yet had an opportunity to consider it.
– Regarding the unpaid balance of the money for the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, has the Treasurer seen a cablegram which appeared in the Herald of the 14th February, 1931, to the effect that the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, which was the guarantor for the White Star line, has agreed to a six months moratorium, and that the White Star line has a deficit of £500,000. I ask the Treasurer if there is any doubt, in view of the facts that I have related, about the payments to the Commonwealth for the Australian Government shipping line being continued?
– I shall make inquiries, and let the honorable member know how the matter stands.
Reports on the Whaling and Gold-mining Industries.
– Has there been any development regarding the report of the committee of experts which sat in Berlin last year under the auspices of the League of Nations, and made recommendations in connexion with the international regulations relating to whaling?
– The report of that committee was laid on the table of the Library lastyear. Since then the Government has considered the draft convention attached to that report, and has consulted with the State Governments concerned. Although we should have preferred some more stringent restrictions under the convention, we realize that the recommendations of the committee of experts, if adopted, would bring whaling under some measure of international regulation. We have, therefore, advised the Secretary-General to the League of Nations that the convention is acceptable to this Government, subject to two amendments whichwe consider are necessary to make its provisions clear.
– In view of the outstanding importance of the subject generally will the Prime Minister cause the interim report of the gold delegation appointed by the League of Nations, which is now in the Library, to be made more available by publishing it as a State document?
– I shall give consideration to the honorable member’s suggestion.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
To assist municipal councils in the carrying out of public works to relieve unemployment, will he take early action to exempt from sales tax the value of stone and gravel crushed or screened by such councils for their own use?
– The Commissioner of Taxation recently instituted special inquiries with a view to ascertaining to what extent the present form of the law would enable him to grant the relief desired.
In the event of the Commissioner’s inquiries being fruitless, the Government will consider what legislative action may be taken in the circumstances.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made as to the position, and a further reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Is it a fact that carburettors of the motor cycle type, including spare parts for all purposes, are being admitted as follows: - British, duty free; foreign, 10 per cent. If so, does the Government intend to review the recent duties imposed on carburettors ?
– Yes. The Government’s attitude on all these duties will be disclosed during the forthcoming tariff debate.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice -
What persons, if any, have been appointed to the Lighthouse Advisory Committee?
– Pursuant to the provisions of the Lighthouse (General) Regulations, the following have been appointed to be members of the Lighthouse Advisory Committee: -
Lewis Findlay East, Secretary, Marine
Branch (to be Chairman of Committee) ;
Bernard Wallach, Director of Lighthouses, Marine Branch;
Captain John King Davis, Director of Navigation, Marine Branch; and
Cuthbert John Pope, R.A.N., Director of Naval Intelligence, Department of Defence.
Archibald Sefton Elford, O.B.E., M.A. (Deputy Chairman), Australasian Steamship Owners’ Federation; and
Captain Richard John Duddridge, Marine Superintendent, Australian Steamships Proprietary Limited, as representing coastal shipping;
Arnold W. Johnson, branch manager for Victoria of the Orient Steam Navigation Company ; and
Captain John R. Barter, O.B.E. (Lieut.Commander R.N.R., Ret.), Younger Brother of Trinity House, shipping manager, Broken Hill Company Proprietary Limited, as representing oversea shipping.
Dismissal of Mr. Harrisson
– Yesterday the honor able member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) inquired as to the position regarding representations made by him in this House on the 9th December last in connexionwith the case of Mr. L. H. Harrisson, a returned soldier, who had been debarred from permanent appointment to the Commonwealth Public Service inWestern Australia on the ground of ill health. Following upon the representations made on behalf of Mr. Harrisson, the matter was taken up with the Public Service Board. After consideration of the whole of the facts of the case, the board was informed that, in view of the conflict of testimony of the medical practitioners in the case, it was thought that it would be inequitable to debar Mr. Harrisson, on the ground that in the future he may develop ill health, from occupying a position in the Service for which in all other respects he would he eligible. The board was asked if arrangements could be made for Mr. Harrisson’s re-employment in a suitable position in the Service for a period of, say, twelve or eighteen months, this period to be regarded as probationary. At the end of that period, if his health had not militated against the satisfactory performance of his duties, consideration could then be given to the question of his permanent appointment. The board advised, in reply, that it regretted that it was unable to re-employ Mr. Harrisson, as his re-engagement would mean the displacement of a permanent officer for whom no suitable vacancy was available. The board pointed out that, so far as the question of permanent appointment was concerned, the Public Service Act prescribes that no person shall be admitted to the Service, unless the board is satisfied upon such medical examination as is prescribed, as to his health and physical fitness. In the discharge of its statutory obligations the board has frequently to reject applicants, and in this connexion must be guided mainly by its professional advisers. The board points out that, in the case of Mr. Harrisson, the Commonwealth medical officers do not recommend acceptance, and, in the circumstances, it regrets that it can hold out no hope of his permanent appointment. The board has been asked to give further consideration to the matter, and it has advised that Mr. Harrisson’s case will bo kept under notice for consideration in the event of a suitable opportunity arising to employ him in a temporary capacity.
– Yesterday the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) asked me the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to furnish the following reply: -
6.1st April- £214,88018s. 5d.
The Premier of New South Wales has announced that it is the intention of his Government -
Government borrowings be reduced to 3 per cent.”.
The following papers were presented : -
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1931, No.6.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Public Baths Ordinance - Regulations.
Trade Marks Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1930,No. 157.
Motion (by Mr. A. Green) agreed to-
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902-1930.
Bill brought up by Mr. A. Green and read a first time.
.- I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In sub-section 3 of section 4 of the Wine Export Bounty Act, passed last year to continue the operation of the bounty on fortified wine exported, provision was made for the establishment of a trust account to provide a fund to meet the bounty payments. A good deal of discussion occurred upon this provision. It was strongly urged on behalf of the winemakers that the money should be paid into a trust account. There appeared to be some idea that if it were paid into Consolidated Revenue it might be used for some other purpose than that for which it was intended. For the purpose of making money available for the payment to this account the excise duty on spirit for the fortification of wine was increased 5s. per gallon, and it was provided that an amount equivalent to the additional duty so collected should be paid from the revenue monthly to the trust account. The words in the sub-section which refer to the amount to be paid into the account are “ five shillings upon every gallon of spirit “. In order that it may be clear that proof gallons are intended it is considered desirable to insert the word “ proof “ before “ gallon “.
Since the act was passed an excise duty has been imposed on concentrated must or geropigia. When concentrated must is used in the production of fortified wine the quantity of fortifying spirit which has to be added to the wine to obtain a wine of, say, 34 per cent. proof spirit is less than when it is not used. It was for this reason that an excise duty was imposed on concentrated must. For a time the wine-makers who were using fortifying spirit were faced with the difficult problem of how to deal with winemakers who were using concentrated must, for the latter were able to evade the payment of the excise duty on fortifying spirit.
As the act stands, wine may receive the full rate of bounty although the amount paid to the trust account in respect of the fortifying spirit added to it would be somewhat less than the amount contemplated by section 4 of the act. To meet the position, the trust account needs ro receive a proportion of the duty paid on concentrated must for use in the manufacture of wine. It is considered that the proportion should be five-elevenths, which is approximately the same as the proportion paid to the trust account in respect of excise duty on fortifying spirit. The second amendment to sub-section 3 of section 4 is to give effect to this.
This is not a contentious measure. Its provisions have been approved by the Federal Viticultural Council, and all who are connected with the wine industry.
.- The object of this bill appears to be unexceptionable; but I call attention to a feature of it which I suggest is objectionable, and should receive the careful consideration of the House. The second clause of the bill provides that “A sum equal to five-elevenths of the duty of excise paid on or after the fourth day of December one thousand nine hundred and thirty on concentrated grape must for use in the manufacture of wine “ shall be paid into a certain fund. There is in law no such excise duty. A motionhas been placed upon the table of the House ulrich has not yet been approved by honorable members or enacted in any legislative form, and duty is being collected as if it had the force of law. I am aware that this practice is necessary for the protection of the revenue. Duties of customs and excise specified in a motion placed upon the table of the House come into effect from the time fixed in the motion, although they have not received any legislative sanction. When the tariff is ultimately agreed to, whether in the form of customs or excise duties, care is taken to make the legislation retrospective to the date mentioned in the motion, and thereby validity is given to the collection of the duty from that date. In the meantime, however, there is no strict legal warrant for the collection of the duty. I make it clear that I do not object to this practice; it is necessary for the protection of the revenue. But when honorable members are asked to pass a bill which contains a reference to an excise duty on concentrated grape must, they should be reminded that there is, in fact, no such duty. It appears to me to be undesirable to bring in a measure which refers to a duty which is not legislatively effective.
– But it is being collected.
– I am aware of that, ft is undesirable that we should, by passing legislation of this kind, inferentially adopt the provisions of a motion which we have had no opportunity of discussing. This practice is dangerous. We should not be asked to approve of customs or excise duties indirectly in this way. I suggest to the Minister that he should make provision for us to discuss, without delay, the excise motion to which this measure has reference. At present the bill, strictly speaking, refers, in this part of it at any rate, to nothing at all. I have no doubt that the intention of the measure can be carried out. I am not arguing against the merits of the duty on concentrated grape must, but against passing legislation to determine the destination of the receipts from a duty which does not, in law, exist.
.- The point raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) is, I admit, sound in principle. Many motions for the imposition of duties have been laid on the table of the House - they have ruined some persons and have been of advantage to others - and the House has had no opportunity of discussing them. It would be a most pernicious practice to pass- legislation which, to some extent, would confirm those duties before the Parliament had had an opportunity of considering them; but I support the remarks of the Minister as to this bill, and as to the duty to which it refers, being to all intents and purposes non-contentious. The increase in the duties last year, in order to provide a fund from which the wine export bounty could be paid, greatly stimulated the processing of grape juice into must, so that it would contain a much higher percentage of sugar, and, therefore, when it was fermented, would require far less fortification with distilled alcohol. Under the excise laws the excise is collected on the distilled alcohol and the manufacturers who extended the use of this concentrated grape juice were to some extent evading the payment of the excise. The duty which was instituted met with the general support of the wine trade, and of those responsible for the revenue. The amendment contained in this bill makes provision for the revenue collected from must to be apportioned in the same percentage as the revenue from the excise collected upon distilled spirit, five-elevenths to be paid into the trust fund from which the wine bounty is paid, and the remaining six-elevenths to go to the general revenue. While I support in principle the protest of the Leader of the Opposition, I give the Minister my support in his request that the bill be passed without delay.
.- Has the Minister given consideration to the exemption of non-alcoholic wine from the provisions of this bill? I understand that a considerable quantity of this wine is manufactured in various parts of Victoria. It is, in reality, a temperance beverage, and its manufacture will be unnecessarily handicapped if excise duty has to be paid on the must used by the makers. I hope that nothing will be done to discourage the production of non-alcoholic wines in Australia.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
Section four of the principal act is amended -
by adding at the end of sub-section (3.) the words “together with a sum equal to five-elevenths of the duty of excise paid on or after the fourth day of December One thousand nine hundred and thirty on concentrated grape must for use in the manufacture of wine “.
Amendment (by Mr. Forde) proposed -
That the words “ duty of excise paid “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ amount paid by way of duty of excise, under any tariff or tariff proposal “.
.- This amendment goes a considerable way towards meeting my objection. I should like to hear something from the Minister regarding the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lewis). I have not had an opportunity of looking up the original act to see whether a charge is made upon the nonalcoholic wines to which the honorable member referred ; but, if such a charge is made, there appears to be no justification for it.
– The duty on must used for purposes other than for wine-making is 3d. a gallon, and the duty on must used for wine-making is 5d. per degree Beaume. If the honorable member has any complaint to make regarding the way in which the duty is operating on non-alcoholic drinks, I shall be glad if he will put his case before me.
– I forwarded a letter to the department some time ago dealing with the subject.
– I shall look into it.
.- Does paragraphb of this clause, providing for the collection of five-elevenths of the excise duty on concentrated grape must, enable the same amount of tax to be imposed in relation to the alcoholic strength of the must as that already imposed on ordinary fortifying spirit?
– Yes. I explained that the five-elevenths was approximately the same proportion as was paid to the trust account in respect of excise on fortifying spirit.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill provides for the making of three amendments to the Distillation Act 1901- 1925. The first is to section 11a, which relates to stills not exceeding a capacity of one gallon.
The object of sections 10 to 12 of the act is to prevent the possession or use of any still except under authority, in order that all distillation of spirits may be effectively controlled. A good deal of difficulty is now experienced in exercising that control. Under section 11 of the act, stills may be used for purposes other than the distillation of spirits, provided that written notification is given by the owner to the Collector of Customs, specifying the size of the still, and the purpose for which, and the place where, it is to be used. Security has also to be given that the still will not be used for the distillation of spirits. Small stills are used largely in laboratories, and by chemists or students, for scientific or experimental purposes, and their use does not endanger the revenue. To avoid, in regard to these stills, the inconvenience attaching to formal compliance with the requirements of the act, section 11a was enacted in 1918, the intention being to allow stills of a capacity not exceeding one gallon to be used provided that particulars were furnished to the collector as outlined in section 11(1). That section, however, refers only to stills used for purposes other than the distillation of spirits; and under a strict reading of the present wording of section 11a, the position is that notification is required to be made to the collector of stills of a capacity not exceeding one gallon when they are not used for the distillation of spirits, but that such notification is not required to be made when they are so used. To rectify the anomaly, the wording of section 11a is being altered. This amendment is of no significance; it is merely a re-wording of the section to make the intention clear.
The second amendment is to section 59, under which the use of spirit of a lower strength than 30 degrees above proof for the fortification of Australian wine is prohibited. The lower the strength at which spirit is distilled, the higher is the proportion of fusel oils and other impurities it contains; and the minimum strength of 30 degrees overproof was adopted to ensure that the spirit used for fortification was of good quality.
Representations have been made by the Federal Viticultural Council of Australia, and by large wine-makers, that if certain high-class wines are to have the mellow character, fragrance, and bouquet desirable, particularly for competition overseas, it is essential that the spirit used in their fortification should be distilled at low strength; and it has been requested that, to meet the situation, the minimum strength of spirit for fortification be fixed at ten degrees above proof instead of 30 degrees above proof as at present.
The objectionable features in spirit distilled at low strength can be removed by allowing the spirit, or the wine to which it has been added, to mature. The high-class wine3 for which such spirit is desired would be matured for some years after the fortification.
The situation has been thoroughly investigated by Mr. Gollan, Chief Inspector of Excise, and the Honorable J. Gunn, Director of Development, Prime Minister’s Department, and they conferred with the Federal Viticultural Council and with all the leading wine-makers in Australia, and recommended that the act be amended to allow of the fortification of wines with pure wine spirit distilled at a strength of not less than ten degrees above proof.
– Did they send in a report that can be made available to honorable members?
– Yes, I am able to make their report available.
– Can the Minister also produce the request of the Federal Viti cultural Council that the use of spirit of a lower strength be permitted ?
– I understand that that communication is in the Department.
– Did they specifically mention that the minimum strength of spirit for fortification should be fixed at ten degrees above proof ?
– Yes. The bill has been drafted in accordance with requests from the industry. Mr. Gollan and Mr. Gunn have recommended that the Act be amended to allow of the fortification of wines with pure wine spirit distilled at a strength of not less than ten degrees above proof, provided the wines fortified with such spirit mature for not less than two years, so that there will be ample time for the spirit and the wine to “marry”. Mr. de Castella, the Victorian Government Viticulturalist, with whom the position was discussed, agrees that if the wine is kept under control for at least two years any objection to the use of the low strength spirit will be removed. It is therefore proposed to provide for the fortification of wine with pure wine spirit distilled at a strength of not less than ten degrees overproof, on the condition that when spirit of less than 30 degrees overproof is used the wine so fortified shall remain under Customs control for at least two years. The amendments to this section make that provision.
The third and last amendment proposes to repeal section 75 of the Act. Its repeal has no significance. The section relates to test stills for the licensing of which there is now no provision in the Act. In 1918, paragraph c of section 13, which provided for the licensing of test stills not exceeding a capacity of one gallon for distilling spirit, was repealed. Section 75, therefore, is redundant.
This is a non-contentious measure, and f am confident that it will have a speedy passage.
.- I ask the Minister to consent to the adjournment of the debate. There may be nothing in the measure to which exception can be taken ; but it is of a highly technical character, and the proposed amendment of section 59, to which he has referred at fairly considerable length, may have an effect upon the public health. It may be questioned whether the wines so fortified are fit for human consumption. We should have in our possession the information that the honorable gentleman has admitted is available, and an opportunity should be afforded to those who are interested in the matter to express their views to honorable members. He has said that this proposal conforms with the request of the Federal Viticultural Council and the recommendation of the officers who investigated the matter; but we have not had placed before us evidence of the exact position. A delay of one day will not make any difference.
.- I support the request of the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page). I do not impugn the bona fides of the Minister. I understand that some time ago the Federal Viticultural Council requested that the use of a lower strength spirit in the fortification of wines be permitted. The complaint has been made that Australian wines fortified with very pure strength spirit are metallic to the taste, and that they would be much improved if’ fortified with brandy. I understand, however, that the Viticultural Council did not press the request that they had made, although there is one large firm which is still anxious to obtain the concession. Through the courtesy of the Minister, I was acquainted a few days ago with the proposals contained in the bill, and I was able to advise the secretary of the Vine-growers Association which is, to all intents and purposes, the branch of the Viticultural Council in South Australia. I have now received from the secretary the following reply -
Proposal to allow fortifying with spirit ton to 30 overproof acceptable, but highly undesirable and unnecessary, qualify with age clause, which would delay transfer of such wine into small casks for maturation, owing expense in locking small vessels.
In the circumstances, the Minister would, I believe, be doing the fair thing if he allowed the debate to be adjourned at this stage so that copies of the bill might be posted to those concerned. We could then learn whether their objections were well founded or based on something unsound. I do not suggest that there has been any want of faith on the part of the Minister; indeed, he has been most frank, and has given all information possible.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Gullett) adjourned.
In committee: (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) .
Motion (by Mr. Parker Moloney) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue and moneys be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to provide for the payment of a bounty on the production of wheat, for the making of loans to necessitous wheat-growers, and for other purposes.
Standing Orders suspended, and resolution adopted.
That Mr. Parker Moloney and Mr. Forde do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill brought up by Mr. Parker Moloney, and read a first time.
– I move-
That thebill be now read a second time.
With the object of augmenting the national revenue a general increase in rates of postage was introduced on the 4th August, 1930, and under the schedule of rates adopted the postage on printed matter was increased from1d. per 4 oz. to1d. per 2 oz. The term “ printed matter “ covers printed papers, circulars, and catalogues, and, in addition, books, periodicals and newspapers which are not eligible for transmission at the lower rate of postage prescribed for matter of the third class, which comprises concessionary articles, such as newspapers, periodicals and books printed in Australia, and registered at a general post office. While the increase in the rate of postage on printed matter did not affect the amount to be paid for the transmission of circulars and printed papers not exceeding 2 oz. in weight, the increase was considerable in regard to the heavier articles, such as catalogues and books. Representations have been made to the Government by organizations of both employers and employees in the printing trade, and by firms and corporations issuing large quantities of advertising matter in the form of catalogues, &c., that the increase in postage has very seriously affected the output of printed matter. In addition, strong protests against the increase in rates have been received from . public and other libraries, correspondence schools, both government and private, and from people engaged in the publication and distribution of books. It was learned that the higher rates, instead of increasing revenue, were having the opposite effect.
– Has the Minister a record of the amount by which the total quantity of mail matter has been reduced as a result of the increased rates?
– How much has the department lost as a result of the increased rates?
– During a time of depression such as this, it is impossible to gauge what might have been the effect of an increase of rates during normal times. One can judge only from the loss of revenue experienced some time ago when rates were reduced. In two or three years’ time, when conditions have become normal, the department will be in a better position to judge the effect of alterations in the postage rates. While it is impracticable to say what proportion of the loss of postal traffic has arisen from the general depression, and what may be attributed to higher postal charges, the fact remains that in the last few months there has been a considerable reduction in the volume of postings of catalogues, price lists and books. It is known that many large business houses have adopted a form of advertising in newspapers which, in a measure, replaces the price catalogues formerly issued by them; also, that many of the firms which continued the issue of catalogues have reduced the size of the publications so as to bring them within 2 oz. in weight, and thus avoid the payment of increased postage. Having regard to all the circumstances, the Government has reached the conclusion that the additional revenue which may have been derived from the increase of rates of postage on printed matter is not sufficient to justify its retention, especially in view of its adverse influence on business activities, and has, therefore, decided to introduce a bill designed to restore the previous rate of postage on printed matter. It is not proposed to make any change in other rates of postage, as the financial situation precludes such a step from being taken at the present time. I, therefore, suggest that honorable members should not waste time in discussing rates other than those mentioned in the bill.
– It is not in order to suggest that honorable members waste time.
– I am convinced that they would not be guilty of wasting time by discussing matters that are outside the provisions of the bill.
.- I welcome this bill as a first instalment of the revision of the Government’s financial policy. I hope that it will be followed by other proposals for a reduction of the tariff and taxation generally, which could be justified on the same grounds as those which the Minister has mentioned in support of this bill. Honorable members will agree with the Minister that excessive taxation in all these directions is having an adverse effect upon business generally. It would be worth while from a revenue point of view for the Minister to reconsider postal policy. He has admitted that since the general postage rate was increased from l1/2d. to 2d. the revenue, instead of increasing, has actually declined.
– I did not say that.
– That has happened. The Government would find it profitable to remove this impost from business. It is passed on to the consumers, and is one of the factors in maintaining the high cost of living and preventing a general recovery of trade. I therefore hope that this bill will be followed by a supplementary one to restore the general postage rate to 11/2d. With the proposed amendment of the rates on second-class mail matter every honorable member will agree. When the charges were increased we pointed out how heavily and inequitably they would press on business; we predicted that catalogues would not be printed because the distribution of them would not be worth while, and, therefore, the volume of employment in printing establishments would be reduced. I am glad that the Government has retraced its steps. Any other measure to reduce taxation will receive general and enthusiastic support.
– 1 support the bill. When the measure to increase the postal rates was introduced, I predicted what would happen, and, on behalf of the public and the employees in the printing trade, I made several appeals to the then Minister to do what his successor is now proposing. Honorable members on this side of the House foretold that the increase of the rates would decrease rather than swell the revenue. Unfortunately the Government was deaf to our appeal, but a large deputation of union representatives and others interested in the printing trade who waited upon the Postmaster-General just before Christmas repeated to him what we had already represented in vain. Apparently, whilst the appeals of honorable members were unavailing, the Government was amenable to more powerful influences. The Postmaster-General would be wist to investigate thoroughly the operation of the increased rates in respect not only of second-class matter, but also of ordinary letters. I am convinced that an impartial investigation would disclose that more revenue would be earned by a reversion to the ltd. rate than is being obtained from the 2d. rate. At the present time large firms in the metropolitan areas, instead of using the postal service, find it cheaper to employ boys to deliver circular letters in the cities. I am glad that the Government is proposing partially to correct its error of policy, and I believe that two-thirds of the increased taxation imposed during the last eighteen months could be lifted for the same reasons as have actuated the Minister in introducing this bill.
.- I welcome this revision of the policy adopted at the end of last year. I do not know how the present rate on secondclass mail matter found its way into the act. Upon one point I should like an assurance by the Minister. At present catalogues and books carried at concession rates must be set up and printed in Australia. That provision is essentia] to the prosperity of the printing trade.
Employment could be given to a much larger number of men but for the flooding of the country with imported printed matter. The preference hitherto given to locally printed matter was inserted in the Post and Telegraph Rates Act some years ago at the instance of the then honorable member for Capricornia, Mr. Higgs, and myself. Both of us had been connected with the printing industry. 1 would like an assurance from the Minister that that provision for the protection of the Australian printing industry is being retained.
– I welcome this measure. When the postal rates on printed matter, including books, were increased, notification of the alteration did not reach many people living in the backblocks until a considerable time later. Those people are largely dependent for their reading matter upon parcels of books which they receive periodically from circulating libraries and book clubs. Because of the failure to pay the increased postage they and many of the libraries were heavily fined. As a result of representations to me by circulating libraries in Brisbane, I asked the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Queensland to make a special effort to disseminate notice of the increase throughout the back country. He did that with satisfactory results. I now ask the Postmaster-General to circulate widely information of the reversion to the old rates so that people in the country may not be again penalized.
.- I endorse the request of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton). It is an extraordinary fact, that the potential employment in the printing industry in Australia has been lessened by the extraordinary progress made in other countries, particularly the United States, in the printing of trade catalogues, magazines, and second-class mail matter generally. Comparing 1919 and 1927, printing and publishing has become the most representative industry in five important American cities in which previously other industries were in the van. There is a general impression that Chicago is mainly a meat processing city ; but according to the November number of the Quarterly Journal of Economics published by the Harvard University Press, whereas in 1919 slaughtering and meat packing was the largest industry in Chicago, as determined by the value added in process of manufacture, by 1927 printing and publishing, in respect of both books and job printing, had come to the fore. In the same period printing and publishing took the lead from shipbuilding in Philadelphia and San Francisco, and from foundry and machine shop products in Boston. Printing and publishing in respect of both newspapers and periodicals has extended in the United States during the last ten years more rapidly than any other industry except moving pictures, the production of which, of course, is confined almost entirely to Los Angeles. I advance a plea that the Government should give the utmost assistance to our printing and publishing industry, which is, in a very real sense, the civilizing industry of our time. Every effort should be made to develop it to- such an extent that Australia will be independent of imported printed matter. Incidentally, by so doing we would give a considerable measure of employment to our citizens. Already the bulk of the materials required by the industry are produced locally. The exception is newsprint, and it is hoped also to produce that commodity in Australia in the near future. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. A. Green) is not unaware of the position, and I urge that he exhaust the resources of his department in an effort to relieve the community of the disabilities under which it labours, because of the impositions placed upon the printing and publishing industry in Australia by his department. It is a representative industry, and, in proportion as our country develops, it will assume ever greater and more important dimensions.
– The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) agreed with the bill in a general way, but proceeded to use it as a text to deal with the whole of the taxation policy of this Government. I do not propose to respond to his irrelevancies.
The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) suggested that, in spite of the vigorous protests which he made, and of which I have no recollection, no move was made until union representatives waited upon the Postmaster-General. I assure the honorable member that no such representatives have waited upon me with regard to this matter. Certainly some of my friends, who, for the mo3t part, represent the workers of the nation, being fully seised of the difficulties which beset the country, placed the position before me in a matter of fact and commonsense way. The act is now being amended.
The suggestion has been advanced that postage rates for letters should be reduced from 2d. to lid. per oz. or part of an ounce. I have already stated that this is not the time to measure any drop in revenue that may have occurred because of the increase in the rate from l$d. to 2d. It is generally accepted that had the advance been made in normal times, .the increase in revenue would have been enormous. The Government believes that the rate of 2d. should be charged. It may be perfectly true that boys are running around the locality represented by the honorable member for Warringah delivering letters. That, of course, is against the regulations, and I trust that the honorable member will advise me of any firms which are infringing the laws of the country in this respect, so that my department may take the necessary action. While there may be a danger of such practices persisting until the honorable member for Warringah does his duty in the manner suggested, I cannot believe that they will materially prejudice the postal revenue of the nation.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), who was supported in his remarks by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin), raised the subject of concessions with regard to matter wholly set up and printed in Australia. It has been the practice of the Government at all times to discriminate, and grant special concessions to Australian industries. Section 3 of the amending measure of last year reads - “ Periodicals “ means magazines, reviews, and other similar publications, as prescribed, wholly set up and printed in the Commonwealth, and published for sale in numbers at intervals as prescribed.
The rate for such periodicals is 2d. for 16 oz. I am quite in sympathy with the idea that the whole of our printed matter should be produced locally. Already there is a very heavy duty on imported circulars, even a small leaflet of that nature bearing an imposition of from 2d. to 3d. The representations of the honorable members for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) and Fremantle (Mr. Curtin), will be taken into consideration, and every effort will be made by the Government to discriminate in favour of Australian workmanship.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In committee :
– I express dissatisfaction at the reply of the Postmaster-General to my plea. If the definition referred to by the honorable gentleman covers the matter to which I have referred, I am satisfied; if not, I urge that the necessary provision be made to confer on our industry the benefits that 1 seek.
– My reference to the amending section in the 1930 schedule indicates that wherever it is possible to make a preference in favour of Australian industry that is being done. The definition has no relation to the present schedule. This is an amendment, not to assist printed letter matter coming from abroad, but to encourage the printing industry in Australia. The amount of printed matter that is imported and is circulated in Australia is now negligible. So far as I am aware, no firm in Australia imports material that would come under this rate of1d. for 4 oz. My department is closely watching the printed matter that comes from abroad, and if it is found to be a menace to Australian industry, action will be taken to subject it to a special imposition.
.- I have every sympathy with the request of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), that Australian trade should be assisted. I understand, however, that very little printed matter is imported which comes under the provisions of this schedule, except from the United States of America. Quite a large quantity comes from that country, particularly in connexion with the motor car and moving picture industries, and that could well be printed in Australia. While we are justified in excluding printed matter from the United States of America from any concessions, some discrimination should be made in favour of that which comes from other parts of the British Empire. Its volume is small, but there is an obligation on Australia to grant trade reciprocity to the Mother Country and our sister dominions in this matter.
.- I am particularly concerned with regard to the supply of books to our people in the outback. Practically every little country town has its library, which works in cooperation with the large libraries in the cities, and quantities of books are continually passing to and fro between them. We could do practically nothing better for our country population than supply it with good reading matter, at cheap postage rates, and I urge the PostmasterGeneral to make every effort to bring about such a desirable state of affairs.
.- I commend the Postmaster-General upon the new role that he has assumed, in effecting reductions in the rates of postage. If similar steps were taken in connexion with other activities of his department its revenue would be increased, and great service would be rendered to the community. Some years ago it was declared inthis Parliament that the Postal Department was not to be used as a taxing machine, but to provide service for the people of Australia. This Government has increased rates on various post office services very considerably, and I hazard the opinion that its revenues have appreciably decreased in consequence. The Postmaster-General will find that a tremendous number of subscriptions to country telephones have been cancelled, because of the increased rates charged by the Government. It would be much better for the country if the instruments were again in use even at half price. The people in the outback are not the only ones to derive benefit from the use of the telephone. They also benefit who are in the city, at the other end of the line, and who want to buy and sell. It is a service to the whole community, which becomes poorer as each telephone is disconnected. I urge the Minister, while he is in his present wise mood, to make a strenuous endeavour to revert to the old rates, so that telephones may be re-connected and industry benefited.
Bill agreed to, and reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
As honorable members know, the bill is designed to provide for the payment to all the wheat-growers in Australia of a bounty of £3,500,000, and a loan of £2,500,000 for the assistance of necessitous wheat-farmers. The latter sum will be disbursed by the various State governments to the needy wheat-growers in the respective Stages.
– Will the advance to the States be in the form of a gift or a loan?
– It will be a loan to the State Governments for the specific purpose of assisting necessitous wheat-growers. The bounty will be at the rate of 6d. per bushel on the exportable surplus produced in Australia in the 1930-31 season. It is estimated that the exportable surplus will amount to between 140,000,000 bushels and 150,000,000 bushels.
– Will wheat exported as flour be included?
– Yes. Already about 50,000,000 bushels of wheat, the produce of the current season, have been exported. After a conference with representatives of various wheatgrowers’ organizations, I was convinced that, if the payment of the bounty were restricted merely to the quantity of wheat exported, the scheme would not benefit a considerable number of growers whose wheat was not sold for export. I recognized, also, the difficulty of dealing with those growers whose produce had been sold prior to the announcement of the Government’s intention to provide assistance for our wheat-farmers. Accordingly, there is provision in clause 4 for the payment of the bounty in such a manner as to ensure that every grower shall receive that proportion of the bounty which the total exportable surplus bears to the total wheat production.
– That will mean about 41/2d. per bushel to growers.
-It should work outat about that figure. I consented to this arrangement only after consultation with the representatives of wheat-growers’ organizations, and when I was convinced that it would be the most equitable method for the solution of the difficulty.
– Will the bounty be payable without regard to what a grower may do with his wheat?
– It will be payable on the marketable production of wheat.
– What does the Minister mean by the word “ marketable “ ?
– The arrangement will not include wheat held for seed, or wheat retained by a farmer for his own. needs. The conference of State Ministers for Agriculture, which was held recently in Canberra, discussed this proposal for the payment of a bounty on export wheat. It was then recognized that an export bounty would not benefit those growers whose wheat was sold for home consumption, but it was thought that when the announcement was made of the Government’s intention to pay an export bounty, the price of wheat for local consumption would automatically increase.
– That was not the experience.
– I agree with the honorable member that the local market did not respond to the extent anticipated. When it was found that merchants and other buyers were not paying 6d. per bushel above world parity for wheat intended for local consumption, it was decided to pay to all the wheatgrowers in Australia that proportion of the 6d. per bushel bounty which tht exportable surplus bears to the total production of marketable wheat, namely, about 75 per cent. As the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has pointed out, this will mean the payment to all wheat-growers of about 41/2d. or 5d. per bushel.
– Will those wheatgrowers whose wheat has been destroyed by hail obtain any advantage from this proposal ?
– The bounty, as I have stated, will be payable on the marketable production.
– Does not the Minister mean that it will be payable on the wheat actually marketed ?
– That is probably another way of describing it.
– Then a grower who has lost his crop through hail will not receive any portion of the bounty?
– We all recognize the difficulty of providing for cases such as that mentioned by the honorable member, but I would remind him that growers whose wheat has been destroyed by hail will come under the category of necessitous farmers, and receive assistance from their State Governments out of the £2,500,000 to be provided by the Commonwealth Government and ear-marked for that purpose.
Honorable members will notice that the bill enacts that the bounty shall be paid directly by the Department of Markets to the grower, and that it shall not be included in the assets in the hands of the grower for the satisfaction of his liabilities. That is to say, the bounty shall not be liable for claims made by creditors. The Government’s intention is to protect the interests of the grower.
– How can any such provision be made valid?
– This matter has been subjected to the most careful scrutiny by the Crown Law Department, and I can assure the honorable member that the necessary safeguards are to be found in the bill.
– Will the bounty be payable upon delivery of wheat at a railway siding ?
– Immediately after the passage of the bill steps will be taken to begin payment.
– How will the grower prove his claim to the bounty ?
-If the honorable member will read the bill he will see that all contingencies are provided for. All the necessary precautions are provided against deception. The growers’ claims will be checked not only by his own documents, but also by documents in the hands of wheat-growers’ organizations, merchants or agents to whom he may have sold his wheat.
– The Government’s intention is to pay the bounty direct to the grower?
– That is so. Claims for the bounty will be checked by officers of the department, and the bill contains provisions imposing penalties upon a person who furnishes incorrect information in connection with a claim. To enable the bounty to be paid immediately this legislation is passed, the regulations necessary to give effect to it are now in course of preparation.
– Is the proposed bounty of 41/2d. a bushel cumulative with the £6,000,000 to be raised by means of the fiduciary notes legislation?
– Clause 7 shows how the bounty is proposed to be paid. During the past month, communications have been received by me from all parts of Australia. I have received many suggestions from organizations of wheat-growers, and some of them have been very helpful. It was submitted by the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales that payment should be made upon an acreage basis. There is a great deal to be said for that suggestion, because if carried out it would ensure that the farmer who has a poor crop, or whose crop has failed because of natural causes, would get some measure of assistance.
– There are quite a number of them.
– That is so, and I sympathize greatly with them. I consulted the Crown law authorities, and they pointed out to me that, under section 51 (iii) of the Constitution, the Commonwealth could provide by legislation for the payment of bounties only on the production or export of commodities. I was assured that it would be unconstitutional to pay this bounty on an acreage basis.
– Has the payment of a bounty on an acreage basis through the agency of the States been considered from a constitutional point of view?
– Is the honorable member suggesting that the money might be paid to the States for distribution to the wheat-growers?
– Since the Commonwealth Government proposes to provide £6,000,000 for relief purposes, it is only right that it should have some supervision of the distribution of the money to ensure that it goes to the right quarters. Though it will be a difficult task to pay the bounty direct to the growers, we consider that the bill provides the best method of distribution. Those farmers who will be deprived of the bounty because of it not being paid on an acreage basis will, no doubt, receive assistance under the loan of £2,500,000 which is to be raised to give relief to necessitous cases.
– That will be a loan and not a grant.
– It will be a loan to the States, who themselves will decide whether any payment they may make to the wheat-growers shall be a gift or a loan.
– The Commonwealth will charge the States interest on that money.
– That is the present proposal.
– Was the subject of the acreage basis versus the bushel basis discussed at the Premiers’ Conference?
– Yes. Many subjects, including those, were considered by the Premiers’ conference, and it was decided, within the limited time available for discussion, that the most equitable way of assisting the farmers would be to provide a bounty of 6d. a bushel. I have altered the original proposal to enable a wider circle of wheat-growers to participate in the bounty. That may safely be done under the scheme which the Government is now submitting to honorable members. All the States, including Tasmania and Queensland, will participate in this scheme. That is necessary because of the constitutional requirements. The amount proposed to be made available to necessitous farmers under the loan of £2,500,000, will, on a wheat production basis, work out in this way. New South Wales will receive approximately £818,000; Victoria, £547,000; Queens land, £54,000 ; South Australia, £432,000 : Western Australia, £642,000; and Tasmania, £7,000; totalling approximately £2,500,000.
– Why is the £2,500,000 loan to be allocated on a yield basis and not on an acreage basis, seeing that it is to be raised to help the farmer whose crops are poor or have failed? On a yield basis the larger proportion of the loan will go to the States with the best crops.
– The figures that I have given are merely the result of rough calculations, and it will be for the States themselves to make any adjustments which they may consider necessary. Under clause 7 authority is given to borrow some £6,000,000 to provide a bounty of £3,500,000 and a loan of £2,500,000 to the States. That proposal was made by a sub-committee of Cabinet of which I was a member, which sat to devise ways and means of assisting the wheat-growers, and it recommended to the Loan Council that arrangements be made to raise a loan of £6.000,000. The Loan Council meeting at Canberra agreed to that proposal. At a subsequent meeting at Melbourne, held on the 26th February, the Loan Council deemed it inadvisable at that time to go on the market for a loan.
– It had good reason for that.
– No doubt it had good reason for deciding that the time was inopportune to float a loan. But, instead of allowing the matter to drop, the Government continued its efforts to give relief to the farmers. Deputations of wheat-growers continued to approach the Government, conveying to it the indisputable fact thai the wheat industry was in a most serious condition. As a result of protracted negotiations, this legislation providing for a bounty has been brought down to this House. Clause 7 shows exactly how the money is to be paid. Last evening the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) introduced into this House a bill providing for the issue of fiduciary notes to an amount not exceeding £18,000,000, and of that amount £6,000,000 is to be used to assist wheat-growers in the manner provided in this bill.
– The wheat-growers are showing no enthusiasm for the proposal to issue fiduciary notes.
– If the honorable member had consulted with the wheat-growers, he would know that they are clamouring for assistance.
– But not for the fiduciary issue.
– Within the last few days, I have received a letter from the president of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales. He approved of the methods that we are now adopting as far as payment on a yield basis is concerned.
– Did he approve of the proposal to issue fiduciary notes?
– He stated in his letter that he wished the bounty to be paid - and he knew of the Government’s proposal - on an acreage basis. I replied informing him that his suggestion could not be constitutionally carried out. He then stated tha1! he approved of the manner in which the Government now proposes to make the payment. In no part of his letter did he either mention or offer any opposition to the Fiduciary Notes Bill. He refuses to adopt the role of honorable members opposite, who are splitting straws and opposing every effort of the Government to assist the farming community.
The procedure at present proposed to be adopted to provide the money will be as follows : Treasury-notes not exceeding £6,000,000 for wheat assistance will be placed to the credit of the Fiduciary Notes Account, which is a trust account under the Audit Act. These notes will be secured by treasury-bills issued under clause 7 of the bill. Eventually, when circumstances are favorable, a loan will be placed on the market, and the proceeds used to redeem the treasury-bills issued as securities for the fiduciary notes.
Clauses 8, 9, 10 and .11 of the bill concern certain aspects of the subject which have already been dealt with by some of the State Parliaments, and will, in the near future, receive the attention of other State Parliaments, where it is proposed to fix the price of wheat for local consumption.
– Do all the States intend to do that? I think they should have done it long ago.
– I agree with the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton). New South Wales has taken steps in this direction. Queenslaud has a compulsory wheat pool, and I understand Victoria intends to fix the price of wheat for local consumption. The only State about which I am in doubt is Western Australia. The legislation submitted to the New South Wales Parliament provides that all the flour in stock in New South Wales, or subsequently entering that State, shall be acquired by a board constituted under the act. The holders of the flour are to be paid a price for it to be determined by the board. The flour will then be sold at a price which will return to the board the equivalent of 4s. a bushel for the wheat. The difference between the price for which the flour is acquired and that for which it is sold will be made available to assist necessitous farmers. The Ministers of Agriculture in all the States have been in constant communication with me on this subject, and I have been requested to make provision in this bill for the protection of all concerned in the interstate movement of wheat and its products. It can easily be understood that Queensland is very desirous to have this protection ; but so are the other States, which fear that, in the absence of the provisions dealing with this matter which appear in this bill, wheat and flour and the by-products of wheat may be dumped from one State to another. The action necessary to prevent this can only be taken by the Commonwealth Parliament. It is provided in the bill, therefore, that licences shall be issued by the Minister for Markets and Transport to all persons who engage in interstate trade in wheat. If this were not done it would be impossible effectively to fix the price of wheat for local consumption.
– Is anything being done to fix the price of bread so that the consumers will be protected ?
– The honorable member must know that that is a matter for the States to consider.
– If the Minister’s proposals are agreed to, will the people who sell their wheat for 4s. a bushel for local consumption also receive the proposed bounty of 6d. a bushel?
– The honorable member seems to be under the impression that one farmer here and there will receive 4s. a bushel for the wheat he sells, because it will be used locally; but that is not the case. The proceeds of wheat sold for local consumption will be paid into a common fund, and the advantage of the higher price will be distributed among all the farmers. The clauses of the measure which provide for the control of the interstate marketing of wheat are essential to the success of the State schemes. Unless these provisions are agreed to, the State Governments will be seriously hampered in their efforts to assist the farmers.
– The Minister cannot bluff us like that.
– If the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) votes against this bill he will have to accept full responsibility for his actions.
– This is an attempt to compromise us and to force us to vote for the Fiduciary Notes Bill.
– Is not the whole of this bill dependent on the passage of the Fiduciary Notes Bill?
– Yes, to the extent that at present the only way of getting the money appears to be through the fiduciary notes account.
– If that bill is defeated it will be impossible to give effect to this measure.
– That measure provides for the raising of £6,000,000 for the assistance of the wheatgrowers.
– There is no other way by which the £6,000,000 can be obtained.
– I know that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) and some of his followers have been saying that the money can be obtained in some other way ; but until to-day I have been quite in the dark as to how it was proposed to obtain it. A report in this morning’s press, however, discloses the plan which the Leader of the Opposition has evolved, presumably after very careful thought. This plan was explained in Melbourne on Monday night by the president of the
Chamber of Commerce (Mr. Boyd). I quote the following paragraphs from a press report: -
Addressing the annual conference of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia last night, the president of the Melbourne chamber (Mr. J. A. Boyd) disclosed the plan of the sub-committee appointed by the recent conference of business interests in Melbourne to support the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Latham) for the relief of wheat-growers. This plan is for the assistance of wheat-growers in Victoria. It has been sent to the Premier (Mr. Hogan) for submission to the Loan Council.
The Leader of the Opposition has said that the money would be provided without any Government assistance, but it now appears that the assistance of the Loan Council is to be sought. The report also states : -
Mr. Boyd said : “ It is suggested that a Government loan of £1,000,000 or £1,250,000 should be raised by this State, with the consent of the Loan Council. The rate of interest would be 4 per cent., if the loan were free of interest, or higher if the loan were subject to taxation. The money would be made available to farmers at the same rate of interest, plus a small charge (not exceeding i peT cent.) for administration expenses. The proposed term of the loan is two years, and itis suggested that the administration of the loan, including the making of advances, should be controlled by an honorary board.
This statement also is contrary to what we were led to believe were the intentions of the Leader of the Opposition. We were given to understand that the money would be made available without the payment of any interest; but it appears now that interest is to be required. The proposal that an honorary board should be appointed might have been expected, for we cannot imagine honorable members opposite doing anything without the assistance of a board.
– The approval of the Loan Council will involve the backing of the loan by governments.
– Exactly. The Leader of the Opposition said in the first place that a private loan would be floated. Now it appears that he can suggest nothing better than a loan floated by the Government with the approval of the Loan Council.
– The scheme will undoubtedly involve the sale of government bonds.
– Of course it will; it will also involve the payment of interest. We have said quite candidly that we propose to make £3,500,000 available to farmers as a free gift, because we know perfectly well that the men who need this assistance cannot possibly afford to pay any interest or offer any security for advances made to them. The property of these men is mortgaged up to the hilt. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett), who interjects so freely, would only take the trouble to ascertain the real opinion of the wheat-growers, he would find that what they want is not money on which they would be required to pay interest. They cannot offer security for advances on which they would be obliged to pay interest. The honorable member and his Leader (Mr. Latham) are ready to condemn the Government’s scheme, and they claim that the proposal they have is a better one; but when theirs comes to be examined it is found to be nothing but a fantastic, stupid affair, having no substance in it. The only purpose of the honorable member and his Leader is to embarrass the Government, and thwart its efforts to assist the wheat-growers.
– As they have done all along.
– They have. I ask them not to endeavour to secure a political advantage in this matter, but to deal with the Government’s scheme on its merits, just as I propose to deal with theirs on its merits. When I was framing the Wheat Marketing Bill I took steps to consult with honorable members opposite. I met them in every possible way, and I still propose to do so.
Honorable members opposite cannot shirk their responsibilities for the position in which the wheat-farmers find themselves to-day. Within two months of assuming office, this Government brought in a bill, and if that measure had not been defeated by honorable members opposite, or at any rate by their colleagues in the Senate, it ‘would have reached the statute-book, and the Australian wheat-growers would have been in a better position to-day than the farmers of any other part of the world.
Honorable members opposite prevented that from being brought about, but if they have the interests of the wheatgrowers at heart, they will try to make amends, even at this late stage, for the wrongs of the past by joining with the Government in an endeavour to do a fair thing for the wheat-growers. The other day, I was waited on by a deputation of wheat-growers representative of all States.
– - Wait until the wheatgrowers get you.
– All that the honorable member can do is to make childish and useless interjections, or introduce irrelevant matter. On no occasion, when the interests of the primary producers have been at stake, has he shown any desire to offer a useful suggestion to help them out of their difficulties. He and others with him are only anxious to make political capital at the expense of the distressed wheat-farmers.
I was saying that, however honorable members opposite may have erred in the past, they ought now to make amends by co-operating with the Government in order to do something at this late stage for the wheat-growers. I was also about to point out that the wheatgrowers have not the short memories that honorable members opposite think they have. In Melbourne, recently, a deputation of wheat-growers, Australia-wide, waited on me. It was introduced by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), and I have with me a report of the proceedings, showing what is the real opinion of the wheat-growers of Australia. I took the opportunity to congratulate the deputation on having, for the first time in Australia, formed an all-Australian organization, and I promised them, so long as I remained in office, I would recognize them as a body capable of speaking for the wheatgrowers of Australia as a whole.
– I rise to a point of order. The Minister is seeking to tell the House the opinion of certain wheat-farmers concerning the ministerial party and the opposition party, and I submit that his remarks are not addressed to any matter contained in the bill, but are simply using up the time of the House to no useful purpose or advantage. I submit that the Minister should not be permitted to go into these quarrelsome party matters, which have nothing to do with the bill.
– I cannot sustain the point of order. It is difficult to limit discussion on a measure so embracing in its terms, but the remarks of the Minister so far have certainly been relevant to the bill. The discussion of the measure would be facilitated if interjections were fewer, and I ask honorable members to allow the Minister to proceed without interruption.
– Is the Minister in order in saying that honorable members on this side of the House opposed a previous bill, providing for a guaranteed price for wheat, when, as a matter of fact, nearly all honorable members on this side voted for it?
– There is no point of order. The honorable member can make that statement when he speaks during the debate.
– I should like to explain to the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) that what I said was that the opposition to the Wheat Marketing Bill came from the friends of honorable members opposite in another place. I have always admitted that the honorable member himself assisted in the passing of the bill through this House. The measure was defeated by a majority in another place.
– And it was a very good thing for the farmers that that happened. The Government could not have paid them ls. a bushel.
– That is an admission the honorable member will have to live down if he can. Let him go among the wheat-growers and candidly state that it was a good thing for the farmers that the Wheat Marketing Bill was defeated.
– Is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition speaking for his party?
– As its deputy leader, I presume that he is, and it is just as well that honorable members opposite should be known for what they are. It is just as well to have their opinion stated so explicitly. It certainly will not be forgotten.
I was about to remind honorable members opposite that the wheat-growers have not the short memories that they think they have, and was proceeding to refer to a deputation representative of all States which waited on me. Among the many resolutions it conveyed to me, was the following : -
That the Federal Government be urged to re-introduce the Compulsory Wheat Pool Bill.
I quote this to show the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that his opinion about the Wheat Marketing Bill is not shared by these men who gathered from all parts of Australia. Their words to me were -
We realize that it was not your fault that we did not have an opportunity of voting on an Australian compulsory wheat pool, and that the position was probably brought about by some people who did not have our interests at heart.
– Who said that?
– I can give the honorable member all the information he requires. It was said by Major Chanter, of the New South Wales Wheat-growers Association. I give the name freely; the honorable member probably did not think I had this particular information or he would not have asked for it.
– Does Mr. Hardy agree with Major Chanter?
– As I said a moment ago, the honorable member is not capable of offering one useful suggestion. He can do nothing but make senseless interjections that mean nothing.
– I ask the honorable the Minister to confine his remarks to the bill.
– That the wheat-growers of Australia do not agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that it was a good thing the Wheat Marketing Bill was defeated, is proved by the resolution I have read asking for the re-introduction of the measure.
– It is certainly irregular to discuss a question that has already been determined by the House during this session, and I must ask the honorable the Minister not to continue on those lines.
– Apart from the provision in the Wheat Marketing Bill, for a guaranteed price for wheat, the measure would have enabled the fixing of a price throughout Australia for home consumption, on a basis already operating in Queensland and proposed for New SouthWales. If the bill had passed with that provision alone, the wheat-farmers of Australia, on this season’s crop, would have received an additional £2,500,000, representing the difference between the price they are receiving and the 4s. which would probably have been fixed under State legislation as the local consumption price. To-day I received a letter from Mr. Cambridge, the secretary of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, urging the re-introduction of the wheat bill, and I cite that communication also in order to show that the wheat-farmers of Australia favour the Government’s wheat marketing legislation.
In conclusion, I say to honorable members opposite that no matter what their opinions may have been in the past, and no matter what may have induced them to oppose, as some of them did, the Wheat Marketing Bill which was rejected by the Senate, with the result that the wheat-growers of Australia are in the desperate position in which we find them to-day, they should regard the bill now introduced as a tangible measure for removing those difficulties, and discuss it from that standpoint alone. I invite theirco-operation in its passage in order that something may be done to bring some real benefit to men who are suffering in this country to-day, and to give some brightness to their lives.
.- This measure to provide for the payment of a bounty on the production of wheat, and to give assistance to necessitous farmers, represents one of the many efforts made by the Government, and by the Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Parker Moloney), to afford aid to the wheatgrowers of this country.
– There would have been only one effort, had it not been for honorable members opposite.
– In the course of his second-reading speech, the Minister endeavoured to throw upon the members of the Opposition responsibility for the fact that, during the sore trial through which the wheat-growers of Australia are passing, nothing has been done for them. That is an outrageous and utterly unfounded charge. This most pathetic and helpless Government has again and again brought down proposals to aid the wheatgrowers, and it has repeatedly failed. I shall briefly outline the extraordinary schemes of this metropolitan trades hall party, which poses as the friend of the man on the land.
First there was the proposal to establish a compulsory wheat pool, and give a government guarantee that 4s. a bushel would be paid for wheat delivered at country railway stations. It is true that that bill was rejected by the members in another place.
– Then why blame the Government?
– That measure was rejected in the best interests of the growers. If it had gone through, it would have been the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the farmers by this or any other Parliament. That bill purported to lift the world parity price of wheat - the price at country railway sidings, which for some months has been 2s. a bushel, and to-day is nearer ls. than 2s. - to 4s. delivered at railway sidings. That guarantee would have cost this bankrupt and worst of all Australian governments £18,000,000 or £20,000,000. Is there a member of this House who sincerely believes that this Ministry could have found one single shilling of the £20,000,000 necessary to make that guarantee good? The Government bemoans the fact that the bill was destroyed, and the farmers could not get their 4s. a bushel; yet with only eight months of the present financial year gone, it is already in debt to the extent of £13,500,000. If that bill had gone through, the wheat-growers of Australia, sorry as is their plight to-day, would have been in an infinitely worse predicament. They would have obtained advances against the guarantee, and would have made heavy purchases on the strength of it, which would have made their debts far heavier than they now are. Therefore, I repeat that the defeat of that bill, unsupported as it was by the faintest capacity on the part of the Government to give effect to its provisions, was a good thing for the growers. If the best this Government can do for the growers is to promise them a payment amounting to £20,000,000, when it is already £13,500,000 in debt this financial year, it shows what the Labour party is worth to the rural community.
Then the. Ministry brought down its second measure, which was only slightly less ambitious and hopeless than the first. This was a proposal to guarantee the payment of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. There the Government reached total failure. The bill was carried, and, within two or three weeks of the passing of it, the Acting Minister for Markets, in the absence of the present Minister, had to admit that the measure could not be carried into effect because no money was available to meet the guarantee. So twice this Government has failed the farmers.
– That was not the reason.
– Does the Minister say that the money for the 3s. guarantee could be found? Instead of talking in a parrot-like fashion, why does he not listen quietly to this ghastly story of his Government’s failures?
– Because the honorable member is making such silly statements.
– It is almost impossible to carry on the debate with these constant interjections. I appealed to the House to hear the Minister in silence, and I request him to show similar consideration to other speakers.
– After these two ghastly failures, after dangling these flash offers before the farmers, and failing to find the money in both cases, the Government now comes forward with a third proposal ; and what is it ? Subject to the carrying of a major measure - one of the most important and far-reaching ever presented to this House - the Government proposes to do something for the farmers ; but Ministers and all others know that the Fiduciary Notes Bill introduced by the Treasurer last night will not pass through this Parliament. That bill is doomed. The present bill depends on the passage of another measure which the Government knows will not be accepted by this Parliament. Therefore, I say again that the Government, in its alleged attempt to help the unfortunate farmers of this country, is out to mislead them. I want to be honest with them. Twice the Government has undertaken to give them money that cannot be provided, and now it promises them paper money. It proposes to pay a bounty in a debased and drifting currency. I shall say a few words on that subject later.
The present proposal is to take £6,000,000 of this new, fiduciary money to pay £3,500,000 to the wheat-growers, as a gift, on the basis of 6d. a bushel for export wheat. The farmers who have, wheat to export, or have produced marketable wheat, are to be made a gift, which will be equivalent, the Minister says, of from 4£d. to 5d. a bushel. A sum of £2,500,000 is to be provided to assist necessitous farmers whose position is so bad that they cannot qualify for a bounty of 4£d. or 5d. a bushel. Farmers in necessitous circumstances are to be loaned money on which they will have to pay interest. The Minister endeavoured to make much of the proposal to lend money to necessitous farmers, and spoke most scornfully, earlier in hip speech, about charging interest on moneys advanced. But this measure provides that farmers in necessitous circumstances may be loaned money through the agency of the States. Th, bill is sheer electioneering propaganda, as the Government knows that th, Fiduciary Notes Bill, upon which u depends, will not be passed by the Parliament. This is a. pathetic appeal to primary producers, and an attempt to enable the Government to say to their that if it had not been for the action of the wicked Opposition in rejecting the Fiduciary Notes Bill or in defeating another wheat bill, it would have done certain things for them. That is really why this measure has been introduced. It cannot possibly be of benefit to the wheat-growers of this country. I do noi think the Government expects it to be of any help to the farmers. It represents a scurvy attempt-
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) is not in order in referring to the measure in those words. I ask him to withdraw them.
– I withdraw them. I shall say that it represents a most unworthy attempt to exploit a few votes in rural areas, which undoubtedly th<–
Government and its supporters will need when an appeal is next made to the people. [Quorum formed.] If the Government, in its present shattered and discredited condition, were not fearful of appearing before the electors at an early date, this measure would not have been introduced.
– When does the honorable member propose to discuss the bill?
-Order! I have already warned the Minister-
– I submit, sir, that I am entitled to be heard without interruption by the Minister, who is constantly interjecting in an undertone. He is deliberately trying to prevent me from being heard.
– I shall see that every honorable member who does not transgress the Standing Orders is permitted to express his views without interruption.
– In his secondreading speech the Minister went out of his way to threaten the Opposition. He pointed out in a most significant way that this measure provides, not only for the payment of a bounty to necessitous farmers, but also sets up the necessary machinery for working various State subsidizing schemes. This is sheer politics from beginning to end. Honorable members on this side of the House do not intend to be intimidated by Ministers or b~ any honorable members opposite. This is an attempt to compromise this side of the House in connexion with a major measure the second reading of which was moved last night; but that attempt will fail. I have too much faith in the intelligence of the farmers to believe that they are likely to be caught by this notorious paper money scheme. All this talk of inflation has had a most disastrous effect, not only upon the wheatgrowers, but also upon primary producers generally. The proposed issue of fiduciary notes, upon which this bill depends, has practically brought the rural credit system of this country to an end. I think I am correct in saying that superphosphate is not being sold to the wheatfarmers this season on credit. In some measure that is due to the present indebtedness of the farmers to the merchants, but in the main to the fear of in flation. The introduction of the Fiduciary Notes Bill will accentuate the position with respect to credit of every sort. The policy of this Government will rob the farmers of credit amounting to many millions sterling. The Minister - this great alleged friend of the farmers - who has twice failed with his wheat schemes, now has the audacity to think that this proposal will be accepted by Parliament. I marvel at the Minister placing such importance upon the conferences he has convened, all of which have been futile. There is no other instance on record in which attempts to help the farming community have repeatedly failed so completely. The Minister, before introducing this bill, should have made some attempts to ascertain what the States are doing to assist the wheat-farmers and to co-ordinate the work. The States are already acting in this matter, and the Federal Government, which is now working independently, is attempting to do something additional. Surely some scheme of co-ordination could have been agreed upon within a few hours. The Government, by its inflation proposals, has absolutely betrayed the wheat-growers of this country. It has dealt an almost deadly blow at them. Annual credits were never more essential to the wheat-growers than they are to-day.
– How would the Deputy Leader of the Opposition assist them ?
– Honorable members on this side of the chamber will have nothing to do with a scheme of paying the farmer in what were referred to last night as “ spurious notes “. If the Minister and those with whom he is associated would discard the policy of inflation and get back to sound finance, means for assisting the farmers would be readily available. If the Government expressed its determination to do its best to live within its income it could raise from £5,000,000 to £10,000,000 within Australia for the relief of the farmers. It would be in a position to assist, not with debased currency, and not by taking this fatal step of official inflation, but by raising a loan and providing them with money of more or less sterling value. That is the alternative that we advocate. A promising scheme was put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.
Latham), not because we subscribed to the Government’s pathetic complaint that loans cannot be raised, but because this Government cannot raise money. The Opposition is not in a position to restore the credit of this country, but an alternative proposal which it has prepared is under consideration. If we were in office to-day we could raise money for rural relief in a matter of a few hours. Even this Government, in its present wretched position, could raise real money to-morrow for the farmers if it adopted a policy of sound finance. So long as the Government continues to follow the Treasurer along his hopeless financial path, it will be unable to help the farmers or to relieve unemployment. This is a contradictory measure. Its references to the fiduciary note issue threaten the farmers, whom it is supposed to assist, with straight-out ruin. The Minister, in his efforts to assist the Australian wheatgrowers, has gone steadily down hill. From 4s. the promise of assistance came down to 3s., and now it is 6d. a bushel; and that is to be paid in money the value of which will continue to diminish, until it has vanished.
.- The speech that has just been delivered by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) indicated clearly that he has very little knowledge of the wheatgrowing industry, and less of the conditions of the men who arc working in it, or of what is needed to enable national solvency to be maintained. Any one who is familiar with the condition of that industry to-day must be aware of the numerous incongruities that it presents. Men, who for years have worked the land profitably, have been brought to a state of bankruptcy, not in a day or a month, but as a result of the operations of the controllers of finance and of government in this country over a period of years. A large number of farmers are to-day obliged to obtain from rural police stations monthly orders on storekeepers for the groceries that they require. Men who have produced thousands of bags of wheat are being denied the credit that is necessary if they are to continue their operations. If national solvency is to be maintained, these men must be given financial assistance. The honour of this nation will be besmirched if it fails to meet its commitments overseas, and that is what will happen unless the primary producers are kept on the land. There are probably some honorable members opposite who are fully alive to that danger; but judging by the wild, petulant, childish utterances of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, he, at any rate, is not fully seised of the seriousness of the position. At this critical period of our history he is capable only of utterances that are calculated to arouse the party political jealousies that have always divided our people and prevented them from meeting a national emergency in a national spirit. The present position demands calm deliberation, and every means at our disposal must be availed of with a view to removing the difficulties that confront us. The greatest mistake in the past has been excessive borrowing by governments that have failed to realize the necessity of placing primary production in a position that would make it possible for expenditure to bc maintained in other directions. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has referred glibly to the financial failure of this Government; yet he was a member of a government that spent prodigally and unproductively large sums that were borrowed at high rates of interest ! The proposal to establish a fiduciary note issue has been opposed on the ground that this Government would not spend the money reproductively. But what have past governments done? When this country was flowing with wealth, and primary products were bringing high prices, th, controllers of finance, both public and private, were responsible for the expenditure of large sums of money in the big centres of population on colossal structures the burden of which fell principally on the primary producer. That policy has been responsible in a large measure for the position in which we now find ourselves. Development has been arrested, and this Government has been prevented from making credit available to the primary producers. Will any person deny that the capital city of New South Wales has been built 40 years ahead of its requirements, to the detriment of the primary producer, or that the private banking institutions that now condemn this Government’s financial proposals have been largely instrumental in bringing that about? If men on the land who are intellectually and physically capable of producing considerable wealth approach a private banking institution for a loan to effect improvements, they are met with a curt refusal. The answer, particularly in the case of what is known as new title land in New South Wales, is, “We do not like the title. It is not the policy of this bank to advance money on such titles “. But any man who has a Torrens title, even though he be physically and intellectually incapable of producing wealth, can obtain from those institutions the money that he needs to build a shop in which to sell Japanese goods. It is into such unproductive channels that the wealth production of this country has been diverted, and that is the reason why Australia is in the position she occupies to-day. The men who were guilty of those practices are being supported, at the present time, by institutions which have prevented this Government from giving effect to its financial proposals. Yet they are endeavouring to convince the people that the Government is not worthy of trust. I am confident that the power of recovery lies in the proper application of human energy to the development of land and industry, not in bricks and mortar. Unless that be done, Australia will be unable to meet the pressing obligations with which it is faced to-day. This Government has been sincere in its desire, and earnest in its efforts to give monetary assistance to the primary producers. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) said that the rejection of the Wheat Marketing Bill was the best thing that could have happened to the farmers and the people of Australia generally. I say that had that bill been passed it would have developed confidence among the people, and stimulated industry. Confidence must be restored before we can commence to overcome our difficulties. When that measure was rejected in another place, honorable members opposite were jubilant, because the farmers were being denied a guaranteed price that would have enabled them to carry on their operations.
Many persons talk glibly of inflation. What is inflation? The currency was inflated in this country during the periods in which past governments borrowed at high rates of interest, and were so improvident that prices were forced up above productive value, not only in the agricultural and pastoral industries, but particularly in regard to city investments. If any government was guilty of inflation, it was the Bruce-Page Government. Is it inflation to give to the primary producer the credit that will enable him to produce in volume and value sufficient to meet our oversea interest bill; to provide food and clothing for the thousands of women and children who are starving; to assist the small sheep-owner whose holding is getting into disrepair, whose fences are falling down, whose country, although newly improved, is being overrun with suckers, so that it is fast falling back into an unproductive condition ? Is it inflation to give credit to these men so that they can carry on their industry, and meet their interest charges? Of course no. To do so is merely common sense. It is what this or any other government must do.
– The honorable member must not debate the financial bill. The House is now considering the wheat bill.
– The Treasurer said that the passage of this bill was conditional upon the passage of the financial bill.
– 1 understand that, but it would be wrong to allow a debate on the fiduciary issue bill to take place during the consideration of this measure.
– It has been objected that in this bill the £6,000,000 which is to be distributed amongst the farmers ought not to be raised in the manner proposed. No other method has been suggested by any responsible person or institution in the country. The Government has exhausted every effort to find the money by other means. It was hinted by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) that this money would not be real money. I maintain that it will be real money, and it will remain real, because it will be employed by the farmers to produce real wealth. The worth of money is determined by the manner in which it is spent. There can be no more real money than that created by the community as a whole, and spent by a portion of the community in the production of new wealth. Much of the money spent by governments in the past has not been real money, because it has been expended upon unproductive work.
Reference has been made to the means by which it is proposed to give assistance to the farmers. It has been suggested in some quarters that the bounty should be made payable, not upon exportable wheat, but in accordance with the acreage of wheat sown. Practical men will immediately recognize the difficulty of ascertaining accurately the area of land under crop last year. It might be possible to obtain a workable estimate of the total area under crop, but it would be impracticable to learn definitely the individual areas which had been -under wheat.
– Does not every State Government obtain statistical returns on this subject ?
– They obtain only a very cursory survey, prepared in each district by the local policeman. On the other hand, if the bounty is paid upon exportable wheat, the quantity is easily ascertainable, because the farmers can produce documentary evidence of sale, and they will receive the bounty on the proportion exported overseas.
It is desirable that the farmers should obtain the benefit of the bounty, free from any claim by those to whom they owe money. In this way the farmers will be assured of a sum of money which they can employ in carrying on their farming operations, or for the maintenance of their families. I assume that, even in respect of crops covered by a lien, the farmers will receive the full amount of the bounty payable in accordance with this bill. If the Commonwealth Government has not power to legislate in this direction, it should consult with the various State Governments with a view to having them pass the necessary legislation. We must be careful to see that the money goes into the channels which this legislature intends. If there is the least doubt that this might not happen, steps should be taken without delay to put the matter right.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett), when opposing the bill, did not advance a single argument against the measure as such. He contented himself with challenging the sincerity of the Government in its professed desire to help the farmers. He said that the Government knew that it was impossible to help the farmers by means of the bill under which they were to be guaranteed 4s. & bushel for their wheat. Surely the honorable member must have known that provision had been made to carry out the obligations of the Government under that measure. The honorable member said further that the failure of the hill to pass the Senate was due to the fact that the Government refused to meet a reasonable request by Country party members from “Western Australia. That was not so. An undertaking was given by the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) on that very point. Several days after the bill was rejected, a member of the Senate stated publicly through the Sydney Morning Herald, that he was pleased the bill had been defeated; that he and his colleagues had voted as they did in order to retain the individual freedom of farmers to market their wheat as they pleased. He added that if the occasion arose, he would vote in the same way again. Members of the Opposition deliberately voted to defeat the bill, because they did not wish any measure to be carried by this Government which would help the farmers.
– The honorable member must realize that I cannot allow him to go any further in a discussion of legislation which has already been dealt with.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also referred to the second attempt of the Government to help the wheat-farmers. He declared thai the Government knew at the time that the Commonwealth Bank could not find the money required to give effect to the Government’s proposal. As a matter of fact, the position was this: The directors of the Commonwealth Bank said that they would not finance the scheme because of a constitutional defect in the act - not because the bank could not find the money.
It appears to me that there is an organized effort by members of the Nationalist party, some members of the Country party, and institutions outside Parliament - including banking institutions, and others having to do with the collection and distribution of Australian wheat - to prevent the Government from carrying into effect any proposal to give monetary assistance to the wheat-farmers.
– Which members of the Country party opposed it?
– Those who voted against the 4s. guarantee. There is a responsibility on this Parliament, and the people of this country, to find money to finance the wheat-growers. The Government has adopted the method set out in the bill. So far no practical suggestion for granting relief to farmers has emanated from honorable members opposite.
– I understand that it is the wish of honorable members that I should suspend the sitting now, although it is not yet a quarter past 6 to meet their convenience. If no objection is raised, I shall leave the chair until 8 p.m.
Sitting suspended from 6.1 to 8 p.m.
– The greatest opposition to action such as is proposed comes from those who, in the past, have dominated the marketing of Australian wheat and from the newspapers that support them. The Government is compelled to take action even at this late hour to help the farmers because of the serious circumstances that obtain in the wheat-growing area. When marketing is left to private individuals and institutions, the producer is often denied the full value of his product. If there were a definite organization to control the sale of the wool clip, those wheat-farmers who also grow wool, would he in a better position than they are to-day, and the manufacturers and others who buy that wool would pay less if the middleman did not intervene between them and the producers. If the primary producers were getting the benefit of the present increase in the price of wool, they would benefit to the extent of £8,000,000, which now goes into the coffers of the merchants and speculators. Whilst this bill will not directly influence the disposal of the wheat, it will render assistance to those who have not received what they should have received for their wool, because of the fact that speculators and others were able to gamble in that commodity to the detriment of the growers.
I commend the operation of the various voluntary wheat pools, particularly that in Victoria. By its business-like and capable management, the Victorian voluntary pool has assisted the wheat-growers to a very considerable extent. Early in the wheat season private merchants were adopting the usual methods to force down grain prices; they were asserting that there was no market overseas for the wheat and they would be unable to sell it. Fortunately, at that time the Victorian pool commenced to place large parcels of wheat in different parts of the world, thus disproving the assertions of the private speculators that there was no market overseas for Australian wheat.
There is some doubt as to the proportion of the wheat harvest on which the bounty will be paid. The bill assumes that the proportion exported will be 75 per cent, of the total production, and proposes payment to the farmers of a bounty of 6d per bushel on 75 per cent, of the total quantity produced by him and sold or .ered for sale. A considerable portion oi the wheat that will be placed on Oriental markets will be below the f.a.q. standard, but bounty will be paid in respect of the whole of the exportable sur plus, regardless of the quality.
The amount of money to be paid to the farmers at the present time is of considerable national importance, because no money paid to any section of the community is put to a better use, or is distributed with greater benefit to the whole of the people. This bounty is to be conveyed directly to the wheat-growers as a gift from the Commonwealth Parliament, because the Government and the people realize that many of those who responded to the Prime Minister’s invitation to grow more wheat for the assistance of the nation, are in difficult circumstances, and have not the money with which to continue their operations on the land. If this money is conveyed to them as an untrammelled gift, it will stimulate business generally; country storekeepers and business institutions will directly benefit, because the farmers will be encouraged immediately to purchase the requirements for the production of next season’s crop. Country storekeepers are in a very bad position, but they will be greatly relieved if this £6,000,000 is distributed directly among the farming community. “We are told that there is opposition to the policy of the Government. I have not seen or heard of any sincere opposition from the farmers and country residents who are being called upon to bear an unfair responsibility. On the contrary, I am aware that country business people, bodies of farmers, and the workers generally, are in favour of the Government’s proposal. Therefore, until opposition is more definitely and clearly displayed, we must assume that any antagonism to this measure comes from those who are not familiar with the circumstances of the producers or are prompted by party political motives.
One portion of the bill provides for special assistance to necessitous farmers. There is no doubt that many are in a desperate position. Some are scarcely able to secure food for the sustenance of their wives and families. Storekeepers have been compelled by force of circumstances to restrict credit or to refuse it altogether, even to men who have dealt with them for many years.
– Farmers in some districts have to go to the police for food.
– That is so, and the amount of money made available by the Government of New South Wales for the assistance of the primary producers is so limited that the administrators of the fund have been compelled to issue only monthly orders. Because of climatic conditions and other adverse circumstances, some farmers garnered no crops last season. The crops of others were destroyed by hail. The circumstances of such men are, perhaps, more desperate than are those of farmers who at least harvested some crop, in respect of threequarters of which they will be paid bounty. I hope that we shall be able to evolve some means to help those farmers who have suffered heavy losses. In parts of New South Wales favorable climatic conditions in winter and spring produced excellent crops, but early summer rains caused rust to appear, with the result that over large areas the harvest was practically worthless. I have seen many hundreds of acres of different varieties of white wheats which have been left unharvested, because of rust. Although no definite indication has been given that the aid to necessitous farmers will take the form of a free gift, I hope that cases of special hardship will receive consideration, in that form.
In regard to the administration of this fund, the functioning of the various organizations in the different States is so comprehensive that it will be difficult without an amendment of the existing machinery to administer this bill in such a way that its benefit will be conveyed rapidly to those who are in need of help. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that efforts be made to decentralize the administration as much as possible.
I ask honorable members to appreciate the serious position of the wheatfarmers. Thousands of men upon the land are without money, and their credit is exhausted. The nation is dependent on a large export of primary products to correct the adverse trade balance overseas. Unfortunately, some men occupying high places in Australian Governments are causing undue excitement and disorganization at this critical period. The situation confronting us calls for calm consideration by all sections of the people, and I hope that no action will be taken without a full realization of the facts. Unless something is done immediately to help those engaged in the wheat-producing industry, they will be unable to continue their operations, and the nation will be unable to meet its obligations. I ask honorable members to think of those men who have worked so strenuously and placed every sovereign and ounce of energy that they possessed into the cultivation of their lands in order to maintain their holdings - men who have been afflicted with adverse circumstances, and oppressed by the unsympathetic administrations which have from time to time dominated the political life of the country. Let them think of the families which have worked for the past two years without ceasing, for a return that was not even equivalent to the old-age pension. They have left their homesteads on Monday morning, and toiled almost continuously until the following Saturday night, camping in their paddocks and undergoing extreme privation, actuated by the desire to maintain that for which they have striven the whole of their lives. Unless those worthy but unfortunate people now receive assistance from the nation, unless this Parliament realizes the obligation it owes to those stalwart sons of the soil, they will be forced off their holdings. I have come into personal contact with these men, and know that, throughout a life-time of toil and suffering, they have made it a fetish to honour their obligations. To-day they are compelled to admit that the task is temporarily beyond them, and their one desire is to be given an opportunity to remain on their land and continue their life’s work in order that they may in the future rehabilitate themselves, satisfy their creditors, and once more face their “fellows as honorable men. This Parliament alone has the power to grant that which will permit them to do so. I hope that no desire for party political gain will animate honorable members when facing the position; that they will realize that we are all the representatives of the people of Australia, and must do our utmost to provide the monetary assistance that is essential to these men to enable them to continue their toil on the land, and, incidentally, save Australia.
.- Everybody will agree with the plea contained in the peroration of the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons), that the consideration of this problem should be free from party bias. I trust that the Government will consider the practical suggestions which will be advanced by honorable members on this side of the House during this .debate, free from party bias. The position of the wheat-farmers of Australia is now positively desperate. Wheat-growing is the second biggest industry in the Commonwealth, and it employs a larger number of men than does any other industry that we possess. It is one of the great exporting industries of the country, on which the prosperity of Australia has been built. Yet to-day, all over the Commonwealth, men who a couple of years ago were making good livings, and who were facing the winter of their lives with the comforting thought that they had the necessary competence behind them, find themselves absolutely destitute, and facing ruin. Thousands are unable to buy the necessary fertilizers or the seed to enable them to sow their lands for the coming season. I emphasize strongly that, if there is any industry which should be reviewed apart from party considerations, it is our great wheat industry, at present in such a perilous position.
The different State governments, no matter what may be their ‘political convictions, are endeavouring to solve the problem along similar lines. The steps that have been taken by the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland are in many respects alike, although those governments differ totally in their political convictions. Unfortunately, although we have waited for fifteen months, this Federal Government has failed to advance any practical proposals which would be of real assistance to the wheat-farmers of Australia. Each proposal that it has brought forward has failed because of one vital defect - it has not been backed by sound provisions for finance.
The Government inaugurated its first scheme to relieve the wheatgrowers some twelve months ago. That, provided for a compulsory wheat pool, and was accompanied by a promise to pay the farmers 4s. a bushel for their wheat. To finance it was found to be quite impracticable, so the proposal was rejected in another place. The Government brought down a second bill, which was to provide, not the original 4s. a bushel, or the 6s. 6d. a bushel promised by the “Gibbons “ plan, but an amount of 3s. a bushel. The measure was passed by both Houses, and is now an act on our statute-book. It has remained inoperative simply because it had no sound financial basis. Again the hopes of the farmers were deferred.
We are now debating a third bill, under which the Government proposes to provide a bounty of 6d. a bushel on the assumed export of wheat from Australia. That will mean something like 4£d. a bushel bounty on the actual wheat produced for market in the Commonwealth. The financing of the scheme is dependent on two sources.
Firstly, loans that may be raised by the Government under the various Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Acts, 1911-1927, and secondly, on a possible fiduciary issue that this Government expects some day to bring into existence. The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) admitted a few days ago that it is impossible to raise a loan in Australia at this juncture. Everybody knows that it positively cannot be done within the next three or four weeks. It is during that period that the wheatfarmers of Australia will pass through their most critical period, when financial assistance to them is imperative. Obviously, such assistance will not be forthcoming from any fiduciary-issue legislation, as it is not remotely likely that that will be agreed to within the period I have named, if ever. This proposal of a bounty of 6d. a bushel is, therefore, unfortunately for the wheat-farmers of Australia, in the same category as the previous projects of the Government to help the farmers. It cannot be financed.
To-night I shall put forward a scheme which I trust will be considered by the Government and its supporters in the non-party spirit which was urged by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons). It is a definite proposal that will, if accepted, provide immediate assistance for the wheat-farmers. The machinery of this bill, independent of the source of finance, is quite excellent, and could be used to implement my proposal. The measure provides first that there shall be a bounty of 6d. a bushel on the assumed export wheat of the country. That would amount to, roughly, £3,500,000, or 4½d. a bushel on the total amount produced for market in Australia. At the same time some £2,500,000 will be provided to assist our necessitous wheat-farmers. Personally, I do not think that 4½d. a bushel is an extremely generous gesture towards the nation’s farmers. I should like to see it increased to 6d. a bushel, which would mean increasing the amount to be made available to the farmers to about £4,750,000. in addition to the £2,500,000 to be paid to necessitous farmers. My proposal appears to me to be an absolutely sound one, and I commend it to the serious consideration of the Government. It provides for the payment to the grower of a bounty of 6d. per bushel on all wheat grown and marketed during the- 1930-31 season. The estimated amount required would not exceed £5,000,000 on the basis of a maximum yield of 200,000,000 bushels at 6d. per bushel. Necessitous farmers would also receive a grant of £2,500,000. The Commonwealth Bank would be approached for thenecessary finance, the loan to be redeemed, by a sales tax of £2 10s. per ton on flour consumed within Australia for a period of five years, or such lesser period as will, liquidate the loan, plus interest, the proceeds of the tax to be paid to the Commonwealth Bank as received.
If this scheme were accepted, the wholeof the debt could be liquidated within, five years. If the Government felt that it should persist in its suggestion of only 4£d. per bushel it would be able either to reduce the amount of the sales tax on flour to £2 a ton, and pay the loan off in five years, or adhere to the amount of £2 10s. a ton and pay the loan off in a lesser time. I urge that the larger amount be made available, as the smaller one would not give the farmers sufficiently generous assistance to grant them immediate relief from their difficulties. If such a scheme were accepted, there would be a continuous payment into the Commonwealth Bank against the loan, and I have not the slightest doubt that such a condition would induce the Commonwealth Bank to make the money available immediately. The difficulties of our farmers could then be met within the critical three weeks; they could huy their seed wheat and fertilizers, and make the necessary provision for next year’s crop. All the other actions necessary to place the farmers on a permanently satisfactory position could be dealt with in their turn, according to any suitable plan that was formulated.
Many things must be done to assist these men. It has been suggested by the Producers Council and various bankers that a loan should be floated. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) has also brought forward a very similar proposal to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, all such proposals require consideration, and cannot be finalized expeditiously. The adoption of the scheme that I have advanced would provide immediate relief, and give our farmers breathing time. The matter of the consolidation of their debts, as advocated in New South Wales, and the writing down of a certain percentage to correspond to the bad debts which would inevitably he incurred if there were not such a consolidation, would also give permanent relief. But that would take time to consider and give effect to. There is also the matter of the removal of burdensome tariffs, taxation, and other factors which tend to increase the farmers’ production costs. All could be dealt with in their proper turn. The imperative necessity is to do something to enable the farmer to get the money to begin sowing operations immediately. The proposal of the Government will not enable that to be done.
Although the bill does not explicitly say so, the remarks of the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) and the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) indicate that the financing of the bill depends upon the proposed fiduciary issue. The bill indicates an alternative method of raising the money, but it is patent that that will not be available within six months, if at all. I, therefore, urge the Government to give sympathetic and favorable consideration to the suggestion that I have made. I have said nothing which reflects on any party in the House, but have merely advanced practical constructive suggestions, and urge that they be dealt with in like manner.
– Can the right honorable gentleman substantiate his figures with regard to the proposal to levy a sales tax of £2 10s. per ton on flour?
– Yes. Roughly, there is consumed in Australia each year, 650,000 tons of flour. A sales tax of £2 10s. per ton would realize £1,625,000 per annum or at least £8,125,000 over a period of five years. As consumption would increase with growth of population this amount would be exceeded. The amount required to pay a bounty of 6d. per bushel on the total amount of wheat produced for market in Australia would be £4,750,000, and the amount necessary for the assistance of farmers in distress would be £2,500,000, as provided for in this bill, so that the total sum required would be £7,250,000.
This would leave about £900,000 for the payment of interest. Under the proposal which I have outlined there would be repayment of principal from the beginning, so that the total liability would be met at the end of the five-year period. A sales tax of £2 10s. per ton on flour means about id. per lb. This nominal tax should not make any difference in the cost of the 4-lb. loaf of bread which, as we know, contains other ingredients besides flour, and, judging from our previous experience, I see no reason why such a small sales tax on flour should result in an increase in the price of bread.
If my proposal were adopted, it would be possible to give immediate assistance to our wheat-growers. The scheme could be put through this Parliament as quickly, almost, as the export duty on sheepskins. But there would be this advantage: It would not be necessary, at the next assembling of Parliament, to repeal the measure. .1 appeal to the Government to accept the proposal so that our wheatfarmers will be encouraged to remain on their farms and do the great work ahead of them, trying to put Australia on its feet again, and assist the nation in its difficulty. If the Ministry will consider favorably the suggestion which I have made, I should like to submit an amendment on the lines indicated when the bill is in committee; or if it were deemed desirable, move that the bill be referred to a select committee for the purpose of bringing down a modified proposal that would meet with the acceptance of all parties in this Parliament.
– I refute the statement made by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) that the Government’s Wheat Marketing Bill, introduced last year, was rejected by the Senate because the necessary arrangements had not been made to pay farmers the guaranteed price of 4s. per bushel. I challenge the right honorable gentleman to point to any statement in the speeches of members in another place, indicating that the proposal was defeated on those grounds. Sir Frank Clarke, the President of the Legislative Council in Victoria, made a similar statement in Melbourne. He asserted that the farmers of Australia were being fooled by the Labour Government in connexion with its scheme for a compulsory wheat pool and added that it could not command the necessary finance to pay the guaranteed price. But he was man enough, subsequently, to apologize in the Legislative Council for having made a misleading statement. He went on to say that he had ascertained from those in authority that adequate arrangements had been made by the Commonwealth Bank to pay the guaranteed price. Notwithstanding the repeated assurances that the. financial arrangements had been made, the right honorable member for Cowper to-night reiterated that the Government’s proposal for a compulsory wheat pool was rejected by another place because members of that chamber were not satisfied that the money could be found for the promised guarantee of 4s. a bushel.
– Can the Minister say now where it could have been obtained ?
– I repeat that an assurance was given by the Commonwealth Bank that it would be made available.
– And the Deputy Leader of the Opposition knows that.
– Of course he does.
– None of it could have been found.
– The declaration of the Leader of the Country party to-night was, I consider, quite unfair to this Ministry, because I recall a statement made by a member of his party in another place - either Senator Carroll or Senator Johnston - to the effect that, in the same circumstances, he would vote against the bill again, but he did not advance as a reason his belief that he was not satisfied that the money could be found. I do not know why the right honorable member for Cowper does not now take his courage in both hands and condemn the bill outright. If he did that, he would, at all events, come out into the open. The amendment which he has outlined will provide only a few million pounds for the wheat-growers of Australia, and the money required to finance his proposal could not be found any more readily than in the case of the bill before the House.
– In the case of this bill, it will not be found at all.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition ought to be ashamed to say that.
– Thousands of our wheat-growers are being sold up by the private banks and other financial institutions which, if we are to believe honorable members opposite, are prepared to come to the assistance of our primary producers, per medium of the various chambers of commerce and at the solicitation of the Leader of the Opposition, by financing a loan of £1,500,000 for those farmers who require assistance. I remind this House, however, that advances to farmers under that scheme will be made only to those primary producers who can furnish the necessary security for the repayment of the loan. Contrast that form of assistance with the Government’s proposal to pay a bounty of 6d. per bushel.
– The proposed bounty will amount to only 41/2d. per bushel on the whole of the wheat produced for market.
– Only those who have a crop will receive the bounty.
– That is so; but in the bill there is provision for the raising of a loan of £2,500,000 to be paid to necessitous farmers so that they may have the wherewithal to provide for next season’s crop. It is of vital importance that they should receive this assistance at once, because, if our wheat-growers fail, the stability of the nation itself will be endangered. In every part of my electorate farmers are being evicted by the hundred, and storekeepers, having become insolvent, are being sold up. I have no doubt that the same conditions obtain in practically every country electorate throughout the Commonwealth. Business people and farmers, from one end of the country to the other, are in a condition verging on insolvency. In all country districts thousands of acres of fallow land are waiting to be sown for the next season’s crop; but, unhappily, the farmers are unable to buy the fertilizers which they so urgently need. This bill will give them the required assistance.
– -But it will not be genuine money.
– It will be just as genuine as the credit which primary producers receive at the hands of private nking institutions. It will be just as good and just as sound. It is most important that assistance should be given at once to those who stand in so much need of it and are looking to the Government to carry them over this crisis. This issue is of such vital importance to the nation that honorable members, in their discussion on the bill, should forget party considerations. Prompt assistance will mean the uplifting of our primary producers. The withholding of it will mean their downfall. If honorable members were in power and had brought in a measure on these lines I should give at my wholehearted support. I cannot, however, accept the amendment outlined by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page).
– Because it provides only for an amount to tide our wheatfarmers over their difficulties, whereas the Government’s proposals will make available an extra £12,000,000.
– There is no such provision in this bill.
– I have in mind the Fiduciary Note Issue Bill, which is linked up with this measure. The two proposals cannot be separated.
– Order ! It will not be permissible at this stage for the honorable the Minister to enter upon a discussion on the Fiduciary Note Issue Bill.
– The Minister has “ spilt the beans “ now.
– There is no spilling of beans at all. I merely state my opinion, but I am not allowed to pursue my argument along those lines. The £6,000,000 required for the assistance of our farmers can be and will be found. This Parliament must find it. The financial institutions of this country have closed down, not only on this Government, but also on thousands of farmers and business people throughout Australia.
– Because they are doing to-day what they did after the big bank crash of 1893. They are selling up the land-holders and business people; they are taking possession of properties which they will hold until conditions im prove, and then sell them at a handsome profit. That has been done in every decade, and it is being done to-day. It was done long before a Labour government was thought of in this country. In the Wimmera district, only a few weeks ago, five long-established business places became insolvent. The business people concerned sought assistance from the financial institutions of the State, but it was refused them.
If the banking institutions of this country are to be of any use to the community, they should give assistance to our farmers and business people in the years of depression. When seasons were good, the banking institutions in every State urged people to settle on the land, to speculate in properties and businesses, giving them whatever accommodation they required. The unfortunate people who accepted the advice of the banks, not realizing that they were buying in the midst of a land boom, paid high prices for their properties. The slump came upon them unexpectedly, and when they asked for accommodation from the banking institutions it was denied to them. These unfortunate land-holders are being sold up by the dozen. The implements of many of the farmers in the Wimmera district are stacked on the roads awaiting sale. Men who have been cultivating land from boyhood, honest hardworking citizens of this country, are faced with bankruptcy because they have been refused financial assistance. They are faced with the prospect of their families being thrown out on the highways, and of seeking a living in the labour market.
– Is the honorable member referring to the banking institutions of Victoria?
– Has not a Moratorium Act been applied in that State?
– It applies only to the new settlers in the mallee country. It is a great pity that that legislation does not apply to the whole of the State. It is the bounden duty of this Parliament to assist the wheat-growers, the business people, and the working section, of the community. Unless- employment is found for the unemployed, unless credits are released by the banks, I see no hope for this country.
Some honorable members will say, “ Why argue so much about the wheat-grower; are there not others equally deserving of assistance?” I admit that that is true, but no one has suffered greater hardship during the last three years than have some of the wheatgrowers of Victoria. For three successive seasons, not one bushel of wheat was reaped in the new mallee country.
– Much of that land should never have been sown.
– That may be so, but the settlers were induced to go there. Some of them started with a few hundred pounds, a good team of horses and implements. They took their wives and children to that country, and struggled along year after year. They have worked hard to develop that new country, and now after years of toil they are being thrown out on the roads. It is our duty to use every effort to keep those people on the land.
– Is the Victorian Government allowing farmers to be thrown out on the roads?
– There have been hundreds of such cases.
– That Government should be ashamed of itself.
– It is a Labour Government.
– Farmers were thrown out on the roads long before the Labour Government took office. In any case, the Government has no power to interfere, because its efforts to assist the farmers are being thwarted by a Tory majority in the Upper House.
– That is perfectly true.
– When the Victorian Government introduced legislation to extend the Moratorium Act to the whole of the wheat-growing areas of that State, the Upper House threw out the bill. I heartily support the measure before the House. I trust that it will have a speedy passage through both Houses of Parliament so that the sufferings of the wheatgrowers and other sections of the people of this country may, in the near future, be, to some extent, relieved.
.- This bill is represented to be a measure for the relief of the wheat-farmers of Australia. It depends for its operation upon the issue of what is described as fiduciary currency. If it is passed it will destroy all hope for the wheat-farmers, and every productive interest in this community. I make my attitude towards the bill clear in the initial sentences of my address, because I do not desire it to be thought that I am backing and filling or adopting an uncertain attitude towards it. I am opposed to the bill for the reason that it depends upon an issue of fiduciary currency. The Government has produced various schemes, all directed towards assisting the wheat-farmers. The first was a scheme for a compulsory pool associated with a guarantee of 4s. a bushel. On behalf of the party which I lead I opposed that bill in this House, and I make no excuse or apology for my action. Everybody knows that we opposed it, and I consider that we acted rightly. I moved an amendment to the bill, asking for the separation of the provision for a compulsory pool from the provision for a guarantee of 4s. a bushel. When I spoke in the House I opposed the provision for a compulsory pool definitely and absolutely for reasons which I then gave. I supported the proposal for a guarantee of 4s. for other stated reasons. At that time we had the Government’s assurance, unsatisfactory in many respects though it was, that the money could be readily and without difficulty obtained. Experience has shown that it would have been quite impossible for the expectations of the Government to be realized. At a moderate estimate a guarantee of 4s. a bushel would have meant the provision by the Commonwealth of £18,000,000, and we all know now that the money could not have been obtained. Having regard to subsequent events, it was indeed fortunate for the Government that the bill was rejected in another place, because its acceptance would have reduced the Commonwealth to a position of absolute insolvency. There were other objections to the bill. One was that the basis of the proposed pool, as between the various States, was unfair and indefensible. But apart from that altogether, I opposed then as I would oppose to-day the proposal for a socialistic and bureaucratic compulsory pool. I hope that I have made my position sufficiently clear.
The second proposal made by the Government was a guarantee of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. I opposed that proposal also because I regarded it as futile and impossible, as a provision that could never conceivably become operative. Events have shown that this party was right in the attitude that it then adopted. A sum of 3s. a bushel was to be paid by the Commonwealth Bank, and the bank was to be guaranteed by the Commonwealth Government. Everybody knows to-day that had that measure been passed the Commonwealth Government could only have obtained the money from the Commonwealth Bank to discharge its guarantee to the Commonwealth Bank. That was said at the time, and events proved that the contention of this side of the House was absolutely right. That was the second failure of the Government in this connexion.
The third proposal, which, I think, was made early in January last, was a loan of £6,000,000. It was soon abandoned, because it was impossible for the Government to raise £6,000,000, or even £1,000,000. I am afraid to-day that it would be impossible for it to raise even £1. That was the third failure of the Government.
Now we have this fourth proposal before us. I regard this bill as illusory, as a transparent political device for the purpose of placing members on this side of the House in what is thought by the Government to be a difficult political position. This bill cannot carry out the promises which it makes upon its face, and I doubt very much whether any honorable member on the other side of the House believes for one moment that it can. The bill offers £6,000,000 to the wheat-farmers of Australia, but it is not £6,000,000 of real money.
– What is real money ?
– In Australia to-day there is no doubt as to what real money is. If the proposals of this Government were put into operation, the honorable member would soon become aware of the operation of Gresham’s law under which bad money drives out good money. He would soon find out the difference between real and other money. The money required for the purposes of this bill is to be provided by the issue of a fiduciary currency. That is my prime reason for opposing the bill, although I have some others of a minor character.
I desire to put the situation shortly as I see it. The farmers, I agree, are in desperate need of assistance, and it is most unfortunate that we have in office a government which is not prepared to take the only steps that can render them real assistance. The difficulties of the farmers arise, fundamentally, from the low price of wheat in the world’s market. As Australia exports in a normal season about 3 per cent, of what one might describe as the contents of the wheat market of the world, it is impossible for Tier to affect or alter world prices. I shall return to this aspect of the subject later. The fact to which I direct attention at the moment is that the position which we are facing has been brought about fundamentally by difficulties with which it is impossible to deal in Australia, because they are related directly to the price which the farmers will receive for the tremendously major portion of their product.
The position of the farmer should be regarded from two points of view; first, in relation to the existing liabilities which weigh upon him, and, secondly, in relation to the immediate future which faces him. I shall deal with these two aspects and also, in conclusion, say something about the ultimate prospects of the wheat industry.
With regard to existing liabilities, a financial grant might be of assistance according to its amount. But the power to deal with existing liabilities rests, I suggest, primarily with the States; they are able to introduce moratorium legislation, which this Parliament cannot pass. The immediate and urgent need of the farmer, both from his own point of view and from that of the community, appears to me to be some assistance to enable him to put in the next crop. That is a vital consideration. In order to achieve that object it is necessary in many cases, though not in all, to provide assistance to enable him to obtain seed wheat and manure, and to provide him with sustenance. But I emphasize that this assistance is not needed in all cases. A general grant is not necessary.
Numbers of wheat-farmers are perfectly well able to carry on without such assistance. They have had good prices for their wheat for many years, and are not in need of any assistance from public funds. Let it be remembered by whom the public funds are provided. They are provided by the citizens of the Commonwealth a3 a whole, many of whom, other than the wheat-farmers, are in sore distress at present. The payment of a bounty on the season’s production, as proposed in this bill, appears to me not to be the appropriate means of granting assistance. In Queensland, for instance, the farmers will receive a guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel for their wheat from the State Government. They surely are not in need of another 6d. per bushel.
– The payment of that price has been made possible by a marketing scheme.
– It does not matter how it is being done. Assistance should be granted in a manner appropriate to the need. This is more particularly the case at a time when the condition of Commonwealth finance, and public finance generally, is as we all know it to be. Other honorable members will know more accurately than I do the price of wheat in other States; but I understand that it varies from ls. 7d. to ls. lOd. a bushel at railway sidings. That the man who gets ls. lOd. per bushel for his wheat should receive the same amount as the man who gets 4s. a bushel for it is surely an elementary principle of justice. Secondly, the payment of a bounty on the season’s production will not meet necessitous cases. This scheme appears to me to be based upon the principle, “ For whosoever hath, to him shall be given ; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” The farmers to whom the Minister for Health (Mr. McNeill) referred - the men in the Mallee, whom we Victorians know all too well, some of whom have not had a crop to my knowledge for four years - will get nothing out of the proposed bounty of 6d. a bushel.
– Other assistance is being provided for them.
– The point that I am making is that they will get nothing whatever out of the 6d. per bushel, while other farmers, who can perfectly well stand even this unfortunate season, will get this assistance.
This temporary or emergency measureof assistance should, in my opinion,, be given on a selective basis, and. not in a general manner, such asthe Government has proposed. Numbers of wheat-farmers are men of means, who have had decent crops for years, and who, until recently, have enjoyed good prices. “When one compares the position of such men with that of the Mallee farmers, who have not had a crop for three or four years, he realizes the injustice of giving the former 6d. a bushel under this heading and the latter nothing. Such a measure cannot be justified. I suggest that it would be much wiser toprovide, not this general assistance, but assistance on an acreage basis, either on the basis of the crop just reaped, or the next crop. The assistance should be on an acreage, and not on a bushel basis.. Such a proposal would give help where it is most needed, and it could be carried by the State authorities.
– Would the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) apply his selective principle to the acreage basis?
– Having regard to the present position of public finance, it would be desirable to apply the selective basis to any system. The administration of any scheme, which, I say, ought to be on a selective basis, should be in the hands of the State agricultural authorities working in co-operation with the closer settlement authorities who would have knowledge of the circumstances of individual farmers which the Commonwealth authorities cannot possibly possess.
I have said that I believe that financial assistance is necessary to the farmers, not only from the farmers’ point of view, nor from considerations of sympathy for fellow human beings, but also from the public point of view. The wheat industry of Australia cannot, for obvious reasons, be allowed to perish. I do not need to develop that point. I look at this subject from the point of view of the community as well as from that of the farmers.
Let us consider the position as it exists. Take first the financial position of the Commonwealth. Eight months of this financial year have passed, and there is a deficit on current account of more than £13,400,000. I do not want it to be thought that I am suggesting that this may not be reduced in the succeeding four months, when taxation payments are made in greater volume than earlier in the year. I simply call attention to the fact that there is this enormous deficit in the Commonwealth account. Secondly, the Government has refused to impose new taxation in the shape of a sales tax on flour, as suggested by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), because it takes the view that this might lead to an increase in the price of such a necessary article of diet as bread, and so directly increase the cost of living, particularly in the case of the poorer classes, at a time when such an increase should be avoided if it is at all possible. Thirdly, it is admitted that a loan cannot be obtained by this Government. I emphasize the words “ by this Government “, because we have to deal with matters as we find them. In the Sydney Morning Herald, on the 2nd March, a statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) was published with reference to the proposed fiduciary note issue, and its relation to the Government’s proposals for the assistance of the farmers. The statement was as follows : -
The proposal for a limited fiduciary issue is a temporary measure to enable the Commonwealth Bank to make advances to governments to assist the wheat-growers and relieve unemployment, such advances to be covered by publicly subscribed loans when the conditions of the loan market become favorable. At present, it is not possible to go upon the loan market, either in Australia or abroad.
That is a clear admission by the Leader of the Government that for this Government, at least, it is not possible to go upon the loan market anywhere. So recently as last night, the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), in introducing the Fiduciary Notes Bill, said that it was a pivotal measure upon which this bill depended-
– The Leader of the Opposition will recognize that during this debate I have not permitted any discussion upon the Fiduciary Notes Bill. It will be essential for him to confine his remarks to the Wheat Bill. The debate on the other measure will occur later.
– I presume that I may say that the Treasurer last night said that, unless the Fiduciary Notes Bill was passed, it would be impossible to render the wheat-farmers the assistance proposed in this bill. I do not desire to refer in detail to the Fiduciary Notes Bill. I wish only to emphasize the point that the Government is excluding taxation, and excluding loans as a means of assisting the wheat-farmers, and that it is impossible to assist them from the revenue. No money will be available from revenue for this purpose. The Government, therefore, says by a perfectly logical argument, if the premises are granted, that the only method of assisting the wheat-grower - if it is assistance - is by the issue of fiduciary notes. The Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) also made it clear, in his voluble address, that it was necessary to pass the Fiduciary Notes Bill if this bill was to become operative. We are therefore forced to the conclusion that so long as this Government remains in power, the only way to assist the wheat-grower is by a measure of inflation. Any one who votes for this bill, votes for the object to be attained by the only means by which it is attainable so long as this Government is in office.
– The imposition of a sales tax upon flour would be an alternative means.
– I am concerned only with making my own position clear, and I think I am doing so. The Treasurer said quite definitely last night that the Fiduciary Notes Bill was a pivotal measure, and that this bill, and the bill for the relief of unemployment to be introduced later, both depended upon the passing of the Fiduciary Notes Bill. Any one who votes for this bill must also vote for the Fiduciary Notes Bill. It is impossible, it appears to me, for an honorable member to argue that he can say “ yes “ to this bill, and yet say “ no “ to the only means by which the Government is prepared to put the bill into operation, and, of course, we know that the Fiduciary Notes Bill, in clause 5, expressly provides for the use of fiduciary notes for the purposes of this Wheat Bill. This measure is, therefore, designed to catch the votes of any who are afraid of being represented as having voted against the interests of the farmers. For that reason no explicit reference to fiduciary notes is made in it, but that such is the purpose of the measure we gather from the speech of the Treasurer last night and from the speeches of the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) and the Minister for Health (Mr. McNeill) during the present sitting. In any ease, it is impossible to dissociate a measure providing for the expenditure of money from the means whereby that money is to be raised.
In the first place, therefore, this bill is a political device to secure the votes of any one who is fearful of being represented in any way as having voted against something which, regarded merely in itself, may be alleged to be in the interests of the farmers. Secondly, I say that to approve of this bill in the circumstances - in face of the realities of the policy of the Government which confront us - means to approve of a fiduciary issue, because it is the only means available to the Government for giving effect to this bill should it become law.
I am not prepared to support a measure which is necessarily based upon any form of inflation, call it limited or controlled, as you will, because I believe that any form of inflation, however subject to control it may seem to be, is vitally and fundamentally opposed to the true interests of the farmers and every other productive class in the community.
It is suggested in clause 7 that a loan will be raised at some future time to cover the expenditure authorized by the bill, and authority is conferred upon the Commonwealth Treasurer to raise the money by way of a loan. According to a statement by the Prime Minister these advances are to be met by a limited fiduciary issue subsequently to be covered by a publicly subscribed loan when the conditions of the loan market become favorable. But are the conditions of the loan market likely to become favorable if a policy of inflation is once introduced or embarked upon by this Government? No loan will be possible if the inflation proposals of the Government are adopted by this Parliament. But I do not expect them to be adopted. The Government itself does not expect them to be adopted.
Ministers are very uncertain whether they will pass this chamber, and if they have any knowledge of the political opinions of members of another place, they must know that this bill will never become an act. That being so, this measure is a mere device to catch farmers’ votes. It cannot become operative unless the Fiduciary Notes Bill is passed by both Houses, and that I can inform members with a reasonable degree of certainty is not likely to take place.
– It has all been arranged.
– No. There are some in this Parliament who have consistency and resolution in their political principles and that is why I am able to speak so confidently.
A fiduciary note issue means a depreciation of the currency to an unknown extent, because it cannot be controlled, and, therefore, makes the obtaining of a loan practically impossible. I do not expect the farmers of Australia to be deceived by this bill. I expect them to see through it. I believe that they will readily understand that this measure is inextricably bound up with something which is not only impracticable, but also spells disaster and ruin to them and the community as .a whole.
I have propounded another scheme which offers some hope to the farmers of getting something done.
– Let us hear it.
– It is contained in a letter addressed by me to the presidents of chambers of commerce, and in addressing the chambers of commerce I suggest that I was reaching a sphere of our commercial activities which is most suitable in this connexion. The letter, which speaks for itself, reads as follows : -
The desperate position of many of the farmers of Australia is well known to your members, who are themselves profoundly interested in the preservation of the farming industry.
The Prime Minister States that “ at present it is not possible to go on the loan market, either in Australia or abroad”. I agree that, as long as proposals for politically managed inflation of the currency are approved by the Government, a public loan cannot be obtained. If these proposals were definitely and finally abandoned, the position would be radically changed. The farmers, however, cannot await political changes of this character. They must be placed in a position to put in the next crop and prompt and immediate action to this end is urgently necessary.
The proposal for inflation of the currency now made by the Government would lead to ultimate disaster to the community as a whole. Apart from this consideration, however, I am in a position to assure you that the inflation proposal cannot be passed into law, because the Senate will not adopt legislation of so dangerous a character.
In order to provide the necessary immediate relief, it is therefore essential to discover some other method of finding the money required. I venture to ask that your chamber should consider the formulation of a definite scheme to deal with the question. This might be done in co-operation particularly with the machinery, oil and manure merchants, the banks and other financial institutions.
The scheme, I suggest, should provide for the raising of non-government finance for a system of farm relief, to be controlled by a suitably representative body, under which advances would be made, on a selective basis, to farmers to put in and take off their crops and to provide maintenance as required. A great deal of useful assistance could be provided by such a method without raising so large a sum as £0,000,000.
Such a scheme would avoid many difficulties incidental to schemes which are politically devised or subject to political control, and it would, I suggest, be to the advantage of all concerned in maintaining the vitally important farming industry of Australia.
I add that I have been authorized to write this letter by a meeting of the Nationalist Parliamentary Party with the object of informing your chamber of our view of the political aspect of this question.
We believe that any practicable plan’ to meet the present grave difficulties of the farmer will have the sympathy and support of the commercial community as a whole.
Every one must recognize that the present difficulties of the wheat-farmers affect not only himself immediately and directly, but also almost as directly the storekeeper with whom he deals, the machinery, manure and oil merchants from whom he receives his supplies, the merchant behind the storekeeper, and the banks and other financial institutions financing the storekeeper and merchant. These interests are all vitally concerned in preserving upon a sound basis the farming industry of Australia, and it was for that reason. I went straight to the chambers of commerce, on which all these interests are directly represented. I am glad to say that the reception they have given to my communication is most encouraging. They recognize that, on its own confession, the Government cannot raise a loan, and that it will not impose taxation. They know that the Government has no revenue out of which to make payments to the farmers, and know, also, that inflation proposals will not be adopted by the Parliament. They recognize that their only recourse is some measure of self help. I am very glad indeed to be to-day in receipt of information that my proposal is being very carefully and favorably considered, and that it is hoped and believed that some practical result will follow. Certainly, no practical result can follow the Government’s scheme. Something else must be tried.
I appeal to the Government, I am afraid without much hope of success, even at this stage to drop absolutely and decidedly its schemes of inflation. If it were to drop its fiduciary notes proposal and declare as strongly against inflation as I concede it has declared, through its leader, against repudiation, the whole position would be changed. There would immediately be some measure of revival in industry. The Government would not only- have the support, I believe, of every honorable member on this side of the chamber in repudiating inflation as it has repudiated repudiation, but I believe that it would be immediately possible to raise, by way of loan, sufficient money to relieve the immediate necessities of the farmers and those associated with them. Clause 6 provides that bounty shall be payable in the prescribed manner to the grower of the wheat, and in committee I shall move an amendment to make it clear that no such payments shall be made except out of the proceeds of a loan authorized by clause 7, and in that way keep this bill altogether apart from the fiduciary note issue. If that is done the Opposition will be prepared to support the bill. As the bill now stands the payments to be made to the farmers are not limited to the proceeds of any loan ; the bill, as we know from the speeches of the Treasurer and the Minister for Markets, depends essentially on a fiduciary note issue. As long as that is the case I must oppose it.
In conclusion, I suggest that far more than temporary emergency measures such as this bill represents are needed in order to deal with the plight of the wheatfarmers. This measure merely professes to handle the matter in an inadequate manner in relation to the last crop and the coming crop.
– It is a mere palliative, at the best.
– We have to consider the real position of the farmers. Wheat to-day is fetching from ls. 7d. to ls. lOd. a bushel at railway sidings, and it is estimated that it costs from 3s. to 4s. a bushel to produce it.
– Yet the honorable member said that many farmers who had crops did not need assistance.
– Because, until recently, they had good prices. The real consideration in connexion with the problem of the wheat-farmer is that lie must sell the tremendously greater proportion of his crop overseas, and he and we are unable to alter overseas prices. Accordingly a reduction of costs is essential. There is no escape from that position. A bill providing, for a relief grant may tide matters over for a year, if it operates; but, if prices remain where they now are, the problem will inevitably recur, and it is impossible for any industry to maintain itself upon a basis of emergency annual assistance. Apart altogether from the capacity of the community to assist, indefinitely, upon this basis, such large industries as those of wheat or wool, it is evident that the industry itself would not know where it was from time to time. A subsidy basis is impracticable as a permanent means of assisting either the wheat or the wool industry, and, therefore, there must be a reduction of costs. Of course, if we thought that prices were likely to revive to anything like the level of three years or more ago, it would be a different matter. Though I do not profess to be an expert in forecasting the prices of wheat, it is the general opinion of those ‘who regard themselves as qualified in this subject that it is unlikely that there will be any substantial advance, although there may be some advance, in prices.
All honorable members, I suppose, have interested themselves to some extent in the Russian five-years scheme. From an Australian point of view I regard that scheme with the gravest apprehension. It is expected that in two years Russia will be exporting 20,000,000 tons of grain per annum. I doubt whether all the anticipations will be realized, but we have in Russia a tremendous population under the control of a few men, who are organizing that country as a servile state, with only one object in view, namely, economic success, and everything is being subordinated to productive efficiency. If any small body of men, not supermen at all, had control of over 120,000,000 of their fellow human beings, and were in a position to regard economic efficiency and nothing else, letting human liberty and human aspirations and ideals go, then obviously they could do a great deal in the direction of economic production at low 00St. Although I do not expect that the five-years scheme will succeed up to the anticipations of its promoters, yet in’ the last year we have already seen something of the effect of cheap Russian wheat on the world’s markets. If the Russian production is to increase, even up to the extent of half what is anticipated, then the effect on the world’s grain markets will be very serious indeed.
I mention these facts, and I could mention others, for the purpose of showing that it does not appear probable that there will be any great increase in the price of wheat, in a measurable time. Therefore, we must have regard to costs of production, and I think that this Parliament must consider the tariff and our* industrial laws. We shall have to do it; otherwise it will be impossible for the farmer to carry on. . It is impossible to support him indefinitely by subsidies, and we shall have to reconsider these matters from the point of view of the primary producers of Australia.’ Soon the Australian farmers, and the Australian people as a whole, will recognize the necessity for re-organizing our agricultural methods in order to place ourselves upon a basis of competitive efficiency. We shall have to examine large-scale mechanised methods of farming if we are to compete in the world’s markets.
– Mass production !
– Something like mass production in agriculture will be required if we are to compete with mass production overseas; and, accordingly, a bill like that now before us, even if it should meet the position in one period of twelve months, does not reach the heart of the problem. This Parliament has a duty laid upon it to do something much more radical, to get down to the real difficulties of the farmers, and I hope that under some other government it will soon have an opportunity of doing it. I oppose the bill.
.- I listened with a good deal of interest to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) ; but I contend that the farmers of this country would be left in the lurch if they accepted any scheme propounded by him. He states that he is opposed to the bill because it depends upon a fiduciary note issue. As a matter of fact, the farmers are supporting this measure, fully realizing that it depends upon such an issue. They are aware that this is their only means of obtaining assistance at the present time. The Leader of the Opposition has referred to a scheme that he himself is supposed to be putting into operation; but that is entirely dependent upon the flotation of a loan, and the support of the commercial interests of Australia. He has emphasized, time after time, in his speech that there is no possibility of floating a loan in Australia at this juncture. Yet his scheme is dependent for its success upon a loan. To enable him to assist the farmers, the honorable gentleman is going to the great commercial interests of this country. Who was it that lobbied this House against the Government’s bill when we were trying to do something for the farmers by bringing about a compulsory wheat pool? Was it not the representatives of the commercial interests ?
Three or four years ago, I heard the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), in one of his characteristic speeches, state that when the primary producers attempted to do something for themselves in the direction of organized marketing, their efforts were opposed, not by the Trades Hall party, but by the commercial interests. I well remember the honorable member outlining what the primary producers had tried to do in order to stabilize the price of wheat, and the honorable member pointed out that the commercial interests had always exploited them. Only this afternoon I heard one honorable gentleman opposite, who understands the wheat industry as well as any other member of the
House - I refer to the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) - state at a deputation to the Prime Minister that those who were selling fertilizers to the producers had been forced to reduce the price of that commodity because of the action of the co-operative company with which he himself was identified. That shows the attitude of the commercial interests to which the Leader of the Opposition is going for assistance to the wheat-growers. But the primary producers will have no faith in any scheme such as that proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. He has charged the Government with being insincere in its present attempt to assist the producers, but I charge him with insincerity.
– It is not in order to accuse an honorable member of insincerity.
– I withdraw that remark. Although the Leader of the Opposition did not use the term “ insincere,” he said that the Government and its suporters did not expect this bill to be carried. In my opinion, the Leader of the Opposition does not think that the primary producer is likely to reap any substantial benefit from the scheme proposed by him. He is dependent, in the first place, upon a loan which would have to be floated by the Loan Council; yet he admits that it would be impossible to- raise a loan at the present time. The Leader of the Opposition also said that, when the Government introduced its first wheat marketing bill, it knew that the Commonwealth Bank could not make an advance of 4s. a bushel.
– I ‘did not go quite so far as that.
– I thought that the Leader of the Opposition made a definite statement on the point. If he held that view why did he move an amendment to provide that a similar amount should be advanced if a voluntary pool were established? Why did he say that the money could not be obtained, and at the same time advocate its payment under a different system of control?
– At the time I accepted the assurance of the Government that the money would be available.
– The Leader of the Opposition has shown that the Nationalist party will not assist in the establishment of a compulsory pool. The primary producers cannot derive any benefit in respect of pools except from a Labour government.
– The honorable member previously mentioned a compulsory pool.
– If this Government is defeated there is no likelihood of a compulsory pool being established. The honorable member also stated that this assistance is only of a temporary nature; but whatever help is to be given, whether of a temporary or a lasting nature, must be given immediately. The present, proposal can be regarded as only of a temporary character, but some definite policy must be adopted for the benefit of primary producers. If time permits I shall express my views on what should be done to assist the wheatfarmers, and particularly those who are endeavouring to grow wheat in portions of the Commonwealth where the rainfall is below the average. Apart from those who, unfortunately, have no work at all, the farmers are in greater need of assistance than any other section of the community.
– How can assistance be provided immediately?
– The Fiduciary Notes Bill and this complementary measure should be declared urgent, and be disposed of within a few days, even if allnight sittings are necessary. If that is not done assistance will not be available in time for the coining seeding. “When the first wheat marketing bill, which was defeated in another place, was introduced, the Government was assured by the Commonwealth Bank that sufficient funds would be available to pay the farmers 4s. a bushel, as was provided in the measure. “When that bill waa defeated, the Government introduced another measure providing for the immediate payment of 2s. a bushel, and a subsequent payment of ls. a bushel; but, in that instance, the Government did not have any assurance from the Commonwealth Bank that the necessary funds would be made available. “When the first wheat marketing bill was under consideration, the banks had not definitely decided to boycott the Government; but, by the time the second measure had been introduced, pressure had been brought to bear upon the financial institutions, which said that funds were not available. Honorable members opposite, whose sole desire should be to assist the farmers, are endeavouring to make political capital out of the situation. The farmers realize that the first bill was defeated in another place by the colleagues of honorable members opposite and the second measure, which would have given a fair amount of relief, was defeated by the highhanded action of the banks.
– Why did the Government provide for a 2s. advance at the sidings if they wanted to carry the bill?
– That did not block the bill.
– It interfered with its utility.
– I do not think it made any difference, because if that provision had not been inserted some other objection would have been raised. The Leader of the Opposition who dealt with the payment of a bounty on wheat actually produced said that the bounty should be paid on an acreage basis. If that were practicable I would agree with him, but I have been authoritatively informed that the Commonwealth Government can provide only for the payment of a bounty on production or on exports. The Crown law authorities have advised the Minister in charge of the bill that payment on an acreage basis would be unconstitutional. I admit that if a farmer received a bounty of 6d. a bushel on a crop yielding 20 bushels to the acre he would not need assistance to the same extent as a farmer who had reaped only a light ‘crop or no crop at all. The Minister also agrees that there is some logic in that argument.
– Did the Grown law authorities say that payment on that basis could not be arranged through the States ?
– I do not know. If the Crown law authorities say payment on that basis cannot be provided for by this Parliament the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition is valueless.
As it has been said that those who have produced a crop do not need assistance, I shall quote a paragraph from an article reprinted from the Mail which appeared in the Eyre Peninsula ‘Tribune which has a bearing on the position in that State. It reads -
Settlers who grew 1,500 to 2,000 bags last season - and this is well above average - have received insufficient to pay their harvest expenses and enable them to purchase super, fuel and sustenance for the coming season. Most of those growing less than 800 bags cannot pay harvest expenses, and if no assistance is forthcoming in time, it is estimated by a local expert that 67 per cent, of the farmers will be unable to put in any crop, and 24 per cent, will be able only to seed half of last year’s area.
That is an adequate reply to the Leader of the Opposition, who said that men who had got a crop did not need assistance. I admit that those who reaped a crop arc not in the same necessitous circumstances as the men who got no crop at all, and I will do all I can to assist them; but this bill will do something for both classes.
When speaking on this subject on Friday afternoon I emphasized the necessity of dealing with the matter from a non-party view-point in order to assist the wheat-growers to put in a crop this year. When I said that the members of the Country party should support the Government in the proposals which it is introducing to assist the primary producers, exception was taken to that suggestion. In that connexion I quote a letter written by Mr. T. Hawke, an executive officer of the Country party in South Australia, which appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser. It reads -
To be of any value, whatever plan was adopted to provide assistance, must operate within the next two or three weeks, as seeding time is rapidly approaching. The only alternative so far put forward, is the flour tax. Everybody knows that the present Government will not support that. Therefore nothing earn be done in that direction without an appeal to the country. A general election cannot take place much before June, and meanwhile the farming industry is being slowly but surely throttled..
I said that we as a party do not like the Theodore plan, but it is the best means so far Introduced for giving quick relief to the farmers. That much of my comment was correctly published, but unfortunately the remainder of my statement was omitted. I said plainly that support of any further issue of credit for industrial purposes would, be absolutely contingent upon the Federal Government cutting expenditure in every pos sible direction, including reduction in the cost of the Public Service, suck as has taken place in the other States except New South Wales. If the proposed £12,000,000 for industry were to be used to maintain public service salaries and wages at their present uneconomic level, then the Country party was entirely opposed to it.
I quote again from an earlier portion of Mr. Hawke’s letter -
May I be permitted to reply to Mr. Lloyd’s personal attack on me in regard to the vexed question of currency inflation. Had he known all the facts 1 am sure that his letter, if written, would have been couched in very different terms. These are the facts: “The Advertiser “ rang and asked me whether 1 would care to comment on the Theodore plan. The purport of my reply was that in view of the desperate position of the farmers any legitimate scheme which would afford immediate relief would have the support of the Country party.
On the first occasion, he stated definitely that he favoured the Theodore plan for assisting the farmers of South Australia. Eyre’s Peninsula Tribune, from which I have already quoted, says that 2,000 farmers in South Australia need immediate assistance, and that the only proposal which offers them any chance of getting that assistance is that submitted by the Treasurer. Its exact words are -
The only plan for relieving farmers at present before Federal Parliament is Mr. E. G. Theodore’s, in which lie proposes to raise £18,000,000 by fiduciary currency. Of this, £430,000 - an adequate sum - would go to assist South Australian farmers. lt goes on to urge, as I do now, the need for giving relief immediately. That can be done only by passing the legislation upon which this measure is dependent. This newspaper mentions the acreage that would be sown if assistance were given, and that which will be sown if assistance is not given. I subm.il that the circumstances demand immediate action. I hope that the Government will declare this an urgent measure, so that there will be no delay in making assistance available to the farmers. Neither the throwing out of this Government and its replacement by another- government, nor any other scheme that has so far been suggested, would have the effect of giving relief to the farmers during this year’. I represent a larger acreage than any other member of this Parliament. A considerable portion of my electorate is outside what is known as Goyder’s line of rainfall. I know that in the middle north of South Australia, and almost all over Eyre Peninsula, there are hundreds of farmers who will not be able to put in their crops this year unless they receive assistance immediately. The belief may be held that the State Government in South Australia is assisting them. I point out, however, that the amount which is being provided under State legislation will not enable a large number of necessitous farmers to be assisted.
On the 6th February last I attended a meeting of wheat-growers who, because of their parlous state, travelled as far as 50 miles that night in order to be present. In the first place they submitted the proposal that has been brought forward tonight by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), and in addition, a proposition almost identical with that embodied in the bill that we are now discussing. It was one of the largest country meetings that I have seen within the last thirteen years. I advised those farmers not to urge the Government to impose a sales tax on flour, because it had already determined not to grant that form of assistance. In their wisdom they withdrew that request, and generally speaking, the demand that I ultimately forwarded to the Government on their behalf was on all fours with the proposals embodied in the bill.
The next few weeks will decide what quantity of wheat will be cropped in Australia next year. If there is a delay of four weeks in the giving of assistance a large acreage will remain unsown. Already South Australia has had opening seasonal rains, and it is probable that some farmers are preparing their land so that they may seed quickly and reap the advantage of the next rains. “When you have early rains you can get your land in such order that a combine can sow your wheat quickly whenever rain falls again. That is the position in the north of South Australia to-day. But the farmers there need some assistance, and I urge the Government to give it to them immediately.
– We will make you vote on our proposal.
– I believe that the honorable member for Swan is sincerely desirous of assisting the wheat-growers in his State. But he knows full well that there is no chance of the proposal of the right honorable member for Cowper being accepted by this .House. In view of his persistent demands on the Government to lift customs duties and other burdens that bear heavily upon the primary producer, the only honorable course for him to adopt after the amendment has been defeated is to support the bill. The member of the executive of the Country party in South Australia, from whose published statements I have quoted, is prepared to admit that there is no possibility of assistance being given in any other way. He does not desire to make party political propaganda out of this matter. He is 100 per cent, in favour of assistance being given to the primary producers of this country.
Although honorable members may think they know something of the difficulties confronting the wheat-farmers, not many of them realize just how serious the position is. I have heard it said that some growers have had three failures in succession. In the northern part of South Australia there are farmers who have not sold a bag of wheat for five years. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Government’s proposal would give only temporary relief. That may be true, but the need for giving even temporary relief is so urgent that something should be done immediately. Permanent measures can be adopted later.
The farmers are certainly entitled to help. They were invited to go on the land and try to grow wheat. It is true that some of the land on which they were put is not suitable for wheat-growing, but there is plenty of land locked up in the good rainfall areas which could be made available. The time must come when governments will have to consider whether farmers should not be taken off unsuitable wheat land, and placed on other land more suited for wheat-growing. At one stage of the debate the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) interjected that those fanners who are trying to grow wheat on unsuitable land should not be given assistance. I maintain that they should at least be repatriated to other parts. No scheme for repatriation is before us now, however, and if the farmers are to be encouraged to plant a large acreage this year, we must pass this bill, and afford them at least that measure of assistance for which it provides. Under this proposal those farmers who have been able to produce a crop will benefit through the bounty, and those whose crops have failed will receive help as necessitous fanners. I trust that the predictions of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) will not be fulfilled, but that, on the contrary, honorable members will pass the bill by mi overwhelming majority, and that it will be endorsed in another place.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Stewart) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Soullin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I wish to draw the attention of the Treasurer to a complaint that there have been large increases in the annual valuation of unimproved land for taxation purposes. Will the Treasurer have an inquiry made to see whether that is so, because, with the general decrease of values, it seems strange that land valuations for taxation purposes should be increasing?
.- The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) was asked a similar question one day last week, and it was stated then that a report would be called for from the Commissioner of Taxation as to why land valuations’ were increasing. When the report comes to hand, a further reply will be given.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.15 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 March 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19310318_reps_12_128/>.