12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and offered prayers.
– by leave - In August of last year the Sugar Inquiry Committee was constituted for the purpose of investigating every phase of the Australian sugar industry - the growing of sugar-cane, its manufacture into raw sugar and then into refined sugar, and the various means of making the finished products available to consumers.Fourteen separate terms of reference were laid down for the attention of the committee. The committee commenced its work on the 15th October last, and its reports were finally handed to the Government on the 26th March, and were laid on the table of the House on the same day. The Government has since given careful consideration to the several reports received. The committee was unanimous on seven subjects. The majority and minority reports both recommended the continuance of the sugar agreement for five years from the 1st September next, and are practically in agreement in their views on efficiency and possible economies in sugar production.
In regard to the remaining subjects dealt with in the separate reports, the following summary of the recommendations made will indicate the different conclusions arrived at.
The majority report recommends -
The minority report recommends -
A committee comprised of a representative each of -
With regard to those portions of the report upon which the committee was unanimous, the actual recommendations were as follow: -
Conditions of the Workers Employedin the Sugar Industry.
The committee recommends that the wages and conditions of employment of all persons employed in any industry receiving any direct benefit as a result of the sugar agreement (i.e., sugar and fruit industries), should be fixed by arbitration, and that, in the case of any employees or section of employees, who are now, or who may subsequently be, removed from the operation of any existing tribunal, the Commonwealth Government should establish a suitable tribunal for the purpose of fixing the wages and conditions of employment for such employees.
Alien Penetration into the SUGAR Industry.
Only 10.1 per cent, of wholly foreign persons are engaged in all phases of the industry; there are also 10.1 per cent, of naturalized British subjects. The whole problem is passing through a transition stage, and satisfactory communities will eventually be evolved. The committee agrees with a continuation of the policy of the Commonwealth Government (in co-operation with the foreign Governments concerned) that visas shall be granted only in respect of female relatives or fathers or sons of aliens already residing in Australia.
Every possible avenue has been exploited for the utilization of by-products, but so far there is nothing to indicate, on- the information now available, that the costs of sugar production can be further lowered by the exploitation of by-products. However, this should not deter the industry from making further investigations.
The committee recommends that the Queensland Government, in co-operation with the sugar industry, should examine the position regarding recent experiments in the use of “ B “ sugar syrups for the manufacture of power alcohol, and, if the economics are sound, that the Queensland Government endeavour to secure the co-operation of the suppliers of petrol in arranging for distribution (i.e., of a composite motor fuel).
The Values of Land Used foe SUGARGROWING
The whole committee has accepted, for costing purposes, average values under £30 per acre, which are distinctly moderate.
There is no advantage to be derived from the manufacture and marketing of mill-white sugar under Australian conditions.
Technical experts advised the committee that savings in costs are not likely under Australian conditions by making Suchar sugar. The committee suggests that, on the occasion of the next visit abroad of a Queensland Government technical officer, the officer should make full inquiries into the Suchar and any other processes regarding raw and refined sugars that arc claimed to have advantages over the present methods.
Taking the unanimous reports first, I have to announce that the Government has approved of all the recommendations made. However, in regard to the recommendation that the wages and conditions of employment of all persons employed in any industry receiving any direct benefit as a result of the sugar agreement, that is, the sugar and fruit industries, shall be fixed by arbitration, it has been decided that the principle of preference to unionists, which now exists under the. law, must be maintained.
Coming now to the majority and minority reports, it will be seen from the two lists of recommendations that I have quoted that there is a difference of only id. per lb. in the proposed selling price for the first portion of the new agreement. On the other hand, it is important to note that the minority members consider that the sugar industry should take definite steps to reduce the surplus production, whilst the majority members, although urging that production should not be allowed further to increase, take the view that an arbitrary reduction to home consumption requirements would result in certain disadvantages that would nullify the reduction of Jd. per lb. in the local price so made possible. Shortly put, the two differing reports may be said to turn on the issue of over-production. The minority report does not indicate how the reduction in production should be effected, what the extent of the reduction should be, or the amount per annum, nor does it offer any advice on the all-important question of the absorption into other vocations of the very large number of surplus sugargrowers and workers, and persons indirectly employed.
After an exhaustive review of the whole situation - the present urgent necessity for retaining the £2,000,000 credits in London derived from exported sugar, the undesirability of increasing unemployment in the far north and of throwing probably 120,000 acres of land out of cultivation, and the fact that practically every other primary industry into which the dispossessed sugar-growers and workers might enter is also overproducing and exporting its surplus at less than the Australian price - the Government has decided that, in the public interest generally, its sugar policy cannot be based upon reduced production. The direct saving to local consumers, if over-production were completely eliminated, would be not more than -Jd. per lb., or about £1,500,000 per annum, or only 4s. 7d. per annum per person. This extra charge provides employment for 14,000 individuals, and a living for about 60,000 with wives and families. But the charge is equalized by the introduction of approximately £2,000,000 per annum from the sale of surplus sugar, most of which amount finds its way to the southern States for the purchase of groceries, clothing, boots, implements and a multitude of other protected commodities, thus returning indirectly to the main body of consumers, in wages and profits on the goods sold to the sugar producers, what those consumers lose directly in the price of sugar.
The immediate reduction of¼d. per lb. in the selling price of refined sugar, as recommended by the minority members of the Sugar Inquiry Committee, is based upon their finding of £18 7s. per ton as the present cost of producing raw sugar. The majority members fix the cost of production at £22 7s. 9d. per ton. The return on raw sugar for 1930, was £18 17s. 6d. per ton, and is not likely to be greater for the coming season. A reduction of¼d. per lb. - which is £2 6s. 8d. per ton - would thus clearly result in a loss to sugar producers. After analysing the two reports and the situation generally, the Government is of opinion that the majority figure of £22 7s. 9d. per ton must be substantially accepted as the cost of production.
In view of all the circumstances, therefore, the Government has decided to renew the Sugar Agreement and embargo for five years from the 1st September, 1931, on the following conditions: -
In order to adjust as equitably as possible the position which would arise from any alteration in the present volume of production, sugar wages and conditions, or the value of export surplus sugar during the currency of the new agreement, the following plan will operate: -
– I issued the instruction that Both the majority and the minority reports should be printed and distributed to honorable members, and was unaware that the minority report had not been sent to honorable members.
– It is not included in the document that I have received.
– I shall ascertain the cause of the delay in printing both reports and distributing them to honorable members.
– Will an opportunity be given to honorable members to discuss the statement of the Prime Minister in respect of the sugar agreement?
– I cannot say exactly when an opportunity will be given to discuss that subject; but I hope that it will be given soon. Honorable members can materially assist in that direction by facilitating the passage of measures before this House.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he has not overlooked an undertaking given to this House on the 18th March, in reply to a question asked by the honorable member for Barker?
– It is not in order to ask a question based upon another question asked earlier in the session.
– I shall put my question in another form. Did not the Prime Minister on the 18th March last, give an undertaking to this House that before any agreement was arrived at on the question of sugar, the report of the committee of inquiry would be laid upon the table of the House and a full opportunity given to honorable members to discuss it? If the Prime Minister gave such an undertaking, why was it not honored before the Government came to any decision on the matter?
– Ever since the sugar agreement has been in existence, the Go vernment has taken the responsibility for its decisions regarding it. Never before has an opportunity been given to the House to discuss this question, but this Government is now proposing to make such an opportunity available. The agreement has not yet been made, but the Government has placed its decision before the House in the same way as it would place a bill before the House. It must have a policy when it meets the House.
– Has the Government any policy?
– Yes it has, and the Labour party is the only party in this House with a policy. The policy of the Government regarding the sugar agreement is contained in the statement that I have given to the House.
– That statement is the determination of the Government.
– It is the determination of the Government, just as the provisions of any bill introduced into this House embody the determination of the Government, and the House will be given an opportunity to discuss this determination of the Government, and to vote upon it.
– Will the proposed ordinance, to limit the output of pearl shell in North Australia, have legal effect in Queensland and Western Australia; if not, what action are the Governments of Queensland and Western Australia taking to restrict the output of pearl shell in those States?
– Some time ago the Government of Western Australia, the Pearl Shellers Association of Broome, and the Pearl Getters Association of Thursday Island made representations to the Commonwealth Government, asking that the output of shell in Australia be limited. The Commonwealth Government has no power to regulate the industry at Broome and Thursday Island, but I entered into prolonged negotiations with the Darwin Pearl Shell Getters in an endeavour to persuade them to arrive at some decision to restrict the output of pearl shell, and they refused to do so. I was therefore compelled to issue an ordinance to deal with the matter, but it applies only -to Worth Australia ; it has no legal application to either Western Australia or Quensland. Definite steps, however, have been taken at both. Thursday Island and Broome to bring about such a restriction. That action has already had the effect of increasing the price of pearl shell by £10 a ton.
– Is the Treasurer aware that the sales tax which, I take it, was intended simply to tax imported and other manufactures at the source, is now being charged in bills issued by retailers, thus placing the tax on the person who buys the goods.
– If the honorable member will submit the particulars of the case that he has in mind, I shall have an investigation made.
– Regarding the criticism that recently appeared in the press, in respect of the cutting out of postal deliveries on Easter Monday, including the delivery of letters to private boxes, the Postmaster-General is reported in the Melbourne Argus to have said -
Thesaving effected on Monday amounted to about £1,750, and a similar saving would result from each of the other three holidays that had been scheduled.
Will the Postmaster-General say whether the Postal Union asked for this action to be taken; will he state how the saving stated to have been effected is made up, and whether it compensates for the increased inconvenience to the community and the less efficient postal service?
– If the honorable member will place his question on the notice-paper, I shall give him a specific reply to it. The press statement to the effect that the saving amounted to £1,750 in one State in one day was incorrect. A rough calculation showed that that amount is saved over the whole Commonwealth. That these services are not required is shown by the fact that they are not availed of. They have been discontinued because the Government is anxious to make all the economies possible.
– Has the Government yet reached a decision in regard to the request of a deputation which waited upon it some time ago for a remission of primage duty on corn sacks, on sacks for superphosphates, and on the ingredients of superphosphates ?
– No. Information is being gathered on the subject ; because the effect of granting the request would be far reaching.
– I direct the attention of the Minister for Home Affairs to the following paragraph which appeared in the Melbourne Herald on the 10th April -
Good results continue from the work of the Moonta Prospecting Syndicate at Moonta (South Australia). At the 240-ft. level a 3½-ft. ore-body, assaying 30 per cent, copper is being driven upon, the drive being in ore for 100 feet. The same lode has been picked up at the 720-ft. level.
Ore bagged ready for shipment includes 103 tons going from 16 to 33 per cent, copper, and 1,0.00 tons of six per cent, ore are stacked at the surface.
The prospecting work is being carried out under the scheme by which the Federal Government made advances.
Will he furnish me with details of the scheme under which the Commonwealth Government is making these advances ?
– I cannot give the honorable member a reply in connexion with the specific case to which he has referred ; but I shall have inquiries made in order to secure the information. The Government is administering a scheme for the granting of assistance to prospectors under which more than 60 menare working in North and Central Australia. Many of these men have found quite good shows, and it is hoped that something substantial will result from them.
Excess Miners in Queensland.
– Prior to the Easter adjournment the Assistant-Minister for Industry promised that he would give consideration to the request that I made to him that a board of inquiry should be appointed to investigate the claims of excess coal-miners in Queensland to participate in the £7,000 grant made available by the Government for the relief of distressed miners. Has the committee been appointed; if so, what is its personnel; when will it begin to function; and in what form must applications be made to it?
– A committee has been appointed, consisting of the following persons -
Charles Fitzpatrick, President of the Coal Miners Union, Queensland.
A notification to this effect was despatched to the honorable member on the 8th April, but I suppose it reached his Brisbane address too late for delivery to him prior to his return to Canberra. Mr. Rowe, who has agreed to act as chairman of the committee, is in communication with the Honorable John Gunn, a member of the Kew South Wales committee, and Mr. Gunn has been asked to give some oversight to the operations of the Queensland committee, and to make money available to it as soon as it is ready to receive it. I believe that Mr. Gunn and Mr. Rowe are consulting about the matter to-day. The honorable member forwarded to me a list of names of persons who desired assistance, and this has been referred to the committee. No doubt the claims will be investigated when the allocation of the money is under consideration.
– Has the Prime Minister yet received the report of the officer deputed to make inquiries into the price of petrol? If so, does he consider that the investigation has been sufficiently exhaustive to determine whether the petrol sellers are exploiting the_ public ? Has any inquiry been made into the question whether the private petrol companies are working in collaboration with the Commonwealth Oil Refineries?
– Several lengthy reports have been received on this matter, but Cabinet has not yet had an opportunity of considering them; so I cannot answer the honorable member’s questions.
– Has the Government received an intimation from the New South Wales Government that it is willing to pay the £301,000 interest due to Australian bondholders, and the £125,000 due to American bondholders during April?
– I cannot answer the right honorable member’s question off hand. I have not received any information from the New South Wales Government regarding the payment of local interest for April. I understand that such interest has been paid up to now, but how long the New South Wales Government will continue to pay it, I do not know, though I understand that the Premier of New South Wales has intimated that he will continue to pay local interest until the State Parliament has dealt with the bill relating to this matter, which is now before it.
– In view of the fact that the Prime Minister has suggested that the 10 per cent, cut in wages sanctioned by the High Court was wrong and unjust, will he give us his opinion of the action of the Melbourne Trades Hail authorities in reducing the salaries of its officials by a similar amount?
– I have never suggested that a 10 per cent, wages cut by the High Court was wrong, for the High Court has not, to my knowledge, made any such cut.
– I should have said the Arbitration Court.
– It would be out of order for me to offer an opinion of this nature in reply to a question.
– If the right honorable gentleman suggests that a 10 per cent, reduction in certain wages sanctioned by the Arbitration Court was unjust, will he express an opinion as to the action of the Melbourne Trades Hall authorities in reducing the salaries of their officers to a similar extent?
– If the honorable member will furnish me with the facts relating to the latter portion of his question, I shall probably give him my opinion.
– This morning £ received a notice to the effect that in future only those honorable members making special application will be supplied with copies of ordinances - I do not know whether the notice is intended to cover regulations also. As it is imperative that honorable members should be supplied with copies of all ordinances and regulations, I ask the Prime Minister if he will have the notice rescinded?
– Any honorable member wishing to receive copies of all ordinances and regulations has only to send a notification to that effect and they will be supplied ; but some honorable members are interested only in particular ordinances or regulations, and some do not require any. Many copies are not even removed from their wrappers. As this is a time when economy should be exercised, the Government thinks that the new procedure is necessary.
Reference to Public Accounts Committee
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he has received a communication containing comments or protests with respect to the amended terms of reference to the Public Accounts Committee on the subject of the financial disabilities of certain States, and whether he proposes to take any action in regard to those protests ?
– Certain protests have been received, but the Government is of the opinion that the terms of reference to the committee are adequate to an inquiry which will provide the Government with all the information necessary for a decision in the matter.
– Can the AttorneyGeneral give the House the result of his investigation with respect to the criminal disclosure on the 18th March last of certain cablegram’s which passed between the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) and the then Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fenton) and the Acting Treasurer (Mr. Lyons).
– The inquiries arc, I think, almost completed, and I hope to be able to make a statement on the subject at an early date.
– I ask the Prime Minister if the Wheat Advances Act 1930, providing for a guarantee of 3s. a bushel on wheat, has been proclaimed ? If not, does the Government propose to proclaim it, or why not ?
– A full statement on the matter was made to the House some weeks ago. If the honorable member wishes to have the information then given repeated in more definite terms, I suggest that he place his question on the notice-paper.
Utterances of the Right Honorable Member for Cowper.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral if he proposes to take action against the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) who, in visiting my electorate, preached sedition. The right honorable member, in referring to the proposed new northern State in New South Wales, said -
It is to be hoped that the Federal Government will not take up the same attitude towards the northern new State movement as Great Britain did when she refused selfgovernment to the American colonies.
– Behind that statement there is a threat of violence.
– Order !
– I shall certainly cause inquiries to be made to ascertain whether there has been any infraction of the law such as the honorable member has suggested. But I hope he will make due allowance for the fact that the temperature of the various parties that comprise the Opposition has been a little hectic for some time past.
– Can the Minister for Home Affairs say when the House will have an opportunity to discuss the schemes of the Redistribution Commissioners ?
– The matter is under consideration.
– Is the Minister for
Markets in a position to make a statement as to the proposed reciprocal trade agreement between Australia and Canada ?
– I have already informed honorable members that owing to the illness of the Canadian Minister for Commerce the negotiations are temporarily in abeyance.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the opinion prevails in Australia that the Federal Government need not have paid the interest on loans due by the New South Wales Government? Is it a fact that the Federal Government could have refrained from paying the amount? Has the Federal Government obtained legal advice to the effect that it could have refrained from doing so, and will that advice be made available by . the right honorable gentleman?
– The Government obtained the opinion of leading counsel in Victoria and New, South Wales to the effect that the Commonwealth was legally bound to pay the amount. This opinion was published, I think, immediately I received it.
– Has the Minister for Markets received any communication from the Government of the Dominion of Canada relative to the world wheat exposition to be held at Regina in Saskatchewan; and if so what is the nature of that communication? Is the Minister taking steps to co-operate with a view to Australia exhibiting at that exposition?
– I have had no direct communication from the Canadian Government on the subject. The matter is being investigated by the department.
– Is the Minister for Markets aware that certain political organizations are endeavouring to fool the farmers with “ fibs “ concerning the comparative value of “ Federal fidos “ and “ Fisher’s flimsies “ ? Will the Minister see that the farmers are not robbed by “ Fisher’s flimsies “ being handed over to them, on which interest at 6 per cent, has to be paid, when fiduciary notes can be made available to them at the cost of the paper on which they are printed?
– I rise to order. I submit that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Cusack) is submitting arguments instead of asking a question.
– It certainly would be out of order for the honorable member to use argument, or to give information, in asking a question.
– Will the Minister for Markets disillusion the farmers of the impression sought to be conveyed regarding the Government’s financial proposals, so that they- will not be imposed upon by financial “Shylocks”?
– Order ! The honorable member is introducing argument into his question.
– I ask the Minister whether he will expose the conspiracy that exists between the Country party and financial “ Shylocks “ to misrepresent the proposals of the Government for financing the farmers of this country.
– I assure the honorable member that if I find there is any conspiracy I shall take steps immediately to deal with it. For his information I may point out that a few days ago I addressed one of the largest meetings ever held in the Riverina, which unanimously resolved to ask another place to support the fiduciary note issue. I may further state that the wheat-growers of Western Australia have unanimously passed a resolution-
– On a point of order, I submit that the Minister was not asked for information concerning the wheatgrowers of Western Australia, and that he is out of order in making a speech in reply to a question.
– The Minister would certainly be out of order if he were to make a speech in answer to a question. I have not permitted him to proceed further than I felt he was entitled to go.
Had he endeavoured to make anything in the nature of a speech I certainly would have ruled him out of order.
– Can the Minister give the House any information regarding the attitude of the wheat-growers of “Western Australia towards the Government’s financial proposals?
-The honorable member must recognize that he cannot ask for the personal opinion of a Minister. Any information submitted to the House in answer to a question respecting the attitude of any body of persons must have the backing of substantial knowledge.
– Has the Minister received any communication acquainting him with the attitude of the wheatgrowers of Western Australia, or other wheat-growers’ associations, towards the Government’s financial proposals?
– The farmers of Western Australia, who are members of the Western Australian Wheat-growers Union, a large section of the Riverina farmers, who comprise the Wheat-growers Association, and those farmers of the Wimmera district, who are members of a Wheat-growers Association, have unanimously carried resolutions in favour of the proposals of the Government, and have requested the Senate to give effect to them at the earliest possible moment.
– Is the Minister for Customs aware that Penfold’s winery at Eden Valley, South Australia, was closed and has not since been re-opened, and that, as a consequence, grapes are rotting on the vines? Has he received from Mr. Raynor, Secretary of the Springton Grape-growers Association, a letter asking that the growers be permitted to enter into negotiations with the wine-makers for the sale of their grapes?
– The honorable member mentioned this matter to me yesterday. Inquiries that I have made have failed to reveal any trace of a communication from a grape-growers’ association asking for permission to be granted for the sale of grapes at a reduced price; but I have received from a grape-growers’ association in South Australia, a communication indicating that it had heard that certain representations were to be made in favour of a reduction of price, and emphatically protesting against any reduction being made. Similar communications have been received from other States. I am not aware that Penfold’s winery has been closed, but I shall make inquiries into the matter, and furnish a reply to the honorable member at a later date.
– The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) earlier in the day asked if I had received a letter from the Springton Vineyard Association, asking to be allowed to sell grapes to a distiller at prices below those fixed under the Wine Bounty Act. I find, on inquiry, that such a letter has been received, and was sent to the Senior Inspector of Excise, Mr. Gollan, for inquiry and report. The report is expected very shortly, and will receive immediate consideration, when a reply will be furnished to the honorable member.
– I desire to intimate that I have received from Mrs. Bowden, and from the family of the late Mr. Chanter, letters thanking the House for its resolutions of sympathy in their bereavement.
– I have received from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The deficit of £19,953,000 in the current accounts of the Commonwealth for the first nine months of the financial year.”
Five honorable members having risen in, their places,
.- The monthly return of the Commonwealth Consolidated Revenue Account was published last Friday, and I am sure that every honorable member, as well as the public as a whole, saw with amazement that the deficit in the current account was very nearly £20,000,000. It is true that during the month of March there were heavy interest payments - heavier than occur in a normal monththat there were heavy payments on account of exchange, and that in addition there was a payment of £592,000 which was rendered necessary by the repudiation and default of the Government of New South “Wales. It is true, also, that the receipts from income taxation will decrease the deficit in the final three months of the year. But it is equally plain that the great leeway in Commonwealth revenue is not being made up, and that an enormous deficit is certain at the end of the current year.
When the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), as Treasurer, introduced his budget last July, he budgeted for a surplus of £11,230. In the course of his financial statement he said -
Parliament must recognize, however, that no further drift in Commonwealth finances can be permitted, and that the balancing of the budget is an essential step for the restoration of the credit of Australia. The Government proposes to watch the financial position closely throughout the year, and, without waiting until the end of the financial year, will not hesitate to take immediate steps, if such action appears to be necessary, in order to prevent any serious disturbance in the budgetary position.
When the Treasurer presented that budget he was told that not one of his estimates would, or could, be realized, and experience has amply borne out the truth of the statements then made from this side of the House. But the Government, heedless of warnings, insisted on its budget. Immediately there was a backward drift to the extent of £2,000,000 a month, and as early as August it was necessary to assemble a special financial conference in Melbourne, at which the heads of the various Australian governments agreed -
That the several governments represented at this conference declare their fixed determination to balance their respective budgets for the financial year 1930-31, and to maintain a similar balanced budget in future years. This budget equilibrium will be maintained on such a basis as is consistent with the repayment or conversion in Australia of existing internal debt maturing in the next few years.
Further, if during any financial year there are indications of a failure of revenue to meet expenditure, immediate further steps will be taken during the year to ensure that the budgets shall balance.
Everybody knows that, owing in large measure to the absence of a policy on the part of the present Commonwealth Government, it is now beyond the bounds of possibility to balance the Commonwealth budget in this financial year. At the end of the October quarter there was a deficit of £6,747,000, and a new budget was brought down in November by the then Acting Treasurer, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons). Admittedly, the proposals therein made were inadequate; but the Government ever since has permitted the affairs of the country to drift. No action at all has been taken to deal effectively with the budgetary position.
– The Government has been hindered by the Opposition.
– No one can point to any action of the Opposition that has hindered the Government from dealing with the situation, though the difficulty of the problem has been aggravated by the conduct of the Premier of New South Wales, which has caused further charges to fall upon the Commonwealth revenue.
How have the commitments of the Government been financed? They have been met largely by means of treasurybills. On Saturday last a warning by the Commonwealth Bank Board was directed to the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) to the effect that there must be some limit to the issue of treasury-bills in future. This is a very grave warning, indeed, because it means that we are in imminent danger of default. The treasury-bills that have already been issued and utilized to raise money are producing a dangerous inflation. This cannot go on indefinitely ; in fact, it cannot go on very much longer. The financial proposals of the Government, which provide for the issue of what is called a fiduciary currency of £18,000,000, make no contribution to the solution of the budget problem. It is interesting to observe that, since these proposals have been introduced, the word “ fiduciary “ has changed its meaning in Australia instead of suggesting good faith, it is now a common word for anything that is a sham and a pretence. The Commonwealth Government is proceeding with its proposal to issue the so-called fiduciary currency, notwithstanding all the dangers incidental to this “ desperate and unsound remedy “, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) described it in a cable despatched in November to the then Acting Treasurer (Mr. Lyons). In a recent debate in this chamber, the Prime Minister said that he would not deal on th.it occasion with what he had said in that cablegram as he would have another opportunity during the discussion of the Fiduciary Notes Bill. Yet during that discussion the Prime Minister said nothing on the subject. He uttered not a word about the opinions which ne bad expressed in such strong language in the cablegram to which I have referred.
This Government is incapable of stopping this drift towards national bankruptcy. It has no credit in or outside the House, in Australia, or anywhere else in the world. It has not a majority for its so-called policy either in this chamber or in another place. It depends for its continued existence upon the contemptuous support of some of its political enemies, the followers of the Premier of New South Wales, and avowed repudiationists; it is only by reason of this support that the Government is able to remain on the treasury bench. It is desired by a vote on this motion to show the community just where the support of the Government comes from.
It is true that the Opposition has not adopted in relation to the important subject of finance or any other proposal the attitude of the Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition. When the Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition he declared that it was not the duty of the Opposition to make suggestions to the Government. In discussing the budget in 1927 he remarked -
I consider it to be the duty of every honorable member to call the attention of the Government to the totally unsatisfactory economic state of the country, even though they may have no remedy to suggest. The Government should find the remedy. It cannot evade its responsibility by saying “ You show U3 the remedy “.
I now ask the Prime Minister to observe the maxim laid down by him so recently as 1927 and to provide a remedy. As Leader of the Opposition I never have adopted the position which he took up when he was Leader of the Opposition. Dur ing the budget debate in July last and during the second budget debate in November last, there was nothing lacking in particularity or precision in the proposals made from this side of the House. Since then there has been such a drift that further steps will have to be taken to remedy the financial position ; but the first step needed is to get rid of the present Government, with its record of folly, indecision and ineptitude. The only contribution that this Government can make to the welfare of the Commonwealth is to resign office. Let us have an early appeal to the people, so that there may not remain on the treasury bench a government with a licence from its avowed political enemies to continue the mismanagement of the affairs of this country.
– I was informed only about an hour before the meeting of the House of the intention of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) to submit this motion. That to me seems quite inadequate notice of the discussal of a subject of the magnitude raised by the honorable gentleman. When he was in office, he always asked for, and received from the Opposition, longer notice of the intention to move any motion dealing with an important subject.
– No. On some occasions I received notice only half an hour before the meeting of the House.
– The motion of the honorable gentleman requires a wide discussion of the public finances, which is not possible in the time allowed by the Standing Orders. The honorable member must therefore have been actuated by some other motive than the desire to deal with the subject of his motion. Perhaps he is endeavouring to establish his claims to a future Prime Ministership by re-asserting his qualifications for the leadership of the Opposition. Doubtless he fears that his leadership is being seriously challenged, or may be called into question to-morrow or on Thursday next at a joint meeting of the various parties in opposition to this Government. Surely the honorable gentleman does not pretend that, in the brief time allowed to him this afternoon, he was able to deal with this subject adequately. He finds fault with the Government’s financial policy, and claims to have drawn public attention to the gravity of the position disclosed by the heavy deficit in the Commonwealth public accounts. But attention to the state of the Commonwealth accounts has been directed by myself, as Treasurer, in statements issued to the public press and published broadcast throughout Australia. Does the honorable gentleman wish the people to believe that, if he had not submitted this motion, they would have been unaware of the heavy deficit with which we are faced, because of the serious shortages in revenue from customs and excise duties, the sales tax, direct taxation, and the post office ? It is not likely that a deficit of £19,900,000 will be shown in the accounts at the end of the year - the revenue to be received in the remaining three months will, no doubt, considerably reduce the present shortage - but it is not denied that there will be a heavy deficit when the accounts for the year are closed. No one with a knowledge1 of the manner in which trade in the Commonwealth has declined in the last few months expected the position to be otherwise. Revenue from imports has declined more than it was possible to predict at the beginning of the financial year.
– The Treasurer told the electors that this Government would remedy that.
– Every one knows that, for the last nine months, Australia has been in the trough of a trade depression caused by circumstances for which this Government is not responsible. Internal trade and commerce and industry have been seriously disturbed; and our overseas trade has been so gravely affected that it would have been impossible for any government to balance its accounts, no matter how heroic the measures adopted.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) referred to the agreement arrived at in Melbourne in August last by Commonwealth and State Ministers, the object of which was to secure the balancing of budgets during this financial year. It was then the earnest desire of the Ministers representing the Common wealth and the various States to balance their accounts this year, but there is scarcely one who, to-day, will not admit the impossibility of giving effect to that undertaking.
– This Government never attempted to honour the agreement.
– The Leader of the Opposition attacked this Government for its failure, as he put it, to balance its budget in accordance with the Melbourne agreement of August last.
– It has made no attempt to do so.
– Can the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett), point to any State Nationalist Government which has balanced its budget, and thus honoured the Melbourne agreement? Let me remind the House that Mr. Bavin and Mr. Stevens, the then Premier and Treasurer of New South Wales, were parties to the agreement. Did they balance the State budget?
– They made a start.
– They did not even do that. The Bavin Government allowed Parliament to be dissolved and- the general election to take place in October without even submitting to Parliament the annual budget. They were defeated at the elections and left the finances of New South Wales in such a condition that in that State a deficiency of between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000 was in prospect. Queensland also, under a Nationalist Government, has a deficit for the nine months of about £1,750,000 and it is expected that, at the end of the year, the deficit will be £1,000,000. Honorable members do not criticise the Nationalist Government of Queensland. They excuse the failure of State Nationalist Governments to balance their accounts, and concentrate their attention upon the administration of the Commonwealth Government.
The Leader of the Opposition claimed that on an earlier occasion he indicated how the Commonwealth might balance its budget this year. He offered what he termed a policy of sound finance, and was indiscreet enough to submit his proposals in detail. Let us examine the scheme which he propounded as the means of saving this country from a heavy deficit at the end of the financial year. By reductions in public service salaries he proposed to save £1,000,000. He would also have saved another £200,000 from the amount set aside for maternity allowances; £146,000 from bounties paid to industries; £1,500,000 from the moneys made available to the States under the roads agreement; £1,000,000 from the money appropriated for unemployment relief; £150,000 from the amount intended to assist the coal-mining industry by way of export bounty, and assistance to repatriate excess miners; and £3,000 by cutting out the expenditure to finance the industrial peace tribunals, making a total saving, according to the honorable member, of £3,999,000. _ May I remind the House that even if his proposals had been adopted in full there would still have been a deficit of over £10,000,000? He was going to withhold £1,500,000 due to the States under the Roads Agreement. He was going to renounce that agreement, under the plea of economy; I do not suppose he would admit that that would have been repudiation. The withholding of that money would merely have effected a saving for the Commonwealth Government at the expense of the State governments. Then, the honorable member proposed not to spend £1,000,000 which had
Deen allocated for the relief of unemployment. What wonderful economy that would have been! He would withhold money that was intended to relieve the distress of unemployed persons. He would deny them the succour of which they stood in need, and call that economy !
– And what did the Government do about that £1,000,000 grant?
– At the August conference to which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) referred it was resolved that £750,000 of the amount should be paid to South Australia to tide her over her special difficulties. Eliminating those so-called economies, which could be achieved only by filching money from the States, or by repudiating our contractual obligations, the total savings possible under the honorable member’s proposals would amount to only a little over £1,000,000. But this Government has effected greater sayings than that in the course of a year. We have made actual savings during the current year of £1,230,000, by cutting out expenditure to which the country had been committed by the Bruce-Page Government.
– Mostly by sacking returned soldiers.
– Not at all; money has been saved by putting an end to unnecessary services, and by cutting out superfluous sub-departments, commissions and boards created by the administration of which the honorable member who has just interjected was a member.
– Has the Government effected an actual saving by the elimination of any board or commission appointed by the previous Government?
– Yes, by the abolition of the Development and Migration Commission, to give one instance.
– The Government still has the members of that commission round its neck.
– Because they were appointed by the previous Government for terms of five and seven years. A great many commitments of that kind were passed on to this Government by the administration of which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) was a member. Some of the contracts entered into by the previous administration could not be terminated or varied.
– Then are we to understand that everything is quite right so far as the finances of the Commonwealth are concerned?
– That is not my attitude, and the Leader of the Opposition knows it. As I have explained, the Government has, during its term of office, effected important economies, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has announced that action is to be taken to adjust Public Service salaries and emoluments so as to save a further £1,000,000 for a full year. Yet all that the Leader of the Opposition was able to suggest, after running a fine-toothed comb through the Estimates, was a real saving of a little more than £1,000,000.
It is not necessary to answer at further length the charges brought forward by the Leader of the Opposition. It is a most unusual thing to move the formal adjournment of the House to discuss the ordinary monthly financial statement issued by the Treasury.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Gullett) put -
That the question be now put.
Division called for and bells rung.
There being no member voting on the side of the “ Noes “, the question was resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the House do now adjourn - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Norman Makin.)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the negative.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr.FORDE.-On the 26th March, the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) asked the following questions, upon notice -
In which localities are the 15,600 acres of grape vines situated, which are represented by the Grape-vendors Association of South Australia ?
What is the acreage in each locality?
In which localities are the 12,000 acres of grape vines situated which are represented by the Grape-growers Association of South’ Australia?
What is the acreage in each locality?
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : - 1 and 2. The Grape-vendors Association of South Australia represents acreage planted with wine grapes as follows: -
3 and 4. The Grape-growers Association of South Australia represents acreage planted with wine grapes as follows: -
It will be seen that the figures previously supplied by me are correct.
– On the 26th March the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
– On the 20th March the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lewis) asked the following questions, upon notice -
The Auditor-General has forwarded the following replies: -
– On the 25th March the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked the following questions, upon notice -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
A financial statement (1930-31) laid before the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the 14th April, 1930, gives the following figures as at 31st March, 1930, in regard to foreign countries: -
Repayable by instalments of principal or of principal and interest -
Capital sums owing on 31st March. 1930: -
2 and 3. Funding agreements in regard to debts have been made with all countries except Russia and Armenia. Particulars of these arrangements are included in British parliamentary papers. An examination of these papers does not disclose any information as to conditions attaching to such advances, what rates of interest were charged on the loans or advances. Neither are details given of any terms or conditions made in regard to interest repayments or otherwise of such loans or advances.
The following particulars have been furnished by the British Treasury: -
As regards the war debt of Belgium to Great Britain, that part of the debt which was incurred before the 11th November, 1918, was taken over by Germany under Article 232 of the Treaty of Versailles, the remainder of the debt was repaid in cash by the Belgian Government. The reconstruction debt of Belgium to this country, and the debts of the Belgian Congo, Poland, Czecho-Slovakia, Esthonia, and Hungary, represent advances made by His Majesty’s Government for the purpose of relief or reconstruction, and not for war expenditure.
The Belgian reconstruction debt and the debt of the Belgian Congo are repayable in 30 years (1926-1955) with interest at 5 per cent., and the other agreements referred to provide for the payment of interest at 6 per cent. until the 1st January, 1925, and at 5 per cent. thereafter, and for the repayment of the capital amounts of the debts over the following periods as from 1st January, 1925:-
The above agreements do not cover the separate debts of Poland, Czecho-Slovakia and Esthonia for repatriation of troops from Siberia and other post armistice advances, which formed the object of separate settlements providing for repayment in ten years, with interest at 5 per cent. in the case of Poland and Czecho-Slovakia, and for repayment within 30 years in the case of Esthonia.
– On the 25th March the honorable member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows: - 1. (a) 31st March, 1925; (b) £294,396 for each vessel.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Bank Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, Nos. 32, 33.
Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, Nos. 30, 36.
Dried Fruits Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 28.
High Court Procedure Act and Judiciary Act- Rule of Court - Dated 24th March, 1931.
Northern Australia Act -
North Australia -
Ordinance of 1931 - No. 3 - Pearling. Health Ordinances - Regulations Amended
Railway and Mining Camps’ Sanitary.
Rat Exclusion and Reduction.
Wells and Water.
Public Service Ordinance - Regulations amended.
Slaughtering Ordinance - Regulations amended.
Papua Act- Ordinances of 1930 -
No. 8 - Appropriation 1930-31; together with Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for year ending 30th June, 1931. No. 12 - Prisons.
Quarantine Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 31.
Scat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance of 1931 - No. 4 - Liquor.
Debate resumed from the 19th March (vide page 369), on motion by Mr. Parker Moloney -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This is the third bill which the Government has introduced during the present session to grant relief to the wheatgrowing industry, and perhaps a brief review of the two measures that have preceded it may be necessary in order that we may accurately assess its importance as well as that of the problems involved in it. With a view to carrying out a promise made by the right honorable the Prime Minister in his appeal to the wheatgrowers of Australia to produce a record crop, a bill was introduced last April providing for a cash guarantee of 4s. a bushel to the growers upon delivery of f.a.q. wheat at railway sidings. As a result a record area was put under crop. I do not suggest that, in any circumstances, even without the proposed guarantee, a very large area would not have been cropped ; but, undoubtedly, in the wheat-producing States a considerable area was sown with wheat that would not have been cropped but for the anticipated price for which provision was made in the bill then before this chamber.
– No doubt a special appeal was made by the Government to the wheat-growers.
– Yes; but it must also be remembered that the bill was introduced in April, when the wheat seeding season had already commenced. It was debated in April and May, but, unfortunately, was defeated in another place in circumstances well known to all.
– The honorable member says “ unfortunately “.
– I do.
– Then, the honorable member does not agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett).
– I do not. I am not attempting to square my views with his on this matter. The action of the representatives of the wheat-growers in another place in rejecting the bill introduced by this Government and passed by this House was one of crass stupidity.
– They were not representing the wheat-growers; they were representing the community.
– Quite so; but the wheat-growers are an integral part of the community, and. the people as a whole were morally bound by the Prime Minister’s promise and, consequently, acquiesced in a bill the terms of which induced the wheat-growers to put a record area under wheat in an endeavour to redress Australia’s adverse trade balance.
– The Prime Minister made that promise on his own responsibility.
– I did not hear any persons or any section dissociate themselves from that promise as embodied in the bill.
– Some certainly did.
– I have since heard some criticism of the provisions of the bill, particularly in the light of what might have happened had that legislation been passed. I take this opportunity to say that, although the wheat-growers’ occupation is one that has drawn expressions of sympathy from all sections in this House, and although no political party has ventured to suggest that the wheat-growers should not be given assistance, the only difference of opinion being as to the form it should take, it is most extraordinary that, after twelve months of endeavour to get something practical done by legislation, not one wheatgrower has yet received one pennyworth of assistance from the Federal Government.
– That is owing to the failure of the Government.
– There are, of course, various reasons for this. But I want at once to express my disagreement with the attitude taken up by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and the Deputy Leader (Mr. Gullett) in connexion with this matter. I listened to their speeches with great disappointment. They took up the most extraordinary and untenable position of ridiculing the promise made by the Prime Minister, and embodied in the Wheat Marketing Bill, claiming that a guarantee of 4s. a bushel would have involved the Commonwealth in the loss of from £15,000,000 to £18,000,000, and describing it as a fantastic financial proposal which it would be impossible to carry out. But strangely enough, during the passage of the bill last year, the Leader of the Opposition moved the following amendment : -
That this House is of the opinion that, while the present circumstances justify a guarantee by the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States of a minimum price of 4s. per bushel for f.a.q. wheat, season 1930-1931, delivered at railway siding, legislation providing for such a guarantee should be introduced separately from any legislation providing for the establishment of a monopoly in the marketing of Australian wheat by means of a compulsory pool.
In other words, the honorable gentleman committed himself, and incidentally his party, to a guarantee of exactly the same amount as was offered by the Government, and said that circumstances justified such a guarantee. When a few weeks ago he scathingly criticized the Government’s proposals because of their financial impracticability, he overlooked the fact that such criticism could be directed with even greater force against his own proposals, because in the light of subsequent events it is clear that his proposal would have involved a greater loss. Attached to the Government’s guarantee of 4s. a bushel was a scheme for controlled marketing; the price for the local market would have been fixed, and the Government would have been relieved of any possibility of loss upon the home consumption quota of approximately 33,000,000 bushels. The marketing of the wheat is not yet completed, but on present appearances there would have Deen a loss of 2s. a bushel on the 150,000,000 bushels of wheat exported. The proposal of the Leader of the Opposition would have involved a loss of 2s. a bushel on 180,000,000 bushels.
There is a moral obligation on this Parliament to assist the wheat-growers. People have asked why the wheatgrowers, more than any other section of the community, are entitled to State help. Other sections, we are told, are receiving less than production costs, and if the Government is morally bound to assist the wheat-growers, it is equally under an obligation to other classes of producers. I refer such questioners to the appeal made by the Prime Minister to the farmers to grow more wheat in order to assist to reduce the adverse trade balance which was then, and is still, one of the outstanding problems confronting us. That was indicated again by the statement of the right honorable gentleman this afternoon that it was inadvisable to reduce the export of sugar because of the need for maintaining credits abroad at as high a figure as possible.
– Does the honorable member agree with that policy in connexion with sugar?
– I shall deal with sugar at the appropriate time. So far as I am aware, no appeal was made to any other section of the community that is comparable with that made to the wheatgrowers. To a man of my fiscal views, it is significant that the Prime Minister made no appeal to the boot factories, woollen mills, and other secondary industries in his electorate, to work three shifts daily in order to produce more goods for export to the markets of the world. There is an unlimited market overseas for blankets, boots and shoes, provided they are sold on the same conditions as the wheat-growers are expected to sell their product, namely, at world’s parity prices. The secondary industries not only failed to put forth any special effort to lift Australia out of the financial mire, but they actually threw their machinery out of action and turned hundreds of their employees into the streets to join the ranks of the unemployed. To the wheat-growers, however, a definite and direct appeal was made.
– Did the honorable member endorse it!
– I did, and so did all the State Governments that were interested. The Victorian Labour Ministry appointed a “ Grow more wheat “ Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Frank Clarke, and placarded the railway stations throughout the States with “Grow more wheat” appeals.
– The post offices also were utilized.
– That is so. Every letter delivered by the Postal Department was stamped with the exhortation “ Grow more wheat”. It is undeniable that the whole nation was behind the Prime Minister’s appeal to the producers.
– The Government offered a guarantee of 4s. a bushel; but the farmers did not get it. Who was responsible ?
– The Government.
– We can pay the farmers out of the deficit of £19,000,000.
– All that the farmer knows is that a direct appeal was made to him; a promise was made by the Government and it has not been honoured. Certainly the Government has proposed successive measures for assisting the wheat-growers. The first was the Wheat Marketing Bill, with the accompanying offer of 4s. a bushel. That was defeated, and just before last Christmas another measure was introduced to provide for the payment of 3s. a bushel. That, too, went amiss. Later, the Loan Council proposed to float a loan for the payment of a bounty of 6d. Then Mr. Lang made a speech, or something else went wrong, which led to that pro posal being abandoned. Now the Government is offering 4½d. First. 4s.; then, 3s.; then 6d., and now, 4Jd. The last offer is attached to one of the most contentious financial measures ever presented to this House, and we are told that if wo do not pass the Fiduciary Notes Bill, the farmers will receive nothing. I strongly object to being told that I must vote for a financial measure of which I do not approve, or bear the accusation of being unwilling to assist the wheat-growers. Such tactics are unfair to all honorable members who are opposed to the Fiduciary Notes Bill.
– Are not the wheat-growers divided on the subject?
– They are in favour of it.
– Not much.
– It is true that meetings of farmers have expressed support of the Government’s proposal for the creation of paper money. But always they have been told that by that scheme alone can they get anything.
– It is the only way to assist them.
– Their support of the Fiduciary Notes Bill is not evidencethat they approve of the principle of it; rather, does their willingness to support almost anything that they think will help them to survive, exemplify their desperate position. Many farmers have said to me, as they have said to other honorable members, “We do not like the Fiduciary Notes Bill, involving the creation of paper money, but our difficulties are such that when the Government assures us that this is the only means by which w’e can be assisted, we are forced to pass motions in favour of the scheme “. That is convincing evidence of the dire necessity of the wheat-growers. I regret that the Government has tacked this proposal to the Fiduciary Notes Bill.
– There is nothing in this bill to say that it is tacked to the other measure.
– No; but both the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) and the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) have stated plainly by interjections that the giving of this relief is contingent upon the passage of the Fiduciary Notes Bill. If I am wrong, the Minister for Markets can now, by interjection, put me right.
– Tha Treasurer nas tried every other means of getting assistance for the farmers, as the honorable member for Wimmera knows. Because of the failure of those efforts, he now says that the Fiduciary Notes Bill is the only means by which the money can be got.
– As a representative of the wheat-growers I am not concerned as to what party affords relief to them; I am prepared to support proposals from any party that will adequately meet the situation. Indeed, I consider that the best way of getting relief for the wheatgrowers, having regard to the fact that all parties are agreed that something should be done, would be to appoint a committee representative of all sections in the House to meet and produce within 48 hours a scheme of relief that could be supported by all honorable members here and in another place. Surely that is practicable, and I commend that course to the Government for consideration.
– There was no better scheme than the proposed guarantee of 4s. a bushel which the Commonwealth Bank agreed to finance.
– The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan), has again brought up the subject of the 4s. guarantee. I suggest to him that we arc not discussing that now, and that we gain nothing by discussing the past. We have to decide what we shall do now to assist the wheat-growing industry. I assure the honorable member that the position of the growers in the wheat-exporting States is tragic. Of course, I do not place Tasmania and Queensland in the category of wheat-exporting States. This Government has made a great deal of the failure of another place to pass legislative measures which would undoubtedly have assisted the wheat-growing industry. Actually the Government has done nothing, although it has attempted to do something to alleviate the position of the wheat-growers. But at the same time it has extracted hundreds of thousands of pounds from their pockets by means of the primage duty on cornsacks, superphosphates and other necessaries of production. This is being done at a time when the wheat-growing industry is up against the greatest crisis in its history, and the unfortunate wheat-growers are being demoralized by the relentless pounding of economic forces and the tremendous collapse of wheat prices throughout the world. Practically every Government of the wheat exporting countries throughout the world, with the exception of Australia, has done something to assist its wheat-growing industry. We have done nothing to assist the wheat-farmers; on the other hand we have placed additional burdens upon them. This year there will, unfortunately, be a large reduction in acreage in Western New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. The wheat-growers are unable to obtain supplies of superphosphate with which to sow this year’s crop.
– They cannot get kerosene.
– They cannot get kerosene for use in their tractors. In many cases they cannot obtain the necessaries of life to maintain their families. I referred a little while ago to the moral aspect of this question in respect of which there is an unanswerable case for something to be done to assist the wheatgrowing industry; but in addition there is the humanitarian aspect to be considered. Hundreds of the finest citizens of this country - men who have been farming all their lives - are to-day being driven off the land. Every country newspaper that one happens to read contains numerous advertisements of sales of assigned estates by mortgagees, terms being strictly cash. Behind every one of those advertisements is a tragedy. In addition to the moral and humanitarian aspects, there is to be considered the economic aspect taken in relation to pounds, shillings and pence and our national solvency. We shall never lift Australia out of its present difficulties unless we place our primary and exporting industries on a sound footing. The greatest industry in Australia to-day, in relation to employment, and its beneficial effect upon railway revenue and secondary industries, such as superphosphate and machinery manufacturers, is the wheatgrowing industry. It is true that the wool industry has a greater intrinsic value, but the amount of labour employed in the production of wool is not comparable with that employed in the production of wheat. To-day this great industry is beaten to its knees. We have the prospect of a tremendous reduction in wheat acreage. The only way to rehabilitate this country is to select at the starting point of reconstruction those industries that are exporting, to do everything to assist them, and, above all, to lift the legislative burdens that are upon them - to take, in racing parlance, the lead bags out of the saddle and give the Australian farmers a fair go.
– Loud cheers from the Labour party.
– I do not like the interjection of the honorable member, because it is an endeavour to keep alive the party spirit in this debate. I am not one of those who think that this industry can be placed upon the road to permanent prosperity by a grant from public funds or by a bounty. I believe that in the last analysis we shall have to cut production costs. If this Parliament tackles the problem of reducing production costs in the wheat industry, it will soon become possible for Australia to compete favorably with any other country in the markets of the world.
– Is the honorable member including Russia?
– Yes, because we can produce a quality of wheat that Russia cannot produce. Wheat prices to-day arefar below production costs in Australia. But at the same time I do not think that Russia or any other country can produce wheat profitably at the present prices; so there is hope for this industry in Australia. The following is an expression of opinion which appeared in yesterday’s Age.
Giving evidence before the Federal Public Accounts Committee on Saturday, Professor Richardson, director of the Waite Institute of Agricultural Research, said he did not fear the competition of Russian wheat. If Australia could get back to the pre-war ratio of internal prices to export levels and provided research and educational services could be maintained we could grow wheat in competition with the world. He said about a million pounds a year must be charged to the agricultural industry in South Australia for depreciation of farm machinery. South Australia was absolutely dependent on primary production, and particularly on wheat, which was the least pampered industry in Australia.
I have for many years been associated with Professor Richardson in connexion with agricultural research work, and I know of no man better qualified than he is to express an opinion in regard to the future of wheat-growing and production costs. We should aim at placing this industry upon a sound and permanent basis. During the last wheatgrowing season, the price received at sidings for f.a.q. wheat was somewhere between 4s. 3d. and 4s.8d. a bushel. This year the price has ranged from1s. 6d to1s.10d. a bushel. There has, within the last twelve months, been a collapse from an average price of 4s. 6d. to an average price of1s. 8d. No other industry has suffered such a tremendous reduction in prices. Honorable members have talked about a 10 per cent, reduction in wages and a 25 per cent, reduction in share values on the Stock Exchange; but those reductions are nothing in comparison with the reduction in wheat prices. For that reason it is essential that the industry should be given some temporary assistance in the form of a grant from public funds, but only as palliative. To place this industry on a proper basis, we must reduce production costs, and there are many ways of doing that. It can be done, not only by legislative action, but also by co-operative action by the growers themselves. In the past they have, in connexion with the marketing of their wheat, been lacking that co-operative spirit which should have been shown in their own interests, and in the interests of the industry generally.
Let me indicate briefly one or two ways of helping the wheatgrowing industry to compete successfully in the markets of the world. First, we should have an Australian-wide system of bulk handling of wheat. New South Wales pioneered that system, and, like all other pioneers, made mistakes, which the other States can avoid if they adopt the system. New South Wales expended large sums in erecting silos just after the war, when the prices of cement and steel, and all construction costs, were at the peak. Notwithstanding that, it cannot be said that the bulk handling system of New South Wales has been a failure.
– -That is so, and it is steadily gaining favour among the farmers. We spend millions of pounds per annum in purchasing imported sacks, filling them up with wheat and sending them out of the country. Instead of that we should institute the bulk handling system. We should adopt a basis under which we can sell wheat in various grades, and at a price which will give the grower some incentive to produce wheat of a better quality. Under the present f.a.q. standard, there is no incentive to produce wheat above that standard except in certain towns in which the millers, knowing the milling value of the varieties of wheat, are willing to give a premium for better wheat. Under the f.a.q. standard we have bred wheat to produce the greatest bulk yield. We have not bred wheat to produce high flour strength and milling qualities such as would be produced if a premium were given for them. We have found, in experimenting, that wheat of a high milling strength does not as a rule return as much as that of low milling strength. It oftens happens that one variety of wheat, because of its actual milling strength, is worth from 3d. to 4d. a bushel more than another variety, but under our present system both varieties would be classed at the siding as f.a.q., and no price incentive is given to grow wheat of a higher quality. We must reconstruct the whole system of wheat-growing by ‘the introduction of bulk handling and the adoption of a system of payment in accordance with the quality of wheat produced. Even under the f.a.q. standard we produce wheats that are sought by millers, and are famous in the markets of the world. I maintain that the standard can be materially improved if we set to work systematically along the lines I have suggested.
– Even under the f.a.q. standard the quality of our wheat in a normal year is equal to that of the world’s best.
– We can make it as greatly sought after as our merino wool in the markets of the world if we tackle the matter in the right way. An f.a.q. standard for wool would be absurd. This is one of the lines along which I suggest we can lower production costs.
Marketing costs are a more contentious subject. To-day there is a considerable leakage under the open competitive system of marketing. In the station yards of all the wheat-producing States we have the spectacle of four, five, six or more buyers, each with different stacks, and a different set of lumpers, and each scrambling for the trucks that are made available, and are rationed out by the railway departments. Those departments run special goods trains of 20, 30, or 40 trucks that may be consigned to half a dozen different consignees. In Victoria some may be taken off at Williamstown, others at Geelong, and others at various flour mills at Kensington. The shunting and sorting of trucks causes a considerable amount of economic waste, and in that avenue there is room for a big reduction of production costs.
There are many other directions in which costs could be reduced. Professor Richardson has shown that there is room for tremendous improvement in the continuance of research work concerning the breeding and production of wheat. I can say on behalf of the wheat-growers that they are alive to the importance of that aspect of the matter. I know of no body of men who are keener than the wheatgrowers to increase production and to improve yields.
I do not question for a moment the Government’s sincerity in attempting to assist the industry; but I do doubt the wisdom of its proposals, and the form in which they have been put forward. The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), on behalf of the Country party, has made a proposal which, if adopted, would provide means for giving assistance to the industry. If the Minister believes that it is not possible to raise a loan, the Government at least has the power to impose a sales tax on flour.
– The honorable member for Wimmera knows quite well that such a proposal is opposed by the Ministers for Agriculture in the States that are taking steps to fix a local price. They have all protested against it.
– That excuse of the Minister is open to the criticism that some of the States which are asking the Commonwealth Government to refrain from imposing a sales tax on flour have so far taken no action in the matter. The Minister knows better than any other honorable member opposite how desperately urgent is the need of the farmers. If any form of assistance is to be granted to them it ought to be made available this month, so that they will be in a position to plant next year’s crop.
– The New South Wales Government has imposed a tax on flour, but has not given any relief to the wheatgrowers.
– That is evidence against the suggestion of the Minister.
– The Minister for Agriculture in New South Wales has taken the necessary steps to introduce the required legislation.
– Everybody is in favour of doing something for the wheatgrower, yet nothing is being done because of continual wrangling regarding ways and means. When the Government introduced its fiduciary note issue proposal, upon which the financing of this measure is dependent, I said to my colleagues in the Country party: “It is useless our opposing the proposals of the Government unless we are prepared to suggest something constructive to take their place.” That is what has been done ; and action along the lines suggested can be taken even now.
– It will have to be taken.
– Apparently there is no difference of opinion regarding the necessity for helping the wheat-growers. I commend to the Minister the suggestion that a committee be appointed to investigate the whole matter thoroughly. It is not my intention to move for the appointment of such a committee; that is the responsibility of the Minister. He is unable to plead that he cannot command the votes of a majority of honorable members of this House; he can do as he wills in this matter. If I were to move for the appointment of a committee, and the Minister were to oppose the proposal, failure to carry it would be inevitable. Yet within 48 hours a committee of honorable members representative of all the wheat-growing districts would be able to bring forward a proposal that all parties, both in this House and in another place, could support. Something must be done immediately to help the industry. The wheat-growers are scattered all over the country and cannot mobilize as can other sections of the community. Honorable members who are not in touch with the position in the industry cannot realize its absolutely desperate nature. I have never encountered such a spirit as that which exists to-day in the Mallee and Wimmera districts of Victoria and the back Mallee country of South Australia. The spirit of the pioneers, about which poets have so often written, is broken to-day. In other words, they “ do not care a damn “. They are broken in pocket as well as in spirit. Having made commitments in the light of the promises of this Parliament, not one of which has been fulfilled, they suffered the greatest collapse in wheat prices in the history of the world, and are now being pursued by their creditors as though they were criminals. That is a position which this Parliament cannot ignore, and which it should take steps to remedy.
– I do not like the bill, and fear that it will prove to be a “ dud “, as has been the case with similar legislation passed within the last twelve months.
– You can make it that if you like.
– I intend to try to make it effective.
– It rests with the Minister whether it is a “ dud “ or not.
– It rests with honorable members opposite to put it through.
– I am opposed to Clause 2, which provides for the repeal of the Wheat Advances Act 1930. To-day I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) whether that act had been proclaimed, and, if not, whether he proposed to proclaim it; but the reply that I received was not a satisfactory one. The wheatgrowers of this country, whom I am constantly meeting, expect the Government to proclaim that act and to put it into operation. They cannot understand why such action has not already been taken. Under it they were guaranteed 3s. a bushel on a seaport basis. It also provided that the Commonwealth Government should make arrangements with the Commonwealth Bank for an advance of 2s. 6d. a bushel ; but that advance has never materialized.
– Who is responsible for that?
– I do not know whether the bill was badly drafted, or was unconstitutional; but the fact remains that the farmer has not received 2s. 6d. a bushel at country sidings or 3s. a bushel f.o.b. It is the duty of the Government to explain why the act is to be repealed and why its provisions are not to be given effect. I protest against its repeal and the failure of the Government to make the advance of 3s. a bushel.
– Was not the withholding of the advance due to an objection raised by the Commonwealth Bank?
– I do not know. The Government should be in a position to explain why it was not made. If it has a solution of the difficulty, it should bring it forward.
– The reason has been given over and over again.
– My concern is to see that some help is given even at this late hour. I feel sure that none will be given under the provisions of this bill. The Government will have an opportunity to show whether it is sincere in its desire to help the wheat-farmer, when I propose certain amendments in committee. I have been informed that those amendments will not be accepted ; but I intend to have them circulated and incorporated in Hansard The Minister and the Government will then have thrown on them the responsibility of turning them down. I believe that they embody the only solution of the difficulty. Honorable members on this side are perfectly satisfied that the Fiduciary Notes Bill will not pass another place. The Government also holds that belief. What is the use therefore, of proceeding with it?
I shall vote for this measure even in its present form; but I maintain that it can be improved materially. The position of the Australian wheatgrowers to-day is so serious that one need offer no apology for endeavouring to help them. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) has vividly explained the position of the wheatgrowers in Victoria, particularly in tha Mallee district, where the conditions are comparable with those in many parts of the other States. As the honorable member for Wimmera explained, fully SO per cent, of the wheat producers are insolvent. In large areas in Victoria there are districts in which, prior to last season, practically no wheat had been grown for several years, and where, in view of the Government’s promise, the growers expected to reap a good crop and to obtain some return as a result of the 4s. a bushel which the Government guaranteed. Seeding operations have now commenced in many districts in Victoria, and also in the other States, and I have been informed by the honorable member for Wimmera and others, that, in some instances, farmers are sowing the seed on land which has not been fertilized. How, in the name of Heaven, they expect to reap a crop without the use of artificial manures, is beyond my comprehension. They might as well leave their holdings as expect a return in such circumstances. I am still hopeful that the Victorian Government will do something to assist the wheat-growers in that State; but it is undoubtedly the responsibility of the Federal Government to render some financial assistance to all the wheatgrowers in Australia who are in necessitous circumstances.
– The Queensland Government is at present paying 4s. a bushel, and growers in the other States could have received a similar amount.
– If we were not producing more wheat than is required for local consumption the price would, probably, be in the vicinity of 7s. 6d. a bushel.
– Bread is cheaper in Queensland than elsewhere in Australia, although the growers in that State are paid approximately 2s. a bushel more than is paid in any of the other States.
– I propose to deal later with the price of wheat as it affects the price of bread. The honorable member for Wimmera dealt very extensively with the campaign initiated by the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) and supported by the State Premiers, in which the wheatgrowers were urged to grow more wheat. I do not propose to go into that matter in detail at this juncture; but the fact remains that the proposal to grow more wheat was taken np so enthusiastically by the wheat-growers that, instead of an average crop of 120,000,000 to 130,000,000 bushels being produced, approximately 209,000,000 bushels were reaped. Had it not been for a dry spring and an abnormally wet harvesting season, it is probable that the production last season would have reached 225,000,000 bushels. “We cali safely assert that the appeal of the Prime Minister and the State Premiers, and the promise of 4s. a bushel, increased the yield from wheat by 50,000,000 bushels. The Australian wheat-growers produced approximately 50,000,000 bushels more than would be reaped in a normal season. The additional quantity harvested did not assist them, but was actually a factor in depreciating prices. The growers, relying upon the promise of the Government of a guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel, incurred additional expense in sowing larger areas. If a farmer put in only an additional 100 acres he would have to spend an additional £25 on fertilizers, £20 on seed, and also incur further expense for sacks, horse feed and labour. By sowing bigger areas the growers actually incurred greater losses. A measure providing for the payment of 4s. a bushel was passed by this House, but rejected in another place. There is no doubt that the rejection of that measure was of great relief to the Government, whose enthusiasm for the measure waned considerably during its passage through this chamber.
– That is contrary to what the honorable member has stated previously.
– I believe that the Minister sincerely desired the bill to be passed by both branches of the legislature; but as time went on the price of wheat dropped to such an extent that by the time it reached another place there were many supporters of the Government who were pleased to see it rejected. Having been relieved of the liability to pay 4s. a bushel at country sidings it was the duty of the Government to introduce another bill providing for the payment of a smaller amount. The Minister will remember that he was interviewed from time to time by various honorable members, and by deputations representing those engaged in the industry, who pointed out that, although the measure providing for the payment of 4s. a bushel had, rightly or wrongly, been rejected, the Government had been relieved of a great responsibility and liability. Prior to the adjournment for the Christmas vacation, when some wheat had actually been harvested, a measure providing for the payment of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. was passed by both Houses. That measure has never been proclaimed, and the wheat-growers are continually asking why they are not being paid 3s. a bushel as provided for in it.
– They have been told why.
– Is the Government going to stand up for the act by having it proclaimed, and if not, why not? The Government has made no pronouncement in regard to its intention with respect to the act.
– That is not so.
– At conferences and gatherings of representatives of wheatgrowers which I attend, I am always being asked when the Government is to make the money available. Up to the present it has not made any move in that direction. “We were informed in the first place that the Government proposed to borrow £6,000,000, of which £3,500,000 was to be used in paying a bounty of 6d. a bushel on the exportable surplus of 140,000,000 bushels, and that by raising the export parity the price for local consumption would automatically rise. Those who understand the marketing of wheat know that that is not correct. Had the bill provided for a bounty of 6d. on all wheat exported, the local price would have been increased by that amount. This measure does not provide for a bounty of 6d. a bushel on the whole of our exportable surplus, but on only 75 per cent, of the wheat produced, and sold or delivered between October, 1930, and October, 1931. It is assumed that the exportable surplus this year will be 75 per cent, of the total quantity available for marketing overseas. On the latest estimate it is calculated that* instead of there being 75 per cent., equivalent to 141,000,000 bushels, for export, at least four-fifths or 80 per cent., equivalent to 153,000,000 bushels, will be exported. Had the bill provided for a bounty of 6d. a bushel on all wheat exported, the local price would have been increased by that amount, and the farmers would have received an extra 6d. instead of 4£d. a bushel. Although the Government proposed to raise a loan of £6,000,000, that was not proceeded with, because the Government knew that there was no possibility of raising such a loan until it had reduced expenditure, placed its house in order, lived within its income, and restored the confidence of the investing public. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), and the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page), offered to co-operate with the Government in any action which might be considered necessary to adjust our finances, so that the whole of such an unpleasant responsibility should not be placed upon the members of one party. That offer, which was declined by the Government, would not have been made by the Labour party had it been in opposition. The Government now proposes under the Fiduciary Notes Bill to issue £18,000,000 worth of additional notes, £6,000,000 of which are to be spent in relieving necessitous wheatgrowers. My contention is that if the wheat-growers were to accept money raised in this manner their position would ultimately become worse. If the bounty were to be paid on all wheat, excluding seed and feed wheat, instead of on 140,000,000 bushels, the amount involved would be £4,750,000 instead of £3,543,000 - not a very large increase. The easier and most equitable manner of raising the necessary money is by imposing a sales tax on flour, and I urge the Government to accept an amendment to provide for that.
About 650,000 tons of flour are used annually for local consumption, and the quantity is gradually increasing. This is equivalent to from 31,500,000 to 32,000,000 bushels of wheat. With a 209,000,000 bushel harvest, including Queensland, we should have, after deducting 20,000,000 bushels for seed and feed, a balance of 189,000,000, or, say, 190,000,000 bushels. A sales tax on flour of £2 10s. per ton on 650,000 tons of flour over a period of about four and a half years would provide exactly 6d. per bushel all round on the 190,000,000 bushels, and also allow £2,500,000 for distribution among necessitous farmers. This proposal would appeal to growers in all States as being equitable.
The Government’s reply to this proposition will probably be that its acceptance would result in an increase in the price of bread. My answer is that the price of bread need not be raised materially, if raised at all. Bread is selling at from 8d. to Hd. per 4-lb. loaf in various parts of Victoria. In one of the suburbs of Melbourne the price was reduced to 6d. per 4-lb. loaf by a bakery firm. I am prepared to vouch for the accuracy of the statement that an opposition baker then opened a number of shops in the area supplied by the baker who was selling for 6d. and sold bread over the counter at 4½d. cash for the 4-lb. loaf. It was thought that this would effectively deal with the man who was selling for 6d., and put him completely out of action; but the result was that the baker who was selling for 6d. cut his price to 3Jd. per 4-lb. loaf, cash over the counter. This shows clearly that one of the most gigantic swindles ever known is being perpetrated by the bakers who are charging 9d., 10d., and Hd. per 4-lb. loaf for bread at the present price of flour.
In my opinion, a sales tax of £6 a ton could be placed on flour without causing bread to be any dearer. In fact, bread should be cheaper in the areas where 9½d. and Hd. is now being charged.
The value of the wheat in a 4-lb. loaf with wheat at 4s. 6d. per bushel, after allowing for the value of the offal, is 2.691d., or less than 2fd. per loaf. Even if the price of bread were raised slightly, the great bulk of the people would be well able to pay it. An increase of 6d. per bushel in the price of wheat would add only .429d. to the price of a 4-lb. loaf. There is no means of bringing about a uniform price for growers other than through a sales tax on flour. If the present price of flour remained firm, and a sales tax of £2 10s. per ton were imposed, the increase in the cost of a 4-lb. loaf of bread would be less than a halfpenny.
The farmers of Australia are waging a desperate struggle against heavy odds, but the Government has done nothing but pile up the costs of production. Primage duty alone accounted for the following additional charges this year: -
This total does not include the tax on wool-packs, chaff-bags, potato-sacks, hessian, &c. These charges are being heaped on to men who have not a feather to fly with. Many of them do not know where their next penny will come from. Many men who went abroad to fight for Australia are now being forced to live on cracked wheat and treacle.
The man on the land is not a bolshevik by nature. He has had no time to think or act in a radical manner. Generally speaking, he is a law-abiding and loyal citizen. But I take the full responsibility for saying that unless something is done to help him, and done quickly, he may at any moment step over the border line, and do something desperate. These men have been placed in their present position through no fault of their own, and by influences over which they have had no control. A man who cannot see a ray of light ahead is inclined to let things go. “When he has been obliged to wage a losing fight against droughts, floods, bad seasons, and unprofitable prices, and on top of this forced, because of his unsheltered position, to carry those in the sheltered industries, and pay every form of tax that the mind of man can conceive, inevitably he becomes wellnigh broken in spirit. An ugly temper pervades the farming community in many districts to-day. Many a man has been looking for some lightening of the burden he has had to carry. But the Government has heaped on him the last straw, and I warn it that it will not come as a surprise to me if in some of those districts which are so badly hit the men decide to take the law into their own hands. I am not advising them to take this course, but it is hard for those who have worked hard for many years to stand idle with starvation staring them in the face.
There has been grumbling amongst a section of the workers because they have had to submit to a 10 per cent, reduction in wages. But what about the thousands of men on the land who have worked 10, 12, 14, and 16 hours every day for the last twelve months for nothing, only to find themselves deeper in debt by hundreds of pounds at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of it ?
-What about the 400,000 men who are unemployed ? Many of them have had no work for years !
– Many of our community have been in good positions for years. They have enjoyed good wages and continuity of employment. But others have had no work at all, and have had to live on the dole. I sympathize with these. There is still another class of people. These have worked hard and received nothing for it ; I refer to the men on the land. I know of farmers in Victoria who had a small taxable income for the previous year, and are this year being called upon to pay an unemployment tax, although they have no means at all. The storekeeper, the butcher, the baker, the machinery firms, the fertilizer companies, and the cornsack merchants, are all clamouring for payment. In addition, there are municipal rates, rail rates, water rates, State and Federal land tax and Federal income tax to be paid. In many cases, also, mortgagees are waiting to get their interest. The majority of the wheat-farmers have nothing whatever with which to pay these bills.
Last year 18,167,000 acres were sown to wheat. The previous highest seeding was 14,904,000 acres in 1929-30. From the season just closed we harvested, as nearly as can be ascertained, 209,000,000 bushels of wheat, which gives an average yield of 11.28 bushels per acre. The f.o.b. value of wheat in Victoria to-day is 2s. 3½d., which is equal to1s. 8d. per bushel at country stations. After deducting the exchange charges it is worth only 1s. l½d. per bushel, and after deducting the cost of the containers, the cornsacks, it is only worth l0½d. per bushel. The average wheat yield for this yearis11¼ bushels, which is almost exactly the average for the past seventeen years. During that time 188,852,000 acres have been sown to wheat, and the gross yield has been 2,151,265,000 bushels, or an average of 11.4 bushels per acre. If we take Hi bushels at 16; 8d. per bushel at country siding^ less cornsacks at 3d. per bushel: we get the magnificent return of 16Si 3id. per acre to cover all Costs of rent, interest, ploughing-, scarifying, harrowing, seeding, Manuring, harvesting, carting, &c., and the bulk of our wheat is grown on fallow land, which means a. crop every two years, if the weather permits. Each crop has, therefore, to pay two years’ interest or rent.
I quote these figures merely to show the utter impossibility of continuing under present conditions. The farmers want something more than promises. The Government should set its house in order, live within its income, cut down its expenditure, remove the hindrances with which the farmer is beset, restore confidence, and abandon its fiduciary proposals. The people recognize that if the man on the land goes down, all others will go down with him, and 1 believe that they will admit the justice of the proposal put forward for a small sales tax on flour.
Two things which the farmer must have are sustenance and fertilizers. In almost every instance he has seed> feed, and machinery; but without the wherewithal to provide sustenance and fertilizers, he cannot produce another crop. It may be argued that wheat is not worth growing ; what then is he to do? Is he to abandon the land and live on the ‘dole in the city? I am not one who believes that these low prices ‘can continue foi* any length of time, notwithstanding the fact that wheatgrowers the world over are in much the same position as we are here. I believe that if the Government will remove the hobbles that hinder us, and -give us some practical help, with the object of removing our present disabilities, the wheatgrowers of Australia will prove to the people of this country, and of the world, that they axe not afraid to meet competition, tlo matter from whence it comes. Only remove our bonds, ‘let us stand on our own feet, and give us a fighting chance, and we will show what we can do. Ate those engaged in the secondary industries prepared to make a similar declaration? The wheatgrower gets irb benefits from the Arbitration Court. He and his family and workmen labour under conditions much worse than those of other industries, both as to hours and pay. The moment his wheat reaches the station the unequal conditions apply. The lumper takes charge of the grain, and from that time until it reaches the consumer the labour employed in handling it is subject to Arbitration Court awards and provisions. This year machinery merchants obtained assignments over farmers’ wheat to the exclusion of fertilizer companies, storekeepers, and others. These assignments were secured under threats that, where accounts were not paid, machines would be taken away, or duplicate parts would not be supplied, in which case the crops could not have been harvested.
I Urge the Government to accept the suggestions put forward by the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page). What is to be done must be done quickly. No time should be lost. The farmers’ immediate need is sustenance and superphosphate. Most of the growers have seed, feed for stock, and the necessary machinery. The Government’s duty is clear. The growers have been patiently looking for assistance for months. How much longer must they wait? In con elusion, I shall read an editorial from the Manitoba’ Free Press of the 6th December last, which describes ‘the position of the wheat-farmer in Canada. While this article sets out the position of the prairie farmers in Canada, one cannot help feeling that in doing so, it just as accurately describes the position of the wheat-growers in Australia. It i3 headed, “ The Emergency in the West - The Realities of the Situation,” and reads as follows: -
Canada, as everybody in the Dominion by this time is fully aware, is fighting with all the collective strength ‘and intelligence she has, iti a general trade and industrial ‘depression on a scale, and of a gravity not hitherto encountered during her history as an organized and progressive country.
In Western Canada the depression has hit agriculture, and as agriculture is the foundation on which the west has been built, and by which the western -social structure is maintained, a serious depression in western agriculture has adverse consequences on the fortunes of the west country. That is, upon ourselves in Manitoba, and on our neighbours tin the provinces of Saskatchewan .and Alberta.
The facts as they are now affecting us can. in some degree, be stated simply and with accuracy. All of the west has grown up on the large-scale production and export sale of cereal grains; wheat being the great cornerstone of the farming edifice. What is happening in Western Canada can begin to be measured by what is happening to Canadian wheat, and that can be seen by comparing the prices wheat was fetching one year ago, and what it is fetching to-day.
Grain prices, as published in the grain tables, do not represent the amount of money the farmer receives for his grain; they represent considerably more, and this1 has to be allowed for when! discussing what the farmer actually is getting. The comparative figures, taken from the tables, and in round numbers only, are as follows: -
No. 1 Northern cash wheat, December 4th, 1929, 1.43 dollars ( 5s. 11½d. ; same date this year,. 1930, .60 dollars (2s. 6d.)
From, these figures there would have to be deducted some seventeen cents (8Jd.) for average freight and other charges, and the farmer to-day getting the quoted price of 60 cents ft bushel for Noi 1 Northern wheat would, actually receive,, in. cash, 43 cents ( ls. 94d.)-
These are the prices for the top qualities. When the wheat grades lower than No. I Northern, or when it is “ tough “ or damaged, the price falls in proportion to- the lower quality. Fully one-third of. all western, wheat delivered during. November, graded “ tough “ which meant a further reduction to the farmer of about three cents. The farmer, therefore, whose wheat was graded No. 1 Northern tough last month received in actual money 40 cents a bushel for what he sold. When the grade was No. 2, or No. 3, or No. 4, the price came lower still. These are the prices as they affect the individual farmer, and represent his cash income for his year’s work in wheat.
Taking the larger figures, which show the relation of wheat sales to the national income, the following comparisons tell the story: -
From August to October, 1929; - Western farmers delivered, to country elevators 173,891,000 bushels: net money valuation of this wheat, 220,546,101 dollars.
For the same period of this year, 1930 - There were delivered 17.9,650,000 bushels, with a net valuation of 107,359,511 dollars-.
For six million more bushels- delivered this year the valuation, therefore, is well over a hundred and thirteen million dollars less. This represents the shrinkage in. value of the1 stocks of wheat we still, have to- offer. We may be able to sell them, but on the basis of the above figures, we must sell them for less than last year; the goods on the national shelf have fallen in value.
On what has been sold we can find the comparison, too -
From August to September, 1929, sale of Canadian wheat and wheat flour totalled approximately 45,000,000 bushels, valued at nearly 64,000,000 dollars.
For the same period this year, 1930, exports of wheat and flour were approximately 85,000,000 bushels-, valued at 711,000,000 dollars.
These figures represent commercial transactions, actual trading and sales, and they show that in three months of this year, 1930, we exported over 40,000,000 bushels of wheat and flour more than we exported during the some three months in 1929, and received only 7,000)000 more dollars in return; which, on the comparison of the two prices;, means that in 1930 we sold 40,000;000 bushels of wheat for 7,000,000. dollars. These figures- demonstrate clearly two facts; first, the buying power of the western farmer has been more than cut in two ; and, secondly, the Dominion of Canada has suffered a loss of 51,000,000 dollars on the export of approximately 25 per cent, of her surplus, wheat on the basis of last, year’s values.
These are part of the statistics of the situation with which Western Canada has been at grips for months, and with which we must all be prepared to grapple with increasing vigor as the months come on. The national income has shrunk. Translated into human terms what does this mean?
Western Canada is one of the strongest and best endowed areas on the world’s surface. Its people have had- steady prosperity for many years.. They have created an agricultural empire on the great western plain, which extends to the foot of the Rockies. They have built great cities, such- as our own city of Winnipeg; their industry has enormously enriched the entire dominion, and they have accumulated capital reserves which even in this crisis enable them to face the future with courage and without panic. Rut it is a. crisis. It is a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, world-wide in its complications,, and this gigantic depression, which has hit our country like an earthquake, and against which our people: are- as helpless as though it were a plague blown, down on them from, the air, is beginning to strike disastrously into our communities. Shrinkage by hundreds of millions in the national income means straitened conditions throughout the country. We are now at the place where actual physical suffering may be forseen as the crisis continues. Shortage of food, of clothing, and of fuel, whole districts, perhaps up against destitution, with, nothing coming in from the crops, and the rigors of winter now upon them. The country is bursting with wheat and grain and fuel and resources of every description, and yet by the inexplicable operation of world conditions our western people, in considerable numbers, may be caught and. squeezed in the iron pincers of a poverty they do not in the least deserve to suffer.
The situation is emergent. It is partly on us now, and it will have to be faced and dealt with as a national responsibility and as a national duty. There will be many districts able to stand this- winter’s siege on their own resources, but there will be weaker districts needing help, and there will be necessitous cases in the better-situation communities who will need help too - who may be needing it now, And help, by one device or another, will’ have to be provided. There is danger of large-scale suffering on the western plains this year, and the equipment to relieve it should at this moment be- in preparation, or in readiness.
The emergency constitutes a national condition with which the Federal Government will have to grapple as a problem in relief. It is not a question of politics, or of who may be to blame. It is a question of devising remedial machinery for the prevention of a catastrophe which, if allowed to develop, may shake the country to its roots. The west is looking to Ottawa for action. Time is running on. The action should be immediate, comprehensive and sympathetic to the struggles the west itself is making to fight its way through to more solid ground.
The Government is well aware that it is unable to finance the scheme. When the bill is in committee I intend to submit certain amendments in order to throw upon the Government full responsibility for its failure to assist our wheat-growers. I shall move for the omission of clause 4 with a view to providing that a bounty of 6d. a bushel shall be payable upon all wheat of the season 1930-31 sold or delivered for sale before the 31st October, 1931, but not payable upon wheat sold for seed purposes or used for seed. If this amendment is accepted, I shall move for the insertion of a new clause to provide for the imposition of a sales tax at the rate of £2 10s. per ton of 2,000 lbs. upon the sale of flour, meal or other gristed products of wheat for home consumption. The revenue to be derived from this tax will be applied exclusively to the repayment of moneys borrowed under the provisions of this bill and to the payment of interest and administrative charges.
– Will the tax be paid by the millers?
– They will be held responsible for the tax in respect of all sales.
– But will they be able to pass it on to the general public ?
– Yes. My proposal simply means that if, prior to the imposition of the tax, flour is quoted at £6 5s. it will be sold at £S 15s.
– How many honorable members opposite will support that amendment?
– We shall see when the bill is in committee. I intend to give the Minister an opportunity to put himself right with the wheat-growers of Australia. They expect this Government to bring forward a practical proposal. If the Minister will father the amendment which I have outlined, I will stand behind him.
.- Honorable members opposite are now bewailing the fate of our primary producers. They were not so much concerned last year when the Wheat Marketing Bill, introduced by this Government to provide for a guarantee of 4s. a bushel, was before another place. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) has just indicated an amendment which, he suggests, will test the bona fides of the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney). If he and his friends are really concerned about the welfare of our primary producers, why did not they bring pressure to bear upon members of another place last year? The farmers will welcome this scheme, which will make available to them £6,000,000 of currency, negotiable in Australia, and storekeepers in all States, to whom primary producers are heavily in debt, will be glad of the relief which it will afford them. What objection can there be to this proposal as against the raising of £6,000,000 in an unfavorable market at 6 per cent, or 6^ per cent.? Our wheat-growers are in a desperate plight owing to the collapse of overseas markets. Honorable members declared last year that the Government could not finance its proposal to pay a guarantee of 4s. a bushel. On that point all I wish to say is, it was the responsibility of the Government to find the money, and they would have done their part if honorable members opposite had brought pressure on their friends in another place to pass the bill. Reference has been made in this debate to the position of wheat-growers in Queensland. The State Government is paying 4s. a bushel for wheat, and bread is as cheap in Queensland as in any other part of Australia.
– That is an argument is favor of our proposal to impose a sales tax on flour.
– The Queensland Government, acting under powers conferred upon it by the Sugar Acquisition Act, has commandeered all flour from the millers, and is able to pay wheat-growers an additional 2s. a bushel for wheat sold for home consumption. Other State Governments could do likewise, and wheatgrowers throughout the Commonwealth could get an additional 4d. a bushel without any guarantee from the Government. What has been done in Queensland is due largely to legislation passed by a previous Labour administration. Honorable members opposite for many years supported a government which took no action to organize the marketing of our primary products. This Government has been in office for only eighteen months.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– The Opposition seems to be very worried as to where the money would have come from to finance the wheat pool had the Government’s Wheat Marketing Bill been passed over twelve months ago. I remind them that the responsibility for raising that money rested upon the Government, which had received an assurance of support from the Commonwealth Bank authorities. In another place the friends of honorable members opposite threw out the bill, for reasons which are well known to honorable members both on this side of the House and on the other. The agitation against the bill did not come from the farmers, but from those who have been farming the farmers all their lives. The middle-men moved heaven and earth to have the bill defeated. The so-called representatives of the farmers in another place answered the crack of the whip, and did the bidding of the middle-men because those middle-men supply their party funds at election time. Their troubles about the farmer ! Honorable members opposite say that the Government sent the bill to the Senate knowing that it would be defeated. What an opportunity the Opposition, in the Senate had of putting the Government in a hole, simply by passing the bill ! Had that bill been passed through the Senate, the farmers would now be receiving 4s. a bushel for their wheat, the people would be paying no more for their bread, and the Government would have been able to finance the whole scheme at very small loss. Such loss as was incurred would have been more than compensated for by the fact that the farmers would have money to spend, and would be able to provide employment for those out of work. At the present time the price of flour is down to bedrock. The farmers, for whom honorable members opposite are pleading, are unable to sell their wheat, yet bread in Sydney is 5½d. a 2-lb. loaf, and 6d. a loaf booked. The price of flour is lower than it has been for a number of years. The price of bread at Cloncurry, in Northern Queensland, is hardly more than at Sydney, although the flour used in Cloncurry has to be carried by boat from Sydney or Brisbane up the coast to Townsville, and then railed 500 miles inland. Who is getting the rake-off? Not the farmer, who gets no more for his wheat, and certainly not the people, since they are not getting cheap bread. Those who have benefited are the persons who were lobbying the Senate just before the wheat pool bill was defeated twelve months ago. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), who stated his case broadly and without party feeling, said that he was not going to support the bill.
– I did not say that.
– Well, the honorable member said that he would not support the Government’s financial proposals which are essential to finance this bill. The Government has endeavoured by negotiation with the Commonwealth Bank authorities to finance some scheme for helping the wheat-farmers. Some of the negotiations were conducted by these two heaven-born statesmen, who are now chasing about the country conducting a campaign against the Government. We had them with us for eighteen months, and they were not able to do anything for the farmers. If they are able to do anything to save themselves, let alone the nation, within the next three months, I shall be very surprised:
This matter of assistance to the wheatfarmers has been frequently before the House. I remember on one occasion the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), speaking on the adjournment of the House, said that the Government had an obligation to do something to assist the primary producers. His remarks were supported by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons), and other members on this side of the House. They pointed out that the farmers had been asked to grow more wheat on the understanding that they would receive 4s. a bushel for it. Members of the Senate practically gave an undertaking to the Government that the Senate would pass the necessary legislation. However, the Opposition in the Senate had no qualms about repudiating that undertaking. Ever since this Government assumed office it has been hampered by party intrigue. In the eyes of honorable members opposite, nothing it has done is right. Every measure it has sent forward to the Senate has been defeated. It is strange that members of the Opposition in this House can state quite definitely that our financial proposals will not be agreed to by the Senate. Is the Senate an independent chamber, or is it not? Can it be said that the Senate did its duty by the country and by the primary producers when it turned down the Government’s proposal for the assistance of the wheat-farmers, a proposal for which the Government was to accept financial responsibility? When the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) was Acting Prime Minister, he appealed to the banks to finance the wheat pool. After the wheat pool bill was defeated, the honorable member for Wimmera, and other honorable members representing wheat-growing constituencies, met at a non-party conference, and decided to approach the banking authorities to see if something could be done for the assistance of the farmers. The banks very generously offered to guarantee a price which was about 7£d. a bushel less than, could at that time have been obtained for wheat in the world’s markets. The Labour party was prepared to guarantee the farmers 4s. a bushel for their wheat and the Commonwealth Bank undertook to finance the proposal. Subsequently, when the proposal for guaranteeing the farmers 3s. a bushel was submitted to the bank board, it was turned down. Who, I ask, is to lay down the policy of this Government, the Commonwealth Bank Board, or the elected representatives of the people in Parliament? Representative government becomes merely a. mockery if governments are to be dictated to by banking authorities.
Objection was taken by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), and the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), to the methods by which the
Government’s proposal for helping tha farmers is to be financed. I am not surprised at that. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) must remember that the then Opposition took exception to the Fisher Government’s financial proposals, which involved the establishment of a Commonwealth Bank, and when a Commonwealth note issue was proposed they declared that “Fisher’s flimsies” would not be worth 2s. each at the end of a few months. Later, when the war broke out, those same notes were found to be worth a great deal. The Government now proposes, instead of burdening the people with a loan of £18,000,000, to issue notes to finance its schemes for assisting the farmers, and for the relief of unemployment. This does not savour of heaping burdens on the primary producer, as complained of by the honorable member for Wimmera.
– I said that the Government was placing burdens on the primary producer through the sales tax and primage duty.
– If the farmers are in as bad a position as the honorable member claims, they cannot be paying anything, either in sales tax or primage duty. You cannot get blood out of a stone. If a man has no income he cannot pay income tax.
– The sales tax on cornsacks is a heavy burden on the primary producers.
– The Sales Tax Act was passed only a few months ago, and it is possible under that legislation to give relief to any section deserving of it. I believe that the farmers should be given relief. The Government has always been sympathetic to those who have difficulty in paying taxation. Special treatment has been granted, for instance, to selectors and graziers in my electorate who have been unable to pay income tax for which they were assessed immediately preceding a severe drought. They were sent before appeal boards, and they have been treated with leniency by the department.
No effort has ever been made by any government other than a Labour government to assure primary producers satisfactory prices for their products on the one hand, or, on the other, to control the price at which the product was offered to the consumers. In Queensland the farmers have their own marketing organizations; they are practically in charge of their own wheat marketing arrangements, while the Cane Prices Board, on which the farmers have representation, fixes the price which they receive for their cane. The wheatfarmers receive a fixed price for their wheat, and the public are not exploited when they buy bread. These things have been done through legislation passed by Labour governments.
– It is of no use the honorable member quoting what has been done in Queensland, because there is hardly enough wheat grown in that State to supply its own requirements.
– Of course the honorable member objects to my quoting anything which does not suit his case. I maintain that the experience of Queensland has proved that the farmers can be guaranteed 4s. a bushel for their wheat without the consumers being charged exorbitant prices for their bread. The honorable member for Echuca referred to the prices of wheat, flour and bread, but he would not, I think, agree to any proposals for fixing the price of flour, because that would hit the class which contributes to his party funds. There are two schools of thought among members of the Opposition - the Nationalists, who do not believe in pricefixing at all, and the members of the Country party, who believe in fixing the price of wheat, but who are not prepared to carry the thing to its logical conclusion. The honorable member for Wimmera is prepared to support the Government in financing the farmers to the extent of 6d. a bushel on their wheat, but he refuses to do anything for the country’s 300,000 unemployed, and rejects the proposal of the Government to make available £.1,000,000 a month to relieve unemployment. The project of the Government to raise £18,000,000 by means of a fiduciary issue, £12,000,000 of which would relieve unemployment, and the remaining £6,000,000 finance our wheat-growers, would give all sections of the community considerably enhanced purchasing power, which is so badly needed at this juncture. Surely it is admitted by all that the case of the unem ployed is even worse than that of the farmers. They are unable to obtain credit, and in many cases have not a roof over their heads. Only the other day I received a letter from a mau in the Canberra Hospital, asking me to send him along a little tobacco. He hails from Burketown, and is one of the finest workers I know. The whole thing is tragic. Let honorable members go to Vaucluse, Sydney, and see the unemployed camped under the sandhills. It is a crying shame to any government.
The honorable member for Echuca cleverly tries to place the responsibility upon the Minister for Markets and Transport. Most of the present trouble arises from that very desire to shift the blame on to the shoulders of some other person. There is too much wrangling among those who should be endeavouring to overcome the difficulties that confront the nation. This Government proved its sincerity by taking upon itself the responsibility of introducing the Wheat Marketing Bill. The measure was rejected in another place. That fact cannot be burked. Honorable members of the Opposition are seeking to undermine the Government by tempting its supporters to cross the floor of the House. To any member of the Labour party who is prepared to shirk his duty, they offer immunity from Nationalist attack and support at the next election. They will go to any lengths to push the Government out of power. Despite their intrigue, the Government will continue in office. Only recently in Western Australia, Senator Colebatch debated the Fiduciary Notes Bill with a member of the Labour party before an audience of some 300 farmers, who overwhelmingly declared in favour of the measure. “ Happy Harry “, from Henty, smiles. His smile will be a wry one when the farmers and the people generally deal with the honorable member at the next election. He is one of those “ farmers “ who farm the farmer.
The honorable member for Wimmera suggests the appointment of a committee. What for? This Government is specifically offering the farmers a bounty of 6d. a bushel on their wheat.
– No, 4½d. a bushel.
– Clause 5 of the bill reads “ The rate of bounty payable under this Act shall be 6d. per bushel.”
– That is only on wheat exported from Australia, which will amount to 75 per cent, of our total production.
– For the moment I am ignoring home consumption. The important thing is to give our farmers an immediate bounty of 6d. a bushel on the exportable surplus so that they may purchase their seed and fertilizers for the coming year. Then we may deal with home consumption, fix the price of wheat for local milling, and so give a guarantee to the farmers on wheat consumed locally, without increasing the cost to the consumer. The honorable member for Echuca supports a sales tax on flour, which proposition he is putting up to the Minister for Markets. That is a very astute political move, but, though it may give the honorable member’s party a considerable amount of kudos, it will not give the farmers any money. The Queensland Government was able to guarantee 4s. a bushel for wheat produced in that State, without resorting to any sales tax on flour.
– Queensland has no exportable surplus of wheat.
– I am dealing now with the home consumption. In Queensland wheat is bringing 2s. a bushel more than world’s parity. A similar price could be fixed’ for the whole of Australia, and a guarantee of 4s. given on wheat used for home consumption. That would mean an additional 4d. a bushel on the f farmer’s exportable surplus.
– What is the price of flour in Queensland?
– Considerably higher than it is in New South Wales. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons) informs me that it is £12 10s. a ton. The cost of a 2-lb. loaf of bread in Queensland is 5-Jd.- A similar price is charged in Sydney for cash, 6d. being booked cost; and that, notwithstanding the fact that flour is only £10 a ton in the southern State. It has to be freighted up to Queensland. There must be a fair rake-off for the southern middlemen. Because of the price fixing legislation which operates in Queensland, bread sells in Townsville at the same price as it does in Brisbane, while as far out as Mount Isa the cost is only Id. a loaf dearer. During bread price wars I have seen it as low as 4d. to 4£d. a 2-lb. loaf. The Queensland marketing boards operate at very little cost to the people, and similar organizations could be instituted for the whole of Australia.
Honorable members will remember that when the Wheat Marketing Bill was being debated the lobbies were well packed with representatives of South Australian and New South Wales middle men, who urged members to resist the measure. We were inundated with sheaf after sheaf of letters claiming that the farmers would be ruined if the bill were passed. That had its effect in another place, and, as a result, the farmers have received no assistance, and are now in a precarious position. This Government should go further than it proposes to do and guarantee the farmers a price for their wheat over a number of years. There will be fluctuations in the price of the grain, but during boom periods the amount in excess of the guarantee could be placed in a trust fund and utilized to meet losses during lean years.
The methods of finance proposed by the Government are encountering the serious objection of honorable members opposite. It is merely a repetition of the old, old story. I have already referred to the Jeremiahs who decried the banking legislation introduced by the late Mr. Andrew Fisher, and have related how scornfully his “ flimsies “ were received. The success of that legislation is now history. Whenever a government encroaches upon the preserves of private banking and insurance interests it meets with hostility from every section of the Nationalist press and organizations. Recently, half a dozen members have seceded from the ranks of the Federal Labour party. Later they will have much spare time on their hands in which to repent. The man who acted as Prime Minister during the absence of Mr. Scullin, and his colleague who acted as Treasurer were always crying a poor mouth. When discussing the matter with his “ better half “ the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) said “ We have no money, but we have a lot of principle “.
Yet those very same gentlemen have just appointed a publicity agent to their diminutive party at a salary of £1,200 a year; a man who was previously receiving £900 a year from this Government for similar work. Assuredly the task of balancing their budget will be a difficult one. Such methods of finance are beyond me. Evidently, there is a fairy godfather watching over them. While these “ saviours of the country “ expound their theories on finance, the workers and the primary producers may starve, and be hanged.
This party has but one policy, to assist those in need. The Opposition is seeking desperately, but ineffectively, to put the Government out of office before it can give effect to its policy. Despite all obstacles the Government will assist the unemployed and the primary producers, and do its utmost to make order out of the chaos that reigns after seven years of Nationalist government, dictated by business interests.
– I made my attitude on this issue very clear when I spoke some weeks ago on the no confidence motion that was then before the House. At that time I took the opportunity to say that I was opposed to this proposal, both on its merits and because it is based on a financial principle that is bound to end in failure. The Government knows as well as does tha Opposition that the measure has no possible chance of becoming law.
– Why not?
– It has been said from this side of the chamber and it is known in every political quarter by those who give any thought to such matters, that this legislation has no chance whatever of getting through another place. That is as well known to the Government as it is to the Opposition and that is why I question the sincerity of Ministers in this particular respect. The only possible course open to the Government to help the wheat-growers of Australia in the crisis through which they are now passing is one which it has studiously refused to follow.
This is the third attempt in this Parliament to render some assistance to the wheat-growers. The first, a bill to pro vide a guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel, was an ignominious failure.
– Because the bill was rejected by another place. I was one of those who voted for the measure, and if the same conditions existed to-day I should do so again. Then I had some faith in the sincerity of Ministers. To-day I have positively no faith in their sincerity.
The second attempt, a bill to guarantee 3s. a bushel to the wheat-grower, ended in an equally ignominious failure. And now we have this third proposal to provide £6,000,000 to help the farmers, not with real money, but with fiduciary notes which we know will be so much rotten paper as soon as they are issued.
When interrupted by an interjection, I was saying that the only possible course the Government could have followed to render useful assistance to the farmers was one it had not taken. That course was to impose a sales tax or excise duty on flour. When the matter was brought up earlier in the evening by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons) interjected that the State of New South Wales had imposed a tax on flour, but that it had given no assistance to the farmers of the State. I am not in a position to question the honorable member’s assertion, but I can say that a similar policy when applied in Queensland rendered substantial assistance to the wheat-growers of that State. I believe that if the Commonwealth Government had had the courage to implement a similar policy a similar degree of assistance would have been afforded to the wheat-farmers of Australia generally, The position in Queensland is quite well known. Having absolutely no faith in the Commonwealth Government’s proposals to help the wheat-growers, the Moore Government took steps to implement a sales tax on flour on the lines of an excise duty, and to-day the position of the Queensland wheat-farmers is better than that of the farmers of the other States.
– And it has been for a very long time now, thanks to Labour legislation.
– I am not so blind as not to realize that the Government of Queensland has opportunities to help the farmers of the State that are not available to the other Governments of Australia, but the principle for which I am contending remains unaltered. The Queensland Government, exasperated at the failure of the Commonwealth Government to do anything useful for the wheat-growers, implemented a tax on flour and has thereby succeeded in rendering very valuable assistance to the farmers of the State.
I do not propose to repeat remarks I have made upon this subject on other occasions in this House, but in passing I may say that we shall never have a prosperous country until our primary producers are prosperous. That, I think, is axiomatic. However much we may disagree as to details, that root principle remains unchallenged. The only reason for giving to any section of the community anything beyond what it can get in the open market is the fact that it is handicapped by costs of production. That the farmer needs assistance is definitely established. He is facing a crisis; he is confronted to-day with conditions such as he has hitherto never faced; he is asking for assistance ; he expects it and by all the canons of right doing and justice he ought to get it. The causes that have brought him into his present position may be grouped under many headings, including not only the cost of labour on the farm, but also many costs away from the farm, which press very heavily upon him, such as handling charges; railway freights; shipping; loading; costs of machinery; supplies, and interest. He has to pay rates of Wages .fixed without any regard to the economic conditions that prevail to-day. The cumulative effect of all these being, pressing on the farmer with such undue severity, makes it necessary to apply, shall I call them, adventitious aids, or at any rate the aids which we are seeking to bring to his relief. Any one with a knowledge of the subject knows that the farmer works fifteen hours a day and for much less than the basic wage. Whatever conditions are laid down by arbitration tribunals he has still to keep his nose to the grindstone and work out his own salvation. Tariff-mongering has produced conditions that press unduly heavily upon him. He lacks the shelter afforded to almost every other worker in the community. He labours under all these difficulties, yet the present Government has nothing better to offer him than the political shoddy contained in this bill.
– And the honorable member would not even have that.
– I have said it before, and I say definitely now, that I would not have it under any circumstances.
– Yet the honorable member claims to represent farmers.
– I do, and I am prepared to do all that is humanly possible to assist them, but I refuse to make myself a party to any attempt to further mislead them. On three separate occasions this Government has misled them, and has brought about a state of turmoil among them which is a positive discredit to it. I believe that it will continue to mislead them so long as it remains in office, and so I propose to take a definite stand against this bill, hoping that it will not be long before we get the present Ministry off the treasury bench. We shall then have an opportunity to implement measures that will give the farmer some definite, real relief. That he will never get from this Government. The theory of honorable members opposite seems to be that civil servants and workers who are unionists must be sheltered and must get their bread at a price which will leave the farmer no hope of profit. The only workers in this country who seem to be regarded as not requiring some degree of shelter are the very people who, as I have said before, are entitled to a greater degree of help than any other section, because they are unduly handicapped by heavy costs of production. I repeat that we shall not get back to any degree of prosperity in this country until our primary producers are prosperous.
No Administration has so misled the primary producers as this Government has done. This proposal to provide £6,000,000 of fiduciary notes for the assistance of the farmers is absolutely insincere.
– The honorable member is not in order in stating that the proposal of the Government is insincere. I ask him to withdraw the statement.
– I withdraw the allegation of insincerity; nevertheless, I believe that the proposal to offer £6,000,000 of rotten paper money to the farmers is beneath contempt. Despite what has been said by Government supporters I know that the right thinking section of the farmers recognize that the offer is worthless, and will not help them in the slightest degree; on the contrary, if this scheme is implemented, it will do the farming community, and incidentally the commercial community, incalculable harm. It is not a serious attempt to help the farmers, and is not so regarded by them. In view of the fact that, although the bill may be accepted by this House, it will not have the slightest chance of being passed in another place, I question the seriousness of the Government in submitting it. Relief for the primary producers is imperative and urgent and something must be done. Ever since this Parliament was elected this matter has been trifled with. The Government has worried itself with various legislative proposals, but the net result has been nil. We have heard from thi3 side of the House, and from the ministerial bench, that the farmers are in such dire straits that the Commonwealth must go to their aid immediately; yet we never get past, and are not likely to get past, the stage of talk. This Government will merely continue to repeat that something must be done, and nothing will be done. The fact is that unless the Government is prepared to impose a sales tax or excise duty on flour, it will have not the least prospect of achieving anything to relieve the farmers, and all its protestations of concern will continue to ring hollow in the ears of the people. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) was generous enough to express appreciation of the sincerity of the Government in its attitude towards this subject, but my conviction is that there is no sincerity in it at all.
– Order ! The honorable member has already been called to order for charging the Government with insincerity, and he is now aggravating his offence. I again call upon him to withdraw the statement and to apologize for having repeated it.
– I am sorry for having unconsciously repeated an expression to which you, Mr. Speaker, have taken exception: I withdraw it and apologize. I regard this measure as a contemptible bribe - an electioneering ruse to benefit the Government at the expense of the primary producers, particularly the wheat-growers. I dislike it generally, and I have no faith in it because the financial legislation to which it is attached has no possible chance of being accepted by this Parliament. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that, as a proposal for the relief of the farmers, the bill is an absolute farce.
.- The sensible and practical speeches of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) and the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) were in marked contrast to the observations of the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan), who has just resumed his seat. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) was careful not to introduce party bias into his speech, and severely castigated honorable members on either side whose interjections were calculated to arouse party feeling.
– I suppose the honorable member’s attitude is entirely nonparty ?
– It is, and I suggest to honorable members that this is preeminently a measure that should be submitted in a non-party spirit, because all parties are agreed that the position of the wheat-farmer is deplorable. The Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) has on several occasions availed himself of the valuable advice and assistance of the honorable members for Wimmera and Echuca, both of whom are generally recognized as authorities on the wheat-growing industry. The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) referred to the £6,000,000 that this bill offers to the farmers as “rotten paper money”. I remind him that during the war approximately £400,000,000 worth of this so-called “rotten paper money” was raised in
Australia. If that amount of fiduciary currency could be issued to help Australia play its part in the war, why cavil at a mere £6,000,000 to help the farmers out of the desperate plight in which they are to-day? Members of the Opposition would have us believe that the issue of £6,000,000 of paper money to lift the farmers out of their desperate position would ruin Australia, but if “ rotten paper money” was good enough to finance the war surely it should be good enough to meet the existing emergency in the wheat-growing industry. I can see no justification for opposition to a proposal to raise £6,000,000 for the purpose of lifting the farmers out of the mire.
The Government’s first legislative proposal for the assistance of wheatgrowers was the Wheat Marketing Bill which proposed a guarantee of 4s. a bushel for f.a.q. wheat at railway sidings. The offer of such a guarantee was justified by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) who, speaking on the second reading of the Wheat Marketing Bill, said : -
Having regard to the difficulties of the existing situation, and the invitations of the governments in those States in which wheat is grown, I am prepared to support the guarantee of a minimum price of 4s. a bushel for this season’s crop.
To-day the Deputy Leader (Mr. Gullett) said that the rejection of that bill was the best thing, that ever happened to Australia. The honorable member for Wimmera on the other hand said that the bill was “ unfortunately defeated in. another place.” Clearly, the honorable member differs from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The latter asked whence the money could have been obtained to finance the 4s. guarantee offered by the Government., He chooses to overlook the fact that the scheme to which he and his leader subscribed would have involved the Commonwealth in a much greater loss than would have arisen under the Wheat Marketing Bill. The wheat harvest for last season was approximately 205,000,000 bushels. If we allow 15,000,000 for seed wheat and fowl food, 190,000,000 bushels is left, of which 33,000,000 bushels would have been required for Australian consumption, leaving 157,000,000 bushels available for export. The guarantee under the wheat marketing scheme would have involved the Commonwealth in a loss of approximately 2s. a bushel on probably 157,000,000 bushels; no loss would have been sustained in respect of the 33,000,000 bushels gristed in Australia because the home market price would have been controlled by the pool. The scheme endorsed by the Leader of the Opposition and his deputy would have caused a loss of 2s. a bushel on 190,000,000 bushels, because the guarantee would have applied to all wheat marketed and no machinery was contemplated for the regulation of the home consumption price. Therefore, the loss under the Government’s scheme would have been less than under the proposal of the Opposition.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked where the money would have come from to finance the Government’s guarantee of 4s. a bushel. I ask him whence the money would have come to finance the greater loss that would have been involved in the proposal to which he and his leader subscribed. The Leader of the Opposition, having said in his second-reading speech that he was prepared to support a minimum price of 4s. a bushel for this season’s crop, went on to say -
I conclude by distinguishing again between the two proposals of the bill - the guarantee of 4s. a bushel which I am prepared to support and the compulsory pool to which I am strongly opposed.
There was then no question about raising the money to finance the Government’s proposal. All that the Leader of the Opposition objected to was the compulsory pool. He desired that the provision for a compulsory pool should be kept separate from the legislation providing for a minimum price of 4s. a bushel, and to that end he moved the following amendment : -
This House is of the opinion that while present circumstances justify a guarantee by the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States of a minimum price of 4s. a bushel for f.a.q. wheat, season 1930-31, delivered at rail sidings, legislation providing for such a guarantee should be introduced separately from any legislation providing for the establishment of a monopoly in the marketing of Australian wheat by means of a compulsory pool.
The wording of that amendment shows plainly that the Leader of the Opposition was prepared to support the payment of a minimum price of 4s. a bushel for wheat. He further stated -
If the Government persists in joining the guarantee with the compulsory pool, thus depriving the farmer of his freedom and of the opportunities for selling his production through any of the various agencies which at present exist, I shall be compelled to oppose the bill.
The ground on which the Leader of the Opposition opposed the Wheat Marketing Bill was the association of the compulsory pool with the guarantee of 4s. a bushel. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) at that time said -
I intend to support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham), which provides that the Commonwealth shall guarantee the price and itself meet any loss that may be incurred.
Where did the honorable member expect to find the money for that guarantee?
– We had the assurance of the Treasurer that the money could be found.
– Honorable members opposite knew that the money could be found, and had the bill passed through another place the wheat-farmers would to-day be obtaining 4s. a bushel for their wheat. Probably a measure of inflation would have been indulged in, of which the public would have heard little or nothing about. The Wheat Marketing Bill was passed through this chamber and rejected by another place. I congratulate the Country party in this House on having supported a Labour Government on that occasion. The only opposition to the bill came from members of the Nationalist party.
The next effort of the Commonwealth Government to assist the wheat-farmer3 was the introduction of a bill providing for a guarantee of 3s. a bushel. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) asked this ‘afternoon what had happened to that legislation. I understand that the Commonwealth Bank’s legal advisers questioned the validity of the measure to safeguard the bank against any loss incurred under the guarantee, and for that reason it did not function. The Government is now proposing to assist the farmers by a fiduciary issue of £6,000,000.. It was said this afternoon that, although this Government has attempted to assist the farmers, little or nothing has been done in that direction. But it is not the fault of this Government that something has not been done for the farmers. They are in a desperate position, but it cannot be denied that the Government is also in a desperate position in its effort to find the necessary finance to assist them.
This proposal to raise £6,000,000 is a drastic remedy to meet a desperate situation. Why should we cavil at raising a loan of £6,000,000 to assist the wheat-farmers in their terrible plight? We raised loans amounting to £380,000,000 for Australia’s operations in the Great War, without in any way involving this country in financial disaster. In view of that, why should the raising of £6,000,000 by a fiduciary issue be likely to bring Australia to ruin ? We are more likely to have financial disaster if we fail to assist the wheatgrowers. The security for this issue of £6,000,000 will be the keeping of the farmers on their holdings, and the guarantee of future crops. What will happen if the farmers are forced off the land?
– It will mean the ruination of Australia.
– Of course it will. The honorable member for Echuca said this afternoon that many farmers would this year be compelled to put in crops without superphosphates. I understand that the Victorian Government is assisting farmers in necessitous circumstances by guaranteeing payment for 50,000 tons of superphosphates to be delivered to necessitous farmers, who would otherwise be unable to obtain supplies because of the manufacturers insisting upon cash on delivery. The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) has said that the farmers want real money. I contend that this fiduciary issue, if it enables the farmers to put in their crops and to continue on their holdings, will be real money to them. They wish for nothing .more real than that, and they are not likely to take much notice of the bogies that have been raised by the honorable member for Darling Downs. I agree with the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) that costs of production should be reduced as far as possible to enable the farmers to export their wheat at a profit. I also agree that there is a moral obligation on the -Government to ‘help the farmers. The Commonwealth and State Governments appealed to them to grow more wheat. They responded loyally and now that wheat prices have collapsed it is up to the Government to see that the farmers receive a return covering at least the cost of production.
– Why has not the Government done something for the farmers ?
– Because it has been thwarted in every direction by the party to which the honorable member belongs. The farmers themselves realize that position and refuse to tolerate it any longer. I agree with the honorable member for Wimmera that the primary producer should be assisted in every way by means of the tariff. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) has asked why should the farmers complain of the sales tax, seeing that they have no- sales. They have no sales because of the primage unities and other burdens under which they are labouring to-day. Therefore, as far as possible, the farmers should be given every assistance by means of the tariff. Certain honorable members opposite who, when the Wheat Marketing Bill was before the House, were prepared to support the proposal to guarantee 4s. a bushel for wheat at railway sidings, are now contending that the scheme was fantastic; but it is easy to be wise after the event. The honorable member for Darling Downs referred to the fiduciary issue as rotten paper money, but let me remind him that Australia was able to play its part in the Great War only by raising a loan of £380,000,000 - most of it fiduciary money. That loan did not ruin Australia, sp there is no reason to suppose that the raising of a mere £6,000,000 to relieve the desperate plight of the wheat-farmers of Australia is likely to have any harmful effect upon this country,
– The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) and the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) have ably and fully stated the case for Government assistance to the wheat industry. The pictures that they drew of the deplorable conditions of the wheat-farmers were in no way exaggerated. Their references to the Victorian farmers apply equally to the wheatfarmers of New South Wales, and particularly those of the dryer districts. The western part of the Riverina has suffered three successive years of drought. Many farmers have grown no wheat at all. Others have obtained only small crops, some quarter crops, and a few half crops. The average throughout those three years of drought would not be anything like a quarter crop. Last year throughout the greater part of the season the rains came and the crops in a great part of the Riverina were good; but in the western part, because of the lack of spring rains, the crops, to a great extent, failed, and the farmers there suffered their fourth year of drought, many of them not getting even half crops. Following the disaster of the droughts came the disaster of the fall in price. When the farmers had no wheat or very little wheat to sell, the price was high, but when they had plenty of wheat to sell the price fell to a figure which made wheat-growing unprofitable. Two such calamities have never previously followed each other in the history of Australia. To-day, the farmers, through no fault of their own, are in a desperate position. Because they responded to the appeal of the Prime Minister to grow more wheat, they are heavily in debt. They hoped that the promised price of 4s. per bushel would enable them to recover from past troubles, and many of them incurred debt in order to sow the largest possible area. If they had not sown such a large area, their debts would not have been so heavy. But, to-day, those who sowed the largest area are the most deeply in debt.
The urgent need of the moment for these men is fertilizers for use in sowing their crop for the coming season. Unless immediate assistance can be given them they will have to sow without fertilizers, which will mean a very poor crop, or else they will not sow any crop at all.
To my mind, the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) has indicated in his amendment the only means by which adequate assistance can be given to the farmers. It is futile for us to persist with this bill, for it is well known that there is not the slightest prospect of it being passed in another place. If the
Government desires to do something useful for the farmers, it should make provision for the imposition of a sales tax on flour. So far as we know the only reason why it will not do so is that it fears an increase in the price of bread. But the honorable member for Echuca has shown clearly that the price of bread is higher now than it should be, and that the imposition of the proposed tax should not cause an advance in price. Even if the tax is imposed the price of flour will be considerably lower than it is to-day in Queensland and New Zealand where the price of bread is no higher than it is in the southern States of Australia. If this extra taxation caused an increase of id. or $d. per loaf, it would be well worth while if it were the means of granting assistance to the wheat-farmers. The alternative to the granting of such assistance is that the farmers should cease growing wheat. This would mean the abandonment of holdings, and many other deplorable troubles. If the farmers ceased wheat-growing, we should have to import wheat to make flour, and the price of bread would then be double what it is now. That would be inevitable.
The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones) said truly that if the Government allows the farmers to leave their holdings, the result will be calamitous. In my opinion, the farmers will be forced off their holdings, and the disaster predicted by the honorable member for Indi will occur, unless the proposed sales tax on flour is imposed. The Government has it within its power by this means to give immediate aid to our wheat-farmers, who are to-day the most sorely tried section of the community. If the wheat-farmers are relieved, all classes of the community will also be assisted, for it will be possible to continue producing wheat at a reasonable price and this will mean that bread will be sold at a reasonable price. The people in the cities are realizing to-day as they have never before done the extent to which they are dependent for their prosperity upon our primary producers. Sydney is feeling the pinch of an unprecedented depression. Empty houses are to be seen everywhere, and many houses are occupied by tenants who cannot pay their rent or can pay only a fraction .of the rent they previously paid. I, therefore, urge the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) to accept the amendment of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), for it will not only make possible the granting of relief to the wheat-growers, who, next to the wool-growers, are the most important section of primary producers in Australia, but it will also assist every other resident of Australia.
– The subject-matter of this bill does not interest me quite as. much as it should interest the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen), for there are not many wheat-farmers in my constituency; but I realize the importance of the wheatgrowing industry to Australia, and believe that the Government should do its best to help our farmers to overcome their difficulties. It gives me, as a commonplace philosopher, a good deal of concern to notice that the honorable members who represent agricultural communities in this House can look at this subject in such a two-faced manner. They pretend to be anxious to help the farmers, but refuse to adopt the only means by which they can be helped. I am at a loss to understand how they can deceive the farmers as they are doing. The farming community, however, is intelligent, and it will not be misled by the sophistry or hypocrisy of honorable members opposite.
The speech just delivered by the honorable member for Riverina reminded me of a story I heard years ago of the daughter of a certain farmer who would not marry the son of a neighbouring farmer, because he lived near a river, and she was afraid that their children might be drowned. The wedding was postponed so long that in the end there were no children to drown. The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) pretends to be anxious to help the farmers, but he has talked a lot of cant and humbug about the money which the Government is endeavouring to find for this purpose being nothing but “ rotten paper.” The honorable member for Riverina is one of the fortunate people in this country who, by fortuitous circumstances, have been able to make money on the land. He is now misrepresenting the prj.rn.aiy producers in this chamber,. I am ashamed that he and others who hold similar views to his own should insult Australia by saying that the money which the Commonwealth Government desires to put in circulation would be valueless and useless for the purpose of helping the farmers. It is a disgrace and a scandal that such things should be said. For my own part, I should be quite willing to accept the I.O.U. of the honorable member and try to negotiate it. If I found that it was valueless, I should then tell the honorable member what I thought of him. The Government endeavoured to pay the farmers 4s. per bushel for their wheat, but its efforts in that direction were nullified by the Opposition in this Parliament. The Opposition claims that the Government could not find the money. Then why did it seek to save the Government from such a humiliating position. These gentlemen are now trying to tell us that the money which the Government would have paid for the wheat would have been useless. Why they should seek to humiliate this Parliament, and carry their hostility to a Labour government to such lengths, I cannot understand. We have been told that the Government should be put out of office, because it has failed to assist the farmers, and now we are being told that it should be put out of office because the money it wishes to provide for the assistance of the primary producers is not acceptable to certain sections of the community. It has been said that if a government composed of certain honorable members opposite could be placed on the Treasury bench it would be possible to get sufficient money to assist the farmers. But there are nearly as many parties opposite as there are members. We are being told to-day that a government formed by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) would command the confidence of the people.
– I rise to a point of order. We are discussing the Wheat Bill and I submit that the honorable member’s remarks have nothing to do with this subject.
– I presume that the honorable member intends to connect his remarks with the bill.
– I certainly intend to do so. I propose to show how futile it is to expect a government supported by honorable members opposite to grant any real relief to the farmers. To this end I wish to read a quotation from a speech by Mr. Lyons on party loyalty. The extract is as follows: -
Mr. J. A. LYONS, M.H.R.
His Views on Party Loyalty.
Those who are now acclaiming the ex-Labour member, Mr. Lyons, as Australia’s new leader may be interested to read his opinion on party loyalty and the fate of Labour breakaways.
– Does the honorable member intend to connect these remarks with the bill?
– I believe that I shall be able to convince you, sir, that I am using a most potent argument in support of the bill-
In the Hobart (Tasmania) Daily Post, 16th November, 1916, Mr. Lyons was reported as having said : “ Experience has shown that those who had at any time departed from the Labour movement, after having formed part of it, had invariably failed to block the growth and progress of the movement. As a matter of fact, very few men have survived as politicians who have stepped out of the Labour ranks. Having failed their own party, the opposite party has but a cold affection for them and cannot be expected to show confidence in them.”
Mr. Lyons, speaking at the Hobart Domain, also said, referring to the breakaway of Senator Ogden from the Labour party-
– Order !
– “ Senator Ogden comes into the city to-day, and has no one to bid him welcome. He will go out to-morrow, and there will not be one to bid him Godspeed.”
– Order! The honorable member is transgressing the Standing Orders and defying the direction of the Chair. The loyalty of Senator Ogden has nothing to do with the subject matter of the bill. I ask the honorable member not to proceed along those lines.
– I have concluded the quotation. I may say, sir, that although I may not have been clear in my enunciation, you will realize its significance and relevance when you read it in Hansard. You will then realize that I am right and you are wrong. At present the farmers are in a desperate position. Attempts have been made by those who claim to be their friends, to assist them, but the Opposition have stood relentlessly in their way. What would be the position if this measure became law? The issue of fiduciary notes would be of great benefit to the wheat-farmers. I heard of a farmer who has £800 worth of wheat and who possesses a property valued at £3,000, who is unable to buy a loaf of bread. That farmer was anxious to purchase £200 worth of sheep to place them on the stubble to fatten them for market, but was unable to do so because financial accommodation was not available. If it had been he would have been able to make a profit of about 50 per cent, on his purchase. But he could not buy the sheep because credit could not be obtained. On the other hand, there are farmers in Cooma and Adaminaby who have more sheep then they can feed, and who are anxious to make a deal with the man who has the pasture available. The sale could not be effected because the financial system of the country would not enable the farmer who had the feed to get sufficient credit from the banks to make the purchase. Therefore, the man who has the sheep and who cannot provide the feed has to allow them to starve, while the man who has the feed cannot purchase the sheep because he cannot obtain credit. If the Commonwealth Bank was to make credit available the farmer would be able to go to the bank and obtain, say, £300, which would not be paid to him in cash. Probably it would be in notes - not necessarily fiduciary - or he might simply be given credit. In effect, all that would happen would be that the credit would be made available to the man who wished to purchase the sheep. Probably no money would change hands at all. The person who desired to purchase the sheep would be given credit, and payment in the form of a cheque would be handed to the seller, who would probably bank it in the same bank the following day. The cheque would simply be a via media to enable the sheep to be shifted from paddocks where there was no feed to a spot where ample pasture was available. The transaction is a simple one. It would not involve the production of gold or notes, but would simply mean a book entry. Honorable members should not imagine that actual cash would be handed over in such cases; it would simply be a matter of providing credit.
This country is suffering to-day because there is no possibility of releasing credits, irrespective of the value of the securities available. We are suffering the result.’! of a financial famine, in consequence of which the wheat-growers particularly are experiencing great hardships. We have heard at times of action being taken under very old statutes, passed even as far back as the time of Charles I. Let us consider the conditions which existed in this country hundreds of years ago when “King Billy” was in supreme control. Would the aborigines in those day have allowed themselves to starve when opossums and snakes on which they fed were plentiful, simply because money -was not available as a medium of exchange? There were no fiduciary notes in those days, but the aborigines would not allow themselves to starve when snakes and opossums were available. The other night I dreamt that I was on the summit of Mount Ainslie, where I discovered a library which contained valuable data, and records of events which occurred 4,000 years ago. To me the library appeared second only to that at Alexandria which was destroyed by the Calif Omar. I also dreamt that somewhere in the vicinity of the Molonglo there was a sanctuary for snakes. The tribal laws at that time provided that any one who killed a snake within the sanctuary would have his eyes! pushed out. r
– What did the honorable member have for supper?
– The honorable member also came into my dream. He was welcoming such persons as Niemeyer and Professor “ Duckenheim “-
– I rise to a point of order. I should like to know, Mr. Speaker, whether opossums, snakes, sheep, Calif Omar, children drowning in creeks, Niemeyer, and Professor “ Duckenheim “ are associated with the subject matter of the bill.
– The honorable member for EdenMonaro must confine his remarks to the bill, and express himself so as to comply with the Standing Orders.
– I submit that as it has been contended by honorable members opposite that the fiduciary notes, which it is proposed to make available to assist the wheat-farmers, will not provide a means of financing transactions between the producer and the consumer, I am justified in showing by way of illustration that the laws under which we live permit people to starve in a land of plenty. I am showing that under conditions which existed hundreds of years ago the aborigines would not think of starving when ample food was available. The laws which existed then were more humanitarian than those in operation to-day, under which people are permitted to starve in the midst of plenty. It occurred to me that the illustration would be most edifying even to men like the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), who I believe has recently been prepared to place upon the grey hairs of his brow a crown of political stinkworts.
– Order ! The honorable member must not indulge in personalities.
– I deprecate them myself, but when at war one is justified in using the weapons of one’s opponents. Under the laws which obtained in Australia more than a hundred years ago no aborigine would go hungry while food was available, and some such law should be in operation to-day. In those days the way in which a young queen displayed her scansorial ability in obtaining food for the aged and infirm who could not secure their own was the admiration of the tribe and in that way she endeared herself to her people. The present system of government is crude. When there is an abundance of clothing, food and shelter the people should not be deprived of such necessities simply because credits are not available. Why do we not establish credits? It is recognized by every political economist - I do not profess to be one of great significance, but I am a financial authority in some respects, and also a financial diagnostician - that credits should be made available to enable the producer to make his products available to the consumer. Credit, which is money, can be created by a bank or a government by a stroke of the pen. If the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) went to the Commonwealth Bank to-morrow, and asked for credit of £1,000 in order to purchase sheep of that value to prevent them from starving, credit could be made available by a book entry. The purchase of sheep to that value would increase the food supply, provide work for drovers, and enable the Government to collect a sales
– Order ! The bill provides for the payment of a bounty on the production of wheat, for the making of loans to necessitous wheat-growers, and for other purposes. The honorable member must keep within the confines of the measure.
– As a nation we are producing more food than we can consume. In Great Britain there is open to us a very large market, and a bounty that would enable us to transport our surplus production to that country would be exceedingly valuable. The best means of discrediting the Government would be to prove the proposed bounty a failure. Let it be given a trial. If it should fail, honorable members opposite would have the satisfaction of knowing that their criticism was justified.
According to a report that has appeared in the public press, an ex-Minister of the Commonwealth, Mr. Jensen, who is now a member of the Tasmanian Parliament, has recounted the fact that on one occasion during the Prime Ministership of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), while that gentleman was in America, a cable was sent to Australia by Great Britain asking to be supplied immediately with £10,000,000 worth of gold, and stating that a letter would follow the cable explaining why it was- required. The Cabinet met and deliberated upon the matter. Although, in its opinion, the amount of gold in Australia did not represent 25 per cent, of the then currency, they took whatever risk was involved in further depleting the gold reserve and complied with the request of the Government of Great Britain. The letter with which that Government followed up its cable disclosed the fact that the gold was needed to purchase wheat from the Argentine, because that country would not supply it unless payment was made in that form. This incident shows the fallacy of the propaganda that is being indulged in against the issue of fiduciary notes; because a certain proportion of the currency in circulation at that time must have been fiduciary in its nature on account of the fact that the gold reserve was depleted below the statutory requirement. But, notwithstanding that fact, they were successful in meeting the needs of the nation. Similarly, the fiduciary notes that the Government now desires to issue will prove successful in alleviating the burden of the existing depression. I understand that at a later date, when Great Britain required a further supply of wheat, Australia tendered for the contract, but lost it to the Argentine, whose price was lower to the extent of -Jd a bushel. If we were tendering to-day, and our farmers were given a bounty of 6d. a bushel, other nations would have to produce their wheat at more than 6d. a bushel below our price in order to outbid us. The granting of a bounty would possibly result in the circulation of £9,000,000 or £10,000,000. All that the Government proposes is that the farmers shall have credit made available to them. Why is it being withheld from them? Because in another part of this building there are men who are prepared to support the financiers. They urge that if the Government’s proposal is agreed to the value of money may be reduced. The financiers to-day want to lend money to the farmers at an interest rate of 6 per cent. Where do they propose to get it? Will they borrow it? It will be merely paper money. They are afraid of their profits being reduced. The amount on deposit in the private banks is approximately £400,000,000, and it is loaned out mostly to farmers. A reduction of 2 per cent, would mean a loss to them of £8,000,000 a year. There is plenty of money available, but honorable members opposite will see that the farmers do not get it at a cheap rate. Australia must see to it that the stranglehold which these financiers have upon the community is loosened. It is the policy of the Government to make money cheap for the farmers. If its proposal should prove ineffective or financially unsound, the Government must fall. I urge honorable members opposite to “ give it a spin.” The farmers are waiting for it. Let them not try to pull the wool over their eyes any longer. I do not think they will be able to do so, because the farmers are becoming more enlightened. The Farmers and Settlers Journal is subsidized by those who .are afraid of money becoming cheap, and prints articles which deceive the farmers. They have been deceived for years, and have been regarded as the only section of the community upon whose credulity Nationalists can impose. But the straits in which they now find themselves will compel them to accept the proposals of the Government for their relief. If honorable members opposite were in power they would possibly be able to raise money at 6 per cent., but that is not what is wanted. It is the £1,000,000 a week interest bill that now crushes Australia. It is the interest charge that is ruining Australia to-day. Yet honorable members opposite would add to it, so as to make the financiers more prosperous at the expense of the sweat and blood of the farmer. They are now being offered an opportunity to provide the farmer with cheap money. Why should they stand up in this House and hypocritically pretend that they are studying the interests of the farmer?
– Order !
– I use the term in a political sense only.
– Its use is not permissible even in a political sense.
– Had the Government been fortunate enough to be elected some time ago with a majority in both Houses, the payment of 4s. a bushel would be the law of this country to-day. The farmers must realize that the reason why they have not been given that measure of relief is that, under the Constitution, obsolete members of another place have been enabled to prevent the passage of the Government’s legislation. With the assistance of a cock-eyed press, those members have been able to make the farmers believe that they have been studying their interests. Very soon the farmers will be disillusioned. Many of the older men will die of starvation because of the action of honorable members opposite, and of their friends in another place. Their successors will be more enlightened, better educated, and will not be deceived by the sophistry that has succeeded so well in the past.
It is necessary to pass this measure as quickly as possible, so that the financial stranglehold may be removed from the neck of Australia. If it were possible for such an incongruous body to do so, the Opposition should rise as one man, and with one voice declare to the Opposition in another place that unless it ceases its obstructive tactics it will incur the full extent of the wrath of the suffering farming community. The conditions in Australia are desperate, because the Government has the misfortune to be unable to enact its legislation. A man who has in his veins 14 lb. of blood ought to be healthy; but if the application of ligatures prevents the circulation of his blood he is rendered a prey to various diseases. The blood flow of Australia is represented by credits, production, and the will power of those who have made’ it prosperous. If credits are made available the blood of the nation will circulate. The making available of credits would be similar to the untieing of ligatures. Should that occur, the nation will be healthy. Let those who have tied the ligatures realize that they are responsible for the diseases from which the nation is suffering. If honorable members opposite rise to their responsibilities, and recognize how inhuman they are when they stand in the way of progress, the recovery of the nation will be speedy.
.- The honorable member who has just resumed his seat remarked that there were not many farmers in his district. I should say that it is fortunate for the farmers that that is so. He likened the wheatgrower to a drowning man, and said that if a boat were not available with which to save him, we should hand him a plank, or give him any assistance that was available to avert disaster. I suggest that one of the things which it would be unwise to throw to the struggling wheat-farmer is a bar of lead, to which some honorable members on this side consider that the proposed fiduciary currency might well be likened. It is not my intention to-night to review the tragic results of the efforts of the past year to assist the wheat-grower. I have no desire to make a post mortem examination of the measures that have been submitted to this Parliament. Prior to the Easter adjournment, the honorable mem ber for Calare (Mr. Gibbons) said, in effect, that any honorable member who objected to this bill must be unfamiliar with the needs of the farmers or must oppose the measure for political reasons. The farmers in my own district, up to a year ago, had experienced three years of drought, and many of them had had no crops at all, while in the present year a great number of crops have been more or less spoilt by rust. Therefore it is not necessary for me to be told how great is the need of the farmers in my own district, or in that represented by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). If I intended to oppose this bill-
– Has not the honorable member yet made up his mind on the matter ?
– I have, and I do not need a caucus to make it up for me. One well acquainted with the farmers’ needs might conceivably oppose the measure, not on account of what the bill itself contains, but because of the statement of the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) that the Fiduciary Notes Bill is the pivotal measure round which all the other Government proposals revolve. I approach the consideration of this bill without regard to anything that the Treasurer has said : I take the measure as it stands, and I can support it because it contains no reference whatever to the proposed fiduciary currency. I do not understand the statement of the honorable member for Calare that one might oppose the measure for political reasons, since the boast heard from the Government benches is that the farmers want the bill. If any member opposed it on the ground that it was associated with a fiduciary currency, he would, according to the arguments used by Government supporters, be doing something to his political disadvantage. If the measure made provision for assistance to the farmers only by means of a fiduciary currency I would oppose it. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones) remarked that the late war was financed to the extent of £380,000,000 by means of loans, and he asked why we could not to-day find £6,000,000 for the relief of the farmers. I hope to answer that question in the course of my remarks. There is a good reason why we cannot do that.
– It is because the side on which the honorable member now sits was too long in office.
– I am now on the side of the people of Australia. I stand here to-night, as an independent member, using what power I have in the interests of the people generally. Since the late war the debt of this country has increased to the extent of nearly another £400,000,000. The loans raised during the war period are not comparable with the proposed fiduciary currency. The present proposal for providing £6,000,000 for the farming community, and £12,000,000 for the unemployed, is merely a preliminary stage. I shall not quote instructions I received from the South Australian Labour party as to the action to be taken whenever a loan was due for renewal. The currency of this country was to be used, and these loans wiped out progressively as they fell due. Owing to what has not been revealed there is danger in the proposal of the Government for a fiduciary currency.
– The scheme to pay 4s. a bushel, as agreed to by the Leader of the Opposition, would have cost a great deal more than £6,000,000.
– Not in the light of things at the time of the original proposals of the Government. I do not accuse Ministers of insincerity in the matter of assisting the farmers. I know that a number of members opposite really desire to help them; but the majority of the supporters of the Government are not so much concerned about assisting the farmers as with the initiation of a scheme for the provision of easy money. The farmer and his need is only one of the levers to be used in making that easy money available.
– Would the bill help the farmer to put in his crop ?
– If the Government had’ the confidence of the people, it would have no difficulty in raising a loan sufficient to provide for the planting of crops throughout the length and breadth of the country. If confidence were restored by a change of government it, would still be possible to do something for the wheat-farmers, but, unfortunately, it is too late to help some of them, because their planting time has arrived. It has been stated that some of them have put in their seed wheat without superphosphate. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey) has announced that he intends to support the bill because, so he says, it is the only chance of giving relief to our farmers. Does any honorable member supporting the Government believe that the Fiduciary Notes Bill will be accepted in another place? They are, of course, well aware that it will not pass the Senate, and that, therefore, the farmers will not be able to obtain any relief under this bill. The honorable member for Grey added that he would be prepared to sit up all night in order to ensure the speedy passage of this bill. That statement I regard as so much “ eye wash “. If he is really sincere in his desire to assist our primary producers, let him urge the Government to provide the House with an opportunity to discuss the various tariff schedules which are hindering and hampering our farmers.
– The honorable gentleman will not be permitted to discuss the tariff.
– Our primary producers have been waiting in vain for assistance from this Government. We know that the Fiduciary Notes Bill will not be passed by another place. We know also that this bill will be useless unless the proposal submitted by representatives of the Country party, for a sales tax on flour, is incorporated in it. A sales tax of £2 10s. per ton is equal to only about id. per lb. This should not make much difference to the cost of bread. At the most, the increase would be ii. for a 2-lb. loaf., If that scheme were adopted, the Commonwealth Bank would be prepared to finance it.
– And it would do that immediately.
– I am sure it would.
– Does the honorable member say that the Commonwealth Bank would provide finance immediately?
– Yes, by inflation.
– Then the bank, by withholding finance at the present time, is strangling the farmers.
– The difference between the proposal made by the Country party and the Government’s scheme is that, under the proposed sales tax, the amount of liability would be progressively reduced as returns from the tax were received, and at the expiration of five years the total liability would be liquidated and the inflation cancelled. In reality, it would not mean inflation. Such a scheme is necessary, it is practical, and it will afford immediate relief.
Earlier in the debate the Minister in charge of the bill (Mr. Parker Moloney) declared that all State Ministers of Agriculture were opposed to the imposition of a sales tax on flour. Does he include the Minister for Agriculture in South Australia? The Minister is silent. We may therefore assume that his statement, as regards South Australia at all events, is incorrect. As a matter of fact the Minister for Agriculture in that State was prepared to support a much higher tax than is suggested by members of the Country party in this House. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan), referring to those of us who have severed our connexion with the Labour party in this chamber, implied that we had supported the Government for eighteen months without saving the country. The fact is that during the whole of that time notice was not taken of many proposals which we urged should be incorporated in Government policy for the benefit of the people. The honorable member for Kennedy knows very well what I mean. He and other Government supporters must admit that if the Labour party had followed the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fenton), and the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons), in their budget proposals, Australia would not be at present in -such an unsatisfactory financial position. The honorable member for Kennedy also sneeringly declared that we were posing as the saviours of our country, and went on to remind us that we would do well if we could save ourselves in the next three months. I hope that the Government will give us an immediate opportunity to test the feeling of the people concerning recent events. But, as we know, Ministers are determined to cling to office ; they will have to be scraped off the treasury bench. I am prepared at any time to face a general election. I shall then be free of all party pledges. I remind Government supporters, who declare that in supporting this bill their one desire is to assist the farmers, that, just prior to the adjournment in December the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde), under direction from caucus brought down an export duty on sheepskins. Need I tell the House what happened inside the party room in regard to that matter?
– The bill contains no reference whatever to an export duty on sheepskins. I, therefore, cannot allow the honorable member to discuss that subject.
– Very well, Mr. Speaker, I shall not pursue it further.
The Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) has lately been quoting, with a good deal of approval, the views of Professor Copland in support of his fiduciary notes scheme. I may, therefore, be excused if I read the following extract from a statement by Professor Copland which appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser on the 5th March last : -
An amount of £6,000,000 is to be used for farm relief, and there is admittedly a strong case for some relief to the farmers. It will be well, however, to realize that the relief offered in this way may increase the farmer’s difficulties and force him to be a suppliant for further relief. There is nothing in the proposal to suggest that costs of production will fall. On the contrary it has been shown that taxation will have to be increased on account of the higher Government payments. The farmer will, therefore, be left in his present position with high internal costs and low export prices. It cannot be too often reiterated that the export prices of farm products have fallen by about 50 per cent., while there has been no substantial reduction in industrial products, produced behind the natural shelter of the tariff wall in Australia.
I commend that statement of Professor Copland, particularly to the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones). Every form of inflation, whether disguised as an issue of fiduciary currency or otherwise, has, in the past, been associated with a rise in price levels. France’s experience showed that with an increase of five times in the amount of currency there followed a rise in price levels to the extent of five and a half times. If our currency is inflated, the farmers will have to continue selling their products in the markets of the world on the basis of deflated world currency. Whatever is done with the currency in Australia cannot alter that position. If we increase production costs, there is a danger that the last state of the farmers will be worse than the first, and that before long they will be coming to the Government again as suppliants for further relief.
I intend to support the bill because there is in it no reference to a fiduciary currency. In doing so I wonder, however, whether I am not in some way helping further to fool the farmers. I do not wish to do that. I say to the farmers from my place in this House that they have no chance of receiving assistance from the present Commonwealth Government, and they might as well recognize that fact. However, we now have this proposal before us, and the Country party is hopeful of amending it by associating with it the imposition of a sales tax on flour to provide funds for the relief of wheat-farmers. I hope that the Government may yet be persuaded to do something along those lines. In that hope I propose to support the bill, at the same time making it plain that if it contained any reference to a fiduciary currency I should certainly oppose it.
Debate (on the motion by Mr. Cunningham) adjourned.
Australian REPRESENTATION at International Labour Conference - REPORT or Sugar Investigation Committee - New South Wales Interest Payments.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
After consultation with the industrial organizations concerned, the Commonwealth Government has appointed Mr. T. M. W. Eady and Mr. Robert Taylor, to act as delegates representing the employers and workers respectively, at the forthcoming International Labour Conference at Geneva. This year it is not proposed to appoint a Government delegate to attend the conference.
.- Is it the intention of the Prime Minister to afford honorable members an opportunity of discussing both the minority and majority reports of the Sugar Investigation Committee, and of voting on the recommendations ?
.- Honorable members must have heard with, interest the announcement of the Prime Minister with respect to the representation of the Commonwealth at the International Labour Conference. I am aware that every effort must be made to reduce expenditure at the present time, and I should like to know whether the gentlemen, who are to represent Australia are being sent from this country or whether, on the other hand, they are at present on the other side of the world. In the past it has often been found possible to appoint as a representative some one who has been travelling abroad, and who was qualified to attend the conference. I regret that it is not proposed to have a Government delegate this year. It costs only a small sum to send a representative from London to the conference. While the International Labour Organization has not functioned in such a way as to please everybody up to the present, I am convinced that it is highly desirable, particularly for a country like Australia which regards itself as advanced in industrial affairs, to do everything possible to improve industrial conditions all over the world. This should be done, not only for humanitarian reasons, but also for economic reasons, having in mind ‘ the welfare of Australia.
– Is it not a fact that most of the decisions arrived at by the conference can be put into operation in Australia only as a result of State legislation ?
– That is so, owing to the distribution of industrial powers between the Commonwealth and the States. That, however, does not dispose of the obligation of the’ Commonwealth to keep abreast of industrial developments, and to make a contribution towards raising industrial standards in other countries. That has been the tendency of the International Labour Conference since its inception. Therefore, I ask the Prime Minister whether it would not be possible to have Mr. Fuhrman, who is now in London, to represent the Commonwealth at the conference, as he hai represented it upon other occasions. Australia will cut a rather poor figure as compared with other countries if we are represented at the conference only by nominees of employers and employees. I suggest that, unless there is a satisfactory reason for acting otherwise, the Government should take steps to have a direct Government representative at the conference.
– This afternoon I asked a question regarding the payment of interest by the New South Wales Government. I understand that that Government intends to pay 3 per cent, interest on various Australian loans negotiated for it during previous years, and also upon loans raised in America. So far our only information in this regard has been received from the newspapers, and I should like to have an authoritative statement from the Prime Minister.
– The New South Wales Government is to pay the full amount of interest due on American loans.
– This interest was due on the 1st April, and as April is now considerably advanced I should like to know whether the Commonwealth Government has received any definite information regarding what is taking place ? This matter is of importance, not only to the people of New South Wales, but to those of the Commonwealth as a whole.
– I hope that some day next week an opportunity will be given to honorable members to discuss the sugar agreement.
I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) regarding the importance of the International Labour Conference at Geneva, and it is only because it is necessary to exercise economy even in small matters that the Government has decided not to send a direct representative, even though one might be sent from London. After all, if the employers and employees are represented at the conference, Australia’s representation will be fairly complete. We are fortunate that the gentleman chosen to represent the employers is already abroad on a trip, but the representative of the employees is in Brisbane, and will be sent from here.
In regard to the payment of interest by New South Wales, I understand, but cannot say definitely at the moment, that the interest for April has been paid on loans raised in the United States of America. I do not think that anything has been done to reduce the rate of Australian interest, but I shall know more definitely when I inquire at the Treasury.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 April 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19310414_reps_12_128/>.