12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and offered prayers.
– With reference to the regulations under the Transport Workers Act recently disallowed by the Senate, in view of the desirability of removing all uncertainty as quickly as possible, will the Attorney-General take every possible step to expedite the hearing of the appeal from the decision of the police magistrate, which, I understand, the Commonwealth proposes to lodge?
– Is the AttorneyGeneral aware that no notification has yet been sent to the Premier of Victoria of the vacancy in the representation of that State on account of the death of Senator H. E. Elliott? In order that the people of Victoria shall not continue to be without their full representation in another place, will the Attorney-General see that the usual notification of the vacancy is sent to the Premier of the State?
– So far as the matter concerns my department, I shall have inquiries made.
– Will the Prime Minister, at an early date, inform the House of the decision of the Government regarding the future of the Elcho Training Farm for migrants ?
– I shall make a statement to the House at an early date.
– A newspaper cablegram from New York in December last reported the Minister for Markets as having said that, unfortunately, the friendly relations between America and Australia were not reflected in the constantly diminishing export trade from Australia. He continued -
I hope that when I have an opportunity of speaking with the American Minister for Commerce at Washington it will be possible to arrive at a more equitable adjustment.
If that is a correct report, will the Minister say whether he was successful in arriving at a more, equitable adjustment?
– I met the American Minister for Commerce, and, as a result of our discussions, we agreed that the United States of America and the Commonwealth should exchange proposals for improving their trade relations. Those negotiations are proceeding.
– In view of the possibility of an international organization granting loans to impecunious nations under what is known as the Norman plan, will the Treasurer investigate the possibility of Australia participating in such assistance so that the inflation policy of the Government may be abandoned?
– I shall have the matter investigated.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral consult the Tasmanian Steamers Proprietary Limited with a view to an arrangement similar to that made last year whereby the Nairana will be restored to the Bass Strait service as from the first week of August?
– Representations on that subject have been already made to me by the Honorary Minister (Mr. Culley). The matter is being investigated, with every prospect of success.
– I ask the Prime Minister what has become of the report of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) on Australia House?
– The honorable member for Reid is ready to place his report on the table of the House, and is anxious to make some explanatory remarks regarding it. The Government, too, is desirous of affording the honorable member that opportunity, and I hope that it will be possible to do so this week.
– Has he the right to lay a report on the table?
– Having regard to the concern of certain Australian war pensioners resident in the United Kingdom, who fear that their pensions will be adversely affected by the exchange rate, will the Treasurer make a statement to the House on the subject?
– The matter is at present under the consideration of the Government, but no decision regarding it has yet been reached.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
With reference to a question concerning alleged poisoning of the Cairns water supply, asked by the honorable member for Herbert on the 18th December, 1914, and the reply thereto by the Minister of External Affairs (Hansard. Vol. LXXVI, page 2270) -
1 ) Will the Minister lay the file concerning the matter on the table of the Library?
) Will he also state whether inquiries were made into the matter, as promised, and, if so, will he lay the result of such inquiries on the table of the Library ?
– I will look into this matter, and furnish a reply to the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
With reference to the press statements in connexion with the exhibition of mineral resources at the Imperial Institute, South Kensington, England, at which extensive exhibits of metals were made by all States of the Commonwealth, and in view of the special stress laid on the importance of a metal known as “ Tantalum “, and the statement that samples of only mica and copper came from Central Australia, will the Minister state -
1 ) Is it a fact that in the Northern Territory there are known deposits of tantalite containing “ Tantalum “, which are capable of supplying the world’s present demand?
What is being done by the Government to find markets for this rare metal?
Who was responsible for the paltry exhibits of mineral wealth of the territory at the exhibition mentioned? (4)Is it a fact that the Northern Territory contains almost every mineral known ?
Why were samples of the various metals not sent to the exhibition, with a view to attracting attention to the mineral wealth of the territory?
– I shall furnish answers to the honorable member’s questions as soon as possible.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Is it a fact that it cost £928,000 in bank charges to remit £3,800,000 in payment of Government debts?
– Under the exchange pool arrangements the Commonwealth pays to the pool the actual cost of purchasing London cover plus 7s. 6d. per cent, for bank charge. In March, the total remittancesby the Commonwealth were £3,274,405, and the cost of exchange was £30 7s. 6d. per cent., or a total of £994,601. Of this amount, 7s. 6d. per cent., or £12,279, represented the bank charges and the balance of £982,322 would go to the benefit of exporters. There ‘was a refund from the pool of £67,375 in respect of transactions prior to March, and the net cost of exchange to the Commonwealth in March was £927,226.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
Willhe make available for perusal by the honorable member for the Northern Territory the file in connexion with the pearling industry of North Australia, Western Australia and Thursday Island, together with the reports of a conference held recently with representatives of these throe pearling centres?
– The file will be available for perusal by the honorable member at my office at any time.
– On the 26th March the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) asked me the following questions, upon notice -
Has the lessee of “ Fairy Meadow “ had sheep agistment in the Territory during the whole term, or, if not the whole then what part of the period, during which he has been lessee of “Fairy Meadow”; if so-
I am now in a position to advise him as follows : -
– Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition asked me a question regarding the printing of the reports of the Sugar Inquiry Committee, and I promised to have inquiries made. I am advised that, in accordance with the usual practice, such reports will ultimately be issued as one complete document. It was not, however, possible to complete, before the House reassembled’, the printing of the minority report, as it was necessary to send certain attachments to the Government Printing Office, Melbourne, for reproduction. In these circumstances, and in view of the great demand for copies, the officials of the House issued to members advance copies of the majority report, which it was possible to make available. It is anticipated that the balance of the document will be available at a very early date.
The following papers were presented : -
Tariff Board-Reports and Recommendations -
Aircraft and Aircraft Parts.
Bags and Cornsacks.
Boots and Shoes.
Castor Oil Beans and Castor Oil.
Copper, Brass and Aluminium Wire, Pipes and Tubes, &c.
Cordage, Rope and Twines.
Effect on manufacture of high-grade boots and shoes in Australia of the duties imposed on high-grade leather.
Jute, Hemp and Flax Yarns.
Leather-covered Tobacco Pouches.
Leather Manufactures, n.e.i., &c.
Paints, Colours, Enamels, Varnishes, Ac. - Ships’ Anti-fouling Composition.
Synthetic Resins and Moulding Powder.
Vulcanized India-rubber Cables and Vulcanized Flexible Wire.
Ordered to be printed.
Contract Immigrants Act - Return for 1930.
Immigration Act - Return for 1930.
Naval Defence Act - Naval Reserve Regulations - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 35.
Debate resumed from the 14th April (vide page 799) on motion of Mr. Parker Moloney -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I rise with pleasure to support this bill, and I shall endeavour to show honorable members opposite, who are not, perhaps, so conversant with conditions in the country as they might be, the need for passing the bill, not only through this chamber, but also through another place. During the last few days we have seen in the press that in two places - in the extreme west of the continent, and in New South Wales - representative meetings of wheat-growers have, after hearing explanations by Labour men, endorsed the Government’s proposals for assisting the industry, and have forwarded resolutions requesting that the Senate pass the measure as it leaves this House. The meeting at Northam, in Western Australia, was addressed by Sir Hal Colebatch on behalf of the Opposition, and by Mr. Curtin, M.H.R., onbehalf of the Government. After hearing both sides of the question, the farmers carried a resolution by a substantial majority urging that the bill be passed through Parliament. Again, one of the largest meetings of wheat-farmers ever held in New South Wales listened last week to an address delivered by the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) at Lockhart, and afterwards carried a resolution supporting the Government’s proposals, both for the relief of the growers and for the issue of a fiduciary currency to finance the scheme. This indicates clearly that when the truth is told to the wheat-growers regarding these matters of national importance they are able to see the wisdom of Labour’s policy. Both in this House and outside it we have witnessed the activities of the middlemen - those who have been farming the farmers - in their endeavours to defeat the Government’s wheat marketing schemes.
One of the greatest crimes ever committed against the primary producers of this country was the defeat of the Government’s Wheat Pool Bill last year. Had that bill been passed, and the pool inaugurated, even though, as prophesied by honorable members opposite, it had been found impossible to pay the guaranteed price - which I deny - the farmers would have been infinitely better off than they are now, because they would have had control of their own marketing arrangements. All sections of the community, industrialists, manufacturers, bankers, &c, now combine for the protection of their own interests, and the wheat-growers must do the same, even at the sacrifice of some independence of action, if they are to survive. Only in that way can they obtain an adequate return for their labour. We on this side of the House have always believed that the farmers are entitled to receive the cost of production, plus a reasonable profit at least for that proportion of their product consumed in Australia, and it is to the credit of members of this party, representing big industrial constituencies which contain not a single wheatgrower, that they have always been willing to subscribe to that policy. Members of the Opposition, as well as some honorable members who lately severed their connexion with the Labour party, have stated that they doubt the sincerity of the Labour party when it professes a desire to help the wheat-farmers.
No party could have tried harder than this party has tried to assist the farmers. This is the third attempt to help them.
It was not our fault that the first bill did not achieve the object for which it was introduced. The measure was defeated in another place by the representatives of the parties opposite. These gentlemen boasted that they had done well in opposing that bill. It was rejected, not because of any fear that the necessary money could not be obtained, but purely for reasons of political expediency. One honorable member of the other place declared in the press that the bill was defeated and that he was glad, for it was only a piece of labour socialistic legislation. The measure was lost because of the undying hostility shown to Labour by the hard-shelled and crusty tories of the other place who have not been before the people for a number of years. Had the Senate faced the electors at the last election nearly all the present members of it would have been defeated. That chamber is to-day thwarting the will of the popular house.
The second effort made by the Government to assist the farmers failed because of the hostility shown to this Government by the private banking institutions of Australia and the majority of the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank. The majority of those gentlemen were appointed by our predecessors in office. That the Board is hostile to this Government has been shown clearly by recent events. We were told that money could not be provided to ensure the payment of 3s. per bushel on wheat, yet the Board was willing to provide approximately £1,000,000 for the Western Australian Government outside of the operations of the Loan Council. The Government is facing, not only the hostility of honorable members opposite, but also that of the financial powers outside, which are moving heaven and earth to put a new government on the treasury bench.
In my opinion the proposal made in this bill is the only one that is now practicable for the granting of assistance to the farmers. If help is given in this way the money will grant immediate relief to the wheat-growers, and will gradually percolate through to other avenues of industry, and so relieve, to some extent, the people who are to-day unemployed. If this bill is not passed we shall not only fail to grant relief to the men at present unemployed, but we shall add to their number when the next harvest arrives, for there will be very little work to be done.
Honorable members opposite have seen fit to sneer at the proposal of the Government to issue fiduciary notes. These same gentlemen are ready enough, when it suits them, to look for precedents in Great Britain, but they have taken care not to accept the precedent of the fiduciary notes issued in that country. The British fiduciary note issue has not brought disaster in its train. Personally, I do not see very much difference between pledging the credit of the country by the raising of money through loans, local or overseas, and by issuing fiduciary notes. Either of these means hypothecates the future production of the country. There is no difference in my opinion between raising money through a banker and raising it through a pawnbroker. In each case the credit of the borrower is pledged. The Bruce-Page took Administration control of the note issue out of the hands of the government, and placed it in the hands of a semipublic, but non-elective body, which is answerable to nobody but itself, and is to-day denying the people the issue of credit to which they are justly entitled.
It is regrettable that the British Government did not accept the proposal of the Prime Minister and Minister for Markets, made at the Imperial Conference, and subsequently at the Economic Conference for the purchase of dominion wheat on the quota system. Had that policy been adopted by the British Government the wheat-growers would have been in a much happier position. The Government has done everything possible to secure a profitable market for our wheat overseas ; but while the fiscal policy of the British Government remains as it is at present, there is little likelihood of increasing the sales of our wheat to the Mother Country, except on a strictly competitive basis. Nevertheless, many people in Great Britain are supporting the policy of inter-Empire trade. If we could produce sufficient dried and canned fruit to supply all the requirements of the British market, I believe that we could secure control of it; but unfortunately, we are not in that position, and so can only market a very limited quantity of our production, and at an unprofitable figure.
It has been suggested that the farmers could be best helped by the imposition of a sales tax on flour. I do not know whether the Government would be justified in introducing such legislation, because the Queensland Government has already passed a measure to deal with the position in that State, and the New South Wales Government is having a bill drafted for the purpose of fixing the price of flour. In any case, such legislation by the Commonwealth would require the approved of the States in the distribution of the proceeds before it could become effective, and it is a moot point whether the States would give their approval. Even if they did so, the Commonwealth measure would overlap certain State measures.
– The sales tax is the only means by which immediate relief can be given to the farmers.
– The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) may say so, but he has not advanced any arguments to support the assertion. It is ridiculous to suggest that a country which is worth £3,000,000,000, and the credit of which is pledged to the extent of only £1,000,000,000, has exhausted its credit. It should be easy to increase credit up to a further amount of £20,000,000 whether by a fiduciary issue or by way of a loan. We have been told by the press which supports honorable members opposite, that if the present Government were defeated, and a government led by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) placed on the treasury bench, there would be no difficulty in obtaining money. If that is so, there can be no reasonable objection to the issue of fiduciary notes to the extent of £18,000,000. The Government desires £6,000,000 of this proposed issue for the assistance of the farmers. Every honorable member agrees that the farmers should be assisted. The other £12,000,000 is desired for expenditure on public works, to provide employment for our unemployed people who are to-day destitute and without work. Honorable members who have travelled through the country districts, and those who represent industrial areas, realize how urgent it is that work of this kind should be put in hand. I believe that this money could be provided without impairing the credit of Australia in any way whatever.
No one would suggest that a fiduciary issue of £20,000,000, or even £40,000,000, at this time would bring disaster to
Australia. Our troubles are the result of a change in our monetary system instituted by members of the Bruce-Page Government, some of whom, like the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) are to-day talking glibly about balancing the budget without saying how they intend to accomplish this most desirable achievement. It is strange that they failed to raise their voices in that strain during 1914-18, when this country went to the bad to the extent of hundreds of millions. There was no talk then about balancing the budget. When the note issue was placed under semigovernment control - under the joint control of the Commonwealth Bank and the Treasury - inflation of credit was brought about to the extent of many millions, and nothing was said against it. That was when the damage was done. Honorable members opposite talk about deflation, but we cannot have deflation unless there has been inflation, and deflation took place during 1914-18. Our note issue today is in unsympathetic hands. The Note Issue Board and the Commonwealth Bank Board consist of men who claim to be representatives of the land-owners, but their actions show that they are either incompetent or unsympathetic with the great body of producers of this country. I know of men who own properties against which there is no liability, yet they are unable to raise money on that security -except at ruinous rates of interest. It cannot be said that the Commonwealth Bank Board is doing its duty to Australia when it refuses to assist our producers. Some of them owe upwards of £1,000 in income tax to the Commonwealth Treasury, although they have assets in the shape of properties valued at £20,000 or £30,000 against which not move than 30 per cent, of the value has been advanced. In support of my statement, I can give the names of individuals concerned and the sworn declarations of established valuers. The Commonwealth Bank refuses to issue credits in order to help the men on the land to pay their working expenses, and to provide employment. That institution is not interpreting the will of the people of this country, and it is consequently the duty of this Parliament to do what it can to assist the farmers by legislative enactment. The Government has, therefore, brought down this measure, and a contingent measure. We have done all we can to provide assistance for the farmer, and we can do no more. As a representative of a country constituency, I should like to say how much ray electors appreciate the efforts of the Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Parker Moloney), who, while he was abroad, put the case for Australia not only to Great Britain, but to France, the United States of America, and Canada,
– What was the result?
– To-day a representative of the Argentine is in Australia with the object of conferring with this Government to see if something cannot be done to assist the wheat industry generally and the other countries mentioned are conferring to see what can be done on the lines suggested by the Minister for Markets. There must be a commencement to everything. Surely the honorable member for Swan does not suggest that momentous and far-reaching decisions can be arrived at in the space of a couple of months. The Bruce-Page Government, which the honorable member supported, sent many delegations overseas, and they did absolutely nothing. They did not even advocate that we should have a definite share in the markets of Great Britain. Of course, the honorable member being a free trader could not support such a policy; if he did, his attitude would be inconsistent. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) spoke last night, and worked himself almost into a fury in his condemnation of this measure and the method of finance proposed under it. He spoke glibly of his conscience, and said that it would not allow him to support this measure, but evidently his conscience is unaffected by the withdrawal of his allegiance from this Government, and has not suggested that he should return to his electors to ask them to endorse his attitude. The honorable member was sent to this Parliament, not only to support a Labour Government, but also to keep the Nationalist party out of office. The conscience of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) was also working overtime, but not sufficiently to compel him to ask his electors to endorse his action in breaking his pledge.
– He offered to resign.
– No one is preventing him from resigning.
– The honorable member for Wilmot can afford to employ a publicity officer.
– It Ls remarkable that the honorable member for Wilmot can afford to employ a publicity officer, and I am at a loss to know just how he will balance his budget, seeing that his salary is £900, and that of hia publicity officer £1,200.
The best results cannot be obtained from legislation of this character unless the States co-operate by passing legislation to regulate the prices of flour and bread. There has always been too great a disparity between the prices of wheat, flour, and bread. It was not until the Queensland Government demonstrated how the price of flour could be increased without affecting the price of bread that the farmer realized how completely he had. been exploited by the great milling concerns and wheat dealers. In Queensland the price of flour has been fixed, at £12 10s.’ a ton, the price of bread at 5½d. and 6d. a loaf, and the price of wheat at 4s. a bushel. In New South Wales the price of flour has been fixed at £10 a ton. What should be the price of bread is a question that is being investigated by an impartial committee, and I understand that action will be taken to fix the price there, but, unless this action is followed by the fixation of the price of wheat for home consumption, its full benefit will not be received by the wheatgrowers in that State. If each State did what it ought to do, the position of the farmer would be greatly improved; but in a number of State Parliaments it is not possible to pass legislation of that character, owing to the hostility of the second chambers. Just as the Commonwealth Parliament is thwarted in its legislative effects by another place, so the Governments of most of the States find themselves unable to legislate in the interests of the wheat-growers, because of the attitude of the Upper Houses there.
There is no doubt about the desperate condition of the wheat-growers, with the exception of those who are fortunate enough to own their own properties - men who have been on the land for perhaps a long period of years, having acquired it at low prices and having lived frugally, have reached a sound financial position. I believe that the present depression is but temporary. No matter what may occur in Russia or other countries, I consider that the wheat consumption of the world will increase, and that, by means of organization, improved prices will be obtained. If the farmers cannot secure a price sufficient to cover the cost of production it will be necessary to devote our wheat lands to other purposes. Nevertheless, we are faced with the responsibility to-day of assisting those growers who are suffering on account of the unprecedented fall in the price of wheat. It has been stated by certain honorable members opposite that the tariff is largely responsible for the present unhappy position of the farmers. I have lived on the land all my life, but I have never regarded the tariff as likely to be the main thing to brine disaster to the primary producers. The unfortunate financial position in which we find ourselves to-day is largely due to the unprecedented importation of goods during the regime of the BrucePage Government. These importations mopped up the credits built up overseas as a result of the high prices realized for wool after the war period. The importation of millions of pounds worth of goods from overseas was highly detrimental to our secondary industries.
– What was done by the secondary industries to prevent that?
– It is regrettable that among those on the directorates of manufacturing concerns are prominent supporters of the Nationalist and Country parties.
– The honorable member himself is a manufacturer.
– I have a very small interest in manufacturing concerns. If I had £10,000 to invest to-morrow, I would be quite prepared to put it into either manufacturing industries, or agricultural or pastoral propositions in Australia. But the honorable member for Warringah and certain honorable members opposite would assist in killing local industries by sending capital out of Australia to bring in the product of cheap foreign labour and in many cases that of coloured labour. Although in many cases local manufacturers are capable of producing articles superior to those imported, importers are often committed to contracts with overseas firms, and are thus unable to purchase Australian goods.
Between the 30th June, 1924, and the 30th June, 1930, Australia had an adverse trade balance with the United States of America of £152,000,000. What a splendid reserve that would have been in Great Britain! Many Australians have purchased from the United States of America motor cars, wireless sets, and other manufactured goods that come under the category of luxuries; but had they paid their just debts and made provision for the future they would scarcely have been able to afford to ride in tram cars. Many of these persons are to-day without homes and without jobs; they have not even their time-payment motor cars. They have not only ruined themselves, but, owing to a false sense of prosperity which was induced in the community, many persons went into businesses, which are now unprofitable, and they, too, are to-day numbered among the unemployed. This position is attributable to the policy of the Bruce-Page Government, which took no steps to check the tremendous importation of goods from overseas. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), and the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen), desired to “ see a free flow of trade and commerce,” and therefore the large returns received for our export products were mopped up by payments for imported goods such as should either have been made in Australia or have been done without.
– Why are such goods not made here?
– Because it would be impossible to compete in Australia with goods produced in overseas countries under low-wage conditions. In Great Britain and other parts of Europe, the population is so great that manufacturers there have a tremendous market and it pays them to export their surplus at a loss. American manufacturers of motor cars, through keeping their plants working full time, are able to dump their surplus output in such countries as Australia. I might refer also to the film industry.
– I cannot permit a tariff debate on a bill dealing with a bounty on wheat and to give assistance to wheat-growers.
– Honorable members opposite and their party colleagues in another place should not persist in their opposition to the bill merely because of their prejudice against a Labour Administration. If the present Ministry left the treasury bench, and- a coalition government were formed, it would be unable to agree upon a common policy that would be advantageous to the people. The exhibition given by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) yesterday, in gagging a motion submitted by his leader, would surely convince any fair-minded man of the inability of the party opposite to govern Australia.
We are told that members opposite support measures and not men, but they have displayed their hostility to the measures and have done great injury to our great national industries by withholding the benefit of those measures They agree that assistance should be given to the farmers, but because the necessary legislation has been introduced by a Labour Government they vote against it. I warn the wheat-growers not to remain inactive while the members of another place are bombarded and cajoled by the enemies of the primary producers, who will exert their influence to prevent the passage of the measures introduced by the Government. The farmers owe it to themselves to bring their influence to bear upon the Senate to ensure that their interests will be conserved. Whenever legislation is proposed that affects particularly the manufacturers, importers and merchants, the King’s Hall and the corridors of this House are crowded with their respective representatives. When the proposals for the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool were before this Parliament, wheat merchants were about this building in droves. They exerted such pressure upon the members of the Senate that the farmers were left to their tender mercies. A few days ago a new company, Rural Credits Limited, was formed, with a great flourish of trumpets. It is reported to have a capital of £10,000, and its declared purpose is to make advances to necessitous farmers, accepting as security a first lien over their crops. After the bad time we have experienced, any farmer who is in a position to give a first lien Over his next season’s crop has no need of assistance from an organization of that character.
– Any wheat-grower who is in that position must be a born financier.
– The men who are in need of help are those who have given a lien over last year’s crop, and in many cases a lien on the crop of the previous year has not yet been cleared off. Any farmer who is able to give a first lien over his next crop must be in a particularly happy position, and have a credit balance at his bank. If those who’ are opposed to this bill can evolve nothing better than Rural Credits Limited for the assistance of the farmers, they are hopelessly barren of ideas. God help the unemployed if they have to rely upon men so lacking in foresight and resource. “What can be expected by a destitute man with a wife and two or three children from the leaders of the opposition parties if this new company represents the best that they can conceive to help the man on the land? Numbers without brains are futile. Even though our opponents numbered 60 in this House of 76 members, unless their leaders had ideas, courage, and administrative capacity, they would achieve nothing. The Bruce-Page Government did not lack supporters, but it was futile because its leaders were without courage and ideas. That Ministry was obsessed with Tory freetrade principles. Mr. Bruce is one of the biggest importers in Flinders-lane, and his Treasurer, the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) has always been an advocate of freetrade. Under those leaders the coalition government never acquired the strength that was necessary to take courageous action to rectify the adverse trade balance by establish ing credits overseas through the sale of our primary products and the exclusion of imports. In this matter, the present Government has shown both courage and capacity. It has told the people that they must work to produce the things they want, or do without them. After the last general election, the newspapers, apparently thinking that the new Government would continue in the old grooves that had been worn by the BrucePage Ministry, thundered continuously about the need to rectify the trade balance. If that were done all would be well with Australia. The Government has achieved that; for the first time in many years the trade balance is in our favour. Yet the many newspapers are still crying “ stinking fish “. Because they cannot operate Ministers like marionettes, because they cannot dictate the policy of the Government, they can see no virtue in it. I appeal to honorable members of the Opposition not to think so much of gaining a party advantage. Instead of seeking every means of humiliating the Government, they should think of the men and women on and off the land, who require legislation of this character to relieve them in their dire distress. Each one of the financial measures which the Government is introducing will contribute towards the rehabilitation of Australia. This bill will do something for the wheat producers; other related measures will carry us further towards prosperity, by the relief of unemployment and the percolation of credit through industries and businesses that to-day are stagnant. No one can doubt the ultimate greatness of this country. Nature has endowed it richly, and with the aid of the labour of our people who to-day are unemployed, and of science it is capable of producing millions of tons of meat, wheat and wool. All the essentials of life can be readily grown, and if the Senate can be induced to cooperate with us, if, instead of being blinded by prejudice, it -will only do the right thing by the people, we shall soon turn the corner of the depression, and plenty and contentment will be restored to our people.
.- The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham) was unjust when he charged honorable members of the Opposition with opposing measures merely because they emanate from a Labour Government. I remind him that towards the end of last year, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) offered, on behalf of his supporters and of this party to share the responsibilities of the Government, and without seeking office, to co-operate in lifting Australia out of its tragic depression. We on this side of the House have no desire other than to restore the country to a stable basis is soon as possible. Members supporting the Ministry are continually declaring that something must be done immediately for the farmers. Why, then, have they shown so much procrastination in regard to those measures of assistance which every section of the community recognizes to be necessary? Why has not effect been given to the bill passed at the end of the last year for the payment of a bounty of 3s. a bushel f .o.b. ?
– I have stated the reason twenty times.
– No satisfactory reason has been given. The honorable member for Gwydir referred to the bright future of Australia. I am not at all pessimistic of the future of this country if we will but put our house in order. Australia is capable of producing immense wealth; but our miners, wheatgrowers and pastoralists have to compete in the markets of the world against lowwage countries. Australia is furthest from the markets of Europe, and how can we compete in them successfully, unless we reduce our costs of production? Production will not be carried on unless the producer can see some prospect of profit, and it is impossible to market metals, wheat and wool profitably under present conditions.
– What country in the world is producing at a profit to-day?
– I recognize that the price ruling to-day is abnormally low, but we have to look to the future. We cannot consume all that we produce; we must export, and we have to accept world’s prices. Unfortunately, there are many amongst the supporters of the Government who would like to build about Australia a tariff as high as the wall of China. They would have our people earning a living by taking in each other’s washing. That is not my policy. I have full confidence in the future of Australia, if our people will only recognize economic facts. We must get the cost of production down to bedrock, and we must have good service, and as little political interference with industry as possible. To-day the Government is confronted with tremendous problems. Nobody could have foreseen the extraordinary fall in the prices of our exportable commodities, but the fall having occurred, and the national income having diminished accordingly, we must adjust ourselves to the change. Unless we can produce at a profit, we cannot carry on. We cannot continue to drift as we have done during the last two years. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) quoted Professor Richardson as having stated that Australia, with its wonderful soil and climate, and with the aid of fertilizers and uptodate machinery, should be able to produce wheat in competition with any country. It is all a matter of cost. What the country needs is the creation of more wealth, and it is wonderful what one producer on a farm or in a mine can do in the way of providing employment for other members of the community. I have had a great deal of experience of mining in Western Australia, and I know as much about it, I suppose, as any other man in the country, having been for nine years Minister for Mines in a Western Australian Government. In that State, we have millions of tons of low-grade ores which could be worked if costs were low enough, and it is these methods of production which provide employment for the greatest number of men. Wiry can we not produce metals at least as cheaply as can be done in the United States of America ? Dealing with this subject, Mr. Erie Huntley, one of the best known mining superintendents in Australia, stated recently -
There are two main reasons, neither of which is due to want of brains or efficiency in the Australian engineer. These are: (1) The cost of equipment; (2) the restricted hours of work.
With regard to ( 1 ) : Cost of equipment is from 40 to 70 per cent, greater in Australia; an average of, say, 50 per cent. With regard to (2) : Australian laws permit of working mines and plant for five or five and a half days per week, whereas most low-grade American mines work seven days per week. I don’t mean to say that the same men are working all the time, but by the use of relief gangs and shifts the capital invested is permitted to earn revenue for seven days per week.
Suppose we find a deposit capable of producing, say, 2,000 tons per day, or 700,000 tons per annum. We cannot ask for capital unless we can show about 12J per cent, interest and the same for amortization of plant and equipment. That means eight years’ life, or about 6,000,000 tons reasonably proved.
Owing to the huge factories which cater for this class of plant, the cost of equipment for such a project in America would, for purposes of comparison, be in the neighbourhood of £350,000. This would call for £87,500 per annum to pay interest on capital, aud amortization of plant, or equal to 2s. 6d. per ton on the 700,000 tons treated per annum. In Australia similar plant would cost about £525,000, which calls for a working profit of £131,250 per annum to pay interest and amortization, equal to over 4s. 9d. per ton on the 550,000 tons per annum, which the plant would treat on a five and a half day per week basis.
This shows that under American conditions the profit per ton need be only about one-half of what must be expected under Australian conditions at present.
Mr. 0. A. Mitke, of the Mining Trust Limited, speaking at Kalgoorlie on the subject of working low grade ores, said - The cost of mine and mill supplies, which are an important item, are very high at present; in fact, costing almost twice as much as in other countries.
Referring to the Mount Isa proposition, and the need for reducing costs, he said - In this way, during the lean years, when very little high-grade ore can be secured, it would not be necessary to close down while development was taking place.
In other words, employment would be provided. The great need everywhere in connexion with our staple industries is cheaper production. The farmers to-day are prepared to accept any proposal, even the Government’s inflation scheme, so desperate is their plight. So greatly have costs increased that, despite the fact that the farmers have had a succession of good years, most of them have had to mortgage their properties to the fullest capacity, and they are now unable to carry on. As an instance of increased costs, a consignment of fertilizers, recently imported into Western Australia, was loaded with duties amounting to 33 per cent. This huge impost was put on for the benefit of a section which is not producing real wealth in the sense that the farmers are producing it. The beneficiaries are a few smelters, which turn part of their by- products into fertilizers. In addition we have embargoes, excessive duties, high primage charges, taxes, and industrial interference, all making production impossible.
I have every faith in Australia, but we ought to realize where our present fiscal policy is leading us. Within the last year three separate bills dealing with wheat marketing, and the assistance of farmers, have been before Parliament. Before that, the Prime Minister made a special appeal to the farmers of Australia to increase their acreage, so that we might export more wheat, and redress our adverse trade balance. That appeal was very properly made in the circumstances, and, subsequently, it was associated with the proposed guarantee of 4s. a bushel for export wheat. In connexion with this guarantee a totally new attitude was taken up by the Federal Government as compared with its attitude towards other industries which it has assisted. In all previous instances the Federal Government has provided the bounty, but this time it was laid down that the State Governments should make good half of any loss incurred, the Commonwealth Government to make good the other half. It was estimated that the sum which Western Australia would have to make up under the scheme would amount to £250,000 or £300,000. [Quorum formed.] When the proposal was first made, Mr. Collier was leading a Labour government in Western Australia, and he condemned the proposal as unfair to the State, Later there was a change of government, and the new Premier declared quite plainly that the State could not afford to shoulder such a loss. Western Australia is the second largest wheat producing State of the Commonwealth, but her home consumption is very small, so that any loss in connexion with the wheatmarketing scheme would have fallen very heavily upon her. When the bill was before this House I moved an amendment in committee to the effect that if Western Australia would not agree to pay her half share of any loss incurred, the Commonwealth Government would guarantee half the loss that might accrue in that State. That amendment was rejected in the most emphatic manner by the Minister, and subsequently the Senate turned down the bill. I feel confident that had the Minister made a definite pronouncement on this issue between the time when the bill passed this House, and the time when it went to the Senate, the measure would have been agreed to by that body. Although he had over a month in which, to make up his mind, no such statement was made.
– The Senate did not wait for the bill to get into committee, but defeated it on the second reading.
– Because the Minister would not make a definite promise; but even if the bill passed the Senate the question would still have remained how to finance the scheme. At the present time Australia has liabilities in the form of overdrafts and short-dated treasury-bills in London amounting to £38,000,000. In Australia, similar commitments total £20,000,000 making a grand total of over £58,000,000. On top of that there will be enormous deficits piled up by Federal and State Governments, making our total liabilities, for the meeting of which we have made absolutely no provision, aggregate between £65,000,000 and £70,000,000, this being additional to our funded loan of £1,101,000,000. The Governments of Australia have spent that amount more than the revenue they have received. They have taken that sum from the banks, thus withdrawing it from industry. They have gone their own defiant way, insisting upon the hanks coming to the rescue of Australia’s credit, and have thus been responsible for stagnation in business, and wholesale unemployment.
The Minister has admitted that the previous wheat bill was unconstitutional, and in a recent letter stated that it was proposed to bring down a constitutional measure. Honorable members would like to know what is the real objective of the Government. For my part, I intend to fight against the Government’s attempts at socialisation. The Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), in an article contributed to The Mining Standard of the 12th March, stated -
The producers who sell on the overseas market would be at a disadvantage unless they were protected through the exchange. It is therefore intended that the exchange rate should be allowed to go to a level commensurate with the disparity in the Australian price levels as compared with those overseas.
That is all very nice. One would imagine from that that the Treasurer was in sympathy with the producers, and was prepared to allow them the full benefit of the exchange rate. He must know full well, however, that without government interference the exchange rate will go to the level which will truly represent the difference between the value of the £1 sterling and the value of the Australian pound after he has issued his fiduciary notes. We know that for many months the exchange was pegged at £6 10s. per cent, but that immediately the Bank of New South Wales broke away from the arrangement it rose to £30 per cent. This involved the Commonwealth in the payment of one-third more for the discharge of interest and other obligations overseas. Further, in the course of his article, Mr. Theodore said -
To prevent the exchange being unduly disturbed by panic operations among patriotic people who want at any cost to transfer their money out of the country the exchange mobilization scheme which was inaugurated by the Government will be continued, and if it becomes necessary a greater control will be assumed under the power contained in the Customs Act which would permit the prohibition of all exports except under licence.
That is very similar to the policy being followed at the present time by the Soviet Government in Russia.
– The honorable member shows that he knows very little about conditions in Russia.
– The honorable member is an authority in regard to the Soviet Government.
– It may be very well for the Russian Government to discharge its obligations in that way, but we do not want similar conditions here. According to the Treasurer, not only should the exchange rate be pegged, but the export of goods should be made subject to licence issued by the Commonwealth Government. I have no doubt that if the Treasurer could get control of finance the producer would be robbed of the full exchange, and, quite possibly, his produce would be exported under licence and the funds realized diverted to government purposes.
In view of the fact that the Government promised to pay the farmers 3s. per bushel for their wheat f.o.b. at the port or at the mill, I propose to move later that this bill be withdrawn, and that the act passed at the end of last year be proclaimed in order that the 3s. per bushel may be paid to the farmers. If the Minister is able to advance good and sufficient reasons for the failure of the Government to proclaim that act, I shall withdraw the amendment, but otherwise I shall press it to a vote.
Unfortunately, the farmers have been given nothing but promises. As late as the 9th February last,, the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) wrote to me to the following effect: -
The Commonwealth Government has decided to raise a loan of £0,000,000 to provide assistance to the Australian wheat industry. This assistance will be rendered in the form of a bounty of (id. per bushel to the grower on all wheat of the 1930-31 season exported, and by the provision of loans to assist the State Governments to help farmers in necessitous circumstances to continue in the industry. The Premiers’ Conference and the Loan Council, which met at Canberra on Saturday, the 7th February, unanimously agreed with the proposals.
No reason has been given for the failure of the Government to administer the measure passed last year, except that it has been said that it is unconstitutional. It cannot be truly said that it would be unconstitutional for the Commonwealth Government to pay a bounty on wheat exported. If other provisions of the measure are unconstitutional, they could surely be amended.
If the Government genuinely desires to assist the farmers, there is an easy way to do it. A conference was held in Canberra last year at which the proposal was made that a sales tax of £7 12s. per ton should be imposed on flour in order to provide a bounty of 7-Jd. per bushel on wheat. The Government could still advance some such proposal, and so ensure the granting of immediate assistance to the wheat-growers. It would not be necessary to make the tax as heavy as £7 12s. per ton. A tax at a lower rate could be imposed over a period of two or three years, and the proceeds from it hypothecated for the purpose of assisting the farmers. If this were done, I am sure that the Commonwealth Bank would be willing to grant the necessary credit to make the scheme effective, for it would be assured that the proceeds from the tax would be paid into a special trust fund.
Our great trouble to-day is that we have an unfunded floating debt of £58,000,000, which is absolutely crushing us. If the Government had made a serious effort last year to put its house in order, that debt could have been funded on reasonable terms. There would then have been no difficulty whatever in providing money to assist the farmers. It is not the function of the Government to commandeer the savings of the people. It should raise such money as it requires for governing purposes by means of taxation or of loans approved by Parliament. It would be improper for the Government simply to take charge of the funds of the financial institutions of Australia, just as it would be improper for it to spend the savings of the people. In any case, there is no need for it to take any such action to assist the farmers. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Ball) pointed out yesterday that the imposition of a sales tax of £2 10s. per ton on flour over a period of years would provide sufficient money to help the farmers over this difficult period.
– From where would that money come?
– It would come from the people, of course. I know that the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) believes that the Commonwealth Parliament should assume complete control of the financial institutions of Australia, but I entirely disagree with him. This Government has administered the affairs of the country so wretchedly in the last twelve months that I hesitate to think what might happen if it had full control of finance.
– I should like to be in control of the financial institutions for a while.
– I am quite satisfied that the honorable member for Adelaide believes that the policy which he has enunciated at different times would effectively meet the needs of the nation; but I totally disagree with him, and am glad that action on my part in 1924 took away from the Treasurer the power to supersede the Note Issue Board. If the honorable member’s financial policy were sound, it would have been adopted many years ago by the financiers of other countries. If the honorable member could make out a good case he would be received with open arms, not only in Australia, but abroad; but he cannot convince people of the practicability of his proposals for restoring prosperity.
– The country is prosperous to-day.
– Let the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) make that statement to the unemployed. It hurts me to hear people boast that the conditions of the workers in Australia are the envy of the world, when I know that a very large proportion of our people - the finest type of workers in the world - are without any employment whatever, and are living under the most wretched conditions.
It is essential for us to produce real wealth if we are to restore prosperity in Australia. Unless we can keep the farmers on the land, the depression in Australia will be accentuated to a calamitous extent. I fear that the coming winter will be very severe. I still hope that we may be able to do something to help the farmers. If we cannot do so, a depression will occur the like of which Australia has never yet known, and the recovery from which will take very many years. I fear to think of what will happen to this country if the farmers are forced off their holdings.
I sincerely trust that there will be no attempt to make an election issue out of this subject. We are all agreed that it is of vital importance that the farmers shall be assisted; but, unfortunately, the Government has shilly-shallied for so long that many farmers have lost all hope. The Minister for Markets and Transport has made some reference to the Fiduciary Notes Bill, but he must realize that there is no possibility of that measure being approved in another place. In any case, I do not approve of it. If the issue of fiduciary notes to the extent of £18,000,000 were endorsed, we have no undertaking whatever that we shall not be asked to endorse the issue of a similar amount in six months’ time. In my opinion our first responsibility is to meet our obligations. We should avoid going further into debt. It would not be honest for us to issue these notes and use them for the ordinary purposes of government.
The straightforward and simple way to assist the farmers is to impose a sales tax on flour. If a tax of £2 10s. per ton were imposed there need not be any increase in the price of bread. It was said last year that a tax of £7 12s. per ton might cause the price of bread to advance by Id. per loaf. But, even if the price of bread is increased slightly in order to help the farmers, the people should not object to it, for if the farmers fail the whole country must collapse.
When it was proposed to float a loan for the assistance of the farmers we had hopes that something effective would be done; but, unfortunately, the Premier of New South Wales at that very time made the tragic pronouncement in regard to the repudiation of interest payments which rendered the flotation of a loan impossible. If no other way could be devised to assist the farmers I should support the floating of a forced loan, to which everybody in the community would be obliged to contribute according to his means.
– Then there is money in Australia ?
– There is credit here. I and the honorable member could both, out of our salary, make a contribution to such a loan. The sales tax on flour is the best means of assisting the farmers; but, if the Government will not adopt that proposal, then a compulsory loan should be floated in order to save the farmers from destitution, and Australia from disaster. We must realize that, in order successfully to advance Australia, it is essential for us to develop those industries which in the past have made possible the good times that we have enjoyed, and will in the future, under proper conditions, restore prosperity to us. We must revive these industries. For instance, the Mr Morgan mine should be employing 2,000 men. I hold that trade is the life blood of a nation, and our export trade is the great balance wheel which governs the progress of the country. We have to find £36,000,000 annually to meet our interest bill overseas, and we can do that only by exporting our primary products. Therefore, the future of this country depends upon the development of our great primary industries. “We must break the shackles that hind them; but that is a matter for discussion at another time. Some financial assistance should be given immediately to continue the development of our farm lands.
There has been no justification given for the non-proclamation of the Wheat Advances Act of 1930. So that the Minister may fully explain why that measure has not been proclaimed, I move -
That all the words after the word “ Bill “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ be withdrawn with a view to the proclamation of the Wheat Advances Act 1930, and the further amendment of the said act so that effect may be given to the guarantee of three shillings per bushel f.o.b.”. [Quorum formed.]
.- Honorable members opposite and the press of this country have time and again made a plea for the abandonment of party politics, and for the consideration of measures designed to help Australia out of its present unfortunate and tragic position. Yet, as though to prove their inconsistency, every measure submitted to this House by the Government has been discussed by honorable members opposite in the most bitter partisan spirit. They seem intent on belying their protestation that they desire to help this Government and this country to overcome its difficulties. We heard last night a remarkable speech from the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan). First of all he set out to demonstrate to this House that the big factor imperilling our primary industries was the existence of certain alleged industrial awards which compelled the primary producers to pay rates of wages far in excess of their capacity to bear them.
– I said nothing of the kind. I said that the primary producers were suffering as a result of the awards, not that the awards applied to them.
– In the next breath the honorable member, as though to prove how illogical was his contention, informed this House that the problem with which the farmers had to contend, was not the costs upon the farm, but the costs away from the farm, including rail and shipping freights, interest charges and other things which he mentioned.
– Just so, and that gives the lie direct to the previous statement of the honorable member.
– The honorable member and others of his political faith are largely responsible for the exorbitant railway freights which bear so grievously upon the primary producers. It was their policy of extravagant and reckless borrowing of money which placed an enormous interest burden upon our railway systems. I have before me the Journal of the Parliaments of the Empire, which contains a review of the position of the different Parliaments of the Empire, and also comments and extracts from the speeches of certain authorities on the subject of railway administration. Mr. Hogan, the Premier of Victoria, is reported as follows: -
Reviewing the financial position, the Treasurer said that the outstanding liability and main difficulty in restoring equilibrium was interest. The interest charges on the loan liability of the State last year amounted to £7,739,000, as against £2,293,000 in 1913-14. The interest rate in 1913-14 was approximately £3 10s.10d. per cent. In 1929-30 it was £4 18s. 5d. per cent. A reduction in interest charges was of paramount importance.
The Premier of Victoria made that statement when delivering his budget statement last year. The high interest rates are responsible for the high freights which have been levied upon all production carried over our railway systems. The Victorian railway system, however, suffers another serious disability, because those who were responsible for its initiation, and for the policy of borrowing money overseas, made no provision for a sinking fund for the eventual extinction of the debt, or for a depreciation fund to make good the wasting of railway assets. The position in Victoria to-day is that interest has to be paid upon capital values amounting to between £15,000,000 and £16,000,000, and there are no assets representing that sum of money with which to earn interest. Had certain gentlemen of the political complexion and faith of the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) had a little more intelligence and foresight, the Victorian and the other railway systems of Australia would not now be suffering severe disabilities. If we capitalize £16,000,000 at 5 per cent., we find that the Victorian system has to earn £800,000 per annum to meet its interest charges, and it has no assets with which to earn that sum. Had it not been for that disability, that railway system, instead of showing a loss, would have showed a handsome profit. It was only last year, for the first time in the history of the Victorian Railways, that the deficit exceeded £1,000,000. Previously, in some years there had been a surplus of revenue and in other years deficits ranging from £250,000 to £500,000. At no other period did the deficit reach £1,000,000.
– What a magnificent argument for State socialism!
– Yes, it is, and if the honorable member were to follow his argument to its logical conclusion, he would realize that the position of the Victorian Railways is the finest advertisement for public ownership that one could desire. It is not practicable for that railway system, or any other government enterprise, simply to write off its capital account, because that would mean that the rest of the community must make good the interest payments on the sum written off, whereas, so far as private enterprise is concerned, if a business is not paying its way it can reduce its overhead charges by simply writing off a considerable portion of its capital. The losses on investments of private capital far exceed the losses on investment in government enterprise. That is the position throughout the world. A statement issued by the British Board of Trade shows that in one year the new capital invested in industry amounted to £800,000,000, whereas the losses to persons who had invested in private enterprise reached the enormous sum of £500,000,000.
– What has this discussion to do with wheat?
– It has a lot to do with the honorable member, because it is giving him an education. This bill is designed to give some immediate relief to the primary producers, particularly the wheat producers, who are in a most desperate plight through no fault of their own. They have responded to the appeal of the Commonwealth and State Governments to grow more wheat, in order that we may send overseas a considerably increased quantity of primary products to help meet our interest obligations abroad, and their additional effort has involved them still further in financial difficulty. To meet the annual interest obligation overseas of approximately £30,000,000, the farmers had formerly to produce 120,000,000 bushels of wheat, worth 5s. a bushel on the other side of the world; but, owing to the fall in the value of wheat, which is worth to-day only about half last year’s value, the farmers would now have to produce 240,000,000 bushels. So the net result of their response to the governmental appeal is that they are exporting a considerably augmented quantity of wheat and other primary products for the benefit of the bondholders overseas. Although they have worked harder than before they have impoverished themselves, and this measure is designed to give them some relief.
The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) said that he would not have supported the bill if it had been associated with the fiduciary currency proposal. A photograph appeared in last night’s Melbourne Herald of a pound note issued during the siege of Mafeking by General Baden-Powell, who is now on a visit to Australia. That note was part of a fiduciary issue. Nobody suggested then that a gold backing was required. Notes of this description were used in paying the sums due to soldiers confined to the besieged area, and in paying for the services rendered by the local authorities.
– But those notes had behind them the leader of the British forces and also the British Government.
– The fact remains that that currency circulated within the besieged area, and was just as serviceable as gold or any other currency would have proved.
– For the time being.
– Quite so. Those notes were just as acceptable as sovereigns to the people of Mafeking.
– What was the effect on commodity prices?
– Those prices were high entirely, because of the inability to obtain supplies from outside.
Australia, at the present time, is producing an abundance of everything necessary for human life. Our trouble is due to our failure to adapt our monetary system to the volume of production. I intend to quote a statement published in the Industrial Australian and Mining Standard, probably the most uncompromisingly tory journal printed in this country. This newspaper, after dealing with the subject of unemployment, and the effect upon it of falling prices, gives figures regarding the growth of unemployment in various countries, and concludes as follows: -
While the table demonstrates the universal nature of the unemployment crisis and the extent to which it has worsened since 1929 - in many cases the figures have doubled - it also shows, when read in conjunction with figures for wholesale prices (which, unfortunately, cannot be included for want of space), that a fall in those prices has, invariably, accompanied a rise in unemployment. lt would seem, therefore, that the monetary factor is of particular importance among the causes of the crisis. There are only two countries in which unemployment has fallen during the period covered, namely, Russia, where there has been a rise in prices due to inflation, and Latvia, where the total figures are too small for any conclusions to be drawn.
This bill represents another attempt by the Government to make financial provision for the relief of the farmers. It will enable them to discharge their immediate obligations and make provision for future production, particularly of wheat. It is alleged that the money to be paid to them is not real money, but when honorable members opposite are challenged to show the difference between real and spurious money they are significantly silent. Everything that could be bought with real money could be purchased with the fiduciary currency proposed by the Government. These notes will be legal tender for the payment of all salaries and wages, and the discharge of all financial obligations. Honorable members opposite have been at great pains to produce a feeling of uneasiness in the public mind by broadcasting the canard that these notes will be worth only half the present currency.
– On what principle would the honorable member limit the fiduciary issue?
– I am not concerned at the moment with that phase of the subject. All I know is that, under the measure, the issue is definitely limited to the sum of £18,000,0000. If this or any succeeding Government considered itnecessary to increase that issue, the sanction of Parliament would first have to be obtained. We should then be in a position to gauge the effect of the proposed issue upon the credit of Australia, upon, industry, and upon commodity price levels.
– On what principle hasthe sum of £18,000,000 been fixed?
– That amount is intended to meet the immediate needs of the primary producers, and to enable the respective State Governments to carry out programmes of essential reproductive public works. Although men such as Sir James Mitchell, Mr McPhee and Mr. Moore, the Premiers of Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland respectively, have condemned with their lips the proposed fiduciary currency, they have already expressed their intention, if the measure becomes law, to participate in the proceeds to help them to carry out public works.
The only means by which the value of the proposed currency could be depreciated would be by a rise in commodity price levels. In that event the depreciation would apply to not only the fiduciary currency, but also every other form of currency in circulation - to the pound note and to the silver and gold currency.
– That is the danger in the proposal.
– The honorable member for Fawkner would have us believe that the only means whereby we could bring about the debasement of the currency would be by the issue of paper money, but everybody knows that the purchasing power of money can be depreciated by the inflation of currency, whether metallic or paper.
– I have had to defend persons who have been accused of issuing fiduciary notes in accordance with their per capita requirements.
– Quite so; because no government permits the circulation of spurious notes. As the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) pointed out, if a person were to mint gold coins, and the fine gold in each coin were even of greater value than a sovereign, he would be liable to prosecution. Therefore, the authority of the issue is of greater importance than the intrinsic value of the coin. No honorable member has been able to demonstrate anything unsound in the proposed fiduciary currency, or to show in what respect it differs substantially from Commonwealth bonds. There was great joy throughout the Commonwealth when the conversion loan of £28,000,000 was successfully floated a few months ago. Has anybody stopped to consider what security is behind the bonds that were issued other than the natural resources of the country and the diligent and intelligent exploitation of thom by our people? Yet prospective subscribers to the loan were told that Commonwealth bonds were as good as gold. If that is true of Commonwealth bonds it is equally true of fiduciary notes, so long as the issue is wisely controlled by Parliament.
– I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable member in order in discussing the effects of inflation and ignoring the principles of the bill?
– I have allowed the honorable member some latitude, but I ask him to connect his remarks with the bill.
– The criticism directed against this measure by the Opposition related almost entirely to the proposed issue of fiduciary currency to raise money for the assistance of the farmers. Surely if members of the Opposition are allowed to argue that a fiduciary currency is unsound, I am entitled to reply to their arguments.
The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) has suggested as an alternative to this bill the imposition of a sales tax upon flour in order to provide funds to give immediate assistance to the wheat-growers.
– That is the only way in which it can be done.
– No doubt such a proposal is practicable, but I am opposed to the principle of it. First, because it will, as the Paterson butter scheme did, impose a harsh and unnecessary burden upon the great masses of the workers, who are the least able to bear any additional impost. Bread is a staple article of the workers’ diet. It does not, to anything like the same extent, enter into the regimen of those who are more fortunately circumstanced; therefore, a sales tax upon flour would further penalize the poorest sections of the community.
– The honorable member did not object to the proposed compulsory wheat pool on those grounds.
– The compulsory wheat pool would not necessarily have increased the prices of flour and bread. My second objection to a sales tax on flour is that it would be another aid to the maintenance of inflated land values. What the farmer is suffering from most is the undue inflation of land values during the period when high prices ruled for all primary products.
– If the farmers were given their land, wheat producing would not pay to-day.
– I am aware of that, but the fault lies with the existing monetary policy which members of the Opposition are too conservative and hidebound to alter. They adhere to it because it is orthodox, because it is established by long practice and custom, and because they are not capable of absorbing new ideas. A sales tax on flour would have the same effect as the Paterson butter scheme had.
– Was not the Paterson scheme fair to the dairy-farmers?
– No ; it merely conserved the rights of those who had sold land to dairy-farmers at inflated prices. The rest of the community is being taxed in order that such purchases at inflated prices may be completed. It is true that but for the Paterson scheme many dairyfarmers would have been forced off their holdings, because they could not pay the high interest rates on inflated capital values. But what would have happened then? The immediate effect would have been a reduction in the quantity of butter produced, but the mortgagees would have been anxious to cut their losses as quickly as possible, and the dairyfarmers would have been allowed to occupy the abandoned holdings at rents considerably lower than the interest charges they had been paying in the hope of becoming the registered proprietors of their farms, and the community would not be burdened by the existing disparity between the prices of Australian butter in the home market and overseas. At one stage the home consumption price was 8d. per lb. higher than the price on the London market. That was one of the effects of the Paterson butter scheme. A sales tax on flour would have similar undesirable results. It would maintain the present inflated land values. I acknowledge that the value of land as of all other assets, has fallen, but it is not the policy of the present Government to assist land jobbers, who by speculation and manipulation are bleeding white the farmers and the community generally. The AuditorGeneral’s report points out the significant fact that interest obligations have increased 61 per cent., which is quite disproportionate to the increases of wealth production and population. Beyond a shadow of doubt an important cause of the present stagnation is the interest burden upon the community as a whole and primary producers particularly.
– The bondholders canuot be blamed for that.
– No; but I blame the honorable member for having supported & financial policy that has brought the country to its present pass. The Nationalist Government followed the orthodox policy of boom and borrow until the bursting stage was reached. It started the vehicle of state downhill, and despite herculean efforts the present Government has been able to do no more than arrest its momentum. Had it applied the brakes too suddenly the vehicle might have been wrecked. The downward progress of the country has been retarded, and if the members of the Opposition would help the Government in a nonparty spirit, instead of regarding every measure with bitter partisanship, the country would soon be restored to prosperity. Although I support the bill, I do not believe that it will lift the farmers entirely out of their difficulties or completely restore the country to prosperity. It is, however, an honest and earnest effort on the part of the Government and its supporters to meet the urgent need of a large section of primary producers, and to encourage them to continue production.
. - This is the third occasion within the life of the present Government that the House has devoted itself to the task of trying to do something to help the wheat-growers of Australia. As a representative of wheat-growers, I have taken a sympathetic part in these attempts, and upon every occasion was fully convinced that something was really going to be done. I believed that each was a bona fide attempt, not only by the Government, but by those members on this side of the House who supported the measure, to do something for the growers, and, incidentally, for Australia. We have heard a good deal during the course of this debate about the motives of the Government, and of other members of this House, in connexion with those proposals, and we are in a position now, I think, to assess those motives fairly accurately. To begin with, we are confronted with the fact that the Government’s compulsory wheat pooling bill, after having been passed in this House by an overwhelming majority, was rejected in another place by a very narrow majority.
– Scandalous !
– I do not say that it was scandalous, but it was a very great pity. At that time, I was prepared to give the Government credit for acting in good faith, and I said so. I remember that I paid a special tribute to the sincerity of the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney), but upon examining the ‘ episode in the light of subsequent events, I am not so sure that the Government was actuated by any higher motive than a desire to make electioneering capital out of it.
– That is an extraordinarily unfair statement.
– I shall give my reasons for it. It has been stated by members of the Labour party that the Nationalist and Country parties were responsible for the defeat of the compulsory wheat pooling bill. They seized upon the rejection of the bill in another place as a heaven-sent piece of electioneering propaganda, and I am sure that they will make full use of it when the next elections are being fought. As a member of the Country party, who supported the Compulsory Wheat Pooling Bill, I am, I think, entitled to examine the attitude of the Government when that bill was before the House. In this House, every member of the Country party, with one exception, supported the bill, so that, as far as we are concerned, it is not fair to say that the Country party was in any way responsible for the rejection of the measure. Yet I have heard members of the Labour party say, without any qualification, that the Country party, “ the alleged friends of the farmers “, were responsible for the defeat of the bill. In the Senate, two members of the Country party voted against the bill, for certain reasons. It has transpired since that they made an appeal to the Minister representing the Government in the Senate to wait for a few days until they could communicate with the wheat pool organization in Western Australia to find out whether that body would accept the Government’s proposals.
– And the Minister told them, with the authority of the Government, that if they voted for the second reading of the bill, they could, during the committee stage, submit any amendments they pleased, and such amendments would receive favorable consideration. Yet, in spite of that assurance, they voted against the second reading.
– The two members of the Country party in the Senate who voted against the bill were West Australians, belonging to the Western Australian Wheat Growers Association, which had requested them not to support the bill. However, in view of what was taking place in Canberra, they decided to place the position before their organization. Western Australia is a long way from Canberra, and they desired a little time in which to receive a reply to their representations. They asked that consideration of the bill be held over from Friday until Wednesday of the following week, stating that if this were done they would probably be able to support it. In my opinion, that was a fair request. Theirs was an organization of wheat-growers, and the Government was supposed to be considering the views of the wheatgrowers.
– All they desired was to insert a simple amendment during the committee stage. There was no need for them to have voted against the second reading.
– They desired the consent of their association to support the second reading of the bill, and their request was a fair one, seeing that the co-operation of Western Australia was essential to the success of the scheme. Personally, I supported the “bill in this House, and I would support a similar measure to-morrow if one were brought down. The Country party stands for the compulsory pooling of wheat. We know, however, that it is not practicable for this Parliament, under the Constitution, to establish compulsory wheat pools, a fact which is not properly understood by the majority of farmers. All we can do is to request the State Parliaments to institute compulsory pools. It is virtually the States which create the pools, the part of the Commonwealth Parliament being restricted to financing them. Even in this the co-operation of the States is necessary, because the States must receive the money and distribute it. The farmers have been led to believe that it is within the power of this Parliament to establish compulsory wheat marketing organizations, but that is not so. When the Compulsory Wheat Marketing Bill was before this House, we accepted the assurance of the Minister that the various State Governments had agreed to the proposal. It was at this point that Western Australia came into the picture. That State has had for some time a voluntary wheat pool in operation, the only really successful voluntary pool in Australia.
Mr.Riordan. - Queensland has one.
– The Queensland pool is unimportant so far as Australia’s wheat production, as a whole, is concerned. Victoria claims to have a successful pool, but it has never been so highly organized as that operating in Western Australia. In New South Wales it has been found impossible to establish any pooling scheme since the compulsory pool was abandoned after the war. In the circumstances, the Western Australian Wheat-growers Association had every right to interfere when it was not satisfied with the conditions attached to the scheme. Honorable members who remember the details of the bill can understand why such a powerful organization as the voluntary wheat pool in Western Australia felt that it had every right to protect its own interests. At that time it appeared to be taking a great risk in coming into the scheme at all, and members of the Country party representing that association did right in accepting its instruction not to support the bill unless the Minister agreed to certain stipulations. There was no urgency about the bill at the time, yet it was pushed to a division on the Friday when it was very questionable whether it could be carried.
– There would have been a bigger majority against it if we had waited over the week end.
– I said at the time that the members of the Country party in the Senate should not have voted against the second reading of the bill, but should have supported it on their own responsibility. In the Senate 50 ner cent, of the Country party opposed the bill, and 50 per cent, supported it; while in this House practically the whole of the Country party supported the measure, Therefore, it is grossly unfair for members of the Labour party to go through the country telling the farmers that the Country party was responsible for the defeat of the bill. That is all history now, of course, and I refer to it only to contradict the persistent misrepresentation to which members of the Country party have been subjected. I am still in favour of a compulsory wheat pool, and so are the other members of the Country party. If a proposition is introduced by the Government for the establishment of a wheat pool on satisfactory lines, I feel sure that it will be supported by the Country party.
– The Minister for Markets has promised to re-introduce the previous bill.
– I believe that a satisfactory scheme of that nature would be supported by the members of the Country party in this chamber and in another place.
A great deal has been said about the promise of the Government to pay 4s. per bushel for wheat. If legislative effect had been given to that proposal it could not have been carried out; but it was not our business to find the money. That was the business of the Government. The Government appeared to be willing to accept the responsibility, and I am sorry it was not allowed to do so. Of course, had the bill been passed, unprecedented difficulties would have faced the Treasury.
In all the circumstances the Government should be thankful to the Senate for rejecting that measure.
The position altered radically after the rejection of the first bill and before the introduction of the Wheat Advances Bill last December. The bottom had faller out of the wheat market, and it appeared certain then that if the farmers realized 3s. per bushel f.o.b. for their wheat they would do wonderfully well. It seemed likely at that time that 2s. per bushel f.o.b. would be nearer the market price. The Government appeared to be taking a certain amount of risk in offering 3s. per bushel f.o.b.; but the proposal was so attractive that the members of the Country party could not resist it. That was the second occasion on which the Country party assisted the Government in its endeavour to aid the farmers. The Government, of course, was gambling upon the willingness of the Commonwealth Bank Board to advance the money necessary to make the scheme effective. It hoped that if both Houses of Parliament agreed to the scheme the board would find the money on the undertaking of Parliament that it would be refunded later. We do not know what happened after the bill was passed. We know that the farmers were jubilant at the prospect of receiving 3s. a bushel for their wheat, for they knew that it would save them from irretrievable disaster. But the weeks went by and no definite pronouncement was made by the Government. It is true that the Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde) said on numerous occasions that his department had the position in hand, and that steps were being taken to authorize the payment of the money. The Minister appeared to be so confident that the bank would find the money that I, as a representative of a farming community, assured the farmers in my electorate that everything would be all right. Consequently, I was astonished when the Minister eventually announced in the press that the money was not available, and that farmers would be well advised to market their wheat in the ordinary way. The delay of a month that occurred after the passage of the bill and before the making of that announcement, involved the farmers in very heavy losses. The price of wheat was receding all the time, and the farmers were very much worse off than they would have’ been had they marketed their wheat in the ordinary way early in December.
– The delay was not the fault of the Government.
– I am not saying that it was ; but the result of it has been so serious that a careful inquiry should be made to determine definitely who was responsible for it. It appears now that the Government assumed from certain conversations that Ministers had had with members of the Commonwealth Bank Board that the bank would find the money that was needed.
– Did not the Bank Board say distinctly that it would not find the money?
– It did not distinctly say so. It was prepared at one stage to provide money for the payment of a bounty of 6d. per bushel, but after further negotiations the Government appeared to be absolutely satisfied that the bank would provide funds for the payment of a full 3s. per bushel “f.o.b. It turned out afterwards that the Minister had reckoned without his host.
– The Bank Board would not give the Government a decided answer.
– If the Bank Board was responsible for the delay, it was remiss in its duty to the wheatgrowers of Australia.
– The Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde), stated definitely that the Commonwealth Bank Board had been informed by its legal advisors that there were constitutional difficulties which made it impracticable to make the necessary credit available.
– This is the first time that I have heard that statement.
– - I have made a similar statement half a dozen times.
– The Minister should clear this matter up, for many wheat-farmers throughout Australia still think it likely that the act passed last December will be proclaimed. In fact the first intimation that I had that the Government did not intend to proclaim it at some time was the provision in this bill for the repeal of the act. There is undoubtedly a false impression abroad us to the intention of the Government in that connexion. I know that multitudes of farmers will be astonished to learn that the December act is to be repealed. This, therefore, is the final result of the second endeavour which the Government made, with the assistance of the Country party, to assist the wheat-growers.
It is now proposed to pay a bounty of 4£d. per bushel on wheat exported and to provide £2,500,000 for the assistance of necessitous farmers. The conditions under which farmers are to be assisted are not stated. Apparently the distribution of the money is to be left to the State Governments. A bounty of 4-Jd. per bushel on export wheat will not be of very great help to the farmers. It will certainly not return them anything like 3s. per bushel for their wheat. The proposed grant of £2,500,000 for the assistance of necessitous farmers is also totally inadequate. In any case it appears likely that the money will go only to farmers who are down and out.
– Thousands are in that position.
– That is true; but there are 65,000 wheat-farmers in Australia, and I do not think that the majority of them can be said to be down and out. If even half of them are in that position £2,500,000 will not go far among them. In all the circumstances I do not regard this proposal with the same enthusiasm that I had for the previous proposals of the Government for the assistance of the farmers, although I am willing to admit that it is an endeavour to do something for them.
But is there any real chance of this scheme becoming operative? Is not this merely another attempt to create an electioneering atmosphere? Is it not a move by the Government to justify its administration by saying to the farmers, “ We tried three times to assist you, but every move that we made was blocked by your alleged friends who were in Opposition.”
– Would the honorable member support a proposal to increase the amount to be made available for the assistance of the farmers ?
– I do not think that any amount less than £10,000,000 will give appreciable relief. I am disappointed that the Government has not introduced a proposal for the floating of a loan of £10,000,000 to assist the farmers. It must be remembered that these men are suffering to-day because they responded patriotically to the appeal of the Prime Minister, supported by the Premiers, to grow more wheat. The farmers thought they could not go wrong in responding to this call to help their country, and many of them staked everything they had upon the prospect of reaping a good harvest and obtaining a good price for their wheat. Many farmers went into debt in order to increase their acreage. Some men who were in the habit of putting in a few hundred acres sowed thousands of acres last year. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister, in making that gesture which we now know was an unfortunate gesture, invested the whole of last season’s harvest with a Commonwealth atmosphere. He gave the wheat-growers to understand that whatever happened the Commonwealth Parliament would, at any rate, be behind them.
Mr.Cusack. - There has been no repudiation.
– There has been repudiation of the worst kind. Mr. Lang’s form of repudiation is not to be compared with the repudiation that the farmers have suffered from. The Government now proposes to grant a bounty of 4½d. a bushel all round, and to make £2,500,000 available to the State Governments for distribution among necessitous farmers. We cordially accept that proposal. We say that it is too little, but if it is the best that the Government can offer we shall not refuse it. What we are concerned with is how is the money to be raised, and shall we get it at all. If there is no chance of getting it, then we shall be playing another trick on the farmer. I do not say that honorable members opposite will alone be responsible for that, because we shall all have to share the responsibility.
– Do not look a gift horse in the mouth.
– Is it a gift horse?
– It is, absolutely.
– How does the Government propose to provide the money? The bill purports to be something that the Government tells us it is not. The bill, on its face, is an honest attempt to guarantee an advance of £6,000,000 tothe wheat-growers. It contains no word of inflation or of a fiduciary issue. Therefore, we, as members of the Country party and representatives of farmers, see no reason why we should refuse to accept £6,000,000 under the terms of the bill. Several Ministers have now warned usthat this measure will not operate unless we support another measure. Whenwe ask what is the string tied to this legislation, we are shown another bill which is a proposition quite different from this. It is not an innocent bill like this measure, which authorizes Parliament to raise a loan for the purpose of advancing certain moneys to farmers. I am prepared toaccept this bill, but I have no wish to support the other one. The farmers are asking for, and are entitled to, the assistanceproposed to he given under this legislation, but the country, generally, is not asking for the otherbill ; in fact, it doesnot want it. I am afraid that honorable members behind the Government stand convicted of barefaced political trickery.
– -Order. The honorable member’s statement is unparliamentary, and I ask that , he withdraw it.
– I withdraw it, and say that honorable members opposite are trying to deceive the farmers by a piece of leger-de-main, because, when the other bill is rejected and, as a result, this bill becomes inoperative, honorable membersopposite will go to the farmers and say, “Your friends of the Opposition would not accept our proposal to give you £6,000,000.”
– The honorable member can avoid that position by voting for the bill.
– It is probable that we shall vote for the bill, but we will not support the other bill.
– If this bill is passed the Government may raise a loan of £6,000,000.
– Once this measure is on the statute-book this or any new Government may give effect to it by raising money through the ordinary avenuesof finance, hut not by a fiduciary issue, because there is no reference to such a thing in the bill. It is perfectly clear from its provisions that the fanners are entitled to £6,000,000 for last season’s harvest, the money to be raised by any means which the Government can devise in accordance with ordinary financial methods. It is not necessary to resort to any financial experiment, or to adopt a policy of inflation; therefore, I fail to see, if the Government really means to assist the farmers, why it should not be prepared to keep this bill separate from the other.
– Is there not a clause in the Fiduciary Notes Bill which allows the Commonwealth Bank to advance all the money that is required without making a fiduciary issue at all?
– Yes, but this measure has nothing in common with the other measure. All that we have to rely upon is the statements of Ministers, and we know that anything that is not embodied in an act of Parliament is held as worthless in a court of law. I cannot see what is behind the action of. the Government in associating these two measures. It is mysterious to me, unless it is that honorable members wish to make electioneering propaganda out of the whole position.
– The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) said that this bill would provide a splendid slogan.
– The honorable member for Bendigo pur, the show away when he said that he could not imagine anything better for electioneering purposes. When honorable members behind the Government warn us in that way, they cannot blame us for being scared. We feel that we should protect the farmers from the action of the Government. The members of the Country party are putting before the Government a proposition which will thoroughly test its bona fides. It should not forget that the farmers know all about the sales tax and what it means to them, and they are not at all sympathetic with the cry that the consumer should n.ot pay anything while they themselves have to pay all the time. Actually, the Government, in trying to make political capital out of the whole industry, may be playing with a twoedged sword. We have been warned that this bill will open the door to inflation, and will be used as electioneering propaganda if we reject it. If the Government wishes the farmers to look upon this legislation as a bona fide gesture to assist them, it should be prepared to accept the alternative proposal of the Country party that this bill be dissociated altogether from the inflation policy of the Labour party. The Government will make a grave tactical error if, before the second reading of the bill is passed, it does not make it clear that this bill is in no way connected with the inflation policy proposed to be instituted under another bill. If the Government does that it will get more credit from the wheat-growers and the public generally than it is likely to get by adhering to its present attitude. The proposal of the Country party could easily be adapted to meet requirements throughout Aus, tralia. Two States - Queensland and New South Wales - have imposed the equivalent of a sales tax. They have taken over the flour supply and increased the price of that commodity. In Queensland the price of flour has been increased to £12 10s. a ton, and in New South Wales to £10 a ton.
– Victoria intends to fall into line with those States.
– In that case three States out of the five wheat-growing States of Australia are already adopting the principle of the taxation of flour.
– To accept the Country party’s proposal would be to duplicate that taxation.
– I should not agree to duplication of taxation, but I have no doubt that, if our proposal were adopted, the States would be prepared to abandon their schemes or to adapt them to ours.
– Unfortunately, they will not do that.
– If they refuse to do that, then the blame for any failure of the scheme must be placed upon their shoulders. Would the Minister favour the Country party’s proposal on the condition that the States abandoned their separate proposals and functioned with the Commonwealth?
– We propose to re-introduce the Wheat Marketing Bill, and to include in it a provision fixing the local price for home consumption.
That proposal would certainly be hampered if the Country party’s proposal were accepted.
– Then I take it that the main reason for the Minister’s objection to the proposed sales tax is that we could not get the States to agree to abandon their schemes.
– That is one reason, hut the main reason is that it would hamper the Wheat Marketing Bill, which the honorable member has just admitted is the most important measure of all.
– I thank the Minister for his interjection. This is the first time that he has brought in new matter, which we have not yet been given an opportunity to consider. If the Government intends to introduce further legislation which may totally alter the position, it should take honorable members into its confidence.
– The honorable member has already been informed of the Government’s intention to apply the Wheat Marketing Bill to next season’s wheat.
– I cannot understand why the Minister should mention the re-introduction of the Wheat Marketing Bill as a reason for not accepting the proposed sales tax on flour. I favour the suggestion of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) that, instead of the Government proceeding upon purely party lines, it should appoint a committee, representative of all parties in the House, to review the whole position and, if possible, arrive at some scheme which we can all support. I feel that for the third time the wheat-growers are likely to be fooled, and that is not a fair thing to them, or to those honorable members who support this bill. I join the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) in his appeal to the Government that before we go further in this matter a committee should be appointed on nonparty lines to investigate the whole subject, and evolve a scheme that will be of real and immediate benefit to the growers.
– That would take the matter out of the arena of party politics.
– Yes, and it would go a long way towards restoring confidence throughout the country. Honor able members opposite would receive more credit politically and otherwise by taking such action than by proceeding on party lines.
.- Out of this debate two facts have emerged. There is unanimity as to the necessity for early relief for the farming community, and no delay must occur in determining how this relief is to be given. The position of many farmers in my own electorate is almost hopeless. I believe that the farmers are not much concerned as to the form the assistance takes, so long as it is given promptly. They are looking to the present Government to help them. The only difference of opinion in the House seems to be due to the fact that this measure hinges upon the fiduciary notes proposal. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), reminded me of an interjection that I made when the bill was previously under discussion, that the rejection of the measure would provide good propaganda for the Government. Every honorable member is aware of the hopeless financial position of Australia, and the inability of this Government to raise money in the orthodox manner. Since a loan is not practicable, the Government has brought down a proposal to grant up to £6,000,000 for the relief of the men on the land, and a further sum to provide work for the unemployed throughout Australia. If this bill were rejected it would be fair to say that the only measure by which relief could be granted to the wheat-growers had been opposed.
It will be admitted that the rehabilitation of the wheat industry is the objective of every honorable member, no matter bow much we may differ as to the best procedure to adopt. The men on the land are the victims of conditions that are world-wide. They have been reduced to a state of want through no fault of their own, and through no governmental action. It is not within the power of this Parliament to alter the interest rates charged to farmers ; that is a matter for the State Parliaments. Relief can be given by this Parliament only on lines such as those followed in this bill. I agree with the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) that, in certain respects, the farmers’ production costs in regard to wheat could be somewhat reduced. His reference to the rail transport has raised’ an aspect of the subject that might well be followed up by the farmers’ organizations throughout Australia. But, after all, it might be one year, or even ten years, before the farmers received any benefit from that suggestion. In the meantime the great necessity for immediate financial relief remains. The scheme submitted by the Government in this bill will enable the men in the industry at least to plant the coming season’s crop. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons), who has knowledge of the industry, has suggested that the price of wheat may improve next year. Certainly the acreage under crop in the coming season may not be so large as it was last season, but every effort should be made to maintain the current year’s production.
– The price of wheat may rise in a night, just as did the price of wool.
– That is so. By giving prompt and judicious financial assistance, there is a chance of rehabilitating what I regard as Australia’s greatest industry. Wheatgrowing absorbs a large army of people, and it is one of the most effective means of promoting decentralization, which all who understand the requirements of their own country advocate. Everything possible should be done to make rural life attractive. Having interviewed scores of farmers in my own electorate, I am convinced of the need for immediate relief in this great emergency. How can the necessary assistance be given?
The Government has brought down its fiduciary currency scheme, on which the present bill hinges. I am accepting the statement of the Minister that one measure must be taken in conjunction with the other. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) has asked whether it is wise to consider the two bills together. One section in this House claims that the Government could save £15,000,000 by drastic economies, and that that would enable us to raise loans overseas, while honorable members on this side consider that economy has already been carried far enough. Our policy is to improve the present state of affairs by employing men, not by dismissing them. I suggest that the problem presented by the desperate position of the farming community cannot wait until the two schools of thought in this House have settled their differences. If relief is to be given to the wheat-growers before it is too late to save them from disaster, the House should accept the proposal of the Government. Any other course of procedure would be reminiscent of Nero fiddling while Rome was burning. At some date the notes issued under the Government’s scheme of fiduciary currency would be redeemed by a loan ; but I venture the opinion that the man on the laud would care little as to the nature of the currency, so long as he knew that, it was backed by the credit of the nation, and was designed to help him.
The onus of accepting or rejecting this measure rests upon all parties in the House. The great majority of honorable members have farmers in their electorates, and no honorable member should allow his party allegiance to override his desire to help the community generally. I have had some years of experience of the Labour movement in this country, and I have never known the party to be more unanimous on any subject that it is on the present proposal. Many of the supporters of the Government represent city electorates, and they are standing solidly behind the Ministry in its effort to assist the wheat-growing industry.
– The . Government’s majority has decreased from nineteen to two.
– On this bill, honorable members who sit behind the Government are unanimous. At the moment, the Government has a majority. If some honorable members who formerly supported it had not withdrawn their allegiance from it subsequent to their election, it would still have a majority of nineteen. It is not my concern if their consciences are so elastic that they can be stretched at will.
The bill should have a speedy and unanimous passage through this chamber ; and its consideration should be on nonparty lines. Other honorable members who have preceded me in this debate have dealt at length with previous efforts of the Government to assist the wheatgrowers, therefore, I shall content myself with saying that means would have been found to finance the first guarantee of 4s. a bushel, which would have proved a blessing to the farmers. During the dia.cussion of that measure, the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) made it clear that the directors of the Commonwealth Bank were prepared to finance the guarantee. Members of another place have disclaimed any responsibility for what happened ; but it cannot be denied that two men, whose votes sealed the fate of the bill, were members of the Country party. If their action was opposed to the attitude of their party, they should have been disciplined. The wheat-growers are in such a plight to-day that they cannot wait for a determination as to whether the policy of the Government or that of the numerous parties opposite is the more likely to prove effective. Under the policy of the Government, if given effect, relief would be furnished immediately. That is the object of the bill.
It can fairly be claimed that the linking of this with another measure is the only honest way of dealing with the matter. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) has stated that there is no mention in the bill of a fiduciary note issue, or of any other proposal for financing the bounty. I remind honorable members, however, that in the Fiduciary Notes Bill there is a clause which prorides that the issue of fiduciary notes will be reduced to the extent to which the Commonwealth Bank can meet the needs of the Government. It is within the power of the Commonwealth Bank to finance this proposal as it was suggested it should finance previous undertakings.
The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), the honorable member for Wimmera. (Mr. Stewart), the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Jones), the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons) and the honorable, member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham), whose knowledge of the wheat-growing industry is greater than mine, have dealt ably with all the salient aspects of the measure. I believe it can safely be said that there are no means of providing immediate relief for the wheat-growers other than the adoption of the financial proposals of the Government. It is generally agreed that the need is imperative, and that time is of the essence of the contract. A change of finan-
Mr. Keane. cial policy would involve interminable delay. Iri England the fiduciary note issue amounts to £260,000,000; and what England does is usually accepted as a standard for Australia. The note issue in this country amounts to £45,000,000, the gold reserve being only £15,000,000. Therefore, there is already a fiduciary issue of £30,000,000. the enlargement of which by £18,000,000 or £20,000,000 would not seriously inflate the currency.
It must be realized that the checking of deflation is imperative in the interests of every man and woman in Australia. I recall an interview that I had thirteen months ago with a man in my electorate who has interests in other States. I approached him on behalf of another man who was anxious to obtain a large loan from him. He was then worth £75,000; but to-day he is being supported by his bank to the extent of £6 a week. That is an amazing example of the extent to which the moneyed class has been deflated. The Government would merely mislead the people if it stated that it was able to finance this matter in any way other than that proposed. The amount of £6,000,000 that is to be advanced to the farmers is relatively small. I wish that it were twice as large. The proposals of the Government are not loaded in the manner suggested by the press of Australia. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons), the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), and other honorable members who have slipped politically, are telling the people that the Government can do nothing, and that they should be entrusted with the task of finding a way out of the difficulty. What more could they do? They would have us believe that if they were in power they could get cartloads of money from London. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) argues that a government formed of those who sit opposite could obtain £38,000.000 in London at 3 per cent. ; yet the last attempt of such a government to raise money in London resulted in the biggest proportion of the loan being subscribed by the underwriters.
I commend the bill to honorable members as an earnest attempt to do something immediately for the wheat-growers. I challenge any honorable member to suggest a better way of providing immediate relief. The bill should be passed unanimously, in a non-party spirit.
– Like other honorable members on this side, I am willing to take any reasonable step that will assist the wheat-growers at this particular time. I realize, as they do, that the industry is of paramount importance and nationwide in its operations. On that account it is entitled to consideration that might not reasonably be extended to other industries. When one finds level-headed men like the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), depicting the privations and embarrassments of the wheat-growers, one is bound to feel the deepest sympathy with those people in their sufferings, and at the same time must be impelled to do whatever is possible for them irrespective of party ties or considerations. The only question that should arise in regard to this, as in many other matters, is what is to the interest of the nation itself.
The Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) has constantly argued that the Government has done all that it can, and that its members are “ triers.” He says that two attempts have been made to help the farmers but that, because of this, that, or some other thing, it has been unable, to do so. Although it met this Parliament with the largest majority that any government has had since federation, he admits that it is helpless, and that all its attempts so far have been a rank and an utter failure.
– Because of your friends in the Senate.
– The Minister has had to admit also that his efforts on the other side of the world have been an equally signal failure. He has pleaded that, because the MacDonald Labour Government in Great Britain - a government similar to his own - is disinclined to help Australia at the present time, his representations, cogent though they undoubtedly were, failed utterly.
– That is not so.
– He has also told us that, while journeying through Canada, he had conversations with different Ministers, but that because of the illness of a Minister, or of some other factor, nothing eventuated. I mention these facts merely to show how ineffective and inept have been all his efforts in connexion with this most important matter. The history of this Parliament does not present another such record of failure as is contained in the admissions of the Minister himself, and the facts that are known to the House. That the position of the primary producer is desperate, that there is need to help him in connexion with the sowing of next year’s crop, is realized by all. Yet the Government has done nothing, and the Minister knows that this measure cannot have effect until after an election has taken place, because the policy of which it is part will be rejected in another place. This is but another election placard, and it is doomed to the same fate as befell the Government’s previous placards in connexion with the wheat-growing industry. The Government has done nothing, and is doing nothing, and will do nothing to help the farmers. Meanwhile, the fact should be recognized that the only assistance which the wheat-growers are receiving is that offered by the various State Governments. Certainly the farmers owe no thanks to the present Commonwealth Government. The first proposal submitted to this Parliament was the Wheat Marketing Bill, which included provision for a guarantee of 4s. per bushel at the railway sidings.
– The honorable member opposed it.
– I opposed it at every stage, because, like this bill, it contained provisions which were opposed to the interests of the community generally. No honorable member can find in Hansard, or elsewhere, any indication of whence the money would have been forthcoming to pay the 4s. guarantee.
– No convincing testimony was afforded to the House that the money would be provided. The raising of the £18,000,000 which would have been necessary, to finance the guarantee was entirely beyond the capacity of the Government, and fortunately for Ministers, the bill was defeated in another place. Two members of the Senate have been held responsible for the rejection of the bill. Instead of their being blamed, statues to them ‘ in imperishable bronze should be placed in the King’s Hall, and inscribed with the fact that they saved their country £18,000,000. By that action they did more for Australia than was done by many men whose statues or portraits are already in the King’s Hall, or will ever be done by any members of the present Government, whose statues will never appear anywhere though their effigies may be burned. Subsequently the Government introduced a second measure which provided for an .advance of 3s. per bushel f.o.b., but placed upon the Commonwealth Bank the responsibility of finding the £4,500,000 that would be necessary. Although the directors of the bank said that they could not, and would not, find the money, the Government persisted with the bill, which reached the statute-book, but never became operative. The Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde) had the mortifying experience of declaring publicly that the Government could not operate the measure, and that the farmers who were depending upon the assistance which the Government promised must fend for themselves. Yet the Minister has the audacity to claim that the Government has attempted to help the farmers, but has always been foiled by its opponents!
It is true, as the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) has said, that under the provisions of this bill it will be possible for the Government to attempt to raise a loan of £6,000,000 to assist the wheat-growers. But we are bound to keep in mind two facts. The first is that the present Government cannot raise “ two bob “. Yet the honorable member for New England suggests that £6,000,000 might be borrowed by that financial wizard the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) ! Already he has advanced and withdrawn about six 3* different schemes in turn. The borrowing of £6,000,000 is one of them, and as quickly as he proposed it he withdrew it, after his New South Wales colleague, Mr. Lang, had propounded another plank of the Labour party’s platform. In the same way he had proposed the standardization of prices, and withdrawn it ; proposed an extension of credit, and withdrawn that; then substituted a borrowing scheme, and now is replacing it with a proposal for inflation, although he had condemned such a policy, when enunciated by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates), as the silliest ever submitted to any Parliament. Now the honorable gentleman says that he will raise money for the farmers by a method which has been condemned by most people, and by none so roundly and unqualifiedly as by himself.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), said that although the bill does not contain any reference to the financial proposals of the Government, it is competent for the Government to raise a loan under it. The credit of the country is at such as low ebb at present that the Government could not possibly raise even a small internal loan, and, consequently, it has been compelled to inflate the currency in a desperate endeavour to provide money which will be required under this bill. In these circumstances it is futile for the honorable member for New England or any other member of the Country party to say that this measure can be used as a means of raising a loan to assist necessitous farmers. This bill is complementary to the Fiduciary Notes Bill, which provides for increasing the note issue to the extent of £18,000,000.
– I also said that a succeeding government could obtain a loan under it.
– That could be done; but at the moment I am dealing with a bill which has been introduced to provide immediate financial assistance for necessitous wheat-growers. The only hope which the wheat-growers have of obtaining any financial assistance from this Government is in waiting until this measure has been passed by this chamber, rejected in another place, and an election held. Even if this Government were returned after the next election with a majority, which is most improbable, the delay that would occur makes the whole position farcical. The wheat-growers would have not the remotest possibility of obtaining immediate financial benefit. The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) suggests that the money required could be raised by imposing a sales tax on flour, and the revenue thus collected hypothecated for five years to pay the amount that is necessary under this measure for one year. I am not prepared to support such a proposal, because no provision is made for next year or the following years. Such a scheme will not commend itself to those who believe in sound finance, to a majority of the members of this House or to the community generally. Two honorable members have referred to a meeting iri Western Australia at which Senator Colebatch explained the Fiduciary Notes Bill and this measure from his point of view and the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin), from the viewpoint of honorable members supporting the Government in this chamber. We have been informed that at the conclusion of that meeting a vote of the farmers disclosed that a majority was in favour of the Government’s proposals. I hope that such is not the case, and that the farmers will not be misled by the financial proposals which this Government has brought before Parliament. Eighteen months ago the farmers of this country were misled by the statements of the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons) and other government supporters, who said that if the Labour party were returned, the farmers would receive 6s. 6d. a bushel for their wheat. Prior to the recent State election in New South Wales the farmers were also misled by the present Premier (Mr. Lang), who said that if the farmers had received 7s. 6d. a bushel in the past a similar price would be available again.
– That is not so.
– From time to time honorable members opposite have denied that such promises were made. That made by the Premier of New South Wales appeared in an advertisement over his signature to the effect that as 7s. 6d*. a bushel had been previously promised and paid it would be done again. Mr. Lang did not say that 5s. had been paid by the federal authorities. As a result of that and other misleading state ments a number of Labour candidates in country electorates were returned, who, in other circumstances, would not have been elected. The farmers are now regretting their action in supporting Labour candidates1 as they find that the promises made prior to the election cannot possibly be fulfilled. If, in the face of such experiences, the farmers are again prepared to fall for the false proposals which are now being placed before them-
– Order ! It is out of order for an honorable member to speak of a proposal as false, and I ask that the word be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it. What is the Government’s proposal under the Fiduciary Notes Bill of which this is a complementary measure? The Treasurer says that it constituted controlled inflation, and that no new money is to be created. If that is the case where is the additional £18,000,000 coming from? Is it to fall like manna from Heaven? We all know; the source whence it is likely to come. No new wealth is to be created, but currency is to be increased by £18,000,000. In effect, every £1 deposited in the savings banks or invested in insurance policies, will be reduced to the extent of 3s. in order to provide the money. Every old-age or invalid pensioner, who to-day is able to purchase £1 worth of goods for his weekly pension, will be able to buy only 17s. worth. I quote Mr. Gustave Cassel, whom the Treasurer quoted as adviser to the League of Nations, but who does not support the Treasurer in his contention that the banks can extend credit irrespective of their deposits. In his book Money and Foreign Exchange Since 1914, Mr. Gustave Cassel says -
Demands for capital must, by means of tha rates of interest of the banks, be limited to the amount of funds supplied by current savings, so that no artificial purchasing power, with its accompanying rise in prices, will be created.
I regret exceedingly that I am unable to see anything in this measure that is likely to provide any benefit to the farming community. I am sorry that I am unable to support the bill, which I regard as rotten in the core and which I believe to have been introduced only as part of the electioneering policy of the Government. If I were to support an inflation of the note issue to the extent of £6,000,000 to relieve necessitous farmers, and £12,000,000 to relieve unemployment, I would also be justified in favoring the issue of millions of pounds worth of notes for other purposes. That will be the position confronting every honorable member who directly or indirectly supports an inflation of the note issue. If we adopt a policy of indefinite inflation, we shall soon be faced with the almost insurmountable difficulties with which other countries have had to contend. I am not blind to what history teaches us. Some honorable members opposite do not read sufficiently to realize what has followed indiscriminate inflation in other countries. The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates), for instance, reads only his own speeches and becomes inflated with what they contain. I cannot understand why some honorable members opposite, who endeavour to keep in touch with current affairs, should endeavour to lead us into a maelstrom of intolerable suffering and privation from which it will be difficult to extricate ourselves if the currency is inflated.
.- Like the honorable member for “Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) I intend to debate this measure from a non-party view-point. Prior to the last general election in New South “Wales I visited a large number of wheat-growing districts in that State, where I was in conversation with wheatgrowers who realized that the members of the Labour party were their real friends. I travelled right through the electorate of the Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Parker Moloney) where I found that the actual position had been grossly misrepresented to the farmers. They were told that the Government could not obtain the money, but it has been proved by reference to Hansard that the Government had the assurance of the Commonwealth Bank that the money would be provided. On one occasion, when we were speaking at Corowa, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) was also present, and told the growers that the Government would be unable to obtain money to finance the scheme. “We were able to prove that the money had been promised. After all, it is only reasonable to suppose that the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) must have had an assurance to that effect before committing the Government to finance the marketing of 200,000,000 bushels of wheat. At Brocklehurst we saw wheat which had been sold for ls. lOd. a bushel, and we explained to the growers that if the Wheat Marketing Bill had been passed they would be receiving 4s. a bushel for it. The brokers and middlemen took infinite pains to secure the defeat of the bill. While the measure was before the House the lockers of honorable members were crammed with literature issued by the brokers. They declared that they could obtain foreign money with which to finance the marketing of the wheat crop, but, as a matter of fact, no foreign money was obtained. Those brokers were fair weather financiers. They were ready to advance money when the market abroad was buoyant, and they could make a big profit, but they were not prepared to take any risk. That is how we have found the middlemen to be in regard to other primary products also. There are always plenty of buyers when the overseas markets are good, but when things are slack overseas the local buyers close down. Had the bill been passed, money could have been found to pay the growers, and the country would not have suffered. The farmers would have been able to market their crop, pay their debts, and provide employment for workers who are now living on the dole. Moreover, they would have been able to put in next year’s crop. Honorable members opposite say that wheat is going to be cheap again next year. I do not know what- ground they have for making that prediction. I know that last year, when the apple crop was sent home, prices were so low that the shippers, instead of receiving anything in return, were out of pocket over the transaction. This year they were told that it was of no use to send further shipments because the European countries had no purchasing power. Now, however, the first boat has -arrived, and the prices have ranged from lis. to 16s. 6d., the highest received for early shipments for many years, and there is a good prospect of payable prices obtaining throughout the year.
– The wheat position is different.
– Last year the growers received payable prices for their wheat.
– Since then Russia has been flooding the market.
– Before very long Russia will have to import wheat to feed her starving population. Honorable members opposite say that the Government should impose a sales tax in order to finance its scheme for assisting the wheatgrowers. Last year primary producers such as berry-growers, peach-growers, and grape-growers, were unable to market their crops, and it is not right that they should be asked to pay £2 10s. a ton extra for flour in order to help another section of the primary producers, when their own case is worse than that of the men they would be called upon to assist. A sales tax on flour would hit every working man in the community. Tasmania does not grow much wheat, and we object to being taxed to help the mainland wheatgrowers.
– Tasmanians have been taxed to help the sugar-growers for a long time past.
– Yes, and we would get out of that, too, if we could. It has been stated that a sales tax of £7 10s. a ton would clear off the advance to the growers within three years. By means of the funds created by the fiduciary issue it is intended to pay the growers a straightout bonus of 6d. a bushel. Any money made available to the growers should be an absolute, unconditional grant. What is the use of lending money to men who are already right up against it? The £2,500,000 which is to be made available for growers whose crops failed should also be a gift, not a loan. Only too often governments have, under the guise of helping the primary producers, placed about their necks burdens of which they have never been able to free themselves.
– Yet the honorable member objects to taxing himself so that the wheat-growers may be made a gift of the money they need.
– Why should we tax ourselves when the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) is able to finance the scheme in another way? The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) said that the Compulsory Wheat Pool Bill would have passed the Senate with the help of the votes of two members of the Country party if the Government had allowed them time to consult with the Wheat-growers Association in Western Australia. Surely that is a lame excuse to make on behalf of men who, by their action, have caused the ruin of thousands of farmers! Evidently it is necessary to blame somebody, and the honorable member tries to blame the Government. The farmers, however, have learned that the members of the Country party are no friends of the wheat-growers, but that they are prepared, on the contrary, to do the bidding of the merchants, who have always been opposed to compulsory pooling. The same sort of thing happened some time ago in connexion with the berry-growers in Tasmania. The Minister for Markets and Transport made available £5,000 to assist the growers, but the processors stepped in and claimed the money. The result was that the grant was not made use of, and £3,300, which would have been of great assistance to the growers, remained unclaimed. Those honorable members who profess to be the friends of the farmers, but yet voted against the Wheat Marketing Bill, merely demonstrated their insincerity.
– I cannot permit the honorable member to state that any honorable member of this House is insincere.
– I withdraw the statement. The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) referred to the proposed fiduciary currency as “ rotten money,” and went on to compare it with what he called real money. I have heard money called a great many names, but the honorable member’s description of the proposed fiduciary issue is the most childish I have heard yet. He admits that it would be money, but tries to damn the proposal by calling it “ rotten money.” I ask him and other honorable members on that side of the House whether they would refuse to take that money. Of course they would not. I trust that this bill will be passed, and something done to assist the farmers, who otherwisewill have to go off their land. Many farmers in New South Wales and Victoria informed me that, unless they received help, they would not be able to remain on their blocks. I feel confident that wheat prices will improve as the prices of other primary products have recently done. If this proposal goes through it will enable the farmers to increase their wheat acreage, and thus take advantage of the rise in prices. I am opposed to the imposition of a sales tax on flour, because I cannot see why the people of Tasmania, which has to import flour, should be taxed for the benefit of wheat-growers on the mainland.
– “What about the grants which Tasmania receives from the Commonwealth?
– Those grants are compensation for special disabilities from which Tasmania suffers as a result of federation, and it has been found by the Public Accounts Committee, consisting largely of mainland members, that the grant should be three times what it is. I hope that when a vote is taken on this bill it will receive the unanimous support of the House.
– It appears evident, from the speeches of honorable members on the other side of the House, that they are more interested in the dissemination of party propaganda than in any proposal for the assistance of the unfortunate wheat-grower. We know that the growers are in need of immediate assistance, but honorable members opposite are, by their statements, apparently endeavouring to alienate the sympathy of those whose cooperation is necessary if the farmers are to receive any assistance at all.
– And now the honorable member is pouring oil on the troubled waters.
– I hope to, and convince the honorable member that the Government can look to honorable members on this side of the House who have the interests of the primary producers at heart for support in any proposals which will help the farmers. I have supported each wheat bill that ha3 been introduced. When this Government came into power the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) broadcast an appeal throughout the Commonwealth, asking the farmers to grow more wheat, and guaranteeing them 4s. a bushel for all wheat exported. At that time it was considered essential that there should be a substantial increase in the volume of our exportable commodities. The wheat-growers responded generously to the Prime Minister’s appeal. Every plough that could be manoeuvred was brought into service, and nearly every cultivable acre was put under wheat, with the result that this season Australia had a record harvest, but up to the present time our farmers have received no assistance from the Commonwealth. It is true that the Government brought down a bill, ostensibly to give effect to the promise of the Prime Minister. On introducing that legislation the Prime Minister convened a conference of Ministers representing the wheat-growing States and asked them to join in the proposal to pay 4s. a bushel for wheat at country sidings : 2s. to be found by the Commonwealth, and 2s. by the States. The bill contained this provision, notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s promise that the Commonwealth would accept full responsibility for the guarantee. It was impossible for some of the States to accept this provision, and they did not do so. Accordingly, when the measure was before another place, two members of the Country party representing Western Australia withheld their support from it, for the good and sufficient reason that it would have imposed an unfair burden upon that State. They offered to support a Commonwealth guarantee of 4s. a bushel. Now we find honorable members like the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) endeavouring to persuade the electors that assistance has not been given to wheat-growers, because of the action of Country party members in the Senate. His speech to-night on this point was so much piffle.
– I rise to order. I submit that the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) is not in order in referring to the speech of the honorable member for Franklin as piffle.
-The term is unparliamentary, and I ask the honorable member for Wide Bay to withdraw it.
– I with- , draw it, Mr. Speaker. The first Wheat Marketing Bill imposed on the Commonwealth Government a financial obligation of £16,000,000. Contrast that scheme with the present measure, which is designed to- benefit wheat-growers to the. extent of only £3,500,000. When the Wheat Marketing Bill was before this House I dissented from the view expressed by an honorable member on this side that it had been introduced for political purposes. I supported it, and expressed the hope that honorable members would accept the principle of pooling so as to make the bill as attractive as possible to all the States concerned. I also urged that the Commonwealth Government should accept full responsibility for the guarantee. Since the Government desired to saddle the States with half the loss, if any, resulting from the guarantee, I would point out that, this matter was really one for the States themselves to decide, and since the Senate is essentially a States House, I have no fault to find with members of the Country party in that chamber who did not see eye to eye with some of their colleagues in this House with regard to certain provisions in the bill, though I regret their action. Senators from Western Australia realized that their State could not find its quota of any loss that might be incurred. .Consequently, they voted against the measure. We should not forget that the Prime Minister promised definitely that the guarantee of 4s. a bushel would be paid by the Commonwealth Government, but at the last moment he threw on State Governments responsibility for one-half of the obligation. Wow honorable members supporting the Government would have the people, believe that the Ministry endeavoured to honour the Prime Minister’s promise, but was prevented from doing so by certain members of the Country party.
– The honorable member is putting out a good story.
– I am merely putting an honest construction upon the undertaking given by the Prime Minister and the provisions of the bill as passed by this House. Supporters of the Government, in the course of this debate, have over-emphasized the fact that two members of the Country party in another place opposed the Government’s wheat marketing scheme last year. I supported that bill; but Country party members in another place were acting quite within their rights when they opposed it, if, iri their opinion, the scheme would not have been in the interests of their people.
– Why apologize for them?
– I am not doing so. I am merely correctly construing statements that have been made by honorable members opposite. The Wheat Marketing Bill having been rejected elsewhere, the Government, on the 12th December, introduced the Wheat Advances Bill, to provide for the payment of 3s. a bushel f.o.b. That measure had a rapid passage in both Houses. It passed its third reading in another place on the 17th December, so the Government already has an act which it can operate if it wishes to do so.
– The honorable member’s friends, who control the banks, will not allow the Government to do anything.
– The honorable member’s interjection is a most foolish one.
– This Government re-appointed Sir Robert Gibson.
– That is true, but it is beside the question. I and other honorable members on this side of the House hope that something will be done immediately to help our wheatgrowers. I have already shown that members of the Country party in this House, and in another place have supported the Government’s second proposals, with the result that there is already on the statute-book a measure under which the Government could, if it were in earnest, come to the assistance of our wheat-growers. It is now objected that nothing can be done, because some friends of ours, as the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lewis), put it, are preventing the Government from putting the act into operation. The objection is ridiculous. The banks have recently advanced £60,000,000 to governments. Although the Government pleads that it cannot finance its wheat advances scheme to pay 3s. a bushel f.o.b., when Mr. Lang, the Premier of New South Wales, defaulted the other day in regard to overseas interest payments, it was able immediately to find £700,000 to pay bondholders. I venture to say that if Mr. Lang defaulted to the extent of another £1,000,000 in respect of interest accruing to overseas bondholders this Government would find the money as quickly as it found £700,000 a few days ago.
Our wheat-growers mustreceive assistance immediately if they aru to be saved from complete bankruptcy. They are in urgent need of money to enable them to harvest their crop and prepare for the next harvest. Thousands of growers are in a state bordering on destitution. They are bitterly disappointed because this Government has not compensated them for the expenditure of capital and energy and the long hours of toil involved in the production of a record harvest at the urgent invitation of the Prime Minister. The Government proposal to pay wheatgrowers an advance of 3s. has apparently been dropped, and now we have this scheme to pay 6d. a bushel for the exportable proportion of this season’s crop, which is estimated at 75 per cent, of the total production, so the actual bounty will be about 4½d. per bushel. It is believed that the amount required to pay the bounty will be about £3,500,000 and, in addition, the Government proposes to grant a loan to the States of £2,500,000 to assist necessitous wheat-growers. It has been suggested that this is a measure to provide £6,000,000 for our primary producers. It is nothing of the sort, lt is a bill to provide £6,000,000 for our wheat-growers. There is no general provision to assist primary producers, and the only assistance which our wheatgrowers will get will be 4½d. a bushel on their marketable production. Of the proposed loan to the States, Queensland will receive £54,000 as against £818,000 for New South Wales. That does not prevent me from supporting the . measure. J realize that the primary producers of Australia generally, and the wheat-growers in particular, are in such a precarious position that it is imperative that prompt assistance be granted to them. It is not my intention to oppose a bill that proposes to provide some assistance, though this measure merely provides that certain money shall be made available to help the wheat-growers. No mention is made of the manner in which that money is to be found. The Minister has intimated that £6,000,000 of the £18,000,000 that is to be raised by the Fiduciary Notes Bill, will be used to finance the measure. I realize, as also does the Government, that the Fiduciary Notes Bill is not likely to become law. I do hot approve of this means of helping the wheat-growers; but I do approve the suggestion of the Country party that a sales tax of £2 10s. a ton be imposed on flour, with a view to paying the farmers 6d. a bushel on their wheat. That scheme would provide up to £8,000,000, including £2,500,000 for wheat-growers in necessitous circumstances.
I shall strenuously oppose any endeavour to finance the bill by means of a fiduciary issue. Why should the unfortunate unemployed and the wheatgrowers be singled out as the recipients of inflated currency? Why does notthe Government propose to pay the fiduciary notes to Australian bondholders, to civil servants, and to members of Parliament ? The whole project is merely an elaborate window-dressing scheme, shrewdly designed to influence the results of the next election. The Government will find that it cannot fool the people by such a transparent piece of trickery. Let it endeavour to give genuine relief to our unemployed and our wheat-growers. I remind honorable members opposite that the Wheat Advances Bill had the approval of the Opposition in this and another place, and that it is now law. Why has not the Government extended the relief contemplated under that measure to the wheat-growers? It was playing its usual game of poker, and is greatly disconcerted because its bluff was called.
This measure proposes a bounty of only 4½d. a bushel, and a nebulous method of finance is suggested, whereas the sales tax proposal of the Country party provides a payment of 6d. a “bushel, and definitely makes available the necessary means of finance. The suggested sales tax would not amount to more than½d. on a 4-lb. loaf, and would not necessarily increase the price of bread. Let the Government show its sincerity by accepting the proposal. The machinery of this billcould easily be adapted for: the purpose.
The honorable member for “Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) urges that a non-party committee, drawn from both sides of the House, should be appointed immediately to introduce, a scheme which would be acceptable to all, . so that immediate assistance might be given to the primary producers. That is a reasonable and broadminded project, advanced by a roan who has the interests of the wheat-growers at heart, and who knows the disabilities under which they labour. The responsibility of accepting or rejecting that sane proposal rosts with the Government. Is it sincere, or merely bent upon windowdressing in preparation for the next election? I urge the Minister and his supporters to exercise that statesmanship which is so essential in times like the present, and to . co-operate with the Opposition in providing the necessary immediate financial assistance for the wheat-farmers of Australia. I trust that they will rise above the pettiness of party politics, and be actuated only by a desire to serve the nation.
.- The debate on this bill must convince all who have heard it, and all who will read it, of the fact that the Government is again earnestly endeavouring to do something to relieve the primary producers of Australia. This is its third attempt to come to the aid of our wheat-growers. Some honorable members opposite have declared that they will support the measure, but they have damned it with faint praise, and subtly insinuated that their “ second barrel “ will deal with it effectively, from their point of view. If so, it will be the third time that that “ second barrel “ has been used to thwart the earnest efforts of the Government to help the primary producers. I challenge the Senate to throw out this bill. Members of that chamber dare not take that action, for the simple reason that the predominating party in this chamber was returned to office within the past eighteen months, while half of the members of another place represent the dead past. Existing conditions were never contemplated when they were elected. If it were not unparliamentary I should say that it is like their impudence to interfere with the proposals of this Government. They should give prompt assistance to the primary producers, instead of burk ing the endeavours of the Government to help them. Members of the Senate have a national duty to perform. If they fail to do it the country will deal with them appropriately when the occasion arises.
The first attempt of this Government to assist the wheat-growers was a generous one. It was rejected by the Senate. The Government appealed to the farmers to grow more wheat, principally with the desire to assist the country out of the slough of indebtedness into which, other governments had allowed it to fall. Itwas impossible for us to do that by cutting one another’s hair. It was imperative to produce real wealth, to make available in large quantities valuable grain that could be exchanged overseas for the commodities that we needed. The farmers rose to the occasion splendidly, but, unfortunately, the bottom fell out of the wheat market. The Government was not responsible for that. Many fantastic proposals have been advanced for easing the situation. “We have seen how the populace has received the drastic proposals of a political leader in one of the States. I do not approve of them, but I do not altogether blame that leader, because of the circumstances in which he found himself, on assuming office. Like this Government, he was bequeathed a legacy of indebtedness by his inefficient and money-grabbing predecessors. In the Commonwealth and in the States, there arc many who say that they have no time for what they describe as “easy money “. When in power they certainly went in for dear money, with the result that now no money can be obtained, and the task of finding other means of meeting the situation has fallen upon others. In addition to exhorting the farmers to ease the country’s burden by growing more wheat, this Government took steps to limit imports. Its predecessors, in pursuance of their semi-freetrade policy, had earned for Australia an unenviable reputation as an importing country.
When the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) was speaking, I interjected that we are now suffering from a breaking down of the system of the past. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) spoke of the way in which the farmers are suffering. The workers also are suffering. He also talked of people in sheltered positions. But there are many farmers in sheltered positions. The statistician’s bulletins, upon which we must depend, when we have not first-hand knowledge of our own in regard to any matter, tell quite a different tale about the position of the farmers of Australia from that which has been told by the honorable member. It is quite true that many farmers are suffering, particularly those who are situated beyond Goyder’s line of rainfall in South Australia, or outside the assured rainfall belts in other States. Wheat-growers in such areas who probably have to depend upon one season’s crop in five, are possibly down and out to-day and in need of assistance, but the blame does not rest upon the Labour party. Since the war period, we have advocated the stabilization of the price of wheat. Although in one season Australia reaped 179,000,000 bushels, a record harvest, it would not have been worth1s. a bushel if the crop had not been purchased by the British Government. According to Bulletin No. 23, supplemented by the latest quarterly statistics return, the wheat production of Australia for the last ten years has been as follows : -
The preliminary figures for 1930-31 indicated that the area sown for wheat would be 118,167,000 acres, estimated to yield 205,000,000 bushels.
– The average yield was 11¼ bushels per acre.
– The honorable member may be right, but up to 1914 there was only one year in which the yield exceeded 100,000,000 bushels.
– There has been a big increase in acreage.
– I know that there has been a gradual increase in acreage quite apart from any exhortations by governments for increased production. The increased yield may also be attributable to the greater use of superphosphates. But my purpose in quoting these figures is to reply to the deliberate attack made by some honorable members on industrial conditions which have no bearing whatever on those of the farmers. I want to show that many farmers, perhapsnot those in Western Australia, where agricultural . development has been more recent than in other States, but particularly those in old-established areas, have done wonderfully well. Many have realized 5s. a bushel and upwards during the seasons referred to.
– Eighty per cent, of the farmers are on- the verge of insolvency.
– And 25 per cent, of the workers whom the honorable member says are in sheltered positions are below the point of insolvency. You can get nothing out of them. I cannot accept the honorable member’s statement that 80 per cent, of the farmers are on the verge of insolvency. One honorable member who has been badly hit during the last year or two reaped 5,000 bags last season, which at 5s. a bag would realise £1,250.
– The more he reaped the more he got behind.
– What! At 5s. a bag? Although I am anxious to assist the man who is down and out, I do not want it to be understood that the farmers of Australia, taking them as a whole, are in that position. Many of them who are on good land are seeking every opportunity to enlarge their holdings. They are to be found at every subdivisional sale purchasing land which is as good as the areas they are already cropping. When recently, portion of the estate of Mr. Duncan Hughes, formerly member for Boothby in this House, was cut up andsold, the price per acre, averaged £12 5s. at auction, and among the purchasers whose names were published were many who already had large holdings. We deplore the slump in the price of wheat, but the present Government cannot be held responsible for it. Other governments always enjoyed periods of abundant harvests, and were in a position to gamble with the product of the farmers.
In 1928-29 the number of persons employed in agriculture was - Malos, 193,713; females, 7,041; total, 200,754; but, as a footnote to the table in the bulletin shows that a great deal of the female labour was domestic labour in home service, we can take it for granted that the wealth produced by the farmers of Australia in that year was distributed among 193,713 males. There are 400,000 persons out of work, getting the dole.
– The number is 300,000.
– I will take it as 300,000. This Government formerly made two attempts to assist the farmer, but unfortunately they were thwarted by the members of the Opposition and their colleagues in another place. If this bill is passed, the producer will, to some extent, be relieved of the burden that has been placed upon him by the interest-monger. I know that it is the merchant and not the farmer who receives most of the return from the wheat crop, but it is not fair to ask the man who is out of work to pay more for the bread that he requires while we have in the community so much wealth derived from wheat production. I accept the statement of honorable members opposite that the farmer does not get anything like the value of that production. In 1920-21, the value of the wheat crop was £62,169,360; in 1921-22, £35,154,664; in 1922-23, £2S,458,936; in 1923-24, £29,936,055; in 1924-25, £53,547,1S5 ; in 1925-26, £35,723,949; in 1926-27, £42,452,792; in 1927-28, £31,895,047; and in 1928-29, £3S,303,014. I have not been able to obtain figures for the last two years, but we all know that there has been a considerable slump in values this year. Assuming that the money has been cut up between 200,000 agricultural workers, it is evident that the industry has not suffered so severely as honorable members opposite would have us believe. The wheat-grower is certainly not in such a bad position as the industrialist, and I am not contending that he should be ; but when we produce record harvests we should not have starving citizens. No one should starve in this land of plenty. I now come to the question of whether it is economical to grow more and more wheat. I have with me a report on the case for South Australia - a mendicant State seeking succour from the Commonwealth. That State has been relatively just as prosper ous as the other States in respect of wheat production, but the farmers in the outer areas have had a bad time. The incubus of interest payments is practically driving them from the land, and South Australia is in the same serious plight as are the other States. They are all part and parcel of the Commonwealth. Let me quote a statement of the Advisory Committee on Finance, which cannot be said to be a biased body. Its personnel consisted of Mr. W. J. Young, C.B.E., chairman, managing director of Elder Smith and Company Limited ; Mr. “L. C. Hunkin, Public Service Commissioner; Mr. L. G. Melville, B.Ec, E.I.A., Professor of Economics, University of Adelaide ; Mr. B. R. Stuckey, A.I.A., UnderTreasurer, and Mr. J. W. Wainwright, Assistant Auditor-General. The following opinion of those gentlemen must.be taken as free from political taint or colour : -
The recent fall in the price of wheat has served to show that the world generally was developing its wheat areas more rapidly than the growth in the rate of consumption warranted, and South Australia together with the other States of the Commonwealth has played her part in this premature development of agriculture.
Australia, as well as the rest of the world, is producing more than the regulated consumptive power of the people, yet millions of people are starving in Great Britain, Germany and the United States of America.
– There are millions starving in Russia.
– That may be so, but that nation has an end to serve, and it is serving it in its own way. Anything that I hear of Russia I take with a grain of salt, but that country has certainly knocked the bottom out of the world’s wheat market. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) has suggested that wheat prices like wool prices, will recover. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Tully), has explained how the bottom was knocked out of wool prices. The banks in England formed an industries company, which sent its representatives to Australia to “stonker” the wool market. Its efforts were successful, but recently prices have improved, because of a wool shortage. Wool is unlike wheat. We are in a favorable position in respect of the production of wool, but not in respect of the production of wheat. Only a day or two ago I asked a certain professor whether he thought that the price of wheat would recover, and he optimistically replied that he thought it would. I then asked him whether he had seen the report in this week’s press that one State in America would reap a record harvest. He was surprised to hear that that was so. The Advisory Committee for Finance has stated that we are foolishly growing wheat beyond the consumptive power of the community. The present system will have to be altered. As I informed the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), it is not a question of growing wheat of a certain quality. The Australian varieties mill better than any other wheat in the world. There is little that Australia cannot do on the top register, but it is to-day in a position of financial difficulty, not because we cannot grow wheat, but because our affairs are badly managed under the capitalistic system, which honorable members opposite have fostered and lived for. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), exudes it from every pore of his body. That system is letting the people down badly, and yet we are trying to patch it up. It is a rotten system, which must eventually be superseded.
– Does the honorable member advocate the conditions prevailing in. Russia ?
– I have never asked for Russian, conditions. Russia is a big factor in the world’s wheat prices, which, of course, materially affect Australia. Does the honorable member deny that?
– The honorable member says that our system is wrong. The Russian system is opposite to ours, and I am asking whether the honorable member advocates it?
– How does the honorable member know that the Russian system is opposite to ours? Has some one tickled his ears with a report which he has accepted without question?
– The honorable member knows well that the Russian system is opposite to ours.
– I have read a lot of things about Russia, hut I do not take any of them as authentic. I gain my information from press cables, and oversea market reports. Some months ago the wheat merchants, including John Darling, Bungey, and Dreyfus & Company, issued a pamphlet in which they claimed that they could finance the wheat harvest by telegraphic transfer from overseas. It was merely a matter of “ tinkletinkle “ in London, a vibration in the air and “ tinkle-tinkle “ in Australia and money would be made available to finance the harvest. At the same time the wheat merchants would take a generous rake-off. If they could do that, why did they not succour those who succoured them so long by providing their profits? The merchants were the friends of the farmers only so long as they had money. When they had no money, Bungey, Dreyfus, and Darling did not want to know them. This Government recognizes the growers as taxpayers and citizens of Australia, and for that reason is doing its utmost to prevent them from being wiped out of existence, not because of any ineptitude or lack of capacity on their part, but because of the operation of our capitalistic system. The capitalists wish to return to the open economic ring, the law of supply and demand, and freedom of contract. They want to starve men and women as they did in the ‘eighties. The wheat merchants, in their efforts to return to the open economic ring, are crushing the farmer mercilessly. They have no consideration for him whatever. This Government is making a third appeal to honorable members opposite to assist the wheat-growers. If effect is given to this legislation, the Commonwealth Bank will be forced immediately to release credits which have, up to the present, been unfairly withheld from the community. With the release of credits we should be able at least to live in comfort and happiness. This room in which we are assembled ha3 been built because of the ingenuity and capability of our workmen, yet to-day some of those workmen, even in this Federal Capital city, are compelled to accept the dole from the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Blakeley). Only to-day when returning to the Hotel Kurrajong, a “ digger “ asked me for the price of a feed. I knew by the look of him that he was a decent fellow. He had a “ digger’s “ badge displayed on his coat. It is shameful to think that we should be arguing about a fiduciary issue when our returned soldiers are starving. Honorable members opposite are unwilling to “ fiduce “ these men, yet they deluded them during the war. Our returned men should not need to beg in a land of plenty, and any honorable member who supports a system which permits such a thing should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. I have been fighting for the worker for 25 or 30 years, and I am glad to say that we have moved a considerable way along the road of reform. A workman is no longer treated as part of a machine. He is no longer a cog in the machine to be scrapped when worn out. But we still have a long way to go before my advocacy of relief for the workers will be discontinued.
– Get off the soap-box amd tell us a little about the farmers.
– I have given the honorable member statistics from Mr. Wickens’ reports.
I propose now to quote from the evidence given before the Public Accounts Committee recently at Kimba on the west coast of Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, by the State bank manager resident there. Kimba is the centre of a big developmental area. Settlement was established there by a Labour Prime Minister, the late Honorable Tom Price. Professor Richardson, of the Waite Agricultural Institute in South “Australia, told us only the other day that he was hopeful that satisfactory results would ultimately be achieved in this area. But at present the farmers there are having a severe struggle. They are out on the fringe of development and are undergoing hardships greater than those suffered by some of the pioneers who came to South Australia in the early days. We know very well that some of the early pioneers, who took up land a few miles from Adelaide, were given a city block, the value of which increased tremendously with the passage of the years. I remember reading that Sir George Kingston brought to South Australia a sum of money given to him by two maiden ladies and their bachelor brother for investment in the new colony. The business ideas of these ladies were so primitive that when they closed their shop each evening, they divided the takings of the day among them and took it home. Sir George Kingston invested money in South Australia for these ladies, but neither they nor their heirs ever saw the land bought with their money. The property increased in value to an enormous extent. These people were not real pioneers; but the men referred to in the evidence of the bank manager which I shall now quote are pioneers in every sense of the word. The manager said in evidence -
This season the area planted was 183,000 acres . . . In 1927 there were 111 applicants for drought relief, of whom 74 required sustenance. The acreage represented was 47,880 acres, and 1,228 tons of superphosphate, 350 tons of chaff, 2,160 cases of petrol, and 8,250 cases of kerosene were supplied. In 1928 there were 180 applicants, of whom 127 required sustenance. The acreage sown was 89,261. There were supplied 2,290 tons of superphosphate, 643 tons of chaff, 8,160 cases of petrol, and 20,016 cases of kerosene. Last year there were 211 applicants, of whom 181 required sustenance. The acreage was 131,352. There were supplied 2,729 tons of superphosphate, 356 tons of chaff, 16,464 cases of petrol, and 31,792 cases of kerosene.
Later, he said -
The loans outstanding in this district total more than £1,500,000. That includes loans to producers for clearing, commonly known as the logging of scrub, for which £10,000 was paid out in nine months. It is safe to say that in the newly-settled areas the loans would average approximately £125 for each settler. The Government further assisted the settler by erecting sheds and tanks on his block, at a cost during the last four years of approximately £200 for each settler.
Another extract from his evidence reads as follows: -
According to figures that I have worked out, the debt of each settler in the area, exclusive of the purchase price of the land, is approximately £1,250. I should say that over 200 of the 300 farmers in the district have been assisted. No one is making his interest payment at the present time.
These quotations indicate clearly that the State is rendering a great deal of assistance to farmers in these outer areas; and the men who are doing the pioneering work there deserve to be assisted. Another extract from the evidence of the same witness reads as follows : -
It appears that some of the settlers had a very small amount of capital, or practically none at all, when they were allotted the land. I know of one man who arrived in the district with a buggy, two horses, and only £5. He was given a logging loan of, roughly, £100, and sheds and tanks were placed on his block to the value of £200. He has had outside assistance in the shape of either bank overdrafts or private mortgage to the extent of about £200, and drought relief totalling about £600 - all in a little over three years. To-morrow he will come in to me and appeal for assistance; he may be short of rations. Some of the loans given to the settlers have been written off.
I Lave no objection to the Government rendering assistance to these people. I do not think that a single voice has been raised in South Australia against it; but the question which should be considered is whether it is economically sound to continue spending money in this way in view of the possibility that wheat-farming in these areas may never be profitable. The manager went on to say -
I wrote to the Land Board asking for the acreage held by men to whom the £1,500,000 has been advanced, but was informed that I would have to make a search of the records.
He also said -
The liabilities of the farmer in this district are typical of those throughout Eyre Peninsula.
It is important to bear in mind that this expenditure is being incurred at a time when every endeavour is being made in industrial enterprises to reduce overhead expenses. As the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) said in his speech, wages play a very small part in the extra cost of producing wheat in these days.
– Is the honorable member referring to a very dry district?
– The average rainfall is about 13 inches.
– And the average yield is about two bushels per acre. [Quorum formed.]
- Dr. Richardson, Professor of Agriculture at the Waite Institute, is very optimistic about the future of these districts, though he says that mallee land does not come into full production for about ten or twenty years after it is cleared, because the wheat plant has to compete against the virility of the mallee shoots. While the Kimba district may have possibilities, I think that the South Australian Government made a mistake in encouraging agricultural activities in the districts around Bookaloo. It is inevitable that mistakes will be made when big enterprises are put in hand, but the settlers should be protected from the form of exploitation to which I intend now to refer. The bank manager whose evidence I have been quoting made this statement to our committee -
I should say that in this district only about 5 per cent, of the farmers have not had assistance from the banks. Some of those liabilities are not even secured. The rates of interest range from 6i per cent, to 7-J per cent. Many farmers have been given credit by other concerns. The highest rate for the renewal of bills would be about 15 per cent., which is paid to General Motors on account of the purchase of motor tractors. I should say that there are twenty farmers in this district who are paying that rate of interest. In some cases the rate charged for the renewal of machinery bills is only 12 per cent.
Farmers who are trying to develop the country cannot be expected to carry burdens of that kind.
It was asserted by the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Morgan) that most of the farmers’ costs are incurred off the farm. I believe that he is right in that statement. Mr. Butler, the Leader of the Opposition in the South Australian House of Assembly, stated some time ago, that a farmer could carry on with from £7 to £10 a year, because so many of his requirements were produced on the farm, but the farmer cannot avoid the charges levied against him after his produce has left the farm.
– What did Mr. Butler mean by saying that a farmer could carry on with from £7 to £10 a year?
– I suppose that he intended to convey that with that sum a farmer could dodge starvation.
– He would be very near the starvation point.
– I do not imagine that he would be living in affluence; but Mr. Butler is a practical farmer and an exPremier of South Australia, and he was probably sure of his ground for that statement.
– Does the honorable member think that a farmer could live with such a ridiculously small income ?
– I do not know how the farmers live. If they had their own wheat gristed for flour, and killed a sheep occasionally, they would need very little money. I do know that. In France, the members of the Australian Imperial Force, as I know from personal experience, often lived on dog biscuits, which they found most palatable when they were hungry; but I do not suggest that any such conditions should exist in the midst of plenty. If a farmer considers himself unfairly treated he should approach the Arbitration Court, and have a price fixed for his labour. He should not be expected to grow wheat for a sum lower than the cost of production. After the late war the Labour party promulgated a scheme to secure a home consumption price for his product that would ensure a living wage to the farmer, and assistance for marketing his surplus. That is really the idea at the base of the amendment suggested by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), but it is questionable whether we should superimpose a tax on flour on the imposts already levied upon the people.
The railways do most of the transport of the wheat for the farmers, and the following table, prepared by the Statistician’s Department, indicating the loss on the working of the various State railways for the year 1929-30, after meeting interest charges, is illuminating: -
This table shows that the profit derived from the railways of the six States amounted last year to £7,834,977; but, when the claims of Shylock had been met, that profit was converted to a loss of £7,742,945, or 24s. 2d. per head of the population. That is one of the “ off the farm “ charges that is responsible for the farmer’s inability to meet his commitments in a year in which there is a record harvest.
– Does the honorable member think that the money borrowed in connexion with the State railways should have been provided free of interest ?
– That money should never have been borrowed. “We should have used the credit of the nation instead.
The system of finance which I advocate is practicable, and when it is put into operation the reign of Shylock will be ended.
– Where has that system been tried ?
– It was put into practice when the banks of Great Britain fell down on their job. When Great Britain went to war in 1914, a fiduciary currency known as Bradbury s was issued to the amount of £600,000,000, and with that the late war was largely financed. Our own notes fund created during the same period is also an effective illustration.
Another “ off the farm “ charge which handicaps the wheat-grower is referred to in the last issue of the Industrial Australian and Mining Standard. That journal states : -
In their report for 1930 the Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioners show a net surplus of £11,715 in the revenue account after allocating £80,000 to the sinking fund and £40,000 to the depreciation, renewals, and insurance account, paying £225,160 in interest and making minor adjustments.
Over £225,000 was paid in interest, and only £11,715 was left for-> the Harbour Trust Commissioners. The report from which I have quoted states that the total receipts for the year amounted to £742,35S. One-third of the gross revenue of the Melbourne Harbour Trust is paid away in interest!
I now turn to the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), who is the only representative of the “ balloon “ party in the House at the moment. I understood him’ to say that he intended to vote for this bill, but I should not be surprised if he twisted again.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- No difference of opinion exists in this House with regard to the need for giving some help to the farmers to tide them over the very difficult circumstances that they are experiencing at the present time. How serious that need is can be gauged by the scale of assistance that the Government now proposes in this, the fifth proposition that has been advanced by honorable members who sit opposite. The present proposal is to pay a bounty of 4£d. a bushel in a debased currency.
Previous proposals have not been on quite such a stingy scale. The position of the farmers has become progressively worse, until now it is so desperate that they are inclined to clutch at any assistance that is offered to them, and the Government’s proposal shrinks accordingly.
The first proposal was that contained in the election promise made sincerely in black and white by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons), and verbally by other honorable members opposite, who evidently were less sincere than he was. Then there was the proposal for a compulsory pool, bound up with which was a guarantee of 4s. a bushel. From the speeches of many honorable members opposite one might suppose that this bill had been introduced for the purpose of giving them an opportunity to discuss the reason for the vote cast against that proposalby two members of the Country party in another place. I have never made any pretence at having favored that proposal. I was opposed to it, and have never attempted to make excuses for the attitude that I adopted towards it. But several honorable members opposite have devoted a good deal of their time to a discussion of the chance that the farmers then lost of securing 4s. a bushel all round for their wheat. I frankly believe that they would not have received that amount. Doubt has been expressed in the past as to whether the Commonwealth Bank Board actually agreed to make an advance of 4s. a bushel without conditions; and the Government steadfastly declined to make available documents that would show whether any conditions were attached to the guarantee. I am satisfied, however, that the Commonwealth Bank Board undertook to advance the money necessary to make the payment, provided that the market price was then not below 4s. a bushel.
– That is ridiculous. The only condition imposed was that there must be orderly marketing, and that the wheat should not he allowed to pile up.
– If that be the case, possibly the Minister will consent to a perusal of the correspondence, which so far he and other members of the Government have steadfastly refused to allow any one to see. At the time, doubt was expressed as to whether, on account of its commitments, the Commonwealth Bank was in a position to pay the whole of the wheat cheque during the few weeks following the opening of the season, while the wheat was being delivered. Under the existing system of marketing, the whole of the payment is not made during that period, but is spread over many months. I believe that the Minister made satisfactory arrangements with the bank for that payment, but I am far from satisfied that it was prepared to guarantee 4s. a bushel irrespective of what the market price was and of what arrangements the Government had made to safeguard the funds with which it was entrusted. What makes me particularly doubtful is the complete collapse subsequently of any power in the Government to finance its second proposal. That proposal wasembodied in the bill which passed through both Houses of this Parliament last December, guaranteeing an f.o.b. price of 3s. a bushel. I well remember the sniggering satisfaction with which the Assistant Minister (Mr.Forde), when introducing that measure, suggested that if the merchants were not satisfied with the regulations he proposed to make there would he a stampede on the part of the wheat-growers to placetheir wheat in the pool. He predicted that the merchants would provide a big proportion of the finance, and consequently he apprehended little difficulty in finding the money necessary to pay the guaranteed price for the quantity of wheat that was pooled. That proposal, I believe, was backed by a genuine desire on the part of many honorable members who sit behind the Government to help the wheat-growers; hut it also had attached to it conditions that to some extent rendered it an attack on the safety of thecountry’s finances. It became plain that it was to be used as a lever to force the Commonwealth Bank to depart from reasonably careful methods of finance, and that motive helped to stultify the proposal. Its introduction in that particular form was one of the most cruel pieces of folly of which I believe any government has been guilty.
In the ranks of the few farmers with whom I have direct dealings,.
I know of the cases of two men who, if they had sold their wheat for the price that they could have received at the siding when they took it off in December - from 2s. to 2s. Id. a bushel - could have obtained sufficient to carry on for the next twelve months. From a close perusal of the accounts of those two farmers, it was clear that, if they had disposed of their wheat at that time, they would have been able not only to pay some of their accounts, but also to arrange finance with respect to superphosphate for the next season, the purchase of fuel for tractors, spare parts, groceries, and certain other necessities incidental to putting in another crop. There was, however, some uncertainty as to whether the regulations would be framed in such a way that all wheat producers would obtain the guaranteed price. There was some doubt as to whether the regulations would be framed in a fair enough way as to enable the wheat merchants to operate in the customary manner. I realize that there was a genuine desire on the part of the Minister to render assistance, and therefore, I was not prepared to advise these men to run the risk of losing the guarantee by disposing of their wheat before they knew whether the wheat merchants would be able to act under the regulations which the Government was to promulgate. Two of the farmers whose accounts I investigated have since had to get along with advances ranging from ls. 4d. to ls. 7d. a bushel for their wheat, and consequently have been compelled to call meetings of their creditors. It is ill-considered proposals such as those embodied in this bill, which are quite ineffective, which tantalise the wheatgrowers and compel them to face insolvency. Much help is needed, God only knows. I have before me a paper published in one of the farming districts in my electorate in which thirteen clearing sales of farmers are advertised. These men either had to give up voluntarily because they were unable to keep going or were compelled to do so by financial pressure. Of the thirteen sales advertised six are of farmers who have beam, compelled to assign their estates, and every one of such sales involves something almost tragic to the farmer and his family. Not only are these deserving producers faced with insolvency, but the progress of production is dislocated. It is bad for the country, and cruel to the farmers.
All that the Government is offering under this measure is a bounty equivalent to 4£d. a bushel, which is to be paid in spurious money, and the payment of which depends on the passage by both branches of the legislature of the Fiduciary Notes Bill, which the Government knows will not become law. The Minister, who made it quite clear that the operation of this measure depends upon the passage of the Fiduciary Notes Bill, knows that any Senate, which represents the interests of all the States, will notpass that bill. That is not the only effect of this proposal. The wheat-farmers are in desperate straits. They have been lured by appeals to grow more wheat, and promises of guaranteed prices which have not been fulfilled. Associated with the Fiduciary Notes Bill is also the suggestion that a measure may be introduced to control exchange rates. In introducing the Fiduciary Notes Bill the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore) said that it might be necessary to introduce legislation to give the Government power to control exports, so that exchange rates could be prevented from becoming abnormally high. I have been supplied with some figures by an official of the South Australia Wheat Pool, which plainly show what the exchange is worth to the wheat-growers. The London price of wheat on the 7th April was 21s. a quarter, or 2s. 7Jd. a bushel. The cost of transporting it from Port Adelaide to London, including freight, insurance and London charges is 10 3/4d. a bushel. The charges in South Australia, including local agents’ fees at the sidings, freight to Port Adelaide or to the out-ports, insurance, rent of stacking blocks, storage, supervision, shipping, labour at the port of shipment and wharfage, amount to 8d. a bushel, or a total marketing charge of ls. 6d. a bushel which, deducted from the London price of 2s. 7½d. a bushel at par exchange leaves a balance of ls. Of d. at the wheat sidings in South Australia. The exchange at that date was equivalent to 6½d. a bushel, bringing the average price at the siding in South Australia to ls. 7Jd. Of that amount onethird is represented by exchange. If the exchange is to be controlled - we do not know at what figure the Treasurer proposes to fix it - the wheat-farmer will probably receive a lower price than he is getting to-day. Exchange at present rates is worth probably 3d. per lb. to the wool-grower, and proportionate rates to butter producers and others producing for export. There is no proposal to assist other producers to the extent of 4-kl., even with spurious money. Besides the cruel bluff behind this bill there is the danger of trapping the primary producers. If they support this proposal they may be deprived of the free exchange market, and by being put off with this piffle of a bounty of 4½d. for wheat only they may lose the present exchange benefit of Bid. “When once we adopt a policy of inflation to assist the wheat-grower, the currency will have to be further inflated to assist those engaged in other industries, and consequently the costs of production to the primary producer, which now are unnecessarily high, will soar still higher. If the exchange is controlled by an impecunious Government to save it from the odium of raising additional taxation to pay its overseas commitments, the primary producer will be trapped into giving up what is now his largest help and benefit for the sake of a paltry 4½d.
– Does the honorable member think that the Government ought to impose higher taxation?
– We should not deprive the producers of the benefit of the exchange in the sneaking manner suggested.
I have spoken of the need to help the primary producers, and I have endeavoured to show that this bill will not help them to any extent. The question arises then as to what can be done. .First of all, I intend to support the amendment of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory). If the act under which the farmers were guaranteed 3s. a bushel f.o.b. has been, inoperative only because of some constitutional defect, surely that defect can be remedied. That should be done if it is possible, and the Government should proceed with the payment of what was promised to the farmers months ago. If that amendment fails, I propose to support the amendment of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) for the imposition of a sales tax on flour. That will provide a perfectly sound method of raising money for assisting the farmers, who will benefit in the same way as the workers and capitalists in the secondary industries benefit through the customs tariff. Honorable members opposite say that it would not be right to put a tax on the people’s food, but their own Government, by means of a primage duty, a sales tax and increased tariffs, has done a great deal to increase the cost of the people’s food. They have been talking about helping the farmers, but the policy of their own Government has made the position of the farmers a great deal more difficult. Moreover, the Government has imposed a tax on tea, an article which is in use in every home. Honorable members opposite should not be so hypocritical as to object to a sales tax on flour on the ground that it would increase the cost of the people’s food, when they support a Government whose every administrative act has tended in the same direction. Only yesterday the Government announced that the sugar agreement was to be renewed, although that agreement imposes a heavy burden on the community as a whole.
– Does the honorable member not support the renewal of the agreement ?
– Before answering that question, I should like to read the minority report of the committee. So far I have before me only the case for extortion. If the bill were amended as indicated, it would do something to remove the special handicap which our fiscal policy has imposed on the farmers, and which the taxation and tariff policies of this Government have done much to aggravate. If their disabilities were removed, our farmers would bo quite able to compete with those in any other part of the world.
– How does the honorable member suggest we could raise the money to pay 3s. a bushel for wheat?
– It has been stated that that proposal was not persevered with because of constitutional difficulties due to a fault in the drafting of the measure, not because money was not available. I now support the request of the honorable member for Swan, that the Government withdraw this bluffing bill, and submit one on the lines of the act which guaranteed the farmers 3s. a bushel, but without the constitutional defects of that measure. If the Government could obtain funds at the time that act was passed, it must still have access to those funds. As a matter of fact, money could be raised to-day to help the farmers if investors were not frightened by inflation proposals of this kind.
– Where is that money to be obtained?
– To answer that question, it is only necessary to point to the tremendous success of the nongovernmental schemes which have been launched in New South Wales and Victoria for helping the farmers. If those schemes had been launched earlier, better provision could have been made for the coming seeding than is possible now. If the Government would restore any sort of confidence among investors no difficulty would be experienced in raising money for this most urgent work. The life of the community depends upon the great primary industries being kept going.
I specially desire to support the appeal of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) that the Government should cease tacking measures for the assistance of farmers on to other highly contentious proposals. The first wheat bill was tacked on to a compulsory pooling scheme of which I disapproved at the time, and which I like no better to-day. The second was tacked on to a proposal for bringing undesirable pressure to bear on the Commonwealth Bank Board, and the Government’s present proposal is wrapped up with what is perhaps the most dangerous and reckless scheme ever advanced by any Australian government. If the Government really understood the distress and suffering of the farming community, it would separate its proposals for relief from all such contentious measures. In that event it would be a real pleasure for honorable members on this side of the House to co-operate with the Government in putting its proposals into operation. I join with the honorable member for Wimmera in appealing to the Government to approach this matter in a genuine non-party spirit, and to do something to help the farmers in their need.
.- It has been most interesting to me to listen to the representatives of wheat-growing constituencies, and I shall- confine my remarks to the international and financial aspect as it affects the wheat industry. Assuming that the farmers be granted monetary assistance to enable them to obtain cheap fertilizers, and put in another crop, what assurance is there that any better price will prevail when that crop is to be marketed? It is possible that at the end of next season the farmers may be in greater straits than now. It is no use to dilate upon the miseries of the wheat-farmers. Any honorable member who denies that stark tragedy faces a great many of these farmers is not fit to occupy his place in the House. It is essential, therefore, that we get down to fundamentals, and see what can be done to remedy the position. In my opinion, it is necessary first to have regard to the international aspect of the matter. The Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) has just returned from an expensive world tour, during which, no doubt, he did his best, according to his lights, to further the interests of Australia in Great Britain and America. I ask him, however, whether he ever put it to the British Government that it should place an embargo upon the importation of Russian wheat, so that Australian wheat might have a chance on the British market. I take it that he did not. It is within the knowledge of all honorable members who read their newspapers that, for some considerable time, Russian wheat has been dumped in England to the exclusion of Australian and Canadian wheat. Yesterday the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) quoted extracts from Canadian newspaper articles to show that distress and poverty prevail among the wheat-growers of Canada. It is evident, therefore, that Australia’s problem is also Canada’s problem, and the problem of other dominions of the British Empire. Our present troubles are due largely to the fact that the British market, which 13 the salvation of our primary producers, has been neglected. The Minister for Markets and Transport has done nothing to protect our interests in that quarter.
He has not appealed to the Labour Government in Great Britain to exclude Russian wheat from the British market.
– The honorable member is wrong.
– Then I should like to know what the honorable gentleman did in the matter. The fact remains that Russian wheat was ordered to be dumped in Great Britain at1s. per quarter less than wheat from other countries, including the British dominions.
– We have made several protests against the dumping of Russian wheat in Great Britain.
– Therefore, the price at which Russian wheat is being sold there is l½d. per bushel below prices paid for other wheat. [Quorum formed.] If the Minister has protested to the British Government onbehalf of the Australian wheat-growers, we are quite safe in assuming that his protest was about as weak as any protest made by him in this House in respect of other transactions detrimental to the interests of the Australian primary producers. Recently an embargo was placed on the export of Australian stud sheep. A shipment to South Africa was stopped, but the Minister allowed a considerable number of stud sheep to be sent to Russia, whence a certain section of the party to which he belongs receives its inspiration.
– And funds.
– It is said, also, that certain funds find their way to Australia from Soviet sources. Recently, in a debate in the House of Lords, it was stated that the British Labour party was so influenced by class bias that it failed to make effective protests against the policy of the Soviet Government. We can only conclude that the Labour party in Australia is in the same position. Dominated as it is by the extremists in its ranks, it dare not oppose the slave labour conditions that obtain in Russia, because they represent the ideal of the communistic system.
What prospect is there for the Australian farmer, even if he received a bonus in real money instead of something which will be ephemeral in value ? Owing to the failure of this Government to protect his interests, he will have no guarantee of a market for his products.
The Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Parker Moloney) toured the world recently, but failed to achieve anything of real benefit to our primary producers. Is he aware that the Soviet Government is spending this year £200,000,000 on its military organization, that it has virtually enslaved the civil population of Russia, that it is dumping timber in the United States of. America, and manufactured goods as well as wheat in Great Britain.
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable member’s remarks are not relevant to the bill.
– The honorable member for Balaclava must direct his remarks to the subjectmatter of the bill, the purpose of which is to provide for the payment of a bounty on wheat, and the making of loans to necessitous wheat-growers.
– I am endeavouring to show that the dumping of Russian wheat in the British market imperils the future of Australian wheat-growers. It is a case of Australian wheat versus Russian wheat. If the honorable member for Bendigo, who is so alert to-night when so often he is asleep, had listened more closely to what I have said, he would have agreed with me. No one can deny that the position of our wheat-growers is being jeopardized in the British market by Russian wheat. If the Minister for Markets were worth his salt he would protest immediately to the Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain. Action in this direction would be much more effective than the introduction of a bill to give a little monetary assistance in the form of an unsecured paper currency. The Soviet Government has launched upon a five-years’ industrial programme for the purpose of destroying all competitors in the economic field, and if the people of the British Empire do not get together and stand for Imperial economic unity, it will succeed. By its sabotage of markets upon which the Australian primary producers rely it will encompass not only our ruin, but also the disintegration of the British Empire.
I part company with those honorable members on this side of the House who have spoken in support of the proposed sales tax on flour. I say emphatically, but with all due respect to my honorable friends on this side that, at the moment, our taxpayers are already overburdened. I, therefore, cannot consent to the imposition of further taxation. The sales tax is the most irritating that has ever been placed upon the statute-book. Even supporters of the Government admit that it has failed in its purpose. Up to the present it has produced very little revenue. The only section of the community that has profited by it is the clerks’ union, which, I suggest, was chiefly responsible for its introduction. It is the invariable experience that taxation, once imposed, remains for all time. I should like to see the sales tax abolished at once. The revenue which it returns to the Government is not sufficient to compensate for the worry and annoyance which it causes to the business community. Despite figures quoted by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), I feel sure that it would inevitably mean an increase in the price of bread. If, as has been alleged, flourmillers or bakers are profiteering, the Government has its remedy. I do not stand for combines any more than I stand for communism.
This bill represents the fifth effort that the Government has made to farm the farmers. There is a catch in it. It is tied to the Fiduciary Notes Bill. A more despicable thing could not be done than to tie the farmers to such an inflation proposition. Every one who has travelled in continental countries knows the horrors of inflation. The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) said that the British fiduciary notes issue during the war was successful and that a certain fiduciary note issue by the Fisher Government was also successful. But surely the honorable member knows something about the chaos and collapse of currency in Germany, Russia and other countries in which inflation has been practised. As far back as 1918, stamps were used for currency in Turkey, and in Russia the metal currency completely disappeared. Money-changers were thick in the streets changing the different types of notes, and there were half a dozen common types of forgery in the notes circulating at that time. In my opinion, there is something of a confidence trick about this bill.
– Order ! That remark must be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it. The dictionary defines “ fiduciary “ as “ confidence “ ; but in this case it is synonymous with lack of confidence. The Treasurer is trying to tell us that he can get money out of a hat, but that type of trick would not be worthy of a second class racecourse. The honorable gentleman pretends that he is conferring some benefit upon the farmers by making this bill contingent upon the passing of the Fiduciary Notes Bill. It is nothing short of a tragedy that the name of the farmers should be connected with the Government’s despicable inflationary proposal.
– I have allowed the honorable gentleman to use a similar phrase to that once or twice, although I felt that it was hardly unparliamentary; I must ask him not to repeat the expression.
– I have used it twice and that should be sufficient. My vocabulary does not contain sufficient expletives to describe the Government’s scheme for watering our currency, and reducing the purchasing power of wages, and old-age, invalid and soldiers’ pensions. When the farmers are tied up with this fiduciary scheme to the extent of £6,000,000 and the unemployed to the extent of £12,000,000, 1 feel that government could not sink lower. This is politics indeed, and of the worst variety! The farmers are being sacrificed by this so-called financial wizard who withdrew from the Ministry, but came back into it again to the disgrace of his party. I protest against this bill and shall vote against it.
– It is admitted by all parties that the farmers are in real need of assistance. Some honorable members have said that this bill represents the fifth attempt that the Government has made to grant such assistance though it may be said that it is only the third. If the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) will declare definitely that this bill is not connected in any way with the Fiduciary Notes Bill, I shall be willing to support it, but not otherwise.
In view- of the statement made by the Treasurer that certain bills, including this one, are contingent upon and supplementary to the Fiduciary Notes Bill, the Minister for Markets can hardly expect us to believe that the Government intends to finance this scheme by some other means than fiduciary notes. I do not believe that the issue of these notes would be in the best interest of the farmers.
It has been said that the farmers are in their present position because of the price they have paid for land. But that is not the case with many of them, for farmers on some of the best land in Australia are in as great difficulties as others who are on poor and undeveloped land. Some men, it is true, paid a high price for land when the price of wheat was high. The conditions prevailing at that time justified their action; but, unfortunately, they have entered, into obligations which they cannot carry out without substantial help.
I wish to direct attention to the fact that not only the wheat-farmers, but all sections of our farming community, with the possible exception of the dairyfarmers, are in difficulties at present. The dairy-farmers are just about making ends meet. On the other hand, our orchardists and oats and barley-growers are in very great trouble. Barley is almost unsaleable in Australia at present and oats are fetching only from ls. to ls. 6d. per bushel. If the Government desires to act fairly towards the agricultural community, it should not confine the granting of assistance to the wheat-farmers.
If this bill is defeated, I can picture the Minister for Markets travelling throughout Australia during the next election campaign telling the people that the Government made several efforts to assist the farmers, but was prevented from doing so by members of the Opposition. I do not think it will be of any use to try to get the farmers to believe that it would have been possible to pay them 4s. per bushel for their wheat. The Government I believe is thankful that that proposal was defeated in another place. An expenditure of from £18,000,000 to £20,000,000 would have been involved in giving effect to it, and I am sure that, if the Senate had passed the bill, the Government would have had to default in its payments. Then we come to the proposal to guarantee 3s. a bushel f.o.b. which I regard as one of the most cruel imposi- tions ever put out on the wheat producers of Australia. Week after week while the harvest was in full swing, and numbers of farmers had an opportunity to sell to much better advantage than they were able to do later, the Minister then in charge of the measure was giving it out that everything was being done and that all would be well; that as soon as certain formalities had been got over the farmers would be assured of their 2s. a bushel at sidings. Eventually, however, to the despair, horror, and disgust of the farmers generally, he had to say to them, “You must accept the position that nothing further can be done; the whole thing is off; do the best you can for yourselves.” The vacillating policy of the Government on that occasion caused tremendous monetary loss to the farmers. The whole of the marketing conditions were upset. Those who formerly bought wheat were frightened off the market, and some considerable time elapsed before they were willing once more to operate. Hundreds of farmers could have sold to greater advantage had it not been for the want of confidence created by the policy of the Government. I am prepared to support the amendment of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory). If the Minister for Markets still contends that all would have been well with regard to the guarantee of 4s. a bushel, why should not all be well in regard to the 3s.? There has never been a satisfactory explanation as to why nothing has been done in regard to that guarantee.
– And it was 3s. f.o.b. whereas the other was 4s. at country sidings.
– If the Government would be prepared to revert to the Wheat Advances Act it would be a very much better proposition than that which is now before the House, tied up as it is with a fiduciary issue. It is impossible for any one with any regard for the future of Australia to have anything to do with it. Most desirous as I am of helping the primary producers, I cannot touch it. It has created such a want of confidence in Australia that it is impossible for the Government to float a loan that would be of real assistance to the farmers. It is a most dangerous proposal to put forward at the present time. We are told that £6,000,000 is to be devoted to assisting the farmers and £12,000,000 for unemployed this year. Provided things are no better next year - under inflation they certainly will not be - what will happen? There will be a cry for a further issue of this easy money. Unemployment will not be diminished, and the primary producers will be quite as badly off as they are to-day because confidence in Australia will, by that time, have been completely shattered. Once the thin end of the wedge of inflation is introduced, the fall will be greater than ever, and with a government in power as helpless as . the present Administration is, further issues of fiduciary notes will undoubtedly be authorized.
I have no desire to labour the question further than to say that the present Administration is the most calamitous that has ever held office in Australia. For political purposes it has imposed upon the farming community. This bill is only another - and perhaps the final - election window-dressing effort on the part of the Minister for Markets. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) told us that he bad travelled through New South Wales and placed the position before the farmers, and that he found they knew who their friends were. I can say for the farmers of Barker that they know the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) is not their friend when he proposes to issue notes of this description. I want to make it clear that I, for one, will not be gulled. I shall support the amendment foreshadowed by the honorable member for Swan (Mr Gregory), or the proposal for a sales tax; but I cannot support a bill which is dependent for its existence upon a spurious form of currency.
– A great deal has been said on both sides of the House about the difficulties of the wheat-growers. Many, especially those who dwell in cities, have asked why the wheat-grower finds himself in difficulties to-day, although it is only the first year in which he has encountered low prices for his produce. The reason is that over very large areas the wheat-growers have suffered three very dry seasons prior to the present, and now that they have come through a season in which the yield has been reasonably good, they find that the price for wheat is so extraordinarly low that in many cases the better the yield the greater has been their loss. Every one is satisfied that something must be done, and done quickly, to relieve the farmers. The Government has brought down three measures. The second was passed by both chambers, and became an act, but for some reason or other was never proclaimed and the second clause of this bill proposes its repeal. A good many questions have been asked from this side of the chamber why it is proposed to repeal that act, and we have had no very satisfactory explanation of the Government’s desire to do so. That act of 1930 provided for a guarantee of 3s. a bushel f.o.b., which was equal to 2s. 4id. a bushel at country railway sidings. If we compare that measure with this bill we find that this provides among other things for a bounty of 4£d. a bushel, which, if added to the present price of ls. Sd. a bushel, at country railway stations, means that the farmer will receive only 2s. 0£d. a bushel. He will, therefore, be 4d. a bushel worse off under this bill than he would have been had the act of 1930 been put into operation. I require a more convincing explanation than that given by the Minister before I am prepared to support clause 2 of the bill which repeals the previous legislation. I shall support the amendment of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) that this measure be withdrawn with the object of instructing the Government to proclaim the act of 1930.
Certain Government supporters have referred to this bill as one under which a bounty of 6d. a bushel will be paid to the growers. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) was under that impression last night and in support of his contention he read clause 5, which certainly sets out that the rate of bounty shall be 6d. a bushel; but apparently the honorable member did not trouble to read the previous clause which sets out clearly that the quantity of wheat upon which the bounty is payable shall be three-quarters of the total produced.
– I was then referring only to the export trade. The honorable member should be fair.
– The honorable member said that this was a bounty of 6d. a bushel. It is actually a bounty on three-quarters of the total quantity of wheat produced, which is not even the exportable surplus. Let me explain the position for the honorable member’s enlightenment. Sub-clause 3 of clause 4 states -
For the purposes of this section the quantity of wheat exported from Australia during the period specified in the last preceding subsection shall be deemed to be the equivalent of 75 per centum of the total quantity of wheat produced in Australia and sold or delivered, for sale during that period.
That does not mean that three-quarters of the wheat produced is the quantity exported. It merely means that for the purposes of the bill three-quarters of the total quantity shall be deemed to be the quantity exported, and the quantity exported is actually about five-sixths of the total quantity produced. The position is that the wheat-grower is not to receive even a bounty of 6d. a bushel on the export quota. He is to receive a bounty of 6d. on three-quarters of the total yield, which is less than the export quota. Therefore, the bounty will actually be 4£d. a bushel on the total production. Had the Government brought down this proposal six months ago, before any sales of wheat were made, either locally or overseas, it could have expended this money to much better advantage so far as the grower is concerned. Had the Government then paid the proposed bounty, amounting to £3,500,000 on all wheat actually exported, growers would have benefited to the extent of over SA,000,Q0Q, because, while this bounty of £3,500,000 would have been paid on export only, the local price would have risen automatically to the extent of the amount of the bounty even though no bounty were paid on the local consumption. Consequently the Government would have laid out its money to much better advantage both for itself and for the .grower. It is too late now for that to be done. The Government is now providing this bounty by a method which i<disadvantageous both to itself and to the growers.
The bill provides two forms of assistance - a bounty amounting to £3,500,000, and a loan of £2,500,000, to be allocated to the States for the assistance of necessitous farmers. We have been told by various Ministers, and particularly the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney), that there is no means of providing the assistance set out in the bill other than by a fiduciary issue. We have been told that we cannot consistently support this bill and oppose a fiduciary issue. I totally disagree with both those statements. I have read the bill carefully, and there is nothing in it from the first clause to the last to connect it with, a fiduciary issue. It is perfectly true that we have been told by various Ministers that a fiduciary issue is the only means of providing money for the purposes of this bill, but we are dealing with the bill and not with what Ministers have told us about it. Its phraseology has no connexion in any way with a fiduciary issue. Clause 7 sets out how the moneys are to be provided. It reads -
The Treasurer may, from time to time, under the provisions of the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act 1911-1927, or under the provisions of any act authorizing the issue of treasurybills, borrow moneys, not exceeding in the whole, the sum of £6,000,000.
Those words are absolutely identical with words employed in bounty bills in connexion with which the provision of moneys was quite orthodox. There is, therefore, nothing in the bill to connect it with a fiduciary currency. In any case the members of the party to which I belong contend that there is another means by which money can be provided almost immediately to carry out the purposes of this measure, and it has been mentioned by the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) and the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), as well as by other honorable members who have spoken on this subject. The moneys referred to in clause’ 7 could doubtless be borrowed without any difficulty from the Commonwealth Bank, provided that that institution is satisfied that adequate provision is being made for the speedy redemption of the loan by means of a sales tax on flour. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) said to-night that he had no time whatever for a sales tax on flour, because it would mean the imposition of a burden upon the people of Tasmania; but does not the honorable member realize that if there is no sales tax on flour and this bill is carried, as proposed by the Minister - if there is any real meaning other than window-dressing in the clause in the Fiduciary Notes Bill, which states that at some time moneys may be borrowed for the redemption of the amount of assistance provided to the growers - Tasmania, along with the other States, will be taxed to provide that redemption. “Whether the tax be in the form of a sales tax or of taxation to meet interest on loans, it has to be made, and it seems to me that in the long run there is not much difference between the two methods of taxation in relation to their incidence on the individual. I regard this sales tax as the only means by which assistance can be provided in time to be of any use to the growers. I urge the Minister to give careful consideration to the suggestion. I believe that if this means were employed by the Government to provide the necessary money to finance the bill the wheatgrowers could be assisted within three weeks from to-day. If the honorable gentleman is adamant, and says that nothing but the fiduciary issue will be employed to provide the wherewithal to assist the growers we may expect a delay of at least six months, if, indeed, assistance ever comes from that quarter.
The fiduciary currency issue is a matter so controversial that already the Government has lost six supporters mainly because of it. If we contrast the two methods of providing the money to make the bill workable we must inevitably arrive at the conclusion that the sales tax makes it possible to give immediate assistance while the fiduciary issue makes that assistance a problematical matter. If the Government adheres to its expressed determination, and relies upon the Fiduciary Notes Bill to finance the wheat bounty, it is inevitable that that measure will be rejected in another place. Three months must then elapse before the bill can be re-submitted, when again, no doubt, it will suffer defeat. An appeal could then be made to the country on the issue, but even if the Government were successful, which is extremely improbable, a delay of at least sis months would take place before anything could be done to assist these impoverished men. What is going to happen to them in the interim? ls it the Government’s desire to keep these despairing, aye desperate, men on the rack all that time simply to improve its chances of persuading the people of Australia to accept its inflation proposals ?
Without entering into the merits and demerits of a fiduciary currency versus the imposition of a sales tax as a means of providing finance for this bill, I submit that the fact remains outstanding that the adoption of a fiduciary currency necessitates a delay of at least six months, whereas the employment of a sales tax would enable assistance to be given to the farmers within three weeks. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) said that it was imperative that immediate action should be taken in the matter. Obviously, if the Government really desires to relieve the dire necessity of the wheat-growers, it should adopt the proposal of the Country party. If it adheres to its declared plan, which involves such a considerable delay, the farmers will quickly grasp the position, and condemn the Government for its inactivity.
Even at this late hour I should like to devote a few minutes to an examination of the possibilities of loan redemption by means of a sales tax on flour. A perusal of the current daily press discloses that flour is now selling in our principal exporting States at the ridiculously low price of £6 10s. a ton. It must be admitted even by those who claim that a sales tax on flour would increase the cost of bread, that no baker can claim that he is really entitled, as a matter of economic justice, to buy flour at £6 10s. a ton, when that involves the production of the wheat from which the flour is made at a price that means ruination to the growers. With flour at £6 10s. a ton, the cost of the flour in a 2-lb loaf of bread works out at 1-Jd. What amount of sales tax would be necessary to redeem the assistance proposed in this measure within a short period, and how much would it add to the cost of bread? Even if the Government set itself the task of paying off within twelve months the £3,500,000 which it proposes to give to tie growers in the form of a bounty, that would not be at all impossible of achievement if a sales tax were imposed.
When Professor Perkins first brought down the suggestion of a sales tax some months ago, he suggested the figure of ?7 4s. a ton. If ?511s. a ton were imposed as a sales tax on flour, it would suffice to pay off within twelve months the whole of’ the ?3,500,000, plus interest at 6 per cent. With flour now at ?6 10s. a ton such a tax would have the effect of raising its cost to a trifle over ?12, which would still be well below the lowest price at which flour was sold before the recent slump and any increase in the price of bread would be negligible. One cannot help being surprised that, while condemning this method of obtaining the necessary finance, the Minister apparently contemplates with absolute equanimity a similar action on the part of the State Government, because by way of interjection, the honorable gentleman intimated that the Victorian Government proposes to increase the price of wheat for local consumption to 4s. a bushel. That would have just about the same effect in raising the price of flour as would the imposition of a sales tax sufficient to wipe out the whole of the ?3,500,000 in twelve months. If the Minister considers that that is a reasonable action for a State Government to take, why should he consider it wrong if adopted by the Commonwealth Government? The 4?d. a bushel bounty which this Government proposes to pay on the whole of our wheat is really equal to a bounty of 2s. 3d. a bushel on one-sixth of our crop, which is the proportion used for local consumption. Taking as a basis the existing price of 1s. 8d. a bushel the effect of this bounty will be equivalent, in its benefit to the grower, to a price of wheat for local consumption of about 3s.11d. a bushel, or practically the amount that the Victorian State Government proposes to fix. Therefore, the imposing of a sales tax as suggested would be on all-fours - with respect to its effect upon the price of flour and extra cost to the consumer - with the proposed action of the State Government, which has the Minister’s approval. If this Government agreed to continue such a tax for a further nine months, it would be able also to wipe out the ?2,500,000 that it proposes to advance to necessitous farmers in the form of a loan, and so make the amount a gift instead of a loan. If the Government felt that the figure suggested would be too heavy a tax, it could adopt a lower one, spread over a longer period.
I appeal to the Minister to give earnest consideration to our proposal. Up to the present he has given it but scant attention. I understand that a private member has no power to move an amendment which involves additional taxation. The Minister has it in his hands to do so. He can choose between the two methods, the one giving immediate assistance to impoverished wheat-growers, the other a nebulous proposal, the application of which is indefinite. The responsibility is entirely upon the Government as to which method it adopts. If the Government refuses to budge from the attitude it has taken up, if it rejects a means of prompt assistance in favour of one involving delay, it will stand condemned in the eyes of the wheat-growers when they are informed, as they will be, that assistance could have been given them, if the Government had only cared to adopt the means available.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Nairn) adjourned.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Mr. Lyons on Party Loyalty The “Labor Daily” and Mr. Cusack - New South Wales Government: Payments to Bondholders.
Motion (by Mr. Theodore) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– It has been said by honorable members opposite that there is need for real money, and I point out to them that there is also need for real men. We require 18-carat men at a time like this. I draw the attention of the House to the views of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) on party loyalty. Those who are now acclaiming the ex-Labour member as Australia’s new leader may be interested to read bis opinion on party loyalty, and the fate of Labour breakaways. In the Hobart Daily Post, of the 16th November, 1916, the honorable member for Wilmot 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 f progress of the movement. As a matter of act, very few men ever 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.
Speaking at the Hobart Domain, and referring to the breakaway of Senator Ogden from the Labour party, Mr. Lyons also said -
Senator Ogden comes into the city today, and has no one to bid him welcome. He will go out to-morrow, and there will not be one to bid him Godspeed. It is a terrible thing to bcc n man sell his principles and the party that has lifted him up. I hope I shall never have the misfortune to leave my children the shame and the dishonour of one who has become a traitor to his own class in order to serve the enemies of the people.
Before members such as the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) become big sinews in the tail of Lyons, it is desirable that they should know just what this gentleman is, and I consider it to be my duty to make his position clear.
It was recently stated in Mr Lang’s Labor Daily that the member for Eden-Monaro had furnished to the editor a report of a speech by him as “ doctored “ by the Hansard staff. I resented that statement, and commented upon it at a recent sitting of this House, and I take further exception to it because it has riot been corrected by tho editor of that newspaper. I presume that there is a representative of the Labor Daily in the press gallery. I realize the importance of keeping public life free from press interference. In Great Britain the press has demoralized parties and governments. There was an individual in England named Harmsworth, who was the editor of a sort of golly-wog newspaper, and, as it proved a profitable concern, he subsequently became the editor of a powerful journal. He was then able to break or make governments, and because of that power he became a multi-millionaire and a lord. We do not desire a power of that nature to be exercised in this country. We do not want Parliament or parties to be intimidated, and we do not approve of press misrepresentation. I expect that the Labor Daily, after it has heaped glorification on Mr. Lang, will find time to drop its malice aforethought and pusillanimous intent in disparaging members of this Parliament and perform an act of journalistic ablution by expressing regret for having impugned the integrity of the Ilansard staff. You, Mr. Speaker, can prove to the representative of this paper that my report was not doctored. The Hansard reports of speeches of honorable members are faithful records. I have never endeavoured to induce that staff to doctor or bowdlerize my speeches in any way. This newspaper appears to lay itself out to damage this Government and this Parliament. I shall never submit to the press being allowed to influence the public minds unfairly against any honorable member. When I contested the Eden-Monaro seat, the Labor Daily apparently regarded me as an insufficiently plastic type of candidate, and declined to publish my itinerary, and since I have been a member of this House it has not reported one of my utterances.- Like a cannibalistic head-hunter, it is looking for an opportunity to exhibit my political skull on the top qf a bamboo. It has published three falsehoods concerning me. The first is that a meeting of the Queanbeyan Electorate Council censured me, and recommended my expulsion from the Labour party; the second is that I attacked the Beasley group in this House; and the third is that at one time I was guilty of supporting conscription. Evidently it is out. to damage my prospects politically, with a view to preventing me from winning what I regard as a safe seat. I defy it, and from my position in this House I shall endeavour to see that it, as well as the other newspapers of this country, is kept in its place. I shall not allow it. to misrepresent mc with impunity. I hope that its representative will take the pains to scrutinize the Hansard proofs that you, sir, can. make available to him. It will then be seen that my speechwas not doctored, as it is alleged.
. - On the 14th instant, the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) made the following inquiry in this House : -
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?
Later during the sitting, the right honorable gentleman stated that he understood that New South Wales intended to pay 3 per cent, interest on various Australian loans negotiated for it during previous years, and also upon loans raised in America, and he asked whether the Commonwealth Government had received any definite information regarding what is taking place. The position in regard to New South Wales interest is as follows : -
The State declined to pay interest due on the 1st April, 1931, to bondholders in Great Britain on a 3 per cent, loan of £12,420,113 8s. 3d., and a 5 per cent, loan of £21,715,000, the total amount of which was £729,15911s. 2d. The Commonwealth arranged for the payment of this interest on the due date and is taking action to recover the moneys from New South Wales. The State arranged payment of interest due on the 1st April, 1931, to bondholders in New York of a 5 per cent, loan of £4,990,034. It failed to pay interest amounting to £435,756 18s.5d. due on the 15th March and the 1st April to the Commonwealth on loans made by the Commonwealth to it. It is understood that since the 1st April, 1931, the State has paid interest amounting to approximately £29,000 on loans raised by it in Australia and taken over by the Commonwealth. As regards interest falling due in the future, the State has not advised the Commonwealth of its intentions, but a bill has been introduced into the New South Wales Parliament providing, inter alia, that interest payable by the State in Australia be reduced to 3 per cent.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.36 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 April 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19310415_reps_12_128/>.