14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) tookthe chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. Adair Macalister Blain made and subscribed the oath of allegiance as member forthe Northern Territory.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) - by leaveagreed to -
Thathe have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend Sections 44 and 50a of the Commonwealth Conciliation, and Arbitration Act 1904-30, as amended by the Statute Law Revision Act 1934, and to amend the first schedule to the Statute Law Revision Act 1934.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
Sir HENRY GULLETT laid on the table reports of the Tariff Board on the following subjects -
Axle Shafts and Propeller Shafts.
Collar Check, Collar Cloth, Saddlers’ Kerney and Saddle’ Serge.
Distributor Arms for distributing high tension current to sparking plugs.
Kitchen-ware; Material for the Manufacture of Pot Mits; and Pot Mits
Nickel-plated Wristlet Watches and Nickelplated Cases therefor.
Piston Pins and Valves for Internal Combustion Engines.
Piston Binga for Internal Combustion Engines.
Shackle Bolts, Pins and Assemblies; Spring Hangers; King Pins; Tie Rod Pins; Tie Rod Ball Pins; Tie Rod Ball Studs; and U-Bolts for Motor Vehicles.
Ordered to ho printed.
– Has the Minister for Commerce made to the Governments of the Stater ‘hu request that he promised he would make, that” action be taken to install wireless equipment on all coastal vessels? If so, have any replies been received ? If the request has not yet been made, will the right honorable gentleman, in view of the urgency of the matter and the deep concern felt by seamen, undertake to make it without further delay ? Can he also indicate whether action will be taken by the Commonwealth in regard to vessels that come under its control?
– Already a regulation has been drafted by the Commonwealth, in conformity with the promise given last week, dealing with ships of less than 1,600 tons. Communications have also .been addressed to the different State governments concerning vessels that come under their jurisdiction, and the urgency of the matter has been stressed.
– I ask the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties whether it is true, as reported in the press, that negotiations are to be resumed between the governments of New Zealand and Australia, in regard to trade matters generally, but particularly in relation to the citrus industry?
– Negotiations with New Zealand have not been resumed. Yesterday, however, conversations were held in Sydney ‘between the Minister for Commerce and the New Zealand delegation. Further conversations are to take place to-morrow between the delegation and the Minister for Trade and Customs. I hope to see the members of the delegation personally later in the week. It is yet too soon to say that negotiations generally are likely to be resumed; but it may he possible to reach agreement upon certain matters.
– In view of Ohe approaching adjournment of Parliament, is the Acting Leader of the House in a position to make a full statement of the progress made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment in the negotiations that be is conducting? If that statement cannot be made to-day, will the right honorable gentleman - state fully what has so far been done, and when further immediate relief may be given to the unemployed?
– It is hoped that, as promised, the Assistant Treasurer will bring down during the present week a schedule of works in conjunction with a loan bill. The whole matter may then be discussed, and the progress made outlined.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce whether it is a fact that the latest statistics reveal an adverse trade balance in commodities of £3,000,000 sterling, compared with a favorable balance, at the same period last year, of £7,600,000; and what steps are being taken by the Government to correct that alarming position?
– The fact that the imports have been greater thiB year is duc almost entirely to the good prices obtained overseas for our products, the effect of which was to establish substantial credits abroad. I believe it will be found that the trade position will adjust itself under the operation of the policy of this Government.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Commerce whether the Commonwealth Government has yet received from the British Government a reply to its representations as to the undesirability of restrictions being imposed upon theexport of meat from Australia to Britain, and whether the discussions that have been going on in recent weeks are approaching a satisfactory conclusion?
– The negotiations are still proceeding.
– In view of the facts that a considerable amount of Christmas relief is being given to different sections of the community and that the Ministry has refused to restore invalid and old-age pensions to their former level of £1 a week, I desire to ask the Acting Prime Minister whether the Government, as an indication of its goodwill for the aged and infirm, will direct that the Christmas payment of these pensions shall be on the former maximum basis of £1 a week?
– The honorable member’s question involves a matter of policy and I remind him that it is not usual to reply to such questions without notice.
– When the Estimates were being discussed, I mentioned the case of a man, the beneficiary under his grandfather’s will, who was being called upon to refund to the Pensions Department pension payments made to his grandmother. The Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) said that he was looking into the matter, and later I received a reply on the stationery of the Pensions Department. I should like to know whether the opinions expressed in that communication were those of the Assistant Trea surer or of the department, and what action it is now proposed to take in order to recover the pension payment. Is it the intention of the department to sell the inherited property valued at £150?
– I have considered the matter closely with the officers of the department, and only this morning signed a letter for despatch to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). In the penultimate paragraph there is a suggestion that the person concernedshould put forward proposals for repayment over a period of time.
– He cannot make any payments.
– Will the Minister directing negotiations for Trade Treaties lay on the table of either the House or the Library, any request from Fiji for further concessions in respect of primage and sales tax imposed on imports from that country? I also ask the Minister whether it is not a fact that concessions to Crown colonies were made at Ottawa on the representation of the British Government, whether any request has been made in that connexion, and if so, will he lay the request on the table of the House?
– I know at the moment of no written request from Fiji, but I think every honorable member is aware that Fiji has again and again publicly protested against both the primage and sales tax being imposed upon imports from that colony, of a kind no* subject to sales tax in Australia. The Governor and the President of the Legislative Council of Fiji last year paid a special visit to Australia to ask for the removal of those two imposts. As to the second part of the honorable member’s” question, the requests on behalf of British colonies at Ottawa were made on behalf of the colonies by theSecretary of State for the Colonies, Sir Phillip CunliffeLister. They were not made by the British Government in a general way, but were made specifically by the Crown colonies through their Minister.
– In view of the importance and value of electrical power to the industrial and domestic life of the primary producer and country dweller, I desire to ask the Acting Leader of the House whether the Government will consider the advisability of developing hydro-electric schemes throughout the various States and substituting such schemes for the proposed standardization of railways between the capital cities of the Commonewalth as a means of providing employment?
– The Government will be pleased to consider the matter if the States will bring it forward.
– Has the AttorneyGeneral yet had time to investigate the statement I made last week about the conditions of engaging labour at Port Melbourne? If not, will he do so at his earliest convenience?
– The matter has been under consideration and I hope something may be done before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess.
Par leys for Trade Agreements.
– Has the attention of the Minister directing . negotiations for Trade Treaties been called to a press statement forecasting negotiations between Great Britain and the United States of America in which it is stated that a projected agreement - broadly proposes that America should reduce tariffs on classes of British goods and restrict consignments to China, thus providing an increased market for British coal, iron, steel, machinery and textiles, in return for which Britain will agree to purchase specific quantities of American cotton and wheat yearly.
Will the Minister give the House an assurance that appropriate steps will be taken to prevent our exports to Great Britain being jeopardized by any agreement with the United States of America?
– I have seen the paragraph referred to by the honorable member, but so far the Government has no confirmation of it. The wheat position will be closely watched. As the honorable member is aware, under the Ottawa agreement dominion wheat enjoys a preference in this way: that a duty of 3d. a bushel is imposed on foreign wheat, subject to the condition that dominion wheat must be sold in Britain at world parity. The Australian delegation to Ottawa attached very little importance to this concession, and asked that it should not be taken into consideration against Australia as being in the nature of a concession at all. The honorable member’s question will be considered.
– In view of the facts that the B class station at Kalgoorlie has discontinued its daylight broadcasting service, that no satisfactory service is received from the 6W.F. national station at Perth, which is 375 miles away, and that it is unlikely that this may be expected from the only other national service station, in the Katanning district - which is equally remote - will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General consider as urgent the necessity of establishing a national broadcasting station at Kalgoorlie to serve the whole of the goldfields districts in Western Australia?
– The Postal Department is still engaged on the second stage of its programme, comprising the erection of seven broadcasting stations. At the conclusion of the present work, the third stage will be undertaken, and no doubt consideration will then be given to claims of Kalgoorlie.
– Has the Assistant Treasurer investigated the possible effect upon Australia of the recent Italian decree, by which the Italian Government proposes to commandeer the overseas assets of Italian citizens? Isthere any danger that such assets in Australia will be used to finance Italian trade or commitments with countries other than Australia; and, if so, would any intervention on the part of the Australian Government avail to remedy the position?
– I am aware generally from the newspapers of the situation to which the honorable member has referred, but we have received no official advice. I shall go into the matter, and see whether there is any danger of what the honorable member has suggested.
– Is it the intention of the Government to make any money available to local governing bodies to enable them to provide Christmas relief work?
– I understand that several of the schemes submitted by the States are really local government works, so that some of the money which is being made available by the Common wealth Government will go to local bodies.
– Has the Minister for Commerce observed press reports to the effect that an uncharted reef has been discovered off the north-west coast of Australia?Will he have investigations made into the report with a view to having the reef surveyed and charted if it is proved to exist?
– My attention has been drawn to the matter, and I shall have such steps taken as may be necessary to verify or disprove the report.
– Seeing that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment is this week to submit a schedule of proposed works to Parliament, will the Government consider the repair or renewal of the present repatriation offices in Adelaide, as they are in a most unsatisfactory condition?
– I shall bring the matter under the notice of the Minister for Repatriation.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1934 -
No. 33 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
No. 34 - Fourth Division Officers’ Association of the Trade and Customs Department.
No. 35 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.
Australian Imperial Force Canteens Funds Act - Fourteenth Annual Report by the Trustees, for year 1933-34 (including the Sir Samuel McCaughey Bequest for the Technical Education of Soldiers’ Children).
Motion (by Dr. Earle Page) proposed -
That the House at its rising adjourn until 2.30 p.m. to-morrow.
– There is a great deal of business before Parliament which must be attended to before the recess, and most honorable members are averse to rushing important matters through in the last few hours without proper consideration. That being so, the Government might well have seen fit to call Parliament together earlier in the day than the hour stipulated in the motion. Unless this is done some honorable members may have to leave Canberra before all the business is finished.
– It is possible that Ministers may have certain matters to attend to in order to get ready for the sitting of Parliament each day, and I know that this is made the excuse for not meeting until the afternoon. However, it seems a dreadful waste of time to keep honorable members waiting about every morning with practically nothing to do when the House might be sitting. As things are, we shall, probably, be asked to engage in some allnight sittings. Would not the most common-sense arrangement be to meet in the mornings, thus allowing ourselves more time to get through the work before us? Honorable members would still have plenty of time to attend to their correspondence. If we sit in the mornings, we might be able to avoid late sittings, and even finish the work of the session on Thursday.
.-I am opposed to the Government’s proposal to fix the hour of meeting at 2.30 p.m. tomorrow. At the end of last year we had protracted sittings, and several Hansard reporters collapsed. The Government should give some consideration to these officers, and should consider also the convenience of honorable members who at present spend their mornings doing practically nothing. What justification is there for sitting only in the afternoons and evenings ? Why should we not sit at 10.30 a.m. to-morrow? At the end of the week we shall be waiting for bills from the Senate, and there will be all-night sittings.
.- The Opposition has no desire to be unreasonable, but it expects the Government to provide opportunity to discuss those matters that come before the House. Unfortunately, it has seen fit to have Parliament in session for only a few weeks this year, and the result will be that important bills will have to be rushed through in the early hours of the morning after insufficient discussion. At the end of last year the House was kept sitting into the early hours of the morning with the bells ringing every fifteen minutes for a quorum. Honorable members would prefer that Parliament should sit for longer periods each year. At the end of last year, honorable members were called upon by the Government to refrain from further debate, because the Hansard reporters were physically incapable of continuing under the tremendous pressure of work. The House had sat for three days and two nights continuously. If We are to avoid a repetition of those conditions, we had better meet to-morrow morning. No honorable member looks forward with pleasure to all-night sittings. I protest against the undue delay that has occurred in bringing important legislation before us. We should not be asked to rush it through the House in a few days. If necessary, I should prefer to sit next week.
– The Acting Leader ‘of the House (Dr. Earle Page) should either accept the suggestion of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), or give an undertaking that no all night sittings will be held. They impose an undue strain on not only members of the House and particularly yourself, Mr. Speaker, but also all the Parliamentary officers. If the Government is afraid that the business cannot be completed this week with out resorting to all-night sittings, the House should certainly meet to-morrow morning. If the Acting Leader intends to use the forms of the House to bludgeon legislation through, that is worse still. I object to the sausage-machine methods employed when resort is had to the “ guillotine “, and the gag, and we could avoid their use by morning sittings. No doubt the Government will claim that Ministers have their administrative duties to discharge during the mornings; but it seems to me that the work of their departments could be done, even if the House met to-morrow morning, because it would be necessary for only the Minister in charge of the bill under consideration to be in attendance at any particular period, provided that the Government saw that its own supporters were present.
– Ministers are pleased to note that the Opposition is anxious to assist them in completing the work of the session. It will be necessary for Ministers to meet to-morrow morning to discuss certain matters of policy, and this will make it impracticable to summon the House at 11 a.m. to-morrow, but in order to expedite the work of Parliament we shall consider the desirability of calling honorable members together at 11 a.m. on Thursday. It is interesting to observe the belated enthusiasm of the Opposition for special hours of meeting, particularly in view of the fact that all parties in the past, when in office, have found it necessary to conduct the business of the House in the same way.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Sir Henry Gullett) proposed -
That orders of the day Nos. 1 to 7 be postponed until after Order of the Day No. 8.
.- I understood that the first item of Government business was the resumption of the debate on the second-reading of the Wheat Bounty Bill. I secured the adjournment of the debate, and am prepared to continue it now. I was not advised of the Government’s intention to depart from the order of business provided for on the business-paper and I certainly protest against any change without notice.
– I support the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) in his protest. During the last Parliament, the custom was to consult the Opposition regarding such changes. In the event of an important alteration being desired by the Government, the Opposition is at least entitled to be advised to that effect. From time to time, of course, minor variations are necessary. This afternoon, for instance, the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) asked that a certain course be followed with regard to a particular bill, and his suggestion was readily adopted. Members of the Opposition make preparations in accordance with the business agenda, and it should be adhered to as closely as possible.
Mr.RIORDAN (Kennedy) [3.38].- I object to any alteration of the order of business provided for on the noticepaper.
– Within ten minutes we shall go straight back to the first order of the day.
– I have strong reasons for objecting to the Sales Tax Assessment (Fiji Imports) Bill, the second reading of which the Minister now desires to move.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).The honorable member may not now discuss that measure.
– I shall register my protest by calling for a division.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
– Order ! The honorable member is not making a personal explanation. Has he been misrepresented ?
– My vote may be misrepresented. In view of the arrangements previously made to enable honorable members from both sides of the House to visit Queensland to attend celebrations there-
– Apparently the honorable member is not making a personal explanation, and I ask him to resume his seat.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
I regret my omission to notify honorable members opposite of my intention to move for the postponement of the items on the business-paper which were listed to precede the discussion of this bill. I assure them that it was purely an oversight. However, I propose to speak for only a few minutes, and to permit the adjournment of the debate in order that the other measures may be proceeded with immediately. The purpose of this bill is to remove sales tax from goods imported from Fiji of a kind similar to those which are free from sales tax if produced within the Commonwealth. It is also proposed to insert a notification in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette exempting from primage the produce of Fiji, including bananas. In addition, a reduction of from 4d. to 2d. a case of the quarantine inspection charges upon imported bananas willbe gazetted. Ideal with these three matters together in order that I may make clear the purpose of this bill. For many years we have had an extraordinarily favorable trade balance with Fiji, the average exports to that country for the last seven years being valued at £419,000 Australian currency, as against average imports of a value of £42,000 Australian currency. In other words, the balance of trade between the two countries has-been favorable to Australia in the proportion of ten to one.
– That trade is mostly in re-exported goods.
– On the contrary, of the £419,000 worth of goods sent each year to Fiji, an average of £320,000 worth is represented by goods manufactured or produced in Australia, so that of our exports to Fiji the greater part is of Australian origin. I desire now to deal in a little more detail with our general trading position with Fiji. Of our total exports of all produce to Fiji in 1932-33, valued at £347,000, Australian currency, Australian primary produce alone amounted to £45,000. The value of bananas imported from Fiji on the basis of a total of 40,000 centals permitted under the Ottawa agreement, is about £12,000. The value of our primary exports alone to Fiji is four times that of its exports of bananas to us. Of the balance, £31,000 is made up of other Australian primary produce such as preserved fruits, flour, jams, and so on. Perhaps the most interesting feature of our export trade to Fiji is that the volume of the trade in Australian manufactured goods during the same period amounted to £187,000. That should appeal strongly to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who claims to be such a great champion of the factory fabric of Australia. It must be perfectly clear to all honorable members that our export trade to Fiji provides infinitely more employment for our people than our imports from Fiji provide for the people of that country.
– But our trade is much smaller than it was previous to seven or eight years ago.
– That may be so. It was because of our unfair tariff arrangements with Fiji that an adjustment was made at Ottawa. Under the old duty, Fiji bananas were subjected to a tax of 2s. 6d. per cental, At the time the Ottawa conference was held, the duty was 8s. 4d. per cental, which was prohibitive. Because of that prohibitive duty we had lost, to a large extent, the valuable trade that we formerly had with Fiji. It was agreed, at Ottawa, that 40,000 centals of Fiji bananas should be admitted into Australia annually at the old rate of duty of 2s. 6d. per cental. The value of that quantity of bananas, roughly £12,000, does not represent more Chan 2½ per cent, of the value of the bananas consumed in the Commonwealth. Those imports, therefore, could not possibly be an important factor in fixing the price levels for Australian bananas sold in this country. Unfortunately, the various taxes imposed upon the Fiji bananas imported into this country, such, for example, as the primage duty of 5 per cent. on bananas, the 10 per cent. on casing, the 5 per cent. sales tax, the Federal and State income tax on. profits made on this trade and the New South “Wales special income tax, have made the concession practically valueless to Fiji, for its exports of bananas to Australia in any one year have not approached 40,000 centals. In one year it exported 40 per cent, of its quota, but in the present year it will export less than 30 per cent. The benefit of this trade to Fiji has been virtually destroyed because of the additional taxation imposed upon it in this country. At Ottawa we believed that we gave Fiji right of entry for 40,000 centals of bananas into Australia each year and the Fijian representatives believed that it would be practicable for them to take advantage of this trade, but I am quite prepared to admit that some items of taxation to which I have referred were completely overlooked at the conference.
– What about the assurance given to our banana-growers that Fiji would be granted no further concessions?
– In return for t,his trifling concession of the right of entry for 40,000 centals of bananas into Australia the Government of Fiji transferred 20 important Australian export items from the intermediate to the British Preferential column of the Fijian tariff schedule. That total prohibition of the export of Fijian bananas to Australia so antagonized the Government of Fiji that it had placed very many Australian items on the intermediate tariff list and in respect of these Australia was not being treated as a British country. The restoration of those items to the British preferential list was of great value to the Commonwealth. I do not believe that any case can be made out for the continued imposition upon Fijian bananas of the various Commonwealth taxes to which I have referred. These taxes should have been swept away long ago. We are not proposing to give any concessions or exemptions to Fiji other than those enjoyed by Australian bananas or Australian goods similar to those imported from Fiji. All we are seeking to do is to give Fijian bananas a perfectly open run in this country after the duty of 2s. 6d. a cental has been paid. In return for this trade in bananas, valued at £12,000 per annum, and in some other Fijian goods, valued at £30,000 per annum, Fiji buys primary produce and manufactured goods from Australia valued at £400,000 annually. I cannot understand why any honorable member should wish to do other than support an arrangement that has this effect.
– Has not the Government of Fiji intimated that Australia has honored the Ottawa agreement?
– I do not know.
– I have been told that that is so.
– I do not know what the honorable gentleman’ has been told, but I could wish that we had heard a little more of this opposition from him some months ago.
– Have I ever supported this trade; with Fiji?
– I must admit that to my knowledge the honorable member lias never done so, but we have not had such vociferous opposition from him at other time’s as he is showing on this occasion. The feeling against Australia was so great in Fiji two or three months ago that the elective members of the Fijian legislature decided to move for the imposition of very heavy and even prohibitive duties and taxes on all goods imported from Australia.
– Was that after the concession for the importation of 40,000 centals of Fijian bananas was made?
– Yes. The reason for the antagonism was that the people of Fiji felt that’” they had not been given a real concession. They considered that their trade was being held up by other taxation in a way that was not intended. I have no doubt whatever that if we do not remove the disabilities of this nature a great deal of the very profitable trade that we are now enjoying with Fiji will be lost to us.
– Does not the Minister think that if these concessions had not been given at the Ottawa Conference we should have avoided this trouble?
– The giving of the concessions has not caused the trouble; it has been the giving of merely nominal concessions which have turned out to be valueless.
We actually gave concessions which, proved to be useless when the Fijian people endeavoured to “ cash in “ on them. This is merely an act of common equity. I commend it very warmly to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Foods) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 6th December (vide page 853), on motion by Dr. Earle Page -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The bill now before the House is designed to grant relief to Australian wheatgrowers. There are two other measures - the Wheat Growers Relief Bill and the Flour Tax Assessment Bill - which, being cognate to this, you, Mr. Speaker, intimated last week may be debated simultaneously with it. I, therefore, intend to deal with the proposed flour tax.
As members of the Australian Labour party, we support the first two proposals, out intend to fight the bread tax to the last ditch, because we regard it as a most contemptible class tax, under which the poorer section of the community will be called upon to provide the major portion of the assistance to be made available to the wheat-growers, while concurrently there is not to be any increase in the basic wage to meet the addition to the price of bread. It is all very well to say that the basic wage will be increased later. Even if action along those lines were taken, it would lag considerably behind the operation of this iniquitous bread tax.
The consumption of bread by working class families is estimated to be one and a half loaves daily, compared with half a loaf by the wealthier people, who, by reason of their capacity to purchase a much greater variety of foodstuffs, are not so dependent upon bread. This tax, which the Government has lightheartedly decided to impose, will involve the workers in an additional expenditure of approximately 6d. a week or 26s. a year.
We do not want our opposition to the flour tax to be regarded as opposition to the granting of assistance to that very deserving section of the community, the wheat-growers. We believe that Chey should be assisted by an immediate grant out of Consolidated Revenue. But we would go much further than that. We consider that there- should be a compulsory Commonwealth wheat pool that would work in co-operation with compulsory State wheat pools, in the manner outlined in the measure dealing with the wheat industry introduced by the Scullin Government in 1930.
The importance of this industry no one will question. The wheat-growers throughout Australia number 65,000, and 220,000 persons are engaged in the industry. The royal commission which investigated the affairs of the industry recently has reported that the growing of wheat has been unprofitable at the average of the prices which have ruled since 1930.
Many causes have contributed to the parlous condition of the industry. Outstanding among them are the high prices which many wheat-growers unfortunately had to pay for their land, and the very high interest rates which they have been paying for a number of years upon money borrowed to carry on production. The Auditor-General of South Australia, following an inquiry he made into the working of at least 50 average wheat farms, pointed out that the interest rate accounted for more than one-half of the cost of producing a bushel of wheat.
It is estimated that within the last two years the wheat-growers have been losing at the rate of approximately £10,000,000 a year. The price of wheat to-day is in the region of 2s. 5£d. a bushel f.o.b., whereas for the fifteen years prior to 1930, the average price was 5s. a bushel at country railway sidings.
I should have liked to hear from the Government the announcement of its intention to adopt a permanent policy to improve the conditions governing the marketing of wheat throughout Australia, and to deal with the stupendous debt that weighs heavily upon the wheatgrowers. There will have to be an adjustment of debts that will make possible the reconstruction of the financial position of the farmers, and give them a reasonable chance to carry on. The report submitted by the royal commission states at page 30-
Notwithstanding the fact that the figures available are incomplete, the commission summarizes them hereunder bo as to indicate the order of the amount of the debt and various classes of creditors directly involved: -
In the supplement to its first report, the commission states -
Many wheat-farmers whose main source of livelihood is the growing of wheat have at present little or no margin of assets’ over liabilities.
Et further states -
The financial difficulties of wheat-growers are producing serious financial difficulties for traders, storekeepers and others, who are dependent upon the industry. I should like to have had from the Minister for Commerce, who is the leader of the Australian Country party, an indication of the Government’s immediate policy in regard to the adjustment of debts. The platform of the Australian Labour Party has always been clear and definite on the subject of marketing.
– What has been its policy in regard to the adjustment of debts?
– With the return of a Labour government, the whole matter would he tackled and solved on an equitable basis. This Government is led by the Country party, members of which occupy leading positions in the Cabinet. When that party went to the country, it promised to bring forward measures to lift the stupendous burden of debt that rests on the primary producers of Australia. We now expect the Minister for Commerce and his colleagues in the Cabinet to translate into legislation the very definite pledges that they then gave.
– We thought that that was the object of the coalition.
– We were told that the coalition was formed because the wheatgrowers particularly, and primary producers generally, had been sacrificed by the United Australia party, which, it was said, was dominated by the wheat and other produce merchants, and the big business interests of the cities. I believe that the present Minister for Commerce spoke out of an exact knowledge of the methods adopted by the United Australia party when he said that his preelection negotiations with the leaders of that party for a joint policy had been smashed by men whose word could not be relied upon. In his own words, he now occupies the box seat and is able to dictate the policy of the Government. We await results with interest.
Plank 12 of the platform of the Australian Labour Party provides for Australian-wide co-operative pools for the marketing and financing of farm products. We stand for a home consumption price for those products, as we do for an Australian standard of wages and pro-“ tection that will enable secondary industries to manufacture and sell their products in competition with other countries. Furthermore, we believe that the wheatgrowers should not be asked to continue production at a 103s. They are as much entitled to a fair return for their labour as is any section of the community. For many years the Australian Labour Party has advocated an Australia-wide marketing scheme for the dairy-farmers of this country.
– It has merely advocated it.
– In Queensland it put its marketing policy into operation. In the federal sphere it has not had * majority in both houses. Mr. Field, the president of the Farmers and ‘ Settlers Association of New South Wales, who is a wheat-grower in the Riverina district, addressing a meeting of members of parliament in this building last year, said -
The very fact that, you “people are paying a higher price for butter on the Australian market enables me to carry on the dairying section of ray business. What I want is an Australian price for wheat.
I consider that he is justly entitled to it.
The proposals of the Government provide for a bounty of 3d. a bushel, which will involve an advance of £1,500,000; the payment of 3s. an acre on the area sown with wheat, estimated to cost £1,926,000; and compensation for extraordinary losses, aggregating £573,000. We object, not to the assistance which is being given, but to the methods proposed to finance that assistance. Can the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) support the imposition on the poorer people of his electorate of this contemptible bread tax?
– What is the difference between that and a tax on bananas?
– The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) is sound only on tobacco. Why ha3 the Government failed to deal in a permanent way with the v/heat industry ? Why will it not give the wheat-growers the Australia-wide marketing scheme for which they have asked? I believe it is because of the influence exerted on it by the big wheat merchants and food speculators, with whom are interlocked the financial groups of Australia., which, according to statements made only a few months ago by members of the Country party, dominate the United Australia party. We look for support from rebels in the Country party, of ‘ whom I believe there are a few. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. McClelland) has been a fearless champion of the wheat-growers. I hope that in the party room he will be able to see that Country party Ministers compel the Government to stand up to the. definite promises that were made by that party to the wheat-growers. We urge the adoption of a permanent policy for the stabilization of the industry.
In his policy speech to the electors the right honorable member for Cowper made the following statements: -
The Country party states that what was Clone for the dairying industry must also be done for the ‘wheat industry before the coming harvest … So far, the Government has brought down no measure for the permanent improvement of the wheat-growers’ position
The Country party’s immediate policy I? a home consumption price.
He deplored the fact that shortly before Christmas every year a measure was hurriedly brought down to provide a sop for the wheat-growers that would tide them over the next twelve months, and that no permanent scheme dealing with debts or marketing was attempted. Organized marketing should be carried out through the medium of Commonwealth and Statu legislation. I am at a loss to understand why the wheat industry cannot be put on the same basis as the dried fruits and dairying industries of Australia. The ideal plan would provide for a compulsory Commonwealth wheat pool working in co-operation with compulsory State v/heat pools. There could be a home consumption price for the wheat-growers without increasing the price of bread. With a compulsory Commonwealth pool and compulsory State wheat pools, we could see to it that no one section exploited the other. But this bread tax is an iniquitous and mean proposal and should not have a moment’s consideration. Under a scheme of Australia-wide marketing, a home consumption price could be fixed so as to give a reasonable return to the wheat-growers and the price of flour could be stabilized ; the price of wheat, flour and bread could be fixed. A section of the people of Australia - I refer to the flour-millers - have been making undue profits. What investigation has this Government had into the flour-milling industry? I understand that some inquiry is to be made.
– By the royal commission
– That commission is at present sitting, but it has left to the last ah inquiry into the flour-milling industry. It will be found that the flourmillers have been making unreasonable profits, out of all proportion to those made by the bakers, and that they are continuing to make profits while the wheat-growers are being slowly bled to death, financially, to the extent of £10,000,000 a year. With a compulsory wheat pool we could fix the price of wheat, flour and bread. Flour-milling would be on a better basis. Broadmaking, too, would be on an improved basis, and the “ backyarders, “ who have crowded into the baking industry, and are undermining award rates, would be eliminated. I do not think any one stands for a practice that has been forced upon sections of the baking industry in different States - the practice of taking certain employees into partnership -
– A bogus partnership.
– Yes j as a result of which they get from £1 to £2 a week and so undermine the award rates. We do not believe in that sort of thing. Under a compulsory Commonwealth pool working in co-operation with compulsory State wheat pools, controlled partly by farmers’ representatives and partly by representatives of the Government, complete control would be exercised over all marketing of wheat in Australia and overseas. Voluntary wheat pools to-day are marketing wheat in all the markets of the world where the wheat merchants are selling. It cannot be said that the business is not known. Voluntary wheat pools to-day are opera-ting in all the States with the exception of Queensland where there is a compulsory pool. The voluntary wheat pool in Victoria controls something like 40 per cent, of the wheat grown in that State. The voluntary wheat pool in New South Wales is in a very anaemic condition.
– There is no pool there.
– I understand that it has been hamstrung and discouraged in every way by an unsympathetic government. A compulsory wheat pool would be able to market more efficiently than a voluntary wheat pool can do. An overwhelming majority of the wheat-growers of Australia stand for a compulsory system to control the marketing of their product. The functions of the State pools would be (a) the receiving and handling of wheat from the time it was received from the growers until it was sold to local purchasers or shipped; (b) the selling of wheat required for home consumption; (c) the selling of wheat at prices fixed by the Commonwealth board for wheat required for export as flour; and (d) the appointment pf one of its members to act as a member of the Commonwealth board. The Australian pool would sell overseas; it would charter vessels, and would fix the price of wheat to millers for the export flour business. The farmers’ representatives on the board should, I think, be in the majority.
This flour tax bill is one of the mostiniquitous measures that could be proposed by any government. We know that even members of the Nationalist party at their party meetings indulge in outspoken criticism of it.
– How does the honorable member know that?
– The very -dogs are barking it. A few days ago, the Government reduced the duty on biscuits from overseas, and has now imposed a tax on flour. That might be called statesmanship by some people, but it certainly will be resented by the great mass of the community. This bread tax will tend towards combine control of the breadbaking industry in Australia. Sixty per cent, of the bakeries in New South Wales are run by the flour-millers and in Victoria 70 per cent, are controlled by them. The miller is satisfied to take his profit on the sale of his flour, and it is immaterial to him whether or not he makes any profit in the baking process. He also establishes depots for distribution, and so brings about considerable unemployment among bread carters. The result of the system will be the wiping out of small bakeries; the whole business will get into the . hands of a combine dominated by the flourmillers of Australia. The baking business has been subjected in a number of the States to a searching investigation ; but the flour-millers - the men who have been making the real profits - have been allowed to go comparatively scot free hecause they have much influence with governments. I do not think any honorable member has met a poor flourmiller, but we have all met many bakers whose position financially is unsound.
The farmers themselves do not ask for this bread tax. I was impressed by what the secretary of the Wheat Growers Federation of South Australia said at a conference with members of the House of Representatives last year.
– It does not represent 3 per cent, of the wheat-growers.
– Does the honorable member think that the wheat-growers stand for a bread tax?
– Mr. Field, of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, said he personally was opposed to a tax on bread or flour, and believed that the money required should be raised in another way. Mr. Stott, secretary of the Wheat Growers Federation of South Australia said at the conference to which 1 have referred - and his statement was not contradicted by any section of the wheat-growers of South Australia -
We consider that a flour sales tax is not satisfactory, and is not asked for by the wheatgrowers.
Some honorable members occupying important positions in the present Cabinet have strongly condemned a sales tax on flour. For instance, the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) when in Opposition criticized a wheat marketing bill then brought forward which really did not provide for a sales tax on flour - it was a more equitable measure than this - but provided for a home consumption price for the wheat-grower. Dealing with it the honorable gentleman said -
T am opposed to this measure because I am doubly concerned with the price of wheat . . I am opposed to increasing the local price for wheat which is above import parity. We have had too much of that sort of thing already in connexion with other commodities. Every one of my 52,000 electors have to eat bread, and they are only part of the population of Australia. Every man and woman would he intimately affected by what the Government does with regard to the marketing of wheat.
He was then opposed to a home consumption price for wheat, although it could have been put into operation without any increase of the price of bread, if we had had a comprehensive marketing body. But as a member of the Cabinet to-day he is prepared to vote for a bread tax. I hope he will endeavour to justify his unreasonable stand at the present time.
In reading the exemptions, as outlined by the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey), I find that the tax is not payable in respect of fowls’ food or food for livestock - pigs’ food or cattle food, such as bran, pollard, or meal made from wheat. In other words, livestock are exempt, but the working man has to pay this tax. It applies to bread, but not to hens’ food.
It does not apply to pig food, but it applies to the workers’ food. The Labour party is definitely opposed to the flour tax on the ground that it is unjust, and that it discriminates against the poorer sections of the community in favour of the richer class who are well able to look after themselves. We listened last week to an address by the Minister for Health (Mr. Hughes) on the declining birth rate. The right honorable gentleman presented a very gloomy picture and prophesied that if the birth rate of Australia continued to decline as at present, the population of Australia would be at a standstill somewhere about 196S. The right honorable gentleman appealed to the men and women of Australia to have larger families, saying it was of tremendous importance to the country that the birth rate should increase. To-day, however, he is prepared to vote for a bread tax that will fall three times as heavily on the average working class family as it will fall od the average wealthy family. The poorer classes eat considerably more bread than do the wealthy. This bread tax is the last straw. It is on a par with the action of a man who would take corn from a blind parrot. The Government is taxing this large section of struggling people - people on the dole, or working for a basic wage on which not a man in this House would care to live. In order to find something like £1,600,000 the Government calls upon the poorer people of the community to pay in the ratio of three to one as compared with the wealthy. Not only do members on this side of the House condemn Ohe iniquitous proposal of the flour tax, but it was also roundly condemned by the present Minister in charge of trade treaty negotiations. He stood up in his place at the back bench, waved his arms about, and denounced the tax in the most eloquent terms. Speaking on the 6th December, 1933, he said -
Certainly I intend to vote against the bread tax. Even at this belated stage of the proceedings, I appeal to the Government to go back on its tracks. I appeal to it boldly to admit a miscalculation in regard to this matter … I appeal to it to re-impose sufficient of the taxes it has remitted to make this bread tax unnecessary . . . If a secret ballot of members was taken on this question, and the Government did not make it a vital matter, the proposal for a bread tax would be overwhelmingly defeated The heroes in the battle to save Australia, in an economic sense, are the rank and file of ihe people, and these are the people on whom we are going to put this mean retrogressive food tax . . . The hundreds of thousands of people who live in our industrial suburbs never see the vealers and the spring lambs, but have to be content with the inferior grades of meat which find their way to city markets every week. It is on such people as these that the main burden of the flour tax will fall.
With outstretched arms he appealed to the Government to retrace its steps and not to impose the tax. Where does he stand now? What attitude did he adopt in Ohe party room and in the Cabinet when this bill was under discussion? What attitude will he take on the floor of the House to-day? In order to give honorable members an opportunity to show their disapproval of this measure when we reach the Flour Tax Assessment Bill I shall move an amendment to the motion for the second reading -
That all the words after “ That “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - thu bill be withdrawn and assistance be provided to wheat-growers by the reimposition of taxation on large incomes and wealthy land-owners, and that early steps be taken to establish a compulsory Commonwealth Wheat PooL, with power to control the marketing of the whole of Australia’s wheat crop in co-operation with compulsory State Wheat Pools.”
I protest emphatically against the delay of the Government in bringing down the wheat relief measures, and of leaving such important matters till the last week of the session. Last year it was just the same. The growers were in a state of uncertainty and anxiety until the bill was introduced early in December. At that time Country party members had been protesting against the apathy and indifference of the Government. To-day they are silent. When the budget was introduced in 1933 I looked in vain for any reference to financial relief measures for the wheat-growers, although there were general remissions of taxation to wealthy persons, amounting over a period of two years to more than £9,500,000. The GovernorGeneral’s Speech contained a reference to the wheat-farmers, and it wa3 stated that steps would be taken at an early date to give effect to the payment of a bounty on the present season’s wheat crop, but two months elapsed before the present bill was brought down.
The future of the wheat industry in Australia is dark indeed. The purchasing power of the masses throughout the world has been reduced, and with it the effective demand for all goods, including wheat. Increased supplies of wheat are coming on the market owing to the growth of economic nationalism among European countries. The result is that wheat prices have been greatly depressed, but, notwithstanding that the trouble is to some extent due to the reduced purchasing power of the people, honorable members on the other side of the House, and their political organizations outside, are always clamouring for still further reductions of the cost of production, which to them means the same thing as further reductions of wages and living standards.
On the 1st August, 1933, the world’s wheat stocks were 460,000,000 bushels above normal. European countries are not now importing at the same rate as previously, their imports having fallen by 216,000,000 bushels since 1927-28. The lesson to be drawn from this is that we must look more and more to the local market to absorb our primary products. In this regard I was interested to read the following remarks of the Minister for Commerce
The Increased population in the Commonwealth during the last five years has helped us in a measure to cope with our own increase of production of wheat, but undoubtedly the huge increase of production throughout the world has been responsible for the fall in prices.
The local market in Australia is of much greater importance than certain alleged representatives of the Country party are prepared to admit, and its importance is fully borne out by the following statistics which show the proportion of primary products consumed locally: -
It is well to bear that in mind, because there are some who, while favouring the stabilization of home markets and a local consumption price, are still prepared to tear down the tariff wall, and throw out of employment thousands of people engaged in the secondary industries. During the last twenty years the population of Australia has increased by approximately 2,000,000, but the number of those engaged in primary production has decreased by 50,000. This reduction is not accounted for by any reduction in the acreage under cultivation. As a matter of fact, there are now 9,000,000 more acres under cultivation than twenty years ago. The decline is due to the introduction of labour-saving machinery, and those displaced from the land have found employment in the secondary industries which, during the last twenty years, have provided direct employment for 200,000 additional persons.
I submit that stabilization and equalization schemes in the dairying dried fruits, sugar, tobacco, cotton and wheat industries would not be possible under the almost freetrade conditions advocated by certain honorable members in this House, who say that they speak for the primary producers. We have been told by these honorable members that certain European countries have placed an import duty on our wheat because of Australia’s protection policy, but the fact is that European countries learned a bitter lesson during the war when, because of the stoppage of overseas food supplies, they were threatened with starvation. As a result, they determined to make themselves as self-contained as possible. Sweden, which grows practically no wheat, recently enacted a law compelling millers to mix 70 per cent, of Swedish rye with imported wheat. France, Germany and Italy compel millers to use from 80 to 95 per cent, of home-grown wheat when making flour. The French harvest is now large enough to supply all home requirements, and even to permit of some export of wheat. Italy grows just about enough for its own consumption, though it might occasionally be necessary to import a little. Last year the harvest amounted to 276,000,000 bushels, as against Australia’s record harvest of 200,000,000 bushels. Even England is now carrying out an extensive campaign for the development of its own primary industries.
A home consumption price for wheat of about 4s. a bushel could be fixed without any justification for an increase of the price of bread. During 1916, 1917, and 1918, there was a national wheat pool in existence, and the price of wheat was fixed at 4s. 9d. a bushel, while the price of bread was 4d. per 2-lb. loaf. Therefore, even with a home consumption price to-day of 4s. a bushel, bread could be sold at its present price. The fixing of a home consumption price is always strongly opposed by vested interest, by market manipulators and food speculators, and we have apologists for them in this House who say that, under a system of orderly marketing, the price of bread must go up. The same people bitterly opposed the Labour party’s proposal for a Commonwealth compulsory wheat pool in 1930.
The following table shows the prices of bread and of wheat in the various capital cities throughout the Commonwealth : -
In Brisbane the price of wheat is ls. a bushel more than in Melbourne or Sydney, yet the price of a 2-lb. loaf of bread is less than in Sydney, and only slightly more than in Melbourne.
– The price of wheat has very little to do with the price of bread.
– If the miller charges a reasonable price. But he has been charging too much for his flour, and the. sooner a close investigation is made- of his profits the sooner will the wheatgrower and the consumers of wheat in Australia get a better deal.
We were told that the International Wheat Agreement would bring about an increase of the price of wheat to the growers in Australia and every other country. In September, 1933, shortly before the agreement was signed, the price was 3s. 5d. a bushel; but to-day it is 2s. 5½d. f.o.b. Sydney and Melbourne. The apologists for the International Wheat Agreement stated on the floor of this House that, immediately it was signed, there would be an upward price tendency, just as they said that as a result of the Ottawa agreement the prices of butter, meat and other produce would immediately rise.
– The price of meat has risen.
– A certain rise took place, but it was not due to the Ottawa agreement. In view of the great expectations of those who were a party to the International Wheat Agreement, it is interesting to hear the statement by the Minister for Commerce that that agreement is of no value, because certain parties to it have not been prepared to honour it. In other words, the agreement, from which so much was expected, has not been of any practical value to Australia. I know that certain members of the Country party, who are now in the Ministry, have, in the past, attributed the parlous condition of the wheat-growers more to the high price of farming implements than to the high interest rates which they have to pay and to the lack of orderly marketing. I point out that the growers, because of the existence of a local implement industry, are able to obtain farming implements at lower prices than are paid by the farmers in New Zealand and South Africa.
– Order !
– I wish it to be placed on record that the wheat-growers of Australia have been well served because of the existence of an industry-
– I called the honorable member to order, as he appears to be entering upon a discussion as to the value of a secondary industry to his country. Such a discussion would not be in order on the bills now before the House.
– I submit that it is in order to deal with costs of production of wheat. The Labour party,while believing that the wheat-growers are deserving of every assistance, is strongly opposed to this infamous bread tax. It is a disgrace to the Nationalist party and to the Commonwealth Government, and should be rejected.
.- The time has arrived when the wheat industry should cease to be a political football. The honorable member who has just resumed his seat must realize that the suggestion he has put forward as an alternative to the Government’s proposal could hardly be given effect in sufficient time to accord the wheat industry the assistance which it needs this season. It seems that, whatever assistance is proposed for the wheat-grower, it is thrown at him as being a sop. It is a good thing for Australia that an impartial royal commission has been examining the position of the industry, and submitting reports to this Parliament. If honorable members read them dispassionately they will realize that the industry has had a very bad deal. For instance, on page 4 of the supplement to its first report, the commission said -
The practice of selling wheat for consumption in Australia at approximately the world parity prices for export wheat has been of benefit to the Australian consumer to the extent of approximately1s. per bushel as compared with the prices which would have been paid for wheat imported duty free. Although there have been some compensations to the wheat-growers from the community, the wheat industry is in marked contrast to certain other primary industries in that there is no controlled price for that portion of its product which is consumed in Australia; and the industry has suffered in consequence.
During the five years of the depression that1s. a bushel means that the farmers have contributed £8,250,000 to the Australian consumers of wheat. This fact is not generally credited to the growers. In view of the Australian standard of living enjoyed by other sections of the community, under the policy of high protection for secondary industries, why should the wheat industry provide wheat for local consumption at a price1s. a bushel less than that which would have to be paid for it, if it were imported duty free? The wheat industry is exporting its capital to-day, and that exportation is creating credit in order that secondary industries may continue to flourish.
We have had a striking example of great inconsistency on the part of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde). He set out to create bitterness in the public mind against the wheat industry. He said that a flour tax would be a tax on the bread of the poor.
– So it would.
– It is simply a tax on flour; but the honorable member thinks it would not be a bad idea if it were a wheat tax. Does the honorable member forget that flour is made out of “wheat? An increase of the price of wheat for local consumption must necessarily increase the price of flour, and I cannot conceive that that would do other than increase the price of bread, so we have the difference between tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee. The honorable member spoke of the bread of the poor, but what about the sugar of the poor? He commented upon the proposed exemption from this impost of wheat used as food for live-stock, but what about the sugar that is put into goods manufactured for export to foreigners? That, he contends, must not bear any of the burden imposed by the policy of protection. What about the sugar sold outside of Australia at £13 7s. 6d. a ton as against over £37 a ton paid by the poor of this country? Medical men tell us that the children of the poor need sugar as well as bread.
– The honorable member ought to be ashamed to take the proceeds of a tax on bread.
– Last session the honorable member constantly urged the Government to put a heavy impost on cotton.
– The honorable member will not be in order in discussing that subject now.
– I wish to make a comparison between the legislation enacted in the interests of one industry as compared with that imposed in the case of another. I hope to influence this House to do a fair thing by an industry that, is of infinitely greater value to this country than other industries that enjoy protection. During a period of ten years, Australia exported flour and wheat to the value of £230,000,000. After selling wheat for Australian consumption at ls. a bushel less than the price which would have to be paid for it if it had to be obtained overseas, the farming community brought new credit into this country to the tune of £23,000,000 per annum. Surely this industry is of more value than the sugar industry, or the cotton industry whose interests are advocated so strenuously by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– I am not opposed to giving assistance to the wheat industry; I merely object to the methods to be employed.
– The honorable member is very clever with his words, but he now has an opportunity to give practical assistance to the wheat industry. I should not be in order in referring to peanuts,
Or to boots for the poor.
– Do not touch on the tobacco industry.
– I could show a great difference between the circumstances of the tobacco industry and those of another industry. Tobacco brings £8,000,000 a year into the revenue, whereas sugar takes £6,000,000 out of it.
– The honorable member is not in order in discussing that subject.
– The present bill is but a temporary measure, and I support the Ministry in its proposal; but I shall condemn this Government, as I have other Ministries, if it does not bring down legislation which will have the effect of preventing honorable members from making party political capital every year out of the misfortunes of the farmers. I hope that before another wheat season arrives a measure will be passed “ to place the industry permanently under the control of the growers, so that a home consumption price may be obtained. Then, perhaps, the honorable member for Capricornia will not complain of the effect of the present proposal on the bread consumers. At another page in its report, the Wheat Commission stated -
It is unthinkable that the industry should be left to find its own level. The industry is too important, and its collapse would be disastrous to the whole economic and social system.
Of course it would. It is one of the greatest employers of labour in Australia. As has already been shown, it provides food for the people at lower prices than would have to be paid for wheat if it had to be imported. I think that the royal commission is wrong in saying that only ls. a bushel mere above world parity prices would have to be paid for wheat, if bread had to be made from imported flour. I think that the actual figure would be higher than that, and even then the money would be sent out of Australia. Surely an industry that is bringing new money into the country at the rate of £23,000,000 a year deserves every assistance that can be given to it. The egg producers escape from this tax under this measure ; but if they had to pay a higher price for wheat fed to poultry, the eggs of the poor would have to be increased in price. There is no escape from that reasoning by juggling with figures. The pig industry would probably sink if an increased price had to be paid for wheat, so a small measure of assistance is to be given to these producers in order to save them from disaster. The Wheat Commission admits that at the present time they do not recover their costs of production. The industry is really exporting its capital and is nearly down and out. The law of self-preservation should lead this Parliament and the people to seek to do something to keep on the land men who are of such great value to the community. That other industries of .infinitely less importance to this country receive greater attention is shown clearly by the report of the Taxation Commissioner. In the one year, as I previously have pointed out, although the taxable income of the community was £122,000,000, the whole of the pastoral, agricultural and mining industries earned only £5,000,000, whereas those secondary industries which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is so anxious to protect earned £117,000,000 of that total income. Only the other day the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn) read out a list of twenty companies, the value of whose shares had gone up by from 50 to 200 per cent, during the depression. How could that come about? Only because those companies are combines sheltering’ behind high protective walls. Meanwhile, the wheat industry has been allowed to dwindle away to the detriment of Australia as a whole.” This Parliament must devise means to protect it regardless of the pleas of honorable members opposite who are out to catch the votes of the people with the cry, “ The bread of the poor! “ What of the sugar of the poor?
– Every year since it has been my privilege to be a member of this Parliament this question of assistance to wheatgrowers has been the subject of vital debate in this House. Various governments have approached the subject in different ways, and, probably, we can all agree at the moment that, from their point of view, they have endeavoured to afford some real relief and have taken some steps towards putting wheatgrowing on a proper basis. We can all agree also upon the importance of the industry to this country. The problem of maintaining it, however, grows more acute each year, indicating that there is something radically wrong with the whole economic system. We may discuss, and finally agree upon, a form of relief to be granted to-day, but the. problem still remains unsolved as year follows year. Behind the Government’s proposals there is no real planned economy designed to deal effectively not only with this industry, but also with all its allied industries and the consuming, public. So much I say by way of preface.
The Scullin Labour Government, in facing the problem, sought to give effect to Labour’s policy of establishing a homeconsumption price for wheat in order that those engaged in the industry might secure a fair return for their labour. It, therefore, brought down a measure designed to secure assistance from the Commonwealth Bank Board, but its political opponents were sufficiently strong enough to induce the Commonwealth Bank Board to refuse the necessary assistance, and when, finally, the bill was placed before the Senate it was rejected entirely. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) condemned the introduction of party politics in the consideration of the wheat problem. Those of us who were in the Scullin Government at that time will never forget the political tactics that were employed by the then Opposition to prevent the Labour party’s policy being put into operation. There is no need for hypocrisy. The game of party politics has been played throughout. The means adopted to achieve a desired result seem to depend upon the side of the House to which an honorable member belongs, and that charge applies with particular vigour to the honorable member for Forrest.
Honorable members can recall widely differing advice being tendered by economists and other people regarded by the governments of the day as being competent to advise them. First of all these advisers said that we should grow more wheat, because it was a product that could be quickly grown and exported without much difficulty. It was claimed that our situation demanded large exports of primary products in order to enable us to meet our commitments overseas. Hardly had that advice been given effect and circulated throughout the community when we were told that we should grow less wheat, and we heard for the first time of restriction. An international wheat conference met in London, and, after going into the question of wheat production, brought down proposals quite the opposite to those which had been advocated only a couple of years previously. We cannot forget that the people of the world at that time had not become any less eager to secure necessary foodstuffs. If it could have been said that production had reached a stage beyond the capacity of the people to absorb, there might have been some argument in favour of restriction, but that argument could not be advanced in the light of the fact that so many people in the various countries were depending on food relief and other forms of assistance. It is safe to say that the people in need of bread constituted a very extensive market, but they were unable to buy it. That policy of restriction absolutely ignored the wants and requirements of the people, yet it was the only policy that the statesmen of the world could produce as a solution of the world wheat problem. In this Parliament, to a certain extent, the Government accepted it, hut to-day the arguments in its favour, I will admit, do not apply with the same force. The Australian yield this year is not likely to be much above the quota fixed for Australia. But there is a very important factor to be considered, namely, the principle involved. Only a short time elapsed after the signing of the International Wheat Agreement, when we were informed that Argentina was able to break away from the agreement and devise means of avoiding it. Even in the last reports of the wheat conference at Budapest, it was said that conditions regarding restrictions, hinged upon the attitude that Argentina proposed to adopt for the coming season. According to cablegrams appearing in last Friday’s newspapers, Argentina has declared that it will not be bound by the final decisions of the conference and that it would do whatever suited its own purpose. Apparently although some foreign countries have agreed that certain things should be done regarding” restrictions, they are not sincere in their intention to honour their promise, if it does not suit their purpose to do so ; and these countries are able to “ get away with it, “ whereas Australia is forced to submit to the restrictions. The whole problem, however, seems to me to be one to which the very basis of reasoning and the methods applied are not fitting the circumstances.
The Government has brought forward this measure to relieve an industry to which all parties who appealed at the last election were committed to give assistance. But, naturally, the form of the relief to be given is a very vital factor. Those honorable members who represent industrial constituencies, as well as others, are entitled to view this matter on the basis of equality so that the poorer sections of the community will not suffer as a result of any assistance granted to the wheat industry. It is a view which I am sure is shared by a large percentage of the wheatgrowers themselves.
But before concluding with the subject of restriction, I wish to refer to some comments which I noticed in the Sydney newspapers during last week in which it was declared that if this policy is to be the recognized one in regard to important primary industries of Australia it must follow that some unemployment will be created in our own country. If the natural process is not permitted to work itself out, it must have the effect that those who expend their energies in this industry will not be permitted to do so and the logical consequence of that cessation of efforts on their part is a diminution of the amount of employment available.
The next point is of importance to and is parallel with the tariff policy of the present Government. The Government is setting out to alter in many respects the form of protection considered by previous governments to be necessary. In the application of this policy it must necessarily follow that if our exports are restricted our credits overseas must also be restricted. Whatever purposes the Government has in creating markets in Australia for foreign countries, this policy must be frustrated because the means will not be available for the purchase of those goods. It is all a question of working in the dark. We are going on stage by stage with no definite plan for the future, with the Government hoping that perhaps a drought will occur or some other circumstance such as a war will take place which will result in its calculations working out satisfactorily.
– Surely not a war!
– There are a lot of people interested in armaments who hope for such an occurrence, people who would profit thereby. I recall a statement made recently by the Deputy Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Bruxner, that circumstances may arise which will involve Australia in war, and if that occurred a very necessary fillip would be given to the disposal of our primary products. So in the minds of some this aspect of the question is prominent. The Government seems to have no well-planned policy to deal with the wheat industry, and other important primary-producing industries. It is going along from one day to another, meeting various problems as they arise in a piecemeal fashion, hoping that finally a satisfactory result will be achieved. From what has been done since 1928 to help the wheat industry, it is quite apparent that no long-range programme has been put into operation. Each successive Parliament has realized the need for assisting this industry, but unfortunately the problem is gradually becoming more difficult and complex.
It is hardly necessary for me to say that my colleagues and I will strongly oppose any policy which involves the imposition of a sales tax on flour, for we are satisfied that that ultimately means a tax on bread. We recognize that assistance should be granted to the wheat industry, and I dealt with the subject in my policy speech and in other speeches which I delivered during the election campaign. Apart from the special proposal of the Government to raise £4,000,000 for allocation for various purposes, there are four general lines which could be followed to meet the immediate needs of the situation. I submit these, not because I think that their adoption would lead to a permanent and satisfactory solution of the difficulties which face the industry, but because they are capable of prompt application. The view of the members of my party is, of course, that a courageous policy is necessary to deal with Australia’s internal problems of production. I refer not only to wheat production but to all primary and secondary production also.
In dealing with the wheat industry wo must, first of all, give some consideration to the cost of production. It seems to me that the Wheat Commission has not devoted to this aspect of the subject consideration of the real cause of the wheat farmers’ indebtedness. For instance, in estimating the indebtedness of the wheat-growers of Australia at £140,000,000 the commision took into account commitments entered into and debts incurred when conditions were very different from those of to-day, when inflated prices were obtainable for land, and when interest rates were, in my opinion, far higher than could reasonably be met. We feel that in considering the farmers’ commitments, in which the costs of production are involved, regard must be had to present-day conditions in the light of the individual’s capacity to pay in accordance with prevailing price levels. This is particularly so in connexion with any debt adjusting schemes that may be propounded. We must”, in the first instance, therefore, be (specially careful to adopt sound premises as the basis for any calculation of the amount likely to be required to meet the cost3 of production, having in mind justice, not only to the farmers, but also to all other interests concerned. I do not think that the estimate of £140,000,000 is in any way exaggerated, having in mind the inflated conditions under which many of these people either purchased or leased and developed their properties.
The four points that I think should be borne in mind in providing relief for the wheat-growers involve the following considerations : -
The imposition of a sales tax on flour will, undoubtedly, cause an increase of the price of bread. This would be a very serious thing for the great majority of the people. In this connexion I cite the following statement by Professor Giblin, quoted in Appendix A of the supplementary report of the Royal Commission on Wheat, Flour and Bread : -
A tax on any necessity is bad, because it exacts a much higher rate of taxation from the poor than from the rich. It is particularly bad when the commodity is used by children as much, or even-more than, by adults, as with sugar, butter and bread. In such a case the tax becomes regressive to an appalling degree. A bachelor with an income of £1,000 per annum would pay an additional 15s. per annum through the home price of butter. He would contribute less than one-fifth of a penny in the £1 of his income to relieve the depressed industry. A basic wage earner, with wife and three children, would contribute over £3 or about 5d. in the £1 of his income.
– Is not that applicable to every form of tax and every class of customs duty?
– It depends upon the methods employed to prevent injustice in the intermediate stages between the production of an article and the purchase of it by the consumer. We believe that a sales tax onflour must necessarily mean an increase of the price of bread, because those who control the manufacture of bread are in a position to demand their own price for their product. In order to protect the people from unnecessary and unjustifiable increases of the price of bread, we submit that a board should be set up to fix and regulate the price of bread. It will be remembered that during the war prices were regulated by an authority set up by the government of the day. It was considered that the war period was unusual in our history, and that, therefore, unusual means were necessary to protect the people from unjustifiable increases of prices. The present period is equally as abnormal as the war period. It is generally admitted by all honorable members that exploitation of the people occurs at certain points between the production of an article and its purchase by the consumer: that is, in certain processes of manufacture or distribution. In the past it has not been possible to detect with any degree of certainty at what stage these unjustifiable increases of price occur. Somehow the interests responsible for the increases have been able to frustrate every effort of various governments, by inquiries of one kind and another, to bring to light the exact nature of their operations. But we can no longer sit down quietly with folded arms and allow these people to “get away with it” as they have done in the past. Irrespective of any opinion that may be held about certain alleged legal difficulties on these points, we must, I submit, take a courageous step and a certain amount of risk if necessary, and go straight forward with our job. The operations of these people who manipulate prices affect, not only the producers of wheat, but also the great body of consumers. Australia to-day faces conditions, both internally and externally, that are parallel with the conditions of the war period. No one can deny that things are not right with Australia. We have an army of unemployed who are fighting for the right to live, just as from 1914 to 1918 we also had an army fighting. In order to maintain the fighting army in the field during the war, we had to adopt certain methods to fix and regulate prices to ensure that foodstuffs would be available under reasonable and fair conditions. That, I submit, is also our position to-day. The difference between the fighting army of the war period and the unemployed army of to-day is that the former was faced with a merciful death if it found itself confronted with conditions that could not be overcome, whereas the unemployed army of to-day is faced with the miseries of a living death. Existing mainly on a miserable dole, it is slowly, but with tragic certainty, losing its morale through the hopelessness of its conditions. Externally, Australia is to-day menaced by the policies of highly nationalized countries. The Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) referred to this point in his speech on Friday last, and said that foreign nations were determined to maintain their production to-day at the highest possible point by a blockade if necessary, just as effective as the blockade used during the war. But the Minister, in my opinion, did not make a complete analysis of the position. It is true that foreign countries learned a lesson from the war period of the value of blockade methods, and that many of them are to-day employing those methods in an economic struggle, resolving that they will never again allow themselves to be completely dependent upon outside countries for their foodstuffs. Consequently they have set out to develop their own food resources. Even Great Britain cannot be excluded from this generalization, for it has adopted a much intensified agricultural policy, realizing “that, with the menace of submarine and other forms of modern warfare, it cannot in the event of future wars depend for its foodstuffs, as it has done in the past, upon its farflung dominions. Its policy in this regard is similar in many respects to that of foreign countries. The effect of the highly nationalized policies of overseas countries is felt, not only by our wheat producers, but also by our meat producers, fruit-growers, and other primary producers. This forces us to the conclusion that we also must work out our own economic salvation. I discussed this subject frequently during the election campaign. I maintained then, and I still maintain, that we must look after our own welfare and not chase the “ will 0’ the wisp “ overseas. Apparently, the Government thinks otherwise, and is continuing to concentrate all its energies upon the disposal of our exportable surplus of goods, while allowing the home position to muddle its way through. I have noticed a recent press statement to the effect that some members of the
Government are now doubtful of the ultimate success of this policy; but, even so, they evidently propose to continue along these lines.
From 1914 to 1918, certain- measures were taken to ensure the well-being of our people, and I believe that in the present economic crisis we must also take certain definite steps to protect ourselves. In 1929, when Australia faced a time of alleged financial difficulty, the government of the day, with the object of what it claimed to be “ preserving the financial resources of the country” brought up a financial emergency bill, and Parliament quickly decided to take certain steps to protect the financial interests of the country. I can see nothing wrong with the bringing up of an economic emergency bill at this moment. The time has arrived when we must consider the economic interests of our own people. In this connexion I have in mind, not only the wheat-growers, but also all sections of the people who have been seriously affected during the last four years. If Parliament had authority to deal with previous emergency situations, it surely has power to deal with the situation of to-day. I have discussed various aspects of this subject with many people. I know that such important considerations as shorter hours of employment, improved methods of marketing our produce and so on, must be faced; and the legislation I propose would be for that purpose. If Parliament had power to regulate many things under it3 financial emergency legislation, it surely has similar power to regulate such matters that will bring some measure of economic security to our people to-day. What could be done in order to meet a financial emergency could also surely be done to meet an economic emergency. We submit that a measure to establish a Commonwealth compulsory wheat pool to act in collaboration with a price fixation board with power to determine the maximum prices for wheat, flour, and bread should be set up. I declared in my policy speech that the marketing of our wheat should be carried out through a Commonwealth compulsory pool, financed by the Commonwealth Bank and secured by a guaranteed home consumption price. That is the point towards which we were all working - a home-consumption price. In our advocacy of this proposal we are mindful always of the fact that it is necessary to conserve the interests of our own people, and to strike a true balance between the producer and the consumer. The regulation of prices, in my view, would establish security.
– In the last resort, the consumer pays.
– The object would be to prevent any form of exploitation that might be attempted, and to ensure equity in all business transactions, between the two points represented by the producer and the consumer. It has been said that, ultimately, the people pay all taxes. That may be true. But the point that I make is that we have always endeavoured to place the people in a position to meet whatever payments they have to make. The basis upon which we work is that of capacity to pay. At this stage it is interesting to refer to statements that were made by the president of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, Mr. E. Field, at the annual conference of that body held on the 8th August last. Mr. Field then said -
I am convinced that only through a Commonwealthwide pool can orderly marketing be achieved, and not through the awkward and blundering methods of the present Federal Government. Whenever the wheat-growers have sought to bring their industry under the banner of orderly marketing, there has been n significant evasion of the issue by the present Federal Government. The wheat industry, in which wealthy private concerns are interested, hae been singled out for neglect. We, in this State (New South Wales) have felt the weight of the money behind these vested interests on each of the occasions on which wc attempted to secure the establishment of a State pool. Did it never strike you ae significant that the Federal Government did not hesitate to give the dairymen and the dried fruit growers the facilities for controlling the marketing of their products? No powerful proprietary concerns were interested in those industries. The executive nf the association strongly urges the Government to give the wheat industry definite, permanent relief in the form of a home-consumption price, through a Commonwealth pool under the control of the growers.
I believe that’ what he had in mind was the poll taken in New South Wales during the administration of the Lang Government. On that occasion all sorts of propaganda were distributed among the growers for the purpose of defeating the proposal for the establishment of a pool. The wealthy interests, which are largely associated with the milling industry, appear to have ample funds to devote to such propaganda, and they have invariably succeeded in preventing the wheat-growers from arriving at a decision that would best promote their interests. Naturally, the fixation of a homeconsumption price, or the imposition of a sales tax on flour, both of which amount to the same thing - that of providing the grower with assistance - has an effect on the consumer of bread, because the cost is passed on to the general public. It is with a view to guarding against that effect that I suggest action to regulate prices similar to that taken during the war. At that time the Federal Parliament passed an act to enable the Governor-General to make regulations and Orders for the protection of the people of the Commonwealth against exploitation during the existence of the state of war which then prevailed. Will anybody deny that a similar need has arisen to-day for action on behalf of the economic welfare of our producers and the well-being of our people? Following the passage of that act, prices regulations were made on the 20th July, 1916. The provisions of the regulations included the setting up of a Commonwealth prices board of five members. In addition, a commissioner was appointed in each State to recommend and report on prices. Both the board and the commissioners had power to summon witnesses, take evidence on oath, require the production of documents, books and papers, and enter any premises and inspect any stocks of foodstuffs. The board was enabled to recommend to the Minister that any goods should be declared foodstuffs. Persons who attempted to conceal foodstuffs or documents relating to their stocks, or who refused to answer questions, were liable to penalties. It wa6 further provided that any persons holding foodstuffs should be required to furnish returns of their stocks. That was a fairly comprehensive power. Within recent years no real means have existed for the proper investigation of the affairs of those suspected of engaging in this form of exploitation. The Minister was empowered, from time to time, on the recommendation of the board, to determine the maximum prices which could be charged for services. He was also empowered to determine the conditions of the sale of foodstuffs and necessary commodities. Any determination was published in the Gazette, and became law from that date. It was an offence to sell foodstuffs or commodities at a greater price than that fixed, and freight charges could not be increased above the level in force at the time of the making of the regulations. Areas were defined to which the regulations applied, covering metropolitan, suburban and rural portions of all States. Powers similar to those then conferred should be again invoked to meet the present situation in regard to wheat. The price of wheat sold for local consumption should be fixed at a level that would ensure to the growers a fairly reasonable return on the whole of their crop. A prices board could fix the prices of bread and flour, thus ensuring that the fixation of the price of wheat was not followed by a rise in the retail prices of flour and bread. There are ample precedents for dealing with this matter. It is common knowledge that, when wheat was at 7s. 6d. a bushel, and wages were higher than they are now, the price of bread was little above what it is to-day with wheat at 2s. fid. a bushel, and wages drastically reduced. Complaint by those who handle wheat after it has left the grower is useless, in view of the history of the milling and baking industries. In any event, they have done well over a lengthy period and, doubtless, have built up enormous reserves. In the circumstances that confront us we would be justified in expecting them to display a little generosity rather than selfish antagonism.
In considering the proposal for the fixation of a home-consumption price, it should be remembered that Great Britain has had a deficiency payment system in force for some time. Under it, the price of wheat is stabilized at 5s. 7£d. a bushel, and the deficiency - that is, the difference between world parity and what is considered necessary to enable the British grower to carry on - is contributed by millers and importers of wheat. No unwieldy or expensive organization would be required to apply this system to Australia if there were a pool controlled by the growers.
– It could not be applied to Australia because it is an exporter and not an importer of wheat.
– I am considering means by which a home-consumption price could be fixed and the interests of both growers and consumers be conserved. I am unable to see why a satisfactory conclusion may not be reached.
– It cannot be worked. This year the British farmer is not getting a fixed price for the whole of his wheat.
– I have always held the view that, given the will to do it, a thing can bt done. Penalty clauses in the enabling act would give the control board the power to deal with offenders against the spirit and intention of the scheme.
I consider that a home-consumption price, coupled with the safeguards that would be provided by a prices board, would solve the problems of the wheatgrowers until the matter of debts is satisfactorily adjusted. It is useless for us, or at least for the Government, by virtue of the weight of numbers, to decide year after year to continue the present system of doles, with its uneconomic encouragement of inefficiency among the farmers, and to pay bounties to many persons who are not in need of assistance. Payments in the past have been as follows: -
The very fact that another £4,000,000 has to be paid this year proves that this system is ineffectual. Would not a scheme such as I have outlined be more economical and permanent? For example, take the fixation by a control board of a price of 5s. a bushel for wheat for local consumption. With wheat at its present price of 2s. 6d. a bushel, the deficiency payment would be 2s. 6d. That payment would be reduced as world parity for wheat rose, until a return to something like normal conditions would mean its eventual disappearance. If all that the Government claims for the International Wheat Agreement is realized, it should not be very long before that would happen. I do not claim that the return to the grower by means of the deficiency payment would mean the solution of the financial problems of all. But it would improve the present position. It would safeguard the bread consumer, and would force those who have been profiteering in the past to act justly towards both grower and consumer.
It is interesting to note the conditions under which payments under the present proposal of the Government will be made to growers. In the distribution of the last amount made available it was stipulated that assistance should be given to those growers who did not earn a taxable income. Growers who had not suffered loss did not participate in it. The Country party, on that occasion, complained bitterly of the intention of the Government. The then Minister for Commerce (Mr. Stewart) justified the discrimination by reading to the House particulars of large amounts that had been paid to individual growers, as well as to owners of wheat-farms who did not live in Australia. It is significant that, on .the present occasion, with Country party members in the Ministry, there is to be no discrimination. It would be interesting to learn what amounts have been received in the past even by members of this House. I have no desire to go deeply into that aspect of the matter; but I do contend that when such a large proportion of the population have their backs to the wall, and equality of sacrifice is demanded, we cannot be a party to the imposition of an additional burden upon those who, unfortunately, are not able to bear it, for the purpose of making payments to persons who are not in need of the assistance. The change of policy was made clear by the present Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) when, in introducing the bill, he said -
There will be no restriction. The States will bc free to distribute the bounty on a production and acreage basis.
A good deal has been said recently concerning the attitude of certain honorable members opposite towards the proposals of the Government. They are very disturbed about their position, and have had deputations to the Prime Minister in regard to the matter. Doubtless their representations have been similar to those that I have been privileged to make this afternoon. As the majority of them represent metropolitan constituencies which, in most cases, were won by small majorities, the reason for their concern is not hard to discover.
I have no wish to dig up the past ; but honorable members will probably he interested in an elaboration of the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) concerning the stand taken last year as a private member by the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett). The speech which that honorable gentleman made on the flour tax on the 6th December, 1933, is reported as follows: - ‘
I object to the bread tax on the ground that it is a benighted, mean and cruel tax against the people of humble means . . . Fundamentally, the tax is completely _ bad in its immediate form and in its incidence. The money is being provided by the substitution of one tax for other taxes which were removed a few weeks ago. The removal of that taxation is also a real complaint I have against the Government. Our taxation has been raised … in accordance with the golden principle of taxation, namely, capacity to pay with progression against the wealthy. This tax is not progressive, but retrogressive in relation to capacity to pay. The people in the poorer households consume moTe bread . . than do those in richer households. Let honorable members think of the lunch which hundreds of thousands of our working men carry to work’ with them each day. Practically the whole of that lunch will be subject to taxation. I now direct attention to the position of the great army of unemployed. The placing of tax on their bread is surely unthinkable in view of the fact that recently very large remissions of taxation have been made to big financial interests and fairly well-to-do individuals. Let honorable members think of this tax on the destitute institutions . . in our big cities.
Let us examine these remissions of taxation to see if it would not have been more desirable and more to the credit of the Government to retain some of this taxation to an amount of £1,600,000, which it is now proposed to obtain by means of a sales tax on flour. I say, emphatically, that the load on these interests was not too -heavy for them to bear for another year. The reduction of excise of Id. a lb. on tea amounts to £300,000. 1 do know that the reduction was not passed on to the humble householders. Did the workers receive any direct benefit from the remissions of taxation. They did not. I doubt whether in Australia during the last twenty years, the average income of the householders has been above £3 10s. a week.
The figures for New South Wales, as disclosed by. the census at 30th June, 1933, show that two-thirds of the male breadwinners received less than £3 a week for the year. The honorable member for Henty continued -
There are some exemptions from the sales tax on flour. There are exemptions in favour of pollard and bran. Thus we have exemption of chicken food and taxation of childrens’ food; exemptions of hog food, and bread taxation on every human being. Why not take out of Consolidated Revenue what is needed and make every one pay his share? Why place the burden on the poor man’s shoulders? I entirely agree . . . that the Government had received no mandate to impose this tax. I go bo far as to say that if a bread tax had been mentioned as a possibility before the last elections, many of us on this side of the House would not be here to-day.
I shall await with interest a repetition on this occasion of the sentiments expressed by the honorable member. I agreed with him then, and I agree with him now, that taxation remissions in the past have been an unjustifiable gift to wealthy interests. The following list shows what has been remitted by the Lyons Government in this and the last Parliament : -
This was not passed on to the consumers by the tea companies -
On top of that is an increase in the defence vote of £1,900,000 and also the further reductions in duties announced last week.
Failing an assurance by the Government that it will favorably consider the adoption of the scheme I have outlined for the fixation of a home consumption price for wheat, the establishment of a Commonwealth pool, and the setting up of a prices board, my colleagues and I will support the two bills giving relief to wheat-growers, but will oppose the Flour Tax Bill at all stages.
– I was rather interested in the speeches delivered by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) and the Leader of the New South Wales Labour party (Mr. Beasley), because of the fact that both honorable members agreed that the wheat-growers ure entitled to a definite form of relief. There is no disagreement with the action of the Government in allocating £4,000,000 to relieve to some degree the wheat industry of Australia.
– There were special reservations.
– So far as I can gather all parties are agreed that . the wheat industry is in need of financial assistance. No exception, so far, has been taken to the decision of the Government to allocate £4,000,000 towards the relief of the industry in Australia.
– That will come later.
– It may, but it is agreed that anything less than £4,000,000 would, not be sufficient to deal with the difficult position with which the wheatgrowing industry is faced to-day. That amount of £4,000,000 was arrived at by the Government after it had received two reports from the royal commission appointed to investigate the wheat industry in Australia; and after it had given very careful consideration to the whole situation as it relates to the wheat industry in every part of the Commonwealth. I am not going to worry over the figures, but I propose to discuss the effort that has been made to draw a line of demarcation between the methods by which the Government proposes to raise this £4,000,000, and the proposals of the Opposition, who suggest that the money could be raised in some other way which would not be detrimental in its effect on the consumers of bread. I desire to be absolutely fair in my criticism of honorable members opposite, but I shall endeavour to show that they are entirely in error when they suggest that the Government is in any way throwing this burden of £4,000,000 on to consumers of bread as consumers. An endeavour has been made to make capital but of the fact that the poorer people per head consume a greater quantity of bread than the wealthy section of the community does. I admit that the family of a poor man eats more bread than does a wealthy family of equal size; but the latter buy larger quantities of other foodstuffs. An accurate examination of the fact3 reveals that the average consumption of bread per family throughout Australia is 6.8, or approximately 7 loaves a family a week. These figures have been checked over and over again and cannot be questioned. But let us take an extreme view and allow an average consumption of ten loaves a week to the larger working class family. Assuming that the whole of the flour sales tax was added to the price of bread it would be equivalent to a fraction of less than one halfpenny per 2-lb. loaf, or an increase of approximately 5d. a week to the working class family which is consuming considerably more bread than the average consumption of the Commonwealth. It has been suggested - and Professor Giblin’s statement is used in justification of this contention - that assuming that a family consumes ten loaves of bread a week at an increased cost of one halfpenny per loaf the cost of living to a working class family is thus increased by 5d. a week. lt is said that because of this the bill now before us is most iniquitous, that it is infamous, and that it cannot be justified. Honorable members opposite have said that it imposes a burden on the working class, and that the rich are getting off lightly because they consume a smaller proportion of bread and are better able to carry the increased cost. They apparently overlook the fact that the id. per loaf represents less than half of the £4,000,000 which is to be allocated to the wheat industry. The taxpayers generally are finding approximately £2,500,000 and the consumers of bread £1,500,000. The working class families are providing only a proportion of that £1,500,000, whereas the taxpayers as consumers, are providing their proportion of the £1,500,000 and also providing £2,500,000 as taxpayers.
– Yet in the next breath the honorable member will say that the workers pay all taxation.
– I have never said that. I have said, and say still, that the people of Australia as a body provide all taxation. Unfortunately on a closer analysis of the taxation question raised by the honorable member one finds that those engaged in the primary industries are in such a wretched financial position that they have recently been providing only 4 per cent, of our income tax revenue. This indicates that their incomes are so low that only a very small percentage are paying any income tax whatever. On the other hand, the people engaged in primary production, and particularly the wheat-growers, are providing a very large proportion of the revenue derived from other forms of taxation. This is loaded on to them, and increases, their cost of production to a very high figure, while, at the same time, they are forced to sell their produce at world’s parity. All honorable members who have spoken so far have argued again and again, whenever this question has been under consideration, that the Australian producer is entitled to at least a reasonable price for that proportion of his products which is consumed within Australia. If we are to accept the principle that the people are entitled to a reasonable standard of living and that, to enable them to enjoy that standard, the Parliament is justified in imposing duties on goods coming into this country so that those engaged in secondary industries shall not be called upon to meet the unfair competition of low wage countries, then we cannot logically deny the extension of the same principle to those engaged in the great primary industries, when selling their produce to meet the needs of the Australian consuming public. We have already accepted that principle in relation to the sugar industry, the butter industry and, in fact, the dairying industry as a whole.
– And to the dried fruits industry.
– We have extended it also to the dried fruits industry. We have indeed accepted the application of the same principle to practically every other industry but that of wheat production. We have given bounties and benefits of various kinds to many branches of primary industries in order to compensate them to some extent for losses due to their inability to obtain the Australian price for that proportion of their products which is sold here. Queensland has a local pool which secures for its wheat-growers a home consumption price for their wheat. We do not grudge them that benefit; but Queensland’s position is unique in that it is not a wheat-exporting State. Because of that it has been able to constitute a wheat pool within its own boundaries and to secure for its wheatgrowers a home consumption price which is paid by the consumers of Queensland, rich and poor alike.
– And bread is cheaper in Brisbane than it is in Sydney.
– I am delighted to have that interjection.
– I have just received a telegram which supports that statement.
– I do not question the statement. It only serves to emphasize what we have arguing for years : that the price of wheat is not the dominating factor in the price of bread.
– The exploiting millers are the dominating factor.
– The industrial conditions imposed on those engaged in the conversion of wheat into flour, and the baking and delivery of bread into households have everything to do with it. The industrial conditions relating to the delivery of bread to households have more to do with the price of bread than has anything else. By way of illustration I would point out that the bread consumers of New South Wales to-day are carrying a much greater burden, by reason of the conditions that have been imposed on the manufacture and distribution of bread during the last six or seven years, than the wheat-growers have ever imposed upon consumers of bread. The introduction of day baking and the making and distribution of bread to-day represent more than two-thirds of the cost of a loaf of bread, whereas in 1922, when wheat realized 6s., 7s. and even as much as 9s. a bushel, the growers and millers were getting two-thirds of the value of the loaf, the price of which was approximately the same as it is to-day. At that time two-thirds of, say, 6d. paid for a loaf of bread were going to the millers and wheat-growers and one-third to the master bakers, operative bakers and bread-carters. To-day the position is reversed. Considerably less than onethird of the cost of a loaf of bread is going to the millers and the growers of the wheat; the remainder goes to the bakers, from the time the flour is delivered at the bakers shed, and to those who handle it. Why do honorable members assume that we are proposing to place an unjustifiable burden on the consumers of bread in Australia when we ask them to carry a flour sales tax of £2 12s. 6d. per ton which, even if it were wholly passed on to the consumers, would represent an increase of not more than id. a 2-lb. loaf ? Other sections of the industry connected with the supply of bread have imposed considerably greater burdens on the consumers, and there has been no outcry at all. For instance, the cost of delivering bread in the Sydney metropolitan area to-day is considerably more than one penny a loaf. The whole subject, including growing, milling, baking and delivery charges, is being examined by the Royal Commission on Wheat, but the final report of that body has not yet been presented. Honorable members have spoken of a “ rake-off “ at the expense of the consumers, but it is not the growers who are getting the “ rake-off “. Between 1920 and 1926, the gross profits taken by the master bakers in the Sydney metropolitan area were something over £7 a ton, this representing the amount left to the bakers on every ton of bread sold after buying the flour, and paying the cost of baking and distribution. Today, the master bakers are taking a gross profit, under exactly the same conditions, of more than £11 a ton. In other words, they have imposed a flour tax on the consumers, rich and poor, of nearly double the present proposed tax.
– Then the present high cost of bread is not due to industrial conditions?
– Not wholly. On a previous occasion I placed before the Government of the day, full details of costs, &c, and I could do so again were it not that this phase of the subject is being covered by the royal commission. It is futile for honorable members to try to make party political capital out of the position by misconstruing figures, or by quoting Professor Giblin’s statement to the effect that the wealthy bachelor will, under the flour tax, be called upon to pay in only the same proportion as the working man with a large family dependent upon him.
– The commissioners thought enough of Professor Giblin’s statement to -include it in the appendix to their report.
– I propose to explode that argument, whether it be put forward by Professor Giblin, or by any other professor. Professor Giblin said that the burden laid on the wealthy bachelor was very small compared with that laid on the working man with a large family, and while that may be so in respect of bread, it is equally so in respect of boots, clothing and other necessaries. It is ridiculous for a professor to suggest that any form of tariff protection or indirect taxation will not bear more heavily on the unfortunate working man with a large family than on the wealthy bachelor.
– That may apply to necessaries, but it does not apply to luxuries.
– Is not sugar a necessary, yet the honorable member himself supported the sugar agreement?
– But why put another straw on the working man’s hack?
– We have to decide whether we shall put a very small straw on the back of every member of the community, or leave the wheat-growers to stagger under a burden which they are unable to carry. If this bachelor who has been referred to is so very wealthy, he will contribute a large proportion of the £2,500,000 that is being provided for the relief of the wheat-farmers over and above the £1,500,000 which is to be raised by the flour tax.
– The weight of the burden is determined by the capacity to pay.
– We recognize that; otherwise we should have imposed a flour tax of £6 a ton.
– Taxation presupposes profits.
– That is true only of income tax. Sales tax does not, nor does land tax, which has no relation to profit whatever, any more than have tariff and excise duties. Every form of taxation, other than income tax, is imposed without any consideration whatever to profits, or ability to pay. Honorable members opposite, who supported the Government which imposed the sales tax, cannot deny that that tax was imposed upon rich and poor alike, on the poor man with a large family as well as on the wealthy bachelor.
– Necessary commodities were exempt.’
– They were not at first, though a large number have been exempt since. In some cases these taxes are passed on, and, unfortunately, the great burden of taxation ultimately falls on the shoulders of those engaged in industry in one form or another, whether they be employees or primary producers. I can see no way of getting over that, except by the imposition of income tax which, to a great degree, adjusts the position as between the poorer and richer classes of society. Income tax is the only logical form of taxation for that purpose.
It has been argued by some honorable members that the payment of a bounty to those not -in need should be discontinued. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) said that there was no justification for the payment of a bounty to those who were not in need, and he suggested that there should be some discrimination in the allotment of the money. I remind him that when the Government of which he was a member paid a wheat bounty of 4£d. a bushel, it was paid without any discrimination. In the present instance it is not proposed to continue the discrimination exercised last year, and the bounty of 3d. a bushel and 3s. an acre will be paid irrespective of the circumstances of the grower. One reason for this is the tremendous difficulty experienced by the State authorities last year in trying to comply with the law as passed by this Parliament, it being laid down that certain classes of taxpayers were not entitled to receive the bounty. It was also found in actual practice that many deserving cases were excluded from the benefits of the provision, whereas persons who were not in necessitous circumstances received the bounty. The whole system was found to bristle with anomalies.
On the other hand, we should recognize that in growing wheat farmers have been suffering losses irrespective of the amount produced, and they should not be penalized simply because they happen to be making an income from some other source. It has been agreed by most speakers that it would be preferable to introduce a system which would give the growers a home consumption price for wheat. Surely the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) and the honorable member forWest Sydney must agree that if there were a home consumption price, and a Commonwealth compulsory pool - with which I agree if it were practicable - that would necessarily give to the wheat-growers exactly the same benefit without discrimination as we propose to give them under the present scheme. Moreover, the consumers would have to provide 100 per cent. of the benefit received by the growers, whereas, under this scheme, they are asked to provide approximately 40 per cent. of the £4,000,000.
As for the establishment of the Common wealth-wide compulsory pool, we must recognize that it would be impossible for this Parliament to inaugurate such a system without the co-operation of the States, and the passing by State Parliaments of complementary legislation.
– Has the Minister asked the States to agree to it?
– Yes. Not very long ago I was the Minister responsible for conducting a State-wide ballot of farmers on this subject, in conjunction with the Victorian authorities, and we were disappointed that the majority of theVictorian farmers were opposed to the proposal.
– But did the Commonwealth Government ask the States to cooperate ?
– Yes; and I conducted the negotiations with the Commonwealth Government on behalf of the Government of New South Wales. This is not a party matter , and on the occasion to which I refer the Commonwealth Government negotiated with State governments of every political colour.
Sitting suspended from 6.16 to 8 p.m.
– Whilst I am personally a keen advocate of an Australianwide wheat pool, I emphasize the fact that it is utterly impossible for the Commonwealth Government to introduce legislation to inaugurate such a pool without the complete co-operation of the States. Queensland has already expressed its opposition to a wheat pool for the whole of Australia, and South Australia, through its premier, has adopted a similar attitude. If there were no other opposition, that in itself would he sufficient to prevent the Commonwealth Government from even contemplating the inauguration of such a pool. Several honorable members, particularly the Deputy Leader of the Opposition emphasized the need for a permanent scheme to put the wheat industry on a sound basis. The Government Agrees with them, and has definitely promised that immediately after the passage of this temporary legislation to meet the requirements of the present season, it will give serious consideration to a permanent scheme to give the industry relief from its present burdens, and to enable it to carry on satisfactorily without having to come cap in hand to the Government each year for financial relief.
Under the scheme now before us, provision is made for the payment of a bounty of 3d. a bushel on all wheat grown and delivered for sale. That will be a definite bounty on production, and will afford financial relief irrespective of the grower’s financial position, or the acreage planted by him. But if the relief were confined to the payment of a bounty on a production basis, no assistance would be received by those growers who experience a small crop, or whose crops are destroyed by disease, drought, grasshopper plague, or any other cause. They would either receive a very small amount of bounty or none at all; but every grower will be paid a further bonus of 3s. for every acre cultivated for grain. Since every grower will receive 3d. a bushel on wheat delivered for sale, but not on that reserved for seed, the assistance will be general. About £500,000 will be provided for relief in special cases of hardship, and this money is to be distributed through the States in accordance with the needs of the growers. Provision will be made for the granting of this relief subsequent to the passing of the measures now before the House.
I sincerely trust that honorable members on all sides will deal with this matter on its merits. I feel justified in saying that some are endeavouring to make party political capital out of the troubles of the wheatfarmers. They claim that the imposition of a flour sales tax will automatically increase the price of bread, and inflict a serious burden on the poorer section of the community, particularly those with large families. -I pointed out in my earlier remarks that a fair allowance for an average family was 14 lb. of bread a week; but even if a family used ten 2-lb. loaves a week, the proposed tax would not increase its weekly bread bill by more than 5d.
– “What will be the position in Tasmania ?
– While that State will have to contribute its share of the flour sales tax the same as the rest of the Commonwealth, except the Northern Territory, in view of the fact that it will reap practically no benefit from the relief to be granted to growers on either the acreage or the bushel basis, arrangements will be made to compensate it so that, in effect, it will not have to carry the burden of this tax. Tasmania, therefore, is not vitally concerned in this matter. Its small number of growers will receive an infinitesimal amount of relief, but the people of the State will not be exploited through having to contribute revenue that will be distributed in other States. I hope that honorable members will confine their remarks to the principle of this legislation, and recognize that it will not impose a serious burden on any section of the community. The wealthy classes, to which reference has been made by some speakers, will pay, not only their share of the sales tax on flour, but also nearly double that amount in their contribution to the general revenue.
.- Again the Parliament is asked to consider the question of the serious position of the wheat industry. For the last three years this matter has, of necessity, been brought under the notice of the House, and we who represent rural areas have continually requested that some permanent scheme be adopted to give the growers power to control the marketing of their own product, or that provision should be made for an excise duty which would put the farmers on the basis of a home consumption price. All parties in this House are agreed that such a price is desirable, yet we so far have been unable to secure the machinery to procure it. To make our appeals more convincing, ‘we urged last year that a royal commission should be appointed to investigate the position of the wheat industry. That commission was appointed and its chairman, Sir Herbert Gepp, and his fellow commissioners have gone fully into the matter, and have reported that the wheat producers are as much entitled to a homeconsumption price as are the industries that are sheltered by the tariff. Our manufacturers and the producers of butter, dried fruits, sugar and rice, enjoy that benefit, by organization or by legislation, and the commission has expressed the opinion that the wheat industry is equally entitled to it. Owing to the lateness of the time when the commission’s report was submitted, it recognized the difficulty of providing machinery for the current season, and, accordingly, recommendations were made for the granting of temporary assistance. The growers as a whole accept this recommendation, and are glad that the justice of their claim has been recognized by the granting for this year of assistance to the amount of £4,000,000.
If we carefully analyse the proposal for a home-consumption price for wheat, we find that practically all the objections to the raising of the necessary money through a flour sales tax for this year are political. If the question as to what is a home-consumption price is asked, there can be only one answer, “ The price paid by the home consumer “. It would not be a home-consumption price if the money required to pay it were taken out of the Consolidated Revenue, or met by treasury-bills, and if I advocated the provision of such a price by means of a general tax, an income tax, or revenue from tariff, and were accused of being a hypocrite, I should have no defence.
– The honorable member is a hypocrite.
– I take exception to that remark, and ask that it be withdrawn.
– He calls everybody a hypocrite who holds views different from his own.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).The honorable member must withdraw the remark to which exception has been taken.
– I withdraw it, but I take exception to the honorable member referring to honorable members on this side as hypocrites because theyspoke of raising the money needed for the payment of a home-consumption price by means of treasury-bills, a wheat pool or other methods. He says we are hypocrites, but he is one. He is a wheat-farmer, and is pleading in his own interests.
– The honorable member for Hunter is distinctly out of order. He was called upon to withdraw an offensive remark, and he has now repeated the offence. The honorable member for Riverina did not say that anybody was a hypocrite. He merely observed that he would be a hypocrite if he adopted a certain attitude.
– I take exception to the honorable member for Riverina calling us hypocrites.
– The honorable member for Hunter will resume his seat, and if he again rises in his place when the Chair is addressing the House it will be necessary for the Chair to take action against him.
– Many primary, as well as secondary, industries are sheltered by the tariff by organization or by legislation which assures to them a homeconsumption price, but in every instance that advantage is obtained at the expense of the consumer. That position exists in connexion with maize, dried fruits, butter, and sugar, and in respect of more than one of these commodities the burden on the consumer is greater than is imposed by a sales tax on flour at £2 12s. 6d. a ton. Again, with the imposition of a flour sales tax the burden is obvious, whereas under other methods such as are employed by export control boards it is concealed. Yet, because we have no similar machinery in connexion with the wheat industry to enable a home consumption price to be fixed, we are told that the money needed to provide assistance must not be paid by the consumer, but must be raised by other methods.
– The consumer pays all the time. The honorable member is using this Parliament to put money in his own pocket.
– Another statement was made that this proposal would add to the budget of bread-eaters to the extent of 14d. a week. The figures given by the Assistant Minister (Mr. Thorby) are, I think, in conformity with the estimate made by the Special Commission on the Baking Industry. We are justified in assuming that the burden of this tax will represent less than½d. a loaf, or an additional 3d. a week to an average family and approximately 5d. a week to the working man with a larger family.
Another proposal put forward both inside and outside this House by the Federal Labour party was that a home consumption price of 4s. a bushel should apply for three years, but the burden that would impose would be greater than that now proposed. It would mean an increase of1s. 6d. a bushel on the price of wheat at the ports to-day - £2,400,000 extra on home consumption, which, according to the chairman of the Mill-owners Association of Victoria, would increase the price of flour by £3 15s. a ton. The Government’s proposal is to impose a sales tax on flour which would increase its price by only £2 12s. 6d. a ton, yet the lower rate is opposed. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) went so far as to say that the growers should be guaranteed a home consumption price by the Government. Everybody would like that, but it is not possible. No government has a monopoly of the source of gold, and if it attempted to adopt such a policy in connexion with wheat it would quickly have to apply it to butter, fruit, wine, and so forth. It cannot be done. All that the grower is entitled to and asks for, is that the wheat industry should be placed on the same basis as other sheltered industries, and be given a home consumption price. The Government’s proposal for £4,000,000 by way of assistance, if accepted, will mean only the addition of the equivalent of1d. in the price of a loaf of bread, and more than half of that extra amount is to be provided from revenue. In England, a processing tax is imposed on the whole of the wheat and the flour used. In the United States of America, a processing tax of 30 cents is imposed on the whole of the wheat used, and the proceeds are distributed to assist the growers. There is a fixed price of 5s. 7½d. a bushel for most of the wheat grown in the United Kingdom, of 4s. 9d. in New Zealand, 6s. 6d. a bushel in South Africa, and 7s. 6d. in France. In practically every European country a high price is fixed for wheat, but those countries are producing wheat at a cost which is uneconomic. The Australian wheatfarmers merely ask for the determination of a home consumption price for the 32,000,000 bushels of wheat used. It was pointed out by the honorable member for “West Sydney that there were four methods by which this could be done. The honorable gentleman suggested that such a price could be financed from revenue, by the issue of treasury-bills, or by an increase of taxation. But by not one of those methods could it be called a home consumption price. Finally, he made the proposal that there should be a home consumption price for wheat and a fixedprice for bread. The Federal Government has no control over the price of bread. Whatever price is to be charged for bread - and I admit that, in the past, there has been exploitation - is a matter for the State governments to control. I have here a copy of figures quoted by the Assistant Minister for Repatriation, which show that on each ton of flour baked for some years the profit to the bakers was £7, and that last year, after paying for the cost of flour, baking and delivery, a margin of £11 12s. 7d. a ton was left to the bakers. To-day, with wheat at 2s. 6d. a bushel and flour at £7 5s. a ton, allowing £3 5s. a ton for baking, and £5 a ton for delivery, a total cost to the baker of £15 10s. a ton is arrived at. With bread at 4½d. a loaf which is equivalent to £25 2s. 6d. a ton, the profit to the baker is £9 17s. 6d. on each ton of flour baked . If there is exploitation the farmer is not responsible for it, and there is no justification for compelling the farmer to continue selling his wheat locally at1s. a bushel less than it costs him to produce. The farmer has no control over milling or baking. That is entirely a matter for State legislation. The proposal of the honorable member for West Sydney, that an excise tax of 2s. 6d. a bushel should be imposed on home consumption, diminishing as the price of wheat rises, is similar to one which I personally have advocated, and which has had the approval of presidents of wheat-growing associations as the only practical alternative to a compulsory wheat pool. But I would also point out that an excise of 2s. 6d. on our home consumption wheat, based on 32,000,000 bushels, would yield £4,000,000, again much more than the smaller sum of . £1,500,000 which the Government proposes to add to the price of flour, and the £4,000,000 must express itself in an increased price for bread. There is no camouflaging the matter. There is no general hostility to fixing of a homeconsumption price for sugar, butter, rice, or dried fruits; but the imposition of a sales tax on flour is so obviously an addition to the price of bread that it engenders political hostility from those who are afraid of its repercussions when next they have to face the electors.
– That is a bad sign.
– Yes, to some. The basic wage is determined regularly on index figures, in which is included the price of bread. If the price of bread rises it affects the index figures, and reacts upon the basic wage. It is possible that there may be some lag in the fluctuation of the basic wage figure, but the lag applies both in an upward and downward direction.
Dealing with the provisions of the bills, the Minister has stated that 3s. an acre will be paid to the growers, but that is not exactly as is stated in the bill, which provides -
The amount which may be paid under this section by a State to a wheat-grower shall be the amount which bears, to the total amount granted to that State under this section, the same proportion as the number of acres sown by that wheat-grower during the year One thousand nine hundred and thirty-four with wheat for grain bears to the total number of acres sown in that State during that year with wheat for grain.
This means that every individual farmer must make application, and accompany his application with a declaration in regard to his acreage. When all applications have been received and approved, the total acreage has to be added up and divided into the amount allocated for the purpose, in order to determine the amount to be paid for each acre. We are told that it will work out at 3s. an acre, but it will be at least July next year before the first farmer gets his acreage allowance, because the figures cannot be computed until the total acreage is known. Such procedure must inevitably cause much delay in distribution. The farmers’ need is an urgent one and I hope that the Government will see that the necessary clause is amended to carry out the intention that the payment shall be promptly made on the basis of 3s. an acre.
The second bill deals with the bushel allowance, and provides -
For the purposes of this act wheat shall be deemed to have been delivered for sale if it is delivered by a grower to a flour miller, wheat merchant, government instrumentality or cooperative organization for storage pending sale.
It limits the classes of persons competent to give certificates with regard to delivery to four. I ask the Government to include the words “or other approved authority”. Frequently a farmer sells wheat to a produce merchant, poultryfarmer or a speculator, who is prepared to give him a higher price than the miller or the merchant. Surely the farmer is not to be refused the bounty because he happens to have sold his wheat in such a manner. I hope the Minister will take my request into consideration, and see that the clause is altered.
We hope from the final report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry to get some practical proposals for a permanent scheme, and I was pleased to have the assurance from the Minister in charge of the bill that action in this direction will be taken when the commission’s report is to hand.
– The Minister merely said that the report would receive serious consideration.
– The Minister said that action would be taken to provide apermanent scheme. That is what the wheatgrowers are asking for. I am also pleased to have the assurance of the Government, in reply to a question, that the farmers are to have this money paid to them direct. There was a great deal of dissatisfaction last year because of the iniquitous anomalies that occurred in the distribution of the money that was made available. In some cases poor men did not get help and rich men did. Many more anomalies occurred through the discrimination than would have occurred had there been none. I hope that these bills will be passed quickly, and that the money will be provided expeditiously and made available to the farmers early in the new year to compensate them for some of the disabilities of legislation and to enable them to carry on.
– A great deal of dissatisfaction has been expressed not only throughout the Commonwealth, but in this Parliament, and no doubt also in Cabinet itself, because no substantial advance has been made in providing relief to the wheat industry on a permanent basis, although measures for the benefit of the wheat-growers have been passed by Parliament in four consecutive years. We have had a debate on the wheat industry every year, but we seem to have made no progress towards devising adequate relief measures. As a member of the last Cabinet, I know that this is not because Cabinet does not give the subject the attention that it deserves. I suppose that in the last few years the wheat industry has been discussed more fully in Cabinet than any other industry, but all the discussions seem to end in the introduction of a relief measure for only one year. The time has come when Parliament itself should do something effective. It is not sufficient merely to refer the subject to a royal commission.
The first thing that strikes me about the wheat industry is that an endeavour is being made to maintain the high prices for wheat lands that were obtainable in consequence of the artificial boom periods of years ago. The farmers are not prepared to let these values pass. I am well acquainted with the Cootamundra and Riverina districts and I know that land valued fifteen or twenty years ago at from £6 to £7 an acre, when wheat was averaging about 4s. 6d. a bushel, is to-day priced at from £12 to £14 an acre, when wheat is selling at only about a half of its former price. That cannot continue indefinitely. The farmer must realize that, like men engaged in other industries, he must do some substantial writing down. Present prices cannot be bolstered up. Right at the beginning of the depression one of our biggest city firms wrote down the value of its stock by 10s. in the £, although it was realized that that would mean a great loss to the’ shareholders. Land is worth only what it will produce. Quite a number of landholders to-day are in a snug position. Some of the original holders of land in the wheat districts, who have remained in constant occupation of their properties, are able to “ make a do of it “ even at the present price of wheat. I have been in touch with some people in the Wagga district who have told me that, although like people in the wool industry the dairying industry and various commercial enterprises in town and country, they are not making money, they are able to hold their own. These people, like the butchers, bakers and other storekeepers, have faced the depression fairly. There must be a writing down of the value of farm lands.
– What about a writing down of advances?
– A member of this House told me recently that last year he had bought out two of his neighbours and paid a fairly high price for the land. That gentleman is expecting to benefit by the passage of this legislation. Some other honorable gentlemen of the Parliament are in a similar position. I realize, of course, that if the wheat industry is to be maintained it must be assisted in some way; but assistance can be given by better means than those adopted during the last few years. In view of the delay of the royal commission in submitting its findings, I do not criticize the Government for the delay that has occurred; but I feel that there should have been no departure in these bills from certain principles that governed the granting of assistance last year. I was a member of Cabinet last year when the bills for the assistance of the wheat industry were before Parliament, and, as honorable members know, Cabinets must speak with one voice; but to-night I am not a member of the Cabinet and I propose to ventilate views which I did not express in the House last year. When the sales tax on flour was being discussed here about twelve months ago, we were given an assurance that it would be only a temporary measure. We were also told that assistance by this means was necessary because money could not be found promptly by any other means to help the farmers. We were informed, too, that the flour tax would be discontinued as soon as possible. Of course, it was discontinued without undue delay because an election was to take place! The flour tax is not a popular tax - I suppose it is the most unpopular form of taxation that could be imagined. This is the first year of office of this Government and no doubt Cabinet hopes that its action in imposing a flour tax will be forgotten before the next election is held. Not one honorable gentleman elected to this Parliament advocated a bread tax during the recent election campaign. Had he done so, he would not have won his campaign.
I am not against the granting of assistance to the farmers, but I am definitely opposed to the view of the Minister in Charge of War Service Homes (Mr. Thorby) who declared a few minutes ago that there was no harm in taxing the poor and no harm in giving the proceeds of the tax to the rich.
– He did not say that.
– Those were not his words; but that is a fair condensation of his speech. He said that no hardship would be inflicted on the poor by putting a tax on bread, and that no harm would be done by paying the proceeds of the tax to people of independent means. I interpret that statement to mean that the honorable gentleman thinks that there would be no harm in taxing the poor and no harm in giving the proceeds of the tax to the rich.
– Some of the rich wheatfarmers in this House will benefit if these measures are passed.
– A tax on bread is a very great hardship to the poor people, because they eat far more bread than do the rich people. We have 800 men unemployed in Canberra and many others who are working one week in three and some working one week in five. If only 5d. or 6d. a week were added to the compulsory expenditure of the families of those men it would be a hardship to them. Similar hardship would be imposed on tens of thousands of other families elsewhere in the Commonwealth. For that reason I am strongly opposed to this tax.
In some circumstances it might be necessary to tax flour, but not in the circumstances that face us. The Government has stated that it is able to obtain £2,500,000, apart from the tax on flour, but it must raise an additional £1,500,000 from other sources to help the wheat. industry. As the press informed us to-day that the revenue is £2,250,000 in excess of the Estimate made last July, I suggest that the Government should take the additional £1,500,000 that it requires from this accumulating surplus. If it feels that it cannot do this, it should find the money by some other means. It could re-impose some of the taxes that were remitted last year. Let us be honest in this matter. This is a very bad time to tax the people’s bread. We know that there are sentimental reasons against such a tax. I remind honorable gentlemen of the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread “. The Government is not giving, but taking away the daily bread of the poor, which is an intense hardship. The average poor family eats three times as much bread as the average rich family. I hear an honorable gentleman near me saying “Nonsense”; but two Canberra bakers have told me that they are prepared to show me their books to prove that this is so. Poor people also eat twice as much bread as the middle class people. It will be seen, therefore, that a tax on bread - which is what a flour tax really is - will be a very great hardship to the poor. It is no reply to my argument to say that the poor people eat more sugar and other commodities that are regarded as necessaries of life than do. the rich people, because the tax on bread might be the last straw. The poor cannot be expected to continue to carry extra imposts of this kind. Surely it is the first duty of a government to try to lessen the taxation burden on the poor. That also, we will surely agree, is the duty of the parliament of every democratic country. We should be lifting taxation from, and not piling it on, the poor. I realize that the wheat industry is important and must be assisted, but I shall not vote for it to be assisted by means of a flour tax.
Let us consider for a moment the people who will, receive the proceeds of this taxation. Some of them are wealthy men. Every industry of Australia is passing through a period of strain. Thousands of people, including some honorable members of this chamber, now growing wheat, are not wholly dependent for their livelihood upon that part of their activities, yet they will benefit by the passage of these bills unless amendments are made in committee. These people are better able to do without the proceeds of such taxation than the poor people are able to pay it.
– Who are the poor?
– The people without jobs, and the thousands who are living on the dole throughout Australia! I also regard wage-earners of Australia working one week in three as being among the poor. Even men in constant employment on the basic wage will find great difficulty in paying this tax. I oppose it in the interests of the “ down and out.” We were a comparatively happy family in dealing with our wheat industry relief legislation last year, because we knew that none of the money that we were providing would go to rich people ; but since then the members of the Country party have undoubtedly brought pressure to bear in certain quarters. I compliment these honorable gentlemen on the effectiveness of their representation of the wheatgrowers. The wheat industry is represented in this Parliament better than any other industry.
– And the wheatfarmers are getting better results from their political organization than any other section of the community.
– That is so; but in this case they will not get better results with my help, although I represent a country district, and could introduce honorable members to many men who are struggling on the land to make both ends meet. It has been said that this is a tax on city and not on country people; but that is not correct, for many struggling people in country towns and districts will suffer if this tax is* imposed. In my opinion the tax is against the interests of both city and country.
We have been informed that even if a tax of £2 12s. 6d. per ton is imposed on flour the price of bread will not be increased in Now South Wales. That surely means that the price of bread is too high to-day. If that be so, the State Parliament should take action to see that it is reduced. If there need be no increase in price following the imposing of this tax there should undoubtedly be a lower ruling price to-day. The argument that even with the imposition of the tax the price of bread will not be increased in New South Wales carries no weight at all with me. If the tax is imposed and the price of bread is not increased it means that the burden will be laid on the shoulders of the bakers and millers - a relatively small handful of people who would carry no influence in an election. I have been informed that two bakers have failed in my own district recently. Bakers are not making the great profits that some people think they are making. Bakery businesses can be purchased cheaply in any portion of the State of New South Wales. I cannot speak for city millers, but I can for the largest mill in. my electorate. I was invited to examine its books, to see the load that it is carrying. When the flour tax was imposed last year, debts owed to milling firms increased considerably, and the consumption of flour declined enormously because the people generally had to deny themselves even such a necessary as bread. The home market, which is the best market, was seriously undermined. With all due respect, I hope that the Government will endeavour to do better than is now proposed by it. Distributed among the wheat-farmers, £4,000,000 will provide very little assistance, especially if those who do not need it take their share of it. Were it to be given only to those to whom it is absolutely necessary that it should be given, it -might prove more helpful. It must be realized that there are on the land men who in the end must fail, even though they are bolstered up year after year, because the markets available will not absorb our production. France, which a few years ago was a big importing nation, to-day is able to export wheat. Germany, another former big importing nation, to-day can do without one bushel from any other part of the world. As much as 14s. 2d. a bushel is paid for wheat in Germany. Italy is approaching the same stage. We have to realize that some of our markets have gone. Poor crops are produced in a number of counties in South Australia, despite the fact that they have had four or five fairly good seasons. Wheat is being grown in an unsafe belt that is not fit for its production. The wheat-farmer will no longer be the backbone of Australia if he tries to live on land that will not produce wheat.
– Production is not economic in such circumstances.
– That is so.
– The honorable member is referring to a few, not to the great majority, of the wheat-farmers.
– I speak of those who are attempting to grow wheat on land that is not suited to its production. Some other avocation must be found for them. In districts in which wheat can be grown, the price of land must be reduced in order to make production economic.
I speak emphatically and sincerely on this matter. The wheat industry is one that we have to support as much as possible, but in an economic way. Assistance must be given without adding to the burdens of the poor in these times of depression. We must see that there is not a bolstering up of men -whom the Lord has been pleased to bless with a sufficiency of this world’s goods.
.- The idea held by some persons, that the imposition of a flour tax is a desirable means of raising revenue for the purpose of assisting the wheat-farmer, must have been dispelled by speeches that have been delivered by honorable members on both sides of the chamber.
This afternoon an honorable member asked that this matter should not be made the football of party politics. I contend that the imposition of a flour tax, with a resultant rise in the price of bread, must have that effect. It is sad to contemplate, because there is not the slightest doubt in the minds of persons who are acquainted with the position of the wheat-farmer that he requires organized assistance such as, up to date, he has failed to receive from any government. It is useless for the Minister in charge of war service homes (Mr. Thorby) to argue, as he did this evening, that a compulsory wheat pool should not be inaugurated because one State or another is opposed to it. In my opinion, no organized effort has been made by this Government to induce the different States to bring in the necessary machinery to establish a compulsory wheat pool. Some representatives of the farmers have stated that such a proposal would prove impracticable. My rejoinder is that the wheat-farmers, as a whole, are in favour of it. Only a few weeks ago their representatives met in Canberra. I attended a conference as the representative of a large number of wheat-growers in Western Australia. The requests then made were for a compulsory wheat pool and a home-consumption price, the necessity and justness of which cannot be gainsaid. A paragraph in the report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat, Flour and Bread Industries, that I found particularly interesting, reads as follows: -
Of the various methods by which a homeconsumption price, or the effect of a homeconsumption price, can be achieved, two in particular have been considered by the commission, namely, an excise on flour and a compulsory pool for wheat.
I honestly believe that those are the only two alternatives which offer themselves. Why is it that the representatives of the farmers in this House have selected a sales tax on flour, when a compulsory wheat pool is desired? There are big influences in this country behind the present proposal. The wheat merchants exercise over the Government a greater influence than any other ‘body, and because of that the Government will never introduce a compulsory wheat pool.
I do not want honorable members on either this side or the other to he prejudiced against the claim of the whealfarmer for assistance. It has been pointed out that a number of farmers who grow a small quantity of wheat are making a comparatively good living. I contend that they are not making it out of wheat. Probably 25 per cent, of the wheat-farmers in some of the best districts in New South Wales grow on an average only 100 acres of wheat. Production is largest in the dry areas of Australia. One-half of the production in Victoria comes from the Mallee, the most uncertain portion of the State, and more than one-half of the production “in Western Australia comes from the dry areas. In those districts the farmers have to plant a large acreage. Although sheepraising is profitable, they are not able to carry a sufficient number to make mixed farming a payable proposition. It is said that there are about 70,000 wheatfarmers in Australia. I think it is fair to assume that at least 350,000 people directly, and 1,000,000 directly and indirectly, are dependent on the industry. One-third of the present production would supply Australia’s requirements. If two-thirds of those who are now engaged in the industry were to leave it - and they assuredly will unless some permanent method of assistance is devised, unless their position is stabilized for at least three years - the ranks of the unemployed in the cities will be swelled. As a representative of the farmers, I discountenance the idea that such a great industry should have to approach the Government, cap in hand, year after year for what amounts to a dole. Last season approximately 170,000,000 bushels of wheat were produced, of which 140,000,000 bushels were for export. At 2s. 6d. a bushel f.o.r., the export value was £17,500,000. Therefore, even at the present low price, it is of extreme importance that we should export to enable us to meet our interest commitments abroad. The value of our exports of wheat is second in importance only to that of our exports of wool; and in providing employment the wheat industry is infinitely more valuable than any other industry. What is the position of the wheat-producers to-day? On last year’s price, there was a loss of at least ls. a bushel on the 170,000,000 bushels produced, or a total of £8,500,000. Allowing for the £2,000,000 granted by way of relief, it will thus be seen that the wheat-farmers themselves actually sustained a loss of £6,500,000 on the wheat-produced by them. This establishes an overwhelming case for their assistance. During the war period, the farmers, with every one else, thought they were on the road to prosperity. Good prices were realized, and they, like all other sections of the community, invested in motor cars, and made other unusual expenditures; they were not alone in this regard, but in the long run most of them were carrying an overdraft to enable them to develop their properties. Thousands of pounds are required for the full development of a farm, and thousands of people who went on the land put down only a deposit and arranged for bank overdrafts to enable them to carry on. There can be no complete scheme of rehabilitation that does not deal effectively with interest payments. I ask honorable members not to view this matter from a party standpoint. Whatever may be the views of honorable members with regard to our having to compromise with our creditors abroad, every one must admit that the farmer’s equity in the land on which he has toiled for years has, during recent years, been reduced by at least one-half. But there has been no corresponding reduction in the bank’s equity; their interest rates have not fallen proportionately. In making this statement, I do not wish it to be thought that. I am attacking the banks, but I believe that we shall have to make some arrangement with the great financial institutions of this country so that the farmer will no longer have to pay, on an average,10d. per bushel by way of interest on his borrowed money. That state of affairs cannot continue, and the sooner we remedy it the sooner the wheat-producers will be placed on a solid foundation. The wheat-farmers last year made a loss of £1,500,000 in respect of wheat used for local consumption. That was the present made by the 70,000 farmers in the Commonwealth, who, on an average, owe £2,000 each to financial institutions, machinery merchants or governments in respect of ad vances received. The industry cannot stand up under this load. There must be rehabilitation.
– The Government’s scheme for rural rehabilitation will be covered by another measure.
– Quite so, but let us view the position fearlessly. Instead of bothering about a wheat bill to provide a mere dole to the farmers at the expense of workers living on the dole or receiving the basic wage, let the Government provide for an Australia-wide compulsory wheat pool. Taxation to the extent of £8,500,000 has been remitted, mostly in respect of the tax on unimproved land values, which does not affect one farmer in 5,000, and the settlement of this problem will never be reached in that way. The fact that some honorable members opposite, who I am sure are loyal to the Government, feel that the proposal for which this bill provides is wrong ought to convince the Ministry that to raise by means of a flour sales tax £1,500,000 of the £4,000,000 to be provided would be to take a false step, and harmful to the very people whom they wish to benefit. Instead of bringing in a flour sales tax, the Government should take out of the Consolidated Revenue, for this year at all events, the money required to help the wheat-growers. We should then be able in the future, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) has suggested, to provide for a compulsory wheat pool. That is the only alternative to a flour sales tax, and it would enable us also to fix a price for wheat for home consumption. Such a price could be determined without any attempt to “ put something over the people “ as is being done in this case. The basis of all taxation is the ability to pay, but a flour tax would have no such foundation.
– Would Western Australia support a compulsory pool?
Mr.A. GREEN.- It would. Queensland has been mentioned in this connexion, but it has a pool of its own, and grows little more wheat than is necessary for its own requirements. If a referendum of the wheatfarmers in Australia were taken, an overwhelming majority would be found to favour a compulsory wheat pool.
– And how about the Governments?
– The governments eventually would have to respond to the demand of the farmers. In past years they were against such a proposal. They had in mind a scheme which would be under their immediate control, but the farmers themselves now believe that they are being exploited by the wheat merchants. Just as a man who visits a racecourse with the idea of beating the bookies finds that he loses in the long run so those who year after year expect to get a better price from the wheat merchants must be doomed to disappointment. Bunge and others have made millions out of the farmers of Australia. Apart from any improvement that may result from the rehabilitation proposals of the Government, we must determine that the farmer himself shall have some voice in the management of the sale of his wheat, and that can be secured only by means of a compulsory wheat pool. I am not going to say that either the millers or the bakers are robbers. As a matter of fact, the milling industry is in much the same position as the coal-mining industry, where we have five mines working where one would suffice. In the milling industry we have five mills where only one should be operating. There is a large amount of money invested in flour mills that are lying idle. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) some time ago arranged for a compulsory pool, and with the price of wheat fixed at 4s. 9d. a bushel the price of a loaf of bread was 4d. That can still be done. 1 shall not weary the House by going into details of the proposals of the Labour party in this connexion, but I appeal to the National Government to say that it will not be bothered any longer by the wheat merchants, but will establish a compulsory pool so that the farmers may know that they will be paid fully for every bushel of wheat that they put into that pool without having to deal with the middleman. The Government should fix a price for wheat for home consumption that will pay the grower, and assistance extending over a period of years should be provided for the wheat-growers either through the Commonwealth Bank or by means of some other sound financial scheme. Without any party feeling whatever, I do not hesitate to say that a flour tax will lead city workers to believe that they are being robbed by the farmers of this country, and that is an entirely false position in which to put men who are so urgently in need of assistance.
.- A great deal of heat has been introduced quite unnecessarily in this debate. I have listened to the arguments put forward by those who oppose this measure, and they seem to me most unconvincing. The flour tax is objected to because, it is alleged, it will have the effect of raising the price of bread. No evidence has been brought forward to show that it will do so. Indeed, my colleague (Mr. Thorby) and the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green), who has just resumed his seat, have shown clearly that the price of wheat has little, if any, relation to the price of bread. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that it would have the effect of raising the price of bread by½d. a loaf, is that in itself a reason for rejecting this measure ? If it were, it would he an effective bar to all taxation, certainly of all taxation of consumption commodities. Apart from direct taxes, and the effect of these is much the same, every tax has a tendency to raise the price of the article upon which it is levied. It is desired to help the farmer, who can. only be helped ‘by raising the price of wheat. That is the one thing weare seeking to do, and with one accord, every honorable member has declared it to be the great purpose of his life. We have listened to honorable members in different sections of the House speaking about the poor farmer and his claims upon our sympathy. There is only one way by which we can help the farmer, and that is by raising the price of the commodity by the sale of which the farmer lives. If, in the days when it was my happy fortune to range myself with one or two of my friends in the corner opposite, I had been told that I ought to denounce trade unionism because the effect of such combination was inevitably to raise the price of labour, I should have said that that was the very purpose of trade unionism. Its whole object was to ensure the worker a fair return for his labour. It is the farmer now who has to be protected because he is the only person, with the exception of the wool-grower, to whom no consideration has yet been given. The wheat-farmer must be protected because his product constitutes the very foundation of rural industry; because without wheat we perish. The arguments which have been put forward for rejecting this scheme because it will raise the price of flour, and may raise the price of bread are weak and illogical. We must apply a fair test. We are to concern ourselves, not with whether it will raise the price of the commodity upon which the tax is levied, but whether the purpose for which the tax is imposed is just, and whether the incidence of the tax is, on the whole, fair to the community. On a fair review of the position we cannot escape the conclusion that this tax* is so adjusted as to achieve its purpose equitably and effectively without imposing an undue burden on the community.
It is perfectly true, of course, as has been pointed out by dietitians recently, that some classes of people eat more bread than do others. There are also some people who drink more beer than do others, but I have never heard any protest ascend to Heaven on behalf of the unfortunate man who drinks beer and finds it heavily taxed ; nor have I heard any protest from honorable members opposite against the sugar agreement, though I am responsible for that agreement, if the responsibility belong to any man in this House. I have listened to various diatribes on the sugar industry, but never have I heard any protest from honorable members on the Opposition side of the House. They regard it as one of the noblest works of man. For many years it was my good fortune to point out, in respect of the activities of a gentleman who is now my colleague, that the butter industry had risen from the dead, but no one says a word about the unfortunate man who has to pay more for his butter, for his sugar or for his dried fruits, or for the hundred and one other things which are the subject of marketing arrangements. Is there one man in this House who has not raised his voice over and over again in favour of
Mr. Hughes. the taxation of some commodity? There is not one, and if there be none there is no one qualified to criticize this measure. Then let the critics be silent in the consciousness of their many offences.
But let us for a moment consider the alternatives to this tax. Is the farmer to be left to perish? We have been told by the Wheat Commission that there are in Australia 70,000 farmers who owe upwards of £2,000 each. The commission has told us that the indebtedness of the farmers aggregates £140,000,000, and we may be sure that the estimate is on the conservative side. The position of these men is desperate. Their need for help is imperative and urgent. They cannot wait for help until some time in the dim and distant future when the Constitution is altered to enable us to adopt this remedy or that. We must do something now. If there be an alternative it must be one that can be speedily translated into action. We have been told that a compulsory wheat pool is the alternative. No honorable member can expect me to raise my voice against a wheat pool. I have always favoured wheat pools, but we cannot fall back on a remedy which is not at hand, and which, by no effort of ours, can be made available. When the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan )< - whom I sea making notes for illuminating comment later - was in power, what did he do : what was he able to do ? No doubt he spoke long and eloquently about the virtues of a wheat pool, but what did he do? In those halcyon days he was the repository of all power; he could have done anything he wished. What did he do? What mighty, oak grew out of that acorn? The farmers waited patiently but in vain for the ministrations of my honorable friend opposite. There was a time when, if he and his colleagues had taken opportunity by the forelock, they could have done this thing; they could have inaugurated a Commonwealth compulsory wheat pool. But they did not do it, and to-day this remedy, which honorable members opposite assure us we can apply by some mystic means which they will not reveal, is farther off than ever. The fact is that there is no other way than this tax by which we can come to
Che assistance of the farmers. When the dour tax proposal was before Parliament last year we heard ad nauseam of the desolation and despair which would overtake the community if the tax were imposed.
– I suppose that was why the tax was dropped just before the elections !
– God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb. All the arguments that were put forward then have been retailed now. We have been told that the miller and baker have entered into a conspiracy to exploit the people. If that be so, the blame rests with those who have power over the miller and baker. But even millers and bakers have the right to live, a fact which may have escaped the observation of some honorable members. Moreover, the carters employed by the bakers have the right to live, as much right as any of us here; and they have the right to a decent wage. So long as I am a member of this Parliament I shall fight their battles to ensure that they receive a decent wage, and I have done at least as much in that direction as have some honorable members opposite.
One would imagine, from listening to some honorable members, that a compulsory wheat pool would, as it were, bring bread to the doors of the poor as manna fell from the heavens upon the children of Israel wandering in the desert. However, as the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) pointed out, if a compulsory pool were formed and a home consumption price fixed, the effect would inevitably be to raise the price of bread to an even greater extent than will this tax. Everybody knows that, if we raise the price of wheat, it must tend to raise the price of bread ; but whether this tax will actually raise the price of bread remains to be seen. In any case, what does the world want to-day? For what do the prayers of the people go up to heaven? The world prays for a rise of commodity prices. The world prays, not for lower prices, but for higher prices. How is the world to be saved? By a rise of commodity prices, we are told; and we are all praying for a rise in the price of wheat. Consequently, if our prayers are granted by a’ beneficent Providence, the poor unfortunate breadeater must be smitten hip and thigh. Apparently, whether we look to heaven or to hell in this matter, we shall alike be damned.
There is no sincerity in the criticisms that have been put forward. Everybody knows perfectly well that the farmer must be relieved at once. It is of no use talking about what could be done if the Constitution were amended. We have to deal with the situation as it is; this Parliament cannot legislate for the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool. And there are no other practicable means of establishing a pool. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) suggested that a pool could be created by agreement with the States. But that is a day-dream. If he had ever tried to create a compulsory pool by cooperation with the States he would know something of the difficulties in the way. How many times have ballots been held among the farmers on this very subject, and how many times have they failed to achieve their purpose? Whether or not a compulsory pool would be better than this tax is, for the moment, beside the point, for it is not now possible to inaugurate a compulsory pool. Therefore, we are forced to this present remedy - a remedy so nicely adjusted to the needs of the farmers and the circumstances of the community - that the farmers will get a measure of relief, and the people will not suffer unduly. What is the matter with the world to-day? Honorable members in the corner tell us that what is needed is a redistribution of the national income on a basis that will ensure all a share commensurate with their efforts : that is what the farmers want. They are being paid less for their commodity than it is worth. They are being sweated by the people of this country, and we are now banded together here to get for the farmer a fair price for his labour. This bill is a genuine and practical effort to enable that to be done.
.- I am definitely opposed to the proposal for raising- money for the assistance of the wheat-farmer in the manner set forth in this bill. The Minister for Health (Mr. Hughes) was undoubtedly at one time a staunch advocate of wheat pools, and he believed in co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth for the purpose of controlling prices. To-day, however, he seems to have abandoned those ideas; but that is only characteristic of him, because we know that he changes his opinions frequently. It is distressing to have to sit here and listen to those honorable members advocating the payment of a bounty in which they themselves will participate. Under the local government acts of most States an elected representative who did a thing like that would be deemed to have forfeited his position. I refer to the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock). When a measure was brought down a year ago for the payment of a wheat bounty to distressed farmers, the honorable member gave the bill his blessing. He complimented the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) upon the proposal, and contended that the sum of £4,000,000 could be raised by means of a flour tax. His only objection on that occasion was that the money should be paid to all wheat-growers alike instead of to necessitous cases only. He said that the method by which the money was to be obtained was fair, and the burden on the community would be light. The price of bread, he added, would not be increased by more than Id. a loaf, and as the average number of loaves used by a family in a week was eight, the hurden would be small. He practically repeated that speech to-night, the only difference being that he thought the price of bread would be increased by id. per loaf. On the last occasion he stated that the Arbitration Court would be able to adjust the workers’ wages to enable them to meet the cost of living due to any increase of the price of bread; but to-day he said that the workers’ wages would be adjusted automatically by means of the index figure. We know, however, that the index figure is a bit of trickery; very little was got out of it by the workers when the recent 10 per cent, wage restoration was supposed to have been made. I remind the House that approximately 400,000 men in this country are now unemployed, and have no hope of an Arbitration Court adjusting their wages in accordance with any increase of the cost of living. It is tragic to hear an honorable member advocating an increase of the price of bread, knowing that the extra charge to be levied on the poorer section will go, in part, to himself.
– I ask the honorable member not to indulge in personal remarks, as they may lead to disorder.
– The honorable gentleman referred to us on this side as hypocrites.
– I did nothing of the kind.
– That matter has been discussed already between the honorable member and the Chair, and I gave a ruling upon it. The honorable member for Riverina did not accuse anybody of being a hypocrite.
– He said that some who advocated certain methods of raising the money required for the purpose of this legislation were hypocrites, and I take exception to that remark. No greater hypocrisy could be practised than that of an honorable member who will use his position as a member of Parliament and advocate the imposition of a sales tax which must be borne by the poorer section of the community to enable a bounty to be paid to another section that is not in such poor circumstances. The honorable member himself is in very comfortable circumstances. Apart from his parliamentary salary–
– I will not allow any honorable member to discuss another honorable member’s private business.
– Seeing that you prevent me, Mr. Speaker, from pointing out to the people of this country the conditions of people in my .electorate, I shall have to abide by your ruling and wishes.
– It is not a question of my wishes in the matter ; I am merely enforcing the Standing Orders. A reflection on any honorable member is a breach of the rules of the House, and I have ruled that an honorable member’s private business has no relation to the subject before the Chair, and may not be discussed.
– There are other wheatfarmers in this chamber, and, seeing that the Standing Orders debar me from mentioning their names, I shall content myself by saying that certain members of the Country party advocate the imposition of a sales tax on flour, knowing full well that they will benefit from it. Such a procedure should not he allowed. Those men .have no principle.
– Order 1
– I have mentioned no names.
– The honorable member is out of order in accusing any honorable member of having no principle, even though he may not mention names. If he will discuss the measure before the Chair, and refrain from personal references, the debate will proceed in an orderly manner.
– What an honorable member has interjected is true - many things can be “ got away with ‘T by some, but not by others. You are pretty hard, Mr. Speaker.
– The honorable member is now reflecting upon the ruling of the Chair, and, unless he confines his remarks strictly to the subject-matter of the bill, I shall not allow him to continue.
– This is a very unfair tax, because it bears with particular severity upon the poorer sections of the community. Their income does not enable them to purchase food in sufficient variety to supply all the vitamins necessary to human life, and it stands to reason that because they will consume a larger quantity of bread than those with good incomes, they will pay more of this tax than the wealthy section. Members of this Parliament enjoy a considerable remuneration by way of their parliamentary allowance. Certain honorable members will receive additional money as the result of the legislation for the imposition of a sales tax on. flour, but they will not contribute to it nearly so much as men on lower salaries. They will be putting in a shilling, and drawing out a pound. I am referring to certain honorable members whose names I am not permitted to mention.
This levy on the bread of the poor is for the benefit of a small group of producers whose distress is far less than that of millions of poor people who will be forced to pay the tax. It will mean a heavy sacrifice in addition to that already made under what is known as the Premiers plan. The poor have been attacked by means of a reduction of the wages, allowances and conditions which were enjoyed by them prior to the introduction of that plan, and this heavy toll, has been paid without squealing. The wheat-growers have not known the suffering that has been experienced by people associated with some other industries. Owing to the political views of certain honorable members they are able to exact toll for support which they give to keep the Government in power. The wheatfarmers have not suffered to anything like the same extent as thousands of men, women and children on the coal-fields of New South Wales. Many of the miners have not had work since 1927. The mines have closed down, and the machinery is going to ruin. I ask the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), and I ask you, Mr. Speaker, what hai been done by way of granting assistance to the coal-mining industry? Has it received any help from this or any other government? The suffering on the coalfields to-day is deplorable, and how can I support a measure that will inflict even greater hardship on the section which I represent, knowing full well that this legislation will result in large payments to some comparatively wealthy men who do not know what hunger and misery are? Thousands of my constituents are bootless, yet I am debarred from taking exception to honorable members using their place in Parliament to rob the people.
– Order E The honor.orable member will resume his seat. I shall give him another chantee to obey my ruling. I know that he feels keenly on these matters, and I have made a good deal of allowance, hut he is defying my ruling. If he refers again to honorable members using their place in Parliament improperly, I shall not allow him to continue. To accuse an honorable member of robbing the people is obviously offensive.
– I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to be a little lenient, considering that for five years I have constantly brought under the notice of the House the deplorable condition of the employees in the coal-mining industry. Owing to the fact that they have no political weight, and because I do not change my political colour from time to time, allowing myself to be used to support the Government in power, as do members of the Country party, I see that there is little hope of assistance being granted to that industry.
– The honorable member must realize that he is not now discussing the subject before the Chair.
– Will you state what I shall be in order in discussing?
– The honorable member is aware that he may discuss the two wheat bills and the flour tax bill, which are closely related; but the coalmining industry, and the honorable members efforts on its behalf, have no bearing on those measures.
– I am merely trying to point out that some industries can obtain all the assistance they require, while others can get nothing. Surely I am in order in doing that.
– Icannot argue with the honorable member. He must realize that his references to the coal-mining industry are quite irrelevant.
– Would I be in order in referring to tax remissions to the extent of £9,000,000 to some of the successful wheat-farmers and other wealthy sections and in comparing that with the treatment received by the workers in the coal-mining districts?
– The honorable member would be distinctly out of order in doing that on the bills now under discussion.
– Some honorable members have said that as the result of this legislation the price of bread will be increased by½d. a 2-lb loaf. The consumption of bread by the average family has been variously estimated at from eight to ten loaves. The Minister in charge of the bill fixed the number at ten loaves.
– That is for a large family.
– The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) estimated the number to be eight. Taking his estimate of eight loaves at½d. a loaf, 4d. a week would be exacted from people who are not in a position to afford it. Rut as the proposed increase in the price of flour is £2 12s. 6d. a ton, I think the extra impost will be more than id. a loaf. We have been told that£2 12s. 6d. a ton represents 64 per cent. of the tax of £4 5s. a ton which was inflicted upon the people last year, and as that tax increased the price of bread by1d. a 2-lb. loaf, it seems that the increase under this proposal will represent 64 per cent., or five-eighths of 1d. for each 2-lb. loaf. Each ton of flour produces 1,352 2-lb. loaves of bread, so that the consumers will pay an extra £3 10s. 5d. on every ton of flour.
I do not stand here as a carping critic of the Government without alternative proposals to offer. Those proposals have been set out by the leader of my party. We have always believed in a wheat pool. We believe that assistance to the wheat industry can be provided out of general revenue, or, if necessary, by other methods of finance, such as the issue of treasury bills, a method which Great Britain is employing to-day. Honorable members opposite have said that any increase in the cost of living is reflected in the index figure, and that the wages of the workers are automatically adjusted in conformity with it. But what of those people who are on the dole, for whom bread is the principal article of diet? I have visited the homes of many of these unfortunate people, and have found that their diet consists largely of bread and jam, bread and treacle, or bread and dripping. I ask honorable members in all sincerity is the wheat-farmer so badly off that he has to accept clothing from other people.
– Yes, some of them are.
– In the wheat-growing districts are there any committees set up such as we have in the different towns for the purpose of collecting ingredients for soup for little children? If those honorable members who advocate this tax upon the poorer sections of the community would only visit my electorate and see what is happening there they would change their views in regard to the fairness of this tax.
– Does not the honorable member advocate a home consumption price for wheat?
– I believe in, first, the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool controlled by the growers, next, the fixing of a home consumption price, and, finally, the setting up of a price-fixing board to prevent the exploitation of the people by raising the price of bread. However, I have no time to argue the matter with the Minister. Mr. Speaker has taken up so much of my time-
– Order ! The honorable member was himself responsible for the intervention of the Chair.
– I know the plight of many people in my electorate because I waa brought up among them. From time to time they approach me asking can anything be done for them, but I am unable to hold out any hope. What is my position in this House! Am I to stand in this Parliament and agree that in order to assist an industry that knows no suffering, in comparison with the coal industry, we are to levy toll upon those on the bread Unef I know that individual farmers have suffered, as everybody else in Australia has suffered, hut what we have to consider is who is the greatest sufferer and where relief is most needed. If we were honest in our desire to display that Christian spirit of which we 8 peak so much, and if we would fellow in the footsteps of the lowly Nazarene in honour of whose birth we are shortly to adjourn this House, we would not follow the course suggested by the Government which is a complete negation of the principles which He advocated. He said “ Feed my lambs “, but in this measure we propose to take the bread out of the mouths of the poor down-trodden masses and to give it to the wealthier sections of the community who need it not. I ask the Government, even at this late hour, to reconsider this proposal. In December of last year, when we were debating this subject the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) roundly condemned a proposal such as this. He said that is was the first time that he had ever agreed with the honorable member for West Sydney, but that he was perfectly satisfied that the tax was so unjust as to call for an investigation before it was inflicted upon the people. He said that Government members owed their presence in this House to the votes of the very people upon whom it was proposed to levy that toll, and that if the people had known that the Government would levy such an impost upon bread they would not have been returned to office. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins) said to-night that the recent election was sprung upon the House. During the elections I said that the Government had something to hide when it went to the people seven months before its time had expired. I say now that what it had to hide was this iniquitous flour tax, and the tariff schedule that has recently been introduced. I repeat what the honorable member for Henty said last year: I am perfectly sure that had the people been aware that this proposal would be introduced the members of the Government would not be here to-day. But to-night the honorable member for Henty is conspicuous by his absence. Why has he changed his views? Why is he not speaking in the same manner as he did on a former occasion when he knows that this tax is even more iniquitous than the last one. This tax is not to be imposed to make provision for the poor farmer alone; it is to be granted not merely to farmers in necessitous circumstances, but also to the wealthy farmer, the political farmer, and last but not least, to the farmers in this House whose names I have been prevented from mentioning, but who are in very comfortable circumstances.
.- The matter before the House, as the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has said, is whether the farmer must be helped. We all recognize that there are sections of the farming community that are entitled to assistance, hut we do dispute that the Government has taken the right method of awarding the money required to help farmers in difficulties. The Government has included in its category some of the wealthiest farmers in
Australia. Surrounding the principal country towns in New South Wales today can be found 50 wealthy farmers on freehold properties whose lands are not subject to mortgages or encumbrances, men not in need of help from the Government, and who should not get it. Many wealthy farmers own large areas of land and though they are in no need of assistance will get the same treatment as the necessitous farmer. They are not paricular whether it comes from the Government or from any other source. The Government should prevent inroads from being made upon the money available by seeing that those who, by virtue of their financial position, are not entitled to this form of relief do not get it.
– Does the honorable member think that they ought to be prevented from growing wheat?
– No, but I recall the warnings that have been issued by a number of honorable members during the last three or four years that if the situation does not improve, and if the Government does not do something about it, the industry will collapse, though I am convinced that every honorable member who made that statement knew it was absolutely false. I say this because for every farmer who goes out of business there are at least half a dozen men ready to take over his property if it is a decent farm. The position of the average farmer is not to be compared with that of the average man engaged in secondary industry. The latter has to fight his way without assistance from the Government. If he encounters financial difficulties and is unable to carry on, he compounds with his creditors, and if he cannot come to an arrangement with them, he is put through the Bankruptcy Court and has to go to work with the rank and file of wageearners. The proposals now under consideration are intended for the benefit of many among our farmers who are not in need of help, but who have more representation in this House than any other class in the community. I challenge members of the Country party to point to one line in the Hansard reports of parliamentary debates to show that they have at any time advocated the case of the really poor farmers in this country. All that they have said about them is that a poor farmer is an inefficient farmer, and ought to be put off his land. There is nothing in the argument of those honorable members who would compare the position of men engaged in secondary industries with primary producers. The former have to manufacture their plant, buy all their raw materials, pay arbitration rates of wages, and observe Australian labour conditions, whereas the farmers find the land and till the soil, but God’s sunshine and rain are responsible for 75 per cent, of the results. I make this observation in order to make clear the line of demarcation between the primary and secondary industries, and I urge the Government to act wisely in the distribution of the £4,000,000 to be appropriated by seeing that it is given according to the needs of farmers. The Prime Minister should be open to reason ; he should heed the appeals of those honorable members on this side who are advocating the need for help in other directions, and should allow them to make suggestions as to government policy in this matter.
Shortly after my election, this House had under consideration a proposal to give relief to farmers in the form of a bounty, and as the result of the discussion that took place, the method of distribution was changed from a bushel to an acreage basis. On that occasion the then Minister for Commerce (Mr. Stewart) pointed out that, in the distribution of the bounty in’ 1931, 16,742 farmers in New South Wales received 4i per cent, of the relief, and 3,953 growers received 59 per cent, of the money available. The figures showed clearly that 4,000 farmers in that State received nearly 19 per cent, more than the 16,742 growers. In Victoria, 20,840 farmers made application for the bounty. Of that number, 17,829 received 53 per cent, of the money available, and 3,011 farmers received 47 per cent. In South Australia, 14,981 wheat-growers received’ 44 per cent, of the bounty, and 3,618 obtained 56 per cent, of the amount.
– Is not assistance being given to the industry instead of to individual farmers ?
– Tes, but the figures which I have quoted show that, for the whole ‘ of Australia in 1932 20 per cent, of the farmers received 55 per cent, of the bounty, and 80 per cent, of the growers got 45 per cent. I have not the exact figures relating to the total payments, but 80 per cent, of the farmers received about £1,400,000, while 20 per cent, of the wheat-growers got £1,800,000. The deduction to be drawn from the figures is that the 20 per cent, represented the wealthier farmers, who had better opportunities for producing wheat. Some farmers who received wheat bounty payments in previous years were clearly not entitled to them, for they had taxable incomes. Seeing that an unfortunate unemployed man in Sydney, with an income of only 5s. 9d. a week, is not entitled to receive the dole if other members of his family are earning an amount above the income prescribed by the State relief laws, a farmer who has a taxable income after meeting all his costs of production should not be entitled to receive a bounty from the Government. The limitation of the relief payments to really necessitous farmers was supported last year by every Minister and every member of the United Australia party. We stood unitedly for the view that the relief being provided for the wheat industry was not a national award to a national industry, but an assistance to farmers who were passing through a time of great trial. I do not believe that the people of Australia would support any departure from that principle. How can any honorable member with a sense of equity and justice support the taking of money from the poorest people of the land and the paying of it to other people with taxable incomes? One member of the Government has said to-night that a tax of 5d. a week could not be a hardship on any one ; but surely he would admit that even that impost would be a great hardship on a man with an income of only 5s. 9d. a week, and several children to support. In such cases every penny is of importance. Some honorable members of this House seem to think that the wealthy classes of the community need only to organize themselves and request assistance from Parliament in order to get it.
– What about the manufacturers?
– The Country party should itself deal with the manufacturers if it thinks they need attention. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Thorby) told us to-night that he had tried to get the farmers to agree to the setting up of a wheat pool, out had failed. He knows very well that the wealthy wheat-farmers do not want a pooL
I see the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Abbott) sitting in the Country party corner, which reminds me that he made a speech in this House recently, in which he told us of the experience of a young university graduate who went on the land in north-western New South Wales. In 1927 there was a drought, and the man did no good. In the next year he sowed 300 acres; in 1929 he sowed 650 acres ; in 1930 he sowed 750 acres, and in 1931 he sowed 950 acres. We then come to 1932, the year in which the bounty was payable on an acreage basis, when the young man sowed 1,200 acres. The honorable member for Gwydir said that it waa a great pity that such young men did not receive any encouragement from the Government.
– The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) said that the farmer lost ls. a bushel in that year.
– I am putting the case in my own way. I ask whether a person who could put 1,200 acres under wheat, and is able to pay income taxation, should be entitled to relief from the Government? The trouble is that the honorable member for Gwydir, who is the publicity agent of the Country party, publishes what are really half lies in hia weekly bulletins.
– I take strong exception to the remarks of the honorable member for Barton, which are offensive, and ask that they be withdrawn. Incidentally, let me say that I do not own any newspaper.
– I withdraw the remark. My view is that wealthy farmers should not be allowed to dip their hands into the public purse and enrich themselves at the expense of the poorest people of this country. As the publicity officer of the country press, the honorable member for Gwydir may perhaps deal with this point in his next weekly letter.
– I ask the honorable member for Barton to confine his remarks to the bill.
– I was merely criticizing the propaganda of the Country party.
– I ask the honorable member to discontinue doing so, as it is not a matter than can be debated on this measure.
– The propaganda of the Country party is designed to colour the views of members of Parliament, and also the general public. It is necessary that this proposed legislation should be amended to ensure that none of the money being provided for the relief of the wheat industry shall find its way into the pockets of wealthy farmers. I should be quite prepared personally to devote £4,000,000 to assist really necessitous farmers on an acreage basis; but I am totally opposed to the imposition of a tax on flour to provide the money. The Government should devise other means of raising the money it needs to help deserving men on the land. According to a report of a wheat-growing competition held in the Riverina district and conducted by the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales, the average yield of the farmers who competed was 30 bushels per acre, the highest being at Lockhart where the yield was 39 bushels an acre. On the southern slopes around Temora aud Cootamundra, fourteen competitors produced an average of 37 bushels an acre, the highest being 42 “bushels. On the central slopes around Wellington, Cowra, Parkes, Molong and Grenfell fifteen competitors produced an average of 37 bushels an acre, the highest being 42 bushels an acre. In the western area, fifteen competitors averaged 39 bushels an acre. As stated in the report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry, there are certain areas in South Australia where the production of wheat averages between five and ten bushels an acre, and as stated by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) on some of the farms in Western Australia the wheat-growers have to cultivate exceptionally large areas in order to obtain a fair yield.” In such circumstances, those who undertake the laborious work of cultivating poor soil, of sowing the seed, and reaping the crop should receive greater consideration than those producing four times the quantity from good land.
My position in connexion with the sales tax on flour is determined, not by prejudice, but by practical politics and justice to every section of the community. The representatives of some political parties think that they should be able to dragoon other sections into supporting the payment of a bounty to persons not entitled to it. Last year, and in the preceding year, Mr. Field, the president of the Farmers and Settlers Association, visited Canberra and appealed to honorable members generally to assist those engaged in wheat-growing. At that time, the farmers’ representative had the audacity to ask for the imposition of a sales tax of £6 5s. a ton on flour. The following week the members of the Country party demanded a sales tax of £5 10s. regardless of the price of flour, but new that that party is associated with the Government it is supporting a tax of £2 12s. 6d. a ton. I believe that this Government has endeavoured, and always will endeavour, to encourage those who need assistance, but I am not in favour of socializing the wheat-growing industry by the formation of a compulsory wheat pool. I am not surprised at the imposition of a sales tax, but if such a tax is to be imposed, the price of bread should not be increased. The Country party is so well represented in the New South Wales Parliament that it can regulate the price of flour and bread. Although the Premier, Mr. Stevens, said recently that that could be done, the Minister for Agriculture in New South Wales is now suggesting restricting the production of certain commodities. A month ago, a widow over 70 years of age who owns a farm of 260 acres in the Wellington district, which is leased to a soldier settler wheat-farmer, came to my door and told me some of her troubles. In New South Wales, a wheat-farmer who is in financial difficulties can ask the Official Receiver to assess the value of his property, and he may reduce his debts to the value of the land and charge only from 2f per cent, to 3 per cent, interest. Last January this unfortunate woman received as rent only £23 instead of £102, while the wheat-grower receives £108 annually for working expenses and also a living allowance. I cannot persuade the Government to make progressive payments to this aged widowed woman who has been compelled to sell her jewellery in order to live. If that is one of the results of the present system the Commonwealth Government should arrange for a close investigation into the affairs of the farmers, and afford relief, not only to them, but also to many poor landlords who are in dire distress. Many who have invested their savings in real estate find, on reaching the eventide of life, that they are destitute. It has always been my endeavour to assist the poor. I cannot support this proposal, the effect of which will be to burden the poor in order to benefit many who are wealthy. I sincerely trust that before a vote is taken the Government will reconsider its decision, and give those who have supported its policy for 40 years an opportunity to state their case. The members of the Country party should not put the screw upon the Government, and insist upon a sales tax on flour at the expense of the poor, particularly when they know that the necessary funds can be obtained in a more equitable manner. I shall oppose the bill in its present form.
– At the outset of my remarks in support of the bill I wish to congratulate the Government upon the promptness it has displayed in fulfilling its promise to make available to the wheat industry immediately upon receipt of the first report of the wheat commission appointed as the result of an agitation some twelve months ago, the amount which that body considered essential to its well-being. Honorable members must agree that a most thorough investigation has been made of the position of the wheatgrowers. The report of the commission, which makes anything but pleasant reading, gives a clear indication of the very serious state of this important industry. It is regrettable that its final report will not be available in sufficient time to enable Parliament to deal with the matter on a more permanent basis before the coming harvest. As a report dealing with marketing is to be made in the near future, those engaged in the industry have again to be content for the time being with a palliative rather than an attempt at a permanent cure of their difficulties. It will be some satisfaction to them to know that, as a result of the commission’s first report, they are to receive a greater measure of assistance than they have had in any previous year. I am sure, however, that any honorable member who has carefully read the report, will be convinced that the assistance given during the last few years represents but a fraction of the enormous losses caused by sales below the cost of production since the year 1929. The commission has very clearly demonstrated that if the industry is to be retained as an export proposition, it must receive annually from the community a large measure of assistance. At page 9 of the supplement to its first report, the commission states that, with wheat at 4s. 9d. f.o.r. principal Australian ports, four-fifths of the Australian wheat-farmers can make a fair and reasonable living. During the last four years they have actually received from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 2d. a bushel, seaboard basis, or an average of 2s. 9d. a bushel. The enormous nature of their losses will thus be appreciated. At the same time, the community has largely benefited because of the quantity of wheat produced. The average increase of wheat production over the last four years, compared with the previous five years, has been 60,000,000 bushels per annum. This has been the means of creating credits overseas which, even at the exceedingly low rates ruling for wheat, have amounted to £42,000,000 in excess of what would have been created had the production remained at the average of the previous five years. This has been an important factor in making comparatively easy the task of the High Commissioner for Australia in London, in that it has enabled him to effect the conversion of our overseas loans at the low rate of interest that now prevails, and that has resulted in a saving to the community of hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum. In addition, it has exercised a marked influence on the employment situation, which has occupied a great deal of the time of this House within recent weeks. There seems good reason to believe that in the solution of the difficulties confronting the wheat industry is largely involved the cure of unemployment. The report of the royal commission states definitely that this industry is the largest employment creating agency in Australia. Further, the majority of honorable members must be aware that the carriage of wheat is one of the principal sources of revenue of the States.
By no means the least important statement in the report is that which says that the industry has been supplying wheat to Australian consumers at1s. a bushel less than imports would have cost duty free. As the annual consumption in Australia is about 30,000,000 bushels, local consumers have for years been receiving a bonus from the industry amounting to. £1,500,000 per annum. Why should this industry, which has to purchase its requirements in the dearest markets, and has to be content with the price obtained in competition with all other countries, be expected to make to the community a present of such proportions ?
As one who is interested in, and knows something of the state of this essential industry, I am astonished to find so many honorable members quibbling over the comparatively small amount of flour tax which the community is to be called upon to pay so that it might be kept on its feet. I was particularly interested in the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde), one of whose statements was that the imposition of this tax, which he was pleased to describe as “ the iniquitous bread tax “, would increase the bread bill of the poorer people by from1s. to1s. 4d. a week. Honorable members are probably aware that the royal commission has reported on the necessity for a flour tax of £5 10s. a ton on wheat used locally. The Government’s proposal is for less than half that amount. On the basis of an average family consumption of seven loaves of bread a week, the increased cost will be about 3½d. a week, or 15s. a year for the average family. That is not much to pay to save an essential industry which has done so much for the whole community.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) urged the creation of a compulsory wheat pool and the adoption of a home consumption price. If a home consumption price is to mean anything to the wheat-growers, it must mean something in excess of the world price. On page 9 of its second report the commission points out that four out of every five of those engaged in the wheat industry could make a comfortable living if they received 4s. 9d. a bushel for their total production. Statistics show that for the last four years the average price received by Australian wheat-growers for their wheat was 2s. 9d. a bushel. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that during those four years the wheat-growers of Australia received for their wheat £40,000,000 less than the cost of production. In those four years nearly 800,000,000 bushels of wheat was produced, and if we accept the commission’s estimate of 4s. 9d. a bushel as the price necessary to give wheat-growers a comfortable living, it will be realized that a loss of 2s. a bushel on 800,000,000 bushels represented £80,000,000 to them. As the commission reports that the wheatgrowers of this country carry a burden of debt amounting to £140,000,000, it would appear that a loss of £80,000,000 during the last four years is not an unreasonable estimate.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred to the action taken by the Scullin Government to establish a compulsory wheat pool. The wheat-growers of Australia have good reason to remember the proposals of that Government. It may be claimed that its original proposals were rejected by the Senate; but later that Government introduced and passed through Parliament a bill to guarantee to the wheat-growers of Australia 3s. a bushel for the 1930 crop. There is no need for me to remind the House that that year they actually received only about1s. 9d. a bushel.
– That was not the fault of the Scullin Government.
– The honorable gentleman told us what his party would do, if given the opportunity: I remind him of what actually happened when it sat on the treasury bench. The honorable gentleman displayed bad taste in making such a noise about what I regard as an infinitesimal tax on flour - about 15s. a year for each family - when the Govern ment of which he was a member introduced tariff proposals which represented a tax of approximately £5 on every man, woman and child in the community.
My strongest objection to the Government’s proposals is their lack of penna - nancy. I suppose that the reason is that the commission’s final report has not yet been presented. I ask the Minister to give the House his assurance that immediately Parliament reassembles after the Christmas recess a measure will be introduced to give to the wheat-growers of this country an opportunity to express their opinion regarding a compulsory wheat pool. Although I believe that a compulsory wheat pool is a national necessity, I do not ask that every person in the community shall accept my view, or that a compulsory scheme be thrust on the wheat-growers of Australia without first allowing them to express their views on the subject. I hope that the Government will introduce its rural rehabilitation scheme early in the new year. The royal commission has pointed out that 47 per cent, of the wheat-growers of Australia have interest commitments amounting to from 3d. to 6d. a bushel, and that in the case of the remaining 53 per cent, interest charges represent from 7d. to ls. lOd. a bushel. Interest charges represent ls. a bushel to 30 per cent, of the wheat-growers of this country. This must clearly indicate to honorable members that if the industry is to have a chance to live it is absolutely necessary that interest rates shall be brought down. I recognize that interest rates to-day, as compared with the rates which prevailed two or three years ago,- are considerably lower; yet we have the definite information in this- report that many of those engaged in the industry are unable to pay any interest whatever. I appreciate the difficulties in the way of securing a reduction, but I urge the Government to take steps to bring it about as quickly as possible. The Government could at least remove the taxation now imposed upon interest on investments in rural areas, and the 6 per cent, super tax on income from property. That would give some measure of relief.
I am going to support the bill, but I hope that the Minister in charge of it will give honorable members a definite assurance that the Government’s rural rehabilitation scheme will be brought down early in the New Year and that- the wheat-growers will also be given an early opportunity to say whether or not they desire a 100 per cent, control of their own product as was recently done in the dairying industry. We all recognize that there are constitutional difficulties in that regard, but if provision is to be made for the wheat-growers with respect to the coming year, action must be taken within the next few weeks.
.- Those who have taken part in this discussion have agreed on only one point and that is that the wheat-growers are now in a very precarious financial position. An able plea on behalf of the wheat-farmers has been advanced by many honorable members, but I personally am of the opinion that the wheat-growers should not receive preferential treatment from the Government. It is not long since we were told, when dealing with the World Wheat agreement, that if the Parliament ratified that agreement, world prices in a very short time would improve, and that the assistance which was then being handed out to the wheat-farmers would not be recurring. We were told that the action then being taken was merely to help them over a temporary difficulty which the agreement would permanently remove. We were further informed that with the ratification of that agreement in a very short space of time wheat would reach 4s. per bushel on the world’s markets. Instead of that we find that the nations who were parties to * the agreement have already broken it. This country, instead of sending overseas 105,000,000 bushels of wheat as it was entitled to do during the first year of the operation of the agreement, exported only 88,000,000 or 17,000,000 bushels below the quota. Notwithstanding that fact we find that this year when, under the agreement to which Australia was a party, we should have been able to export 167,000,000 bushels, this Government is prepared to agree to a still further restriction on the disposal of our surplus wheat overseas. If the wheat-farmer’s position is so precarious, if he is producing a commodity which is not saleable at a profit, than- what right has- he, any more than any other member of the community, to ask for government assistance to carry on a production that is uneconomic ? Many of the markets of the world have permanently disappeared ; they will never again be open to the Australian wheat-grower. Yet we are told that this industry is so important that it must be subsidized by various measures on the part of the Commonwealth. For political reasons, in my opinion, some supporters of the Government have disapproved of this bill. One honorable member has said that the assistance to be provided should come out of the Consolidated Revenue. As a matter of fact. T would be opposed to such a course. We have first of all to ask ourselves whether the money available in the government coffers could not be spent to better purpose and used to assist a greater number of the Australian community than is possible by helping the wheat-farmer by means of a wheat bounty or payments upon an acreage basis. By what process has the excess of revenue over expenditure in this country been obtained ? By slashing into and reducing the living conditions of almost every section of the community. Many who have passed through a very trying period extending over a great many years should receive prior consideration over the wheat-growers. It is said that because the wheat industry is of the greatest importance in that the surplus which it exports overseas provides credits to meet our debt commitments overseas, it should be subsidized. But let lis be logical. If it is necessary to build up credits overseas in this way, then why not extend this policy to other industries? Why, for instance, should we not say to the boot manufacturer who has many idle machines : “ Go ahead ! Produce boots, no matter what may be the cost of production; throw them on the markets of the world at any price you can obtain for them and later go to the Government for help to meet your losses”? The same argument might very well be applied to any industry. According to the report of the royal commission, which has been quoted extensively during this discussion, the wheat industry provides employment for a greater number of Australian workmen than does any other industry. If the sole purpose of this Government in assisting the wheat industry is to provide employment, why not put our coal-mines into full productive capacity? Let the coal-mine owners stack th? coal that they are unable to sell and let the Government subsidize them to make good the losses sustained in that way. Let us extend the policy from industry to industry. We realize however that the difficulties experienced in the wheat industry cannot be overcome by the policy submitted by this Government. For the last three years governments in this country have . used revenues to subsidize wheat-farmers in uneconomic production. Government after government has appealed to the wheat-farmer to increase his production. I well remember the appeal made by the Scullin Government. It urged the wheat-grower to increase his acreage - to stimulate production - and the only result was to accentuate to a great extent the difficulties of the wheat-grower. Instead of continuing them in uneconomic production, why not be honest and face the facts. According to the report of the royal commission, if the price of wheat were to rise to 4s. 9d. a bushel, four-fifths of the wheat-farmers would be able to maintain a reasonable standard of living, but 20 per cent, of them would still be seeking assistance from the Government. This is a proposal to give them a bounty of 3d. per bushel. According to the latest reports they are receiving 2s. 5d. a bushel, so that this bounty would raise the price to 2s 8d. But, according to the commission, even if they were to get 4s. 9d. a bushel, 20 per cent, of them would not receive a reasonable return for their labour and their capital outlay. What was intended to be only a temporary measure of assistance has become permanent. We were told that the assistance granted to the various States to help them balance their budgets would be only temporary, but it has become permanent, and this assistance to the wheat-growers will also recur year after year.
We must decide how far we are to continue the policy of assisting men to persist in uneconomic production. Thousands of men in our cities are unemployed, not because o those whose province it is to provide employment are not anxious to give them work if a profit can be made out of their labour, but because there are no avenues in which they can be profitably employed. The same thing applies to the wheat-farmer. He is producing a commodity for which no profitable market is obtainable, and he is no more entitled to preferential treatment from the Government than is any other section of the community. Whether it is by way of sales tax on flour or by direct contributions from revenue the assistance given to the wheat-farmer must come out of the pockets of other sections of the community. That is why I protest against the action which the Government is taking. The unemployed to-day receive what is called a dole, and if this is the attitude to be adopted by the Government in this case, I prefer to refer to the assistance given to the wheat-farmers as a dole. The extent of assistance given from week to week to the unemployed is not measured in loaves of bread or pounds of butter, but food supplies of the value of so much a week are made available. If therefore by means of a sales tax on flour, or any other process such as fixing the home consumption price of wheat, an increased price is established for bread, a proportion of the dole which represents bread is taken from the table of the unemployed man and his family. That argument may not carry much weight with honorable members who have large incomes, but it is a very important matter to that unfortunate section of the community which has no income whatever In studying the census figures some honorable members may regard an increase of a few shillings a week in the family food bill as insignificant, but it must not be forgotten that out of approximately 900,000 wage-earners in New South Wales two-thirds receive less than £3 a week. It has been argued by some honorable members who profess to believe in high wages that the wheatgrowing industry indirectly provides employment for many men in other industries, but no industrial awards apply to the men who are employed in the actual production of the wheat. The farmers pay them as little as they can force them to accept. Many thousands of unemployed who are walking along the country roads are compelled to take work from the wheat-farmers at starvation wages ; in fact, they are at the mercy of their employers. The farmers themselves demand a reasonable return for their own labour; but they take good care that there is no fixed rate of wage for those whom they employ. No industry should be preserved which cannot provide a decent standard of living for those employed in it. From no point of view, therefore, is there any justification for this expenditure. It has been argued by many honorable members that the wheat-growing industry must be assisted because of Australia’s financial position overseas. Another industry which depends on an overseas market is that of wool. That also is insecure. Not long ago many honorable members, including the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Abbott) stressed the necessity for assisting the wool industry. A temporary rise in the price of wool eased the position of the woolgrowers, but now they are faced with further difficulties as Germany is unable to compete for our wool and Italy is not buying so extensively as she did previously. The wool industry is faced in the near future with difficulties just as dire as those now confronting the wheat-growing industry. When the position is reached that our wool cannot be sent overseas at a profitable price, will honorable members opposite argue that, because of the importance of the industry, and by reason of Australia’s financial position overseas, it also must he subsidized? We shall soon reach the farcical position in which each industry rests on the others, and it will be argued that all the industries of the Commonwealth because of their importance and the necessity for their continuance must be subsidized in one form or another by the Government. We should face the facts. Australia is going through a crisis which is not peculiar to it alone. Every country in the world” that has our particular form of economics is going through it at the present time, and the Government is rushing from one difficulty to another attempting to apply patches in all directions, in the pious hope that persistence in its peculiar policy will restore prosperity.
– The meat industry is in the same position.-.
– That is so. The same thing applies to every industry in Australia to-day. The wheat industry is of particular importance, because this scheme of assistance means interfering with the price of a staple foodstuff upon the table of the workers. It should be remembered that those who consume the most bread are the little children, so that if the price is increased, the burden is placed on those who are least able to bear it. I join with “other honorable members in protesting against certain members of this chamber voting upon a matter that vitally concerns their own personal positions. It is most unfair. The Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) in his second -reading speech, was asked by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) whether there would be any discrimination, and whether wheat farmers with incomes from other sources would be assisted by the bounty. The Minister replied that there would be no discrimination, because the bounty would be paid to every wheat-farmer whether he was in need of it or not. In spite of the protestations made by State Governments and State Premiers about regulating the price of bread, nothing so far has been done in that direction. The only reason why some of the master bakers did not increase the price of bread following the imposition of the flour tax last year, was that they were engaged in fierce competition among themselves. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) reminded ii* that master bakers and millers had to live, and suggested thatmany of them might be in poor circumstances. I do not know whether they are or not, but I know that in New South Wales 80 per cent, of the bakers are tied to the millers, just as the hotels are tied to the breweries. Many of the master bakers, like the wheat-farmers, are really nothing more than managers for those who have invested their money in she business. In the past, the price of wheat has been such that even the farmers have not complained, so great have been the returns obtainable. During those years, however, they made no offer to contribute more generously to the public revenue, or to share their, prosperity with the community. They wanted the tariff to be as low as possible so that they could buy their machinery cheaply, and they wanted wages reduced so that they could make still greater profits. I remember the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) saying recently that the cost of production in the wheat industry had to be reduced, and he suggested that a: Hut Accommodation Act, the Workers Compensation Act and rural awards should be temporarily suspended.
– I suggested that the State Government should accept responsibility for providing the benefits required by those acts, and not impose that condition upon the employers.
– I can point to the passage in Ilansard to which I refer, and the same thing was advocated by other honorable members. The members of the Royal Commission on Wheat stated in their report that even if wheat were sold at 4s. 9d. a bushel, 20 per cent, of th* farmers would still be unable to make a living. What does the Minister suggest should be done for that 20 per cent. ? Ha.< the Government any permanent solution of this difficulty to offer ?
– That will be dealt with later.
– What is France doing with its surplus wheat? It is being fed to stock in some instances, while part of it is being turned into fuel. That is the future before the wheat industry, and yet members of the Government, knowing this, pretend to the farmers that un era of prosperity is before them, merely because they wish to gain their votes. There can be no prosperity for the wheatfarmers except at the expense of the general public. There is no bounty for the worker in the cities; he must struggle to get bread for himself and his family. I hope honorable members will not be led away by specious arguments regarding the need for bolstering this industry because it is of such importance to the economic life of the country. We have heard too much of that already.What is happening in the butter industry? The consumers have to pay more for their butter in order that one section of the community may continue in profitable production. The surplus butter is sent overseas and sold at 68s. a cwt. less than the Australian price, while the consumers here have to pay 6d. per lb. more for their butter in order to make this possible. I believe that every worker, whether in primary or secondary industry, should receive a proper return for his labour, but I am not foolish enough to agree to one section of the community receiving favorable treatment at the expense of another. If we are to have a scheme for national rehabilitation, let us start at the right end, and improve the conditions of the workers, who are the most deserving section of the community.
– Is the wheat-farmer not a worker?
– Many wheat-farmers are, but some who classify themselves as wheat-farmers are not workers. Some of them sit in this Parliament. However, the small farmer, who is producing a commodity for which there is no sale should not necessarily be placed on a footing different from that of the man who works on the wharf or who produces boots.
– Is the honorable member prepared to put the fanner on the same basis as the worker who produces boots?
– Without the assistance of this Government many wheat-farmers to-day would be forced into that position. Those members of the Country party who represent constituencies in which wheatfarmers predominate are advancing various arguments in order to influence honorable members of the Labour party to support them in the vote on this measure, which, I contend, is designed to assist one section to the detriment of the people to whom we of the Opposition owe our positions in this Parliament. I believe in economic planning; I believed in it when the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) and other honorable members in this chamber were. opposing it. I supported it when the first country inthe world to adopt it - the Republic of Soviet Russia - adopted it, and at that time I contended that, as a result of the application of this principle in Russia, other countries would be forced to follow suit. The honorable member for Calare did not believe in economic planning at that time; he argued that the Government should stay out of industry and leave it entirely to the control of private enterprise. But, when private enterprise fails, the honorable member and his colleagues never miss an opportunity to make appeals for government assistance. I believe in economic planning; but I do not believe in applying it for the benefit of one section to the detriment of others. Economic planning for the establishment of a socialist state forms part of the programme of honorable members of my party, and we are not ashamed of that objective. It is inevitable that many honorable members and many people outside this chamber who, because of ignorance of the subject, disagree with us to-day, will sooner or later acknowledge the fact that we shall have to accept a system of economic planning, which will not permit a continuance of the paradox of abundance, on the one hand, and, on the other, many thousands of people who are unable to enjoy the bare necessaries of life. That conclusion will be forced upon this Parliament and the Government of this country by one of two processes. Either honorable members themselves will appreciate the necessity for a change, or, failing that, such a change will be forced upon them by the many thousands of suffering people outside this Parliament who, in desperation, will take the law into their own hands. We cannot expect these people to remain patient for ever. In fact, I marvel at the patience they have shown under their difficulties up to the present time.
– The honorable member must not diverge from the subject under discussion.
– I contend that thousands of starving people who are affected by the policy of this Government in increasing the price of their staple food, will, because of the bungling, meddling and muddling of the Government, take the law into their own hands, and under the circumstances, I do not think they could be blamed if they did so. The difficulties of every other section in Australia are given consideration before the claims of those who have only one commodity to sell - their power to labour. No member of this Government suggests that a price should be fixed for the commodity these people have to sell. The price of all other commodities, they contend, must be fixed, but so far as the power to labour is concerned the law of the open shop and open market must operate. In other words, the labourer must be content to compete with his fellows for the limited number of positions available, and he must be compelled to accept the lowest wage upon which he can exist. That seems to be the reasoning followed by honorable members opposite. I am opposed to any proposal to increase the price of bread on the workers’ table, and I protest againstthe proposal of the Government. I hope that sufficient votes will be mustered against the bill to defeat it.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Archie Cameron) adjourned.
House adjourned at 11.26 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government will give consideration, when preparing the rural rehabilitation proposals to be submitted to the House as a result of the agreement reached at the conference of State and Federal authorities, to the need for allotting some of Victoria’s share of the money for the purpose of supplementing the compensation payable to soldier and closer settlers upon being dispossessed of their holdings ?
– The plans drawn up for rural rehabilitation contemplate only the allocation of funds for adjusting debts of farmers to enable them to carry on.
Patents Department: Commissioner’s VisitAbroad.
y asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether, in view of the general public importance of notifications published in the Commonwealth Gazette, he will direct that the Gazette he supplied gratis to free libraries?
– The public libraries and similar institutions in the capital cities, and in many country centres in the several States at present receive gratis, copies of the Commonwealth Gazette as issued. While it has been found necessary, in view of the expenditure involved, to restrict the distribution list, consideration will be given to the special claims of any institution which is not covered by the present distribution. Applications in this connexion should be addressed to the Secretary, Prime Minister’s Department, Canberra, Federal Capital Territory. consolidation ofcomm onwealth Statutes.
n asked the Attorney-
General, upon notice -
When will the promised consolidation of Commonwealth statutes be published?
– It is expected that the consolidation will be published about September next.
n asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
In the event of the bill to amend the nationality of women married to foreigners becoming law, what would be the nationality of the children of a father of foreign nationality and of a mother of Australian nationality ?
Mr.Paterson. - It is not the practice to express opinions on matters of law in reply to questions.
e. - On the 6th December, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to advise the honorable member as follows: -
– On the 7th December, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked the following question, upon notice: -
What was the approximate estimated value of the public and private wealth respectively of Australia on the 30th June, 1934, as compared with the zero value when the aboriginals owned the country?
The following information has now been supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician: -
Figures giving the approximate estimated value of the public and private wealth of Australia as at 30th June, 1934, are not available. The latest information available is as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 December 1934, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1934/19341211_reps_14_145/>.