18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S.Rosevear) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr.Chifley) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday next at 3 p.m.
Queensland Railway Strike
-Will the Prime Minister say whether the Government has received a report from the Minister for Supply and Shipping on his negotiations for a settlement of the Queensland industrial dispute? If so, can the Prime Minister indicate to the House what progress has been made? Have there been any further talks between the Prime Minister and the Premier of Queensland, Mr. Hanlon, with a view to the Commonwealth giving Mr. Hanlon further assistance? Has the Prime Minister seen a press report that live Royal Australian Air Force, aeroplanes have arrived in Queensland to carry food to outlying areas where there are grave shortages? Will the Prime Minister indicate what other forma of assistance the Commonwealth has offered to give Mr. Hanlon to maintain essential services in the State, and to ensure that people in remote areas are not deprived of food and other essential commodities?
-I have received a report from the Minister for Supply and Shipping, and I . have also been in communication with Mr. Hanlon. Yesterday, there was a meeting between Mr. Hanlon and representatives of the unions involved in the present industrial trouble in Queensland. T do not think that I ought to discuss the details because they come within the province of Mr. Hanlon, the Queensland Government and the Queensland Arbitration Court. The report of the Minister was to the effect that, in his opinion, some progress was being made in the negotiations, if I may put it that way, but there is not likely to be any further conference until to-morrow morning, as union meetings are being held this morning, also a meeting of the State parliamentary Labour party which, presumably, will discuss the situation. As I have said, the matter is within the province of the Queensland Government, and I do not intend to intrude except in a friendly manner, and when I think I may be of some help. So far as I can remember Mr. Hanlon has made three requests of the Australian Government in connexion with the dispute, and each of them has been granted. The day before yesterday I received a telegram from Mr. Hanlon stating that certain areas in Queensland were short of food, because floods were preventing trains and road transport from, getting through. I discussed the matter with the Minister for Air, who has done whatever was physically possible to make aeroplanes available to carry food to those areas. The arrangements are in his hands, and he probably could say more on the subject than I can at the moment. The point is that the aeroplanes are being used to carry foods to areas which have been cut off because of floods.
– If the Prime Minister is determined not to invoke the Crimes Act or other acts in order to ban the Communist party, in* view of its continuous war upon the community by industrial hold-ups of transport and materials, what action does he propose to take to assure the- world that in Australia the elected Government does govern, even if that does not apply to the determination of our foreign policy? As Communists in the New South Wales waterside and transport industries and in the Railways Department have by their support of the Queensland strikers extended the Queensland strike to the Commonwealth sphere in an endeavour to coerce the people and the Government of Queensland into submission to their demands, will he take action to ensure the transport of essential requirements to Queensland, even if he has to resort to the use of free labour? Is the right honorable gentleman aware of a growing determination by country people to load the products of their toil at the waterside if the Government has not the “ guts “ to make its rebel friends do their jobs?
– Order! In asking a question the honorable member must ase parliamentary language.
– The question asked by the honorable member is designed more for the purpose of political propaganda than to seek information. I have already indicated that the Government is doing all it can to assist in the maintenance of transport and other services in the community. I do not attempt to condone for one moment some of the industrial disturbances and delays that have occurred ; and I have made it perfectly plain, when speaking to meetings of trade union secretaries, that it is absolutely essential in the interests of this community and, indeed, in the interests of other peoples of the world, that every man in the community in no matter what sphere of life he may be working should give of his very best. Unnecessary delays must be avoided. However, I know something about industrial history - and the need for people to give justice to those engaged in manual and other work. The history of free-labour is long one about, which ] know something myself. I have mentioned it on several occasions in this House. I do not propose to enlarge on that; if there is any aspect of the matter in respect of which the honorable member really requires an answer I shall have a reply prepared.
– Yesterday I asked the Prime Minister whether he would take immediate steps to declare the ship Delamere, at present in Brisbane, loaded with 2,00.0 tons of foodstuffs for Gladstone and Rockhampton, a food relief ship and direct it to proceed to those ports, and the right honorable gentleman undertook to consider the matter. Can he now inform me what action, if any, he has taken ?
– Following the undertaking which I gave the honorable member, I arranged for immediate inquiries to be made. I am not able to furnish an answer to the honorable member’s question this morning, but I shall endeavour to supply one later to-day.
– Has the Prime Minister read in this morning’s press a statement that there is a great excess of medical students in Australia, and that the medical profession has pointed out that there will be a superfluity of medical practitioners in the years to come? What view does the Government take of this aspect of our social set-up, particularly in view of the fact that when World War II. broke out Great Britain made an appeal to Australia for medical men? During the war I was chairman of a committee which travelled around Australia endeavouring to secure medical men for ordinary medical services in this country. What view does the Government take of this alleged prospective excess of medical practitioners ?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member has referred. Some months ago T saw a statement by Dr. Hunter, who was secretary to the British Medical Association, that there was likely to be an excess number of medical students in training.
The Government totally disagrees with that view. Through subsidies paid to universities it is encouraging the training of medical students. We believe that in order to provide proper medical services for the people and to enable medical practitioners to enjoy reasonable hours of work, instead of having, as so many of them do, to work unduly long hours day and night, a greatly increased number of medical practitioners is required. In addition, it is a part of the Government’s plan to encourage, in co-operation with the States, a campaign for the elimination of tuberculosis. Proposals to that end will be placed before State Ministers for Health at an early date by the Minister for Health and .Social Services. That opens up a wide field for the employment of medical practitioners and it is anticipated that greatly increased numbers will be actively employed upon it. We hope that when the Government’s health scheme is in operation medical practitioners will be able to carry out their work with much more convenience to themselves and will not have to work excessively long hours.
– Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture any further information with respect to the request made by a deputation of growers of apples and pears from Tasmania for certain relief to offset their disastrous crop losses in 1946-47?
– I have conferred with the Prime Minister on this matter. The Government is not prepared to give any further assistance to growers of apples and pears who suffered crop losses in Australia during the 1946-47 season.
– Recently I made representations to the Minister for Repatriation that an ex-serviceman suffering from a form of tuberculosis, but not in its final stage, be allowed to enter Heidelberg Hospital for treatment with streptomycin, as that was his final chance of being cured. The doctors at the hospital said that the form of tuberculosis from which the exserviceman was suffering was not of the type that could be cured with streptomycin. Yet, acute cases of tuberculosis have been cured with this drug.
– Order ! The honorable member must ask his question.
– The ex-serviceman was discharged from the hospitalwithout treatment. The doctors at the hospital also said that there was a serious shortage of streptomycin. In view of this serious state of affairs will the Minister, in co-operation with the Minister for Health, endeavour to speed up the manufacture of streptomycin in Australia and also increase imports of this drug from the United States of America?
– I recall the case mentioned by the honorable member. We can only rely upon advice of medical men as to the classes of cases in which streptomycin can be administered. With respect to the latter part of the honorable member’s question I shall be very pleased to co-operate to the fullest degree with the Minister for Health in speeding up the manufacture of streptomycin in this country and increasing imports of the drug. However, no stone has been left unturned to make available sufficient quantities of the drug to meet requirements in this country.
– I have received a letter from the sister of a man who was killed by the Japanese while he was “ a guest of those nationals “. The father of the man has been informed that a war gratuity amounting to £202 is payable in 1951 in respect of his deceased son. I ask the Prime Minister whether, if the father dies before 1951, the gratuity will be paid to his estate?
– The Central War Gratuity Board has dealt with a number of similar cases. If the honorable member will let me have the details of the case he mentions, I will peruse it and ask the Central War Gratuity Board to examine it as soon as possible. After consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Australian Country party, it has been decided to reconstitute the committee of honorable members and honorable senators on whose recommendations the War Gratuity Act was framed. I am glad to say that all honorable members and honorable senators, with the exception of the chairman, Mr. Frost, who, of course, is no longer a member of the Parliament have agreed to serve on it again. Senator Collett who was a member of the committee died some time ago. Senator Murray has been appointed to the committee to replace Mr. Frost and the honorable member for Henty has been added to it as a representative of ex-servicemen in World War II.
– When can the committee meet - next week?
– I received the last acceptance only last night. I understand that it would not be convenient for some honorable senators on the committee to attend a meeting of it until after Easter. The committee will be called together as early as possible after that I will examine the matter raised by the honorable member for Swan personally and the committee will be able to examine the broad aspects of the war gratuity.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of the increased and increasing cost of living, with its effect on persons in receipt of low fixed incomes, it is reasonable to assume that undernourishment will result in more sickness amongst them, thus necessitating additional hospitals and cost of treatment. Will he discuss with the Cabinet an increase of all pensions in order that the living conditions of these people may be improved before the winter sets in?
– Social benefit payments are under constant review by the Minister for Social Services. The points raised by the honorable member will be considered with other associated matters when the Cabinet is preparing the Budget.I cannot promise a general review before then. If it is considered, however, that readjustments of the social services legislation are warranted they will be made.
– I ask the Minister repre senting the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the Rationing Commission has recommended the abolition of clothes rationing and whether many retailers are administering their own internal rationing of items in short supply in their own establishments? If that is so, does the Government propose to adopt the recommendation of the Rationing Commission and thereby reduce expense, labour and irritation involved in clothes rationing ?
– I shall answer the question, because I have been examining clothes rationing in conjunction with the Minister for Trade and Customs. The Rationing Commission has recommended the abolition of clothes rationing. Following the receipt of that recommendation, we made an examination of the position, particularly the availability of supplies, having regard to dollar shortages, and a number of other factors. At this stage the Government does not propose to abolish clothes rationing because we are not completely confident that, particularly during the remainder of this year, some lines of rationed materials, especially cotton woven goods, will not be in short supply. Certain aspects of clothes rationing, including coupon values, are being examined, but there are good reasons why clothes rationing should not be abolished at present. I shall supply more information about the matter in a written reply.
Australians in Japan.
– The relatives of Australian servicemen in Japan are gravely concerned .as the result of statements made by Mr. McDonald, president of the Australian Legion of ExServicemen. Is the Minister for the Army in a position to make a public statement upon these serious statements?
– I am not in a position, nor do I desire, at the moment bo make a public statement on the allegations .made by Mr. McDonald, president of the Australian Legion of ExServienmen. However, I have written to Mr. McDonald asking him to forward to me the names of the persons who, he claims, supplied him with the information. Honorable members will recall that Mr. McDonald claimed that one of the reasons why he would not disclose the names of certain persons was that they might be victimized or persecuted. -I have assured Mr. McDonald that whether those persons be in the Army or in a civil occupation they will not be persecuted or victimized. I now expect the next, move to como from Mr. McDonald by supplying the names of those who made the allegations.
– This morning J received a letter from the Merbein Dried Fruits Growers Union, .and I understand that similar communications have been forwarded to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. The correspondence concerns an advertisement which was published in the Sunraysia Daily stating that special irrigation has been made available to certain areas which have been seriously affected recently by hot weather. The advertisement contains the following paragraph : -
In view of the inadequate stocks of coal to meet the normal pumping requirements, und the request for this Special Irrigation, the Commission will bc unable to provide a fifth general irrigation for Merbein in mid-March.
The Merbein Dried Fruits Growers Union has written as follows : -
We would urge that you give this matter your early consideration and attention, as the omission of these irrigations could have a very serious effect on the vines in this district.
As this will greatly affect the dried fruits area and the supply of dried fruits, I ask the Prime Minister and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to endeavour to improve the supply of coal which is required for pumping purposes in order to make irrigation possible.
– Order ! I understand that the honorable member has not asked a question, but has merely made a request to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.
– I cannot recollect having seen the letter from the Merbein Dried Fruits Growers Union. I am aware that supplies of coal are insufficient to meet all demands, but I have not received a complaint of an acute shortage in any particular place. However, the matter which the honorable member has raised will be examined and I shall ascertain whether any action can be taken to improve the position.
– In view of the fact that publicity given recently to claims by certain individuals to have been cured of cancer by Mr. Braund, of Sydney, is attracting cancer sufferers from all parts of the world to this country, and in view of the conflict of medical opinion regarding Mr. Braund’s treatment, will the Prime Minister consider the establishment of a clinic in Canberra to test his methods of treating this disease?
– A question relating to this matter was asked and answered in this chamber recently. The position is that the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McGirr, has set up a special committee consisting of medical men and laymen, including, I understand, the Leader of the Opposition in the State Parliament, to investigate Mr. Braund’s claims. In these circumstances, the Government believes that no further action should be taken by the Commonwealth until this investigation has been completed and a report made upon it. If, as the result of the investigation, it is believed that something can be done for cancer sufferers, the Australian Government will be glad to assist.
Disclosure ot Private Information.
– I have received a letter from an elderly lady who informs me tha’i within a few days of depositing in thu Commonwealth Bank the sum of £500, which she had obtained from the sale of a house that she had owned, and which she wanted converted into Commonwealth bonds, she received a letter from the Commissioner of Taxation asking where she had obtained the money. The circumstances indicated that knowledge of the deposit could only have come from somebody in the Commonwealth Bank, and I ask the Prime Minister whether h« approves of this intolerable prying into the private affairs of Australian citizens, and whether he thinks that the exchanging of confidential information by government departments is a good advertisement for his proposed government monopoly bank.
– The honorable member’s question might have merited more attention had he omitted the last portion of it, which obviously is propaganda. I have indicated previously that L do not propose to answer questions of that type. For many years - not only in the life of this Government, but as long as there have been taxation commissioners, State or Commonwealth - it has been the practice for taxation authorities to make inquiries regarding the source of sums of money that come into the possession of individuals. Quite often this information is received not from banks but from letters, anonymous and otherwise, received by the Taxation Branch. Not long ago it was found that a woman who had claimed that she had not sufficient money- to pay her income tax assessment, had thousands of pounds in safe deposit in another city. If the honorable member for Parramatta will acquaint me of the details of the case that he has mentioned, I shall have it examined; but I do not think that any government would deny to the Commissioner of Taxation the right to make inquiries as to the source of wealth of individuals who may be evading the payment of income tax. I agree, however, that that practice could be operated too harshly.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to reports from New York of squabbling and factionfighting between the office of the Australian Consul-General and the Department of Information officials in that city? Is he aware that there were charges of roll-stuffing, lobbying, and meeting-packing in connexion with the recent election of the president of the Australian society there, in the course of which the controlling faction ruled out the nomination of Mr. John Brownlee, the eminent Australian singer, in order to make the way clear for an official of thc Department of information? Did the Australian ConsulGeneral, Mr. Kellway, make a public protest about the methods used ? Will the Prime Minister issue the necessary instruction that the function of Australian officials in New York is to maintain this country’s prestige and not make its representatives the laughing-stock of the city? Is it not possible to co-ordinate Australian, representation abroad in order to stop feuding between rival departments?
– I have not seen thu reports which thu honorable member mentions, nor have I heard anything about the matter. I am not aware of any friction between the different departments. I know, of course, that human ^nature being what it is, small petty jealousies arise in every party and every ^section of the community and cause :people to dislike each other. I do not think that is avoidable. However, I know of wo friction such as the- honorable member mentions. Certainly there is none between the Minister for Information and myself in regard to the matter. I shall have inquiries made and will supply the honorable member with any information that I obtain.
– In the absence of thu Minister for External Affairs, I ask the Prime Minister whether the Australian Government regards the attitude of Russia as being hostile to the peacepromoting principles of the United Nations Charter. Has the Australian Government been approached in any way by the British Government in regard to the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary’s proposals for a Western European pact? If so, was the approach an appeal for support from Australia or was it merely advisory as to the actions of the United Kingdom Government? Has the Australian Government actively interested itself in the present European political crisis beyond the maintenance of the normal functions of its High Commissioner in London?
– The first portion of the honorable member’s question can be answered by saying that the British Go-, vernment, and 1 think our own representatives, have not been happy about what has been classed as the lack of cooperation of Russian representatives on various bodies. That statement relates particularly, of course, to meetings of the Foreign Ministers and also to the Security Council and the Assembly of the United Nations. I can state frankly that we consider that Russia’s representatives have not been co-operative. This view can be safely said to be shared by the British Government. The second portion of the honorable member’s question opens up a very wide field. It relates to the formation of pacts between the various Western European countries, such as between France and Italy, and Denmark and Benelux, which refers generally to ti i ti three countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. I may say at, once “that no very concrete proposals have been put forward. My information in this regard comes from a very high authority. There have been discussions about economic pacts between those countries-, and I think there have probably been informal discussions, although there is no evidence on that point, in regard to general security questions. In regard to what has appeared in the newspapers, I may say that no concrete proposals have been put to us or have been discussed between the respective governments. As far as I know, no definite decision has been made by the British Government as to the policy that should be adopted under any such pacts.
Motion (by Mr. Fadden) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), owing to his absence from Australia.
Formal Motion fob Adjournment.
– I have received from the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott), an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The Australian poultry industry, the recent contract between the Australian Go- vernment and the British Government for the sale of export eggs and egg products, and whether its terms can be carried out by thu poultry industry.
Mr. ABBOTT (New England) [11.6J. - I move
That the House do now adjourn.
– Is the motion supported ?
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– I make no apologies for bringing before the House the condition of the poultry industry.
Government members interjecting.
– I am being jeered and laughed at by supporters of the Government for bringing the condition of this small primary industry before the Parliament, but I regard the matter as a very serious one. I remind honorable members that the net value of the industry’s production in 1944-45 was £14,800,000. Tt is an industry which affords an opportunity to people of small means to embark upon primary production, an opportunity which they would not otherwise have. Many thousands of farmers were enabled to enter the field of primary production because only a small amount of capital is required to become a poultryfarmer. That is another reason why the poultry industry is of great importance and should be encouraged by every means possible.
The sale of eggs within Australia is controlled by State marketing boards, but the export of eggs and egg products is under the direction of the Australian Government. Therefore, I propose to direct my remarks in the main to the recent contract made between the British and Australian Governments for the export of eggs to Great Britain during the next three years. That contract contains a provision whereby the export of eggs to Great Britain may continue for a further period of two years after expiration of the contract following a review of its operation. Details of the contract were released by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) in a statement which he made to the press on the 9t.h February last, and I propose to recall some of those u.tails in order that honorable members may “understand the criticism of that contract which I shall offer.
The existing contract was to operate until the 30th June, 195.0, but it will now terminate on the 30th June of this year. The new contract will cover the period from then to the season of 1952-53. The object of the contract, as stated in the Minister’s announcement, is to encourage a large increase in the production of eggs in Australia for export purposes, by increasing the price paid to poultry-farmers of Australia by 3d. a dozen. The contract envisages yearly progressive increases, commencing in 1948-49, in order to reach a target increase of 3,500,000 cases. If the output of the industry is not expanded by an average of 2,250,000 cases a year by 1950-51, the British Ministry of Food may call for a revision of the quantities it is committed to accept. According to the Minister’s statement, the increase in poultry flocks required by 1952-53 is 5,500,000 birds. The prices shown in the contract apply to the seasons 1948-49, 1949-50 and ‘1950-51- further negotiations may be entered into for an alteration of the price in the remaining two years. The prices are based on sterling, free on hoare! at port of shipment.
The price for eggs in shell is 2s. 4d. a dozen. This sale was apparently made by the Minister by virtue of the authority vested in him by the Egg Export Control Act 1947. That act says that the Australian Egg Board, subject to any directions of the Minister, shall have the power to sell eggs purchased in accordance with section 13 (e) (i). The poultry-farmers complain that no notice was taken of the representations made by their representatives on that board! The price of 2s. 4d. a dozen for eggs includes the cost of oiling them, and the packing period is to extend from the 1st June to the 24th December, in each year.
The poultry-farmers strongly criticize this contfa.pt. They say that, because of the low price offered, the increased production will not be achieved. That view is supported by a statement in a letter” written by the New South. “Wales Egg Board. It should be borne in mind that New South Wales produces 40 per cent, to 45 per cent, of the total quantity nf eggs produced in Australia and is the greatest egg exporting State of the Commonwealth. In a letter to the Australian Poultry Farmers Association the members of . the New South Wales Egg Board stated that they took advantage of the opportunity afforded to meet Mr. J. Peacock and Dr. Brookes of the British Ministry of Food, that they advised those gentlemen of the conditions obtaining in the poultry industry in New South Wales, and made it perfectly clear that a considerable increase of the existing contract rate was necessary to ensure an adequate increase in egg production. I propose to i nf onn the House of some of the difficulties with which poultry-farmers are faced. The administrative costs of the Australian Egg Board amount to £d. a dozen, the increased price of food amounts to ltd. a dozen, whilst the maximum cost of oiling the eggs is Id. a dozen. That absorbs the whole of the increase of 3d. a dozen alleged to have been given to the poultry-farmers. That brings the price back to 2s. Id. the same as in the existing contract. In addition, they are faced with increased packing costs and a rise in the prices of bran, pollard and mashes owing to the operation of the 40-hour week. If the number of birds is to be increased to 5,500,000 by 1952-53, the poultry-farmers will have to provide more accommodation, and build more sheds. However, on the prices which they will receive under the contract they will not be able to afford this expenditure.
The contract has been drawn in the loosest possible terms. I cannot imagine any private person, while currencies are so unstable as they are at present, making a. long-term contract for payment in the currency of another country when, according to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) himself, there is considerable prospect of that currency being devalued in relation to our own. If our currency approaches closer in value to sterling, the contract which, on the present basis, is not payable,, will result in great hardship to the poultry-farmers. There has been much talk about the difficulty of getting dollars, but all our problems in that respect would be solved if only the American Government were to do what the Australian Government has done, and contract to sell us motor cars and other commodities in terms of Australian currency. I do not think that any government in the world, except the Australian Government, would make such a stupid contract as the one under discussion, especially at a time like this.
The contract is for three years’ duration, and contains no provision for an adjustment of prices in accordance with variations of the cost of production in Australia. In other words, the price is to remain constant, while costs may vary. With feed costs rising and supplies short, poultry-farmers are faced with ruin during the next three years, and Britain will not get the eggs which it needs. The poultry-farmers have no wish to injure the wheat-farmers, but they claim that the price of eggs should have been fixed at a level which would cover the increased cost of feed which has already taken place, and other increases which art; likely to take place in the future. Australian wheat was sold to New Zealand at a very low price, but the Government, under pressure from honorable members on this side of the House, made up to the wheat-growers the difference between the price to New Zealand and the price at which the wheat could have been sold on the open market. If the hens which produce the eggs that will -be exported under this contract were in Britain, the wheat used to feed them would be sold at 18s. a bushel under the contract with the British Government. Therefore, because the wheat is consumed by hens in Australia, the wheat-farmers should not be deprived of the higher price. It is not right that the wheatfarmers should be penalized so that the poultry-farmers may get wheat, at a lower price. The Government should make up the difference to the wheat-growers. There is a precedent for this, because the Government subsidizes the price of wool used in the manufacture of material for home consumption. However, when the cloth is exported, the subsidy is withdrawn, and the full price obtained overseas is paid to the Australian Wool Realization Commission for distribution among the growers.
Thu poultry-fanners also complain that, although they have asked time after time to bc placed upon the same footing as poultry-farmers in. other dominions in regard to the price of eggs, this has not been done. For instance, the price of Canadian eggs, spring shipment, sold to Great Britain, is 3s. a dozen Australian, and of the fall shipment, 3s. 4£d. a dozen, which works out at 10£d. a dozen more than the contract price for Australian eggs. Taking into consideration the increased costs, the new contract price is no better than the old one, and the poultry-farmers are bound for three years, without any possibility of an increase. The Minister entered into the contract without even discussing the Katter with the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley). Thus, although the poultry-farmers are expected to provide accommodation for increased flocks, all the material required, such as iron and steel, has been given a number 3 priority only, which makes it practically unobtainable.
I again draw attention to what I protested against when the Egg Export Control Bill was before the Parliament. The producers’ ownership in their own property is denied to them. The eggs are taken in bulk, and disposed of on ministerial authority, without due regard being paid to the wishes of the producers’ boards, which are supposed to control the industry. Ostensibly, the boards are there to give effect to the will of the producers, but, in fact, they are mere marionettes under the control of the Minister. The poultry-farmers work right round the clock, but the eggs are taken under the control of a Minister in a socialist government, which has no sympathy with the primary producers. The Government has entered into a contract to sei] the eggs at a low price. It is, in fact, betraying the trust placed in it by the Government of the United Kingdom, because the Minister must be well aware that the poultry-farmer cannot, on the prices offered, raise the number of hens to produce the eggs which Britain needs.
– Honorable members on both sides of the House are much concerned with the welfare of the poultry-farmers. We all appreciate the importance of the poultry industry to Australia. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) criticized the contract with the British Government for the sale of eggs. He should realize, however, that if no contract wore entered into at all, and if all the eggs produced in Australia were placed upon the Australian market, the poultry-farmers would not receive for them anything like as much as they are now getting. Honorable members opposite must in justice recognize the fact that unless the Australian poultry industry is able to find an overseas market for a large proportion of its product it will be impossible for poultry-farmers to carry on. I cannot understand the reasoning behind the criticism of the honorable member for New England in relation to this contract for the supply of eggs to the United Kingdom for a period of three years at 2s. 4d. a dozen f.o.b. The people of the United Kingdom, in the last two years particularly, have been willing to pay very fair prices for all their requirements of primary commodities. They have willingly increased the prices paid for their purchases from Australia. I cannot understand the reason for the honorable member’s claim that the making of this contract will bring about the ruination of the Australian poultry industry within the next three years. He endeavoured to link up this claim with the price of wheat sold to the poultryfarmer. He says that the poultryfarmer does not want to obtain wheat at; a low price at the expense of the wheatfarmer and that the difference between home consumption and export prices should be met by the taxpayers. It is remarkable that honorable members opposite should clamour for the lifting of restrictions, favouring a return to the old system of trade on the basis of supply and demand, while at the same time they should seek to mulct taxpayers in respect of the difference between the export and home-consumption prices for wheat. The honorable gentleman’s proposition, as 1 see it, is that the wheat-farmer should obtain the same price for his wheat whether it be sold to a poultry-farmer in Australia or on the export market, and that the difference between the homeconsumption price and the export price should be made up by the taxpayer.
– Does the honorable in ember believe that the wheat-growers should bear the difference?
– When the price of wheat was less than 2s. a bushel the taxpayers helped the wheat-growers to carry on. It is of no use for honorable members opposite to make broad statements of that kind. If we are to have a sound economy, and if Australia is to be self-contained, we must ensure that all industries are treated on an equitable basis. As recently as three weeks ago a prominent poultry-farmer in my electorate told me that he was unable to obtain wheat for 6s. 6d. a bushel. He said that if he could do so, he would consider himself fairly well oft. He cannot obtain wheat at that price because his poultry farm is not sufficiently large to justify the ordering of wheat by the truck load. He obtains his supplies from a dealer whose price is above 6s. 6d. a bushel. That is where the difficulties which I foresee arise.
– The honorable member admit*, then, that the poultry-farmer has great difficulties’?
– I admit that he has difficulties. If he has to pay several shillings more than 6.*. 6d. a bushel he suffers great hardship. This contract has been made at a time when the price of wheat is abnormally high. There is no certainty “that the existing price will be maintained even for .two years. Honorable members opposite have based their criticism of this contract on the false assumption that the price of wheat will remain at its present level indefinitely. At the moment, so great is the need for wheat in Europe, that certain countries are willing to pay almost any price to obtain it. That state of affairs may continue as long as they are able to pay cash for their requirements or to obtain loans from the exporting countries to finance their purchases. I am of opinion that the existing high prices of export foodstuffs will not be maintained during the next three years. In order to judge whether my estimate is sound, honorable members opposite have only to consider the rate at which the proceeds of the American loan to Great Britain have diminished. The dollars secured by Great Britain under the terms of that loan are being expended at three times the anticipated rate. As Great Britain’s supply of dollars diminishes and it can no longer supply sterling exchange to other countries, there will be a corresponding falling off in export prices. The price of wheat, in common with other primary commodities, will rapidly decline. In view of that, honorable members opposite will surely ‘agree that the Government was wise in making this contract to establish a fixed export price for eggs for the ensuing two years. The contract will, I am sure, be to the advantage and not to the disadvantage of our egg producers. Naturally, the honorable member for New England wants to get all he possibly can for the egg producers in his electorate. Undoubtedly, the big poultry-farmers in his electorate are able to buy wheat in large quantities at 6s. 6d. a bushel. I am concerned with not only the big men, whether they be in the poultry industry or any other industry, but also the small man.
– And so am I.
– The small men in the poultry industry cannot obtain feed wheat at 6s. 6d. a bushel.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The issue between me and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) is perfectly clear. The same issue rests between me and the Government. It may be summed up in the words of the honorable member for Hindmarsh when he says that the price fixed in this contract is a fair one. Towards the end of his speech he sought to justify his hopes that it is a fair one by saying that the prices of all primary products are now unduly high, that they must fall, and that therefore this contract must, in the long run, be of advantage to the poultry-farmer. Tt is exactly the same argument which the Minister gave when he was trying to excuse the Government’s notorious wheat deal with New Zealand.
– I have never tried to excuse anything.
– Well, the Minister’s explanation of that matter sounded like an excuse. Under that agreement the Government contracted to sell wheat to New Zealand at 5s. 2d. a bushel when world parity was 9s. a bushel. The argument used by the honorable member for Hindmarsh is in the same category.We know that instead of the price of wheat decreasing it has increased, with the result that to-day, under the agreement with New Zealand, our taxpayers are saddled with a charge of £2,000,000. We do not want anything like that to happen under any contract affecting the poultry industry. The price stipulated is of extreme importance to the industry. All of us welcome the possibility of increasing our exports of eggs to Great Britain where the people are badly in need of them, and the industry, naturally, welcomes any increase of its market. The poultry industry ranks as one of the most important of our primary industries. Curing the last few years it has attracted large numbers of exservicemen. We do not want them to be thrown out of the industry; but they are beginning to be thrown out to-day.
– How many producers have gone out of the industry in the honorable member’s electorate during the last twelve months?
– I cannot give the exact figure; but I know that many have gone out of it, and that many more threaten to go out, mainly because the price obtainable for eggs to-day is unprofitable to the producers. The Minister said, rightly, that this contract would be the means of greatly expanding the industry. It is anticipated that the industry will double its present export of eggs, whilst, overall, it will involve an increase of over 5,000,000 of the total number of birds. Obviously, such expansion will involve considerable additional capital expenditure; and with that expenditure, of course, producers must run risks. The price stated in the agreement is 2s. 4d. a dozen, and the agreement is to operate for a number of years. The net return to the grower will be approximately 2s.1d. a dozen. Any one familiar with conditions in this industry knows that that price is uneconomical and that growers must continue to produce at a loss. When speaking in this chamber about eighteen months ago I dealt comprehensively with this matter. I showed that the cost of production of eggs at that time was about 2s. 0½d. a dozen. However, costs have increased considerably in the meantime. Whereas wheat at that time was sold to the industry at 6s. a bushel, it is now 7s. 9½d. a bushel. As a poultry-farmer on a small scale myself, I know that it is almost impossible to obtain one’s full requirements of offal; hut the price of offal was increased only last year. Whereas, in February, 1947, bran cost £6 3s. 4d. a ton it now costs £8 5s. 3d. a ton, or an increase of 33 per cent. Pollard has always been a very expensive item, and very often it is not worth the cost; but its price has risen from £6 18s. a ton to £10 15s. 6d. a ton, or an increase of 40 per cent. All other items entering into the cost of production, such as wire netting, wood, packing cases and various utensils, have also increased in cost. When the industry is expanding in order to fulfill our commitments under this contract, it will be saddled with the increased capital expenditure reflected in those additional costs. This has been brought about by the fact that this contract has been entered into without due regard to the interests of the industry, and because no approach has been made to those who are aware of the disabilities confronting it. It is extraordinary, although, perhaps, not surprising, that the Minister should have entered into this contract entirely “off his own bat “. One would have thought that, at least, he would have consulted the Australian Egg Board; but he failed to do so. No approach whatever was made to any representative of the producers. The Minister acted solely on his own initiative; or, if he has taken any advice at all. he has taken it only from officers of his department. Such action on the part of the Minister is not surprising. For instance, when he appointed the Victorian producers’ representative on the Australian Egg Board, he acted contrary to the procedure laid down in the Egg Export Control Act.
– That is not true.
– Sub-section 4 of section 5 of that act reads -
The members representing producers shall, wherever practicable, be elected by the producers in such manner us is prescribed.
– I shall tell the honorable member why it was not practicable to do that.
– Sub-section 5 of the same section provides that where, in the opinion of the Minister, it is not practicable to hold an election of producers, the member representing producers in a particular State shall be a person selected after consultation by the Minister with representatives of producer organizations in the State concerned. Let us see what actually happened. Obviously, it was necessary that the producers’ representatives be appointed to the board without delay, because the export year was already beginning. In. Victoria, however, the Minister himself appointed that representative but did not limit the period of the appointment to the date when it would be possible for the producers to elect their member. On the contrary, he made the appointment for the full period of three yr:nr«. Such action is not in accord with either the letter or the spirit of the act. That is another instance which shows that the Minister is inclined to take his own course and act regardless of the views of others. Because of such actions the producers as a whole are losing confidence in the Government.
– In one breath the honorable member accuses me of seeking departmental advice und in the next breath of acting entirely on my own.
– Of course, I regard the Minister and his department as an individual part of the bureaucracy. I urge the Government to review the price set out in the agreement in order to provide a price which will not only be profitable to the producers in Australia but will also, at the same time, be productive for the people of Great Britain.
.- A con,siderable number of poultry-farmers who reside in my electorate complained about the price of eggs prior to the establishment of the Australian Egg Board, and, particularly, before the price under the previous contract with Great Britain was increased by 3d. a dozen. , These producers still have complaints, which appear to me to be justified to some degree. Consequently, further attempts should be made to remedy the complaints. 1 1 is admitted that the halfpenny referred to by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) is counter-balanced by many things, but if the 3d. had not been gran’.ed, the poultry-farmers would have been much worse off. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) can detail the costs covered by the halfpenny. They include cold storage and grading. I must say to the Minister, however, that the poultry-farmers have a genuine complaint against, not the Australian Egg Board, but the Egg Marketing Board in New South “Wales. The Egg Marketing Board should improve the system of transporting eggs from the forais to cold stores pending grading and shipping, which is its responsibility. The poultry-farmers are charged for cartage, but farmers outside the areas that carters contract to serve have to transport their eggs to cold storage at their own cost or to a place where the contract carters will pick them up, notwithstanding that they are levied for the cost of the contract transport service. I have negotiated with the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and the State Egg Marketing Board on that matter, and arrangements have been made for the picking up of eggs at certain points, but I do not see why some allowance should not be made for the cost incurred by farmers in transporting eggs to the cold stores on the ground that often the eggs are taken a double journey, from the farm to the cold store and then back over the same route to neighbouring hospitals and co-operative stores for sale, which could be served direct by the farmers, as was the practice before legislation was enacted in the State compelling producers to sell their eggs to the Egg Marketing Board. If the previous procedure were reverted to unnecessary cartage would be avoided, with a consequent saving of petrol, which is an important consideration these times when we are so short of dollars. It would also give the farmers a fairer deal than they now receive. In my district, poultry- farmers have been heavily fined for having sold eggs direct to co-operative societies instead of to the Egg Marketing Board. One farmer at Weston, in the
Kurri Kurri district, was fined £25 for one offence. I contrast that with a fine of £5 imposed on a poultry-farmer in Werribee, Victoria, on three similar charges. I concede that the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) made representations on my behalf to the appropriate authority with the result that £20 of the £25 penalty was remitted. I do not see why poultry-farmers at Cessnock should have to send eggs 35 miles to Hexham for cold storage when those eggs have to Jio brought back over the same road to be sold to the mining community. A more convenient arrangement would be to decentralize egg storage. As the Minister knows, another serious complaint of the poultry-farmers is the lack of essential materials. I know men who have been waiting for twelve months or more for the fulfilment of orders for galvanized iron with which to erect hen-houses. They are loosing their flocks because they cannot adequately shelter them, being limited to bagging. The blame for that is not attributable to the Australian Government, because the distribution of materials within the States is under the control of the State governments. I have always believed that to be the wrong policy. Distribution should be finally controlled by the central authority. Under the present system, it is difficult for a State where supplies of materials are inadequate to obtain supplies from other States that may have surplus stocks, whereas, under a central control, that could be easily arranged. The Australian Government has tried to rectify that disability so far as it can within its constitutional powers, but if it had sole control over eggs I believe that the difficulties of the egg industry would disappear. The same trouble arises in every field where administration is shared by the Australian Government and the State Governments. I am sure that the poultry-farmers’ disabilities would be removed if control of their industry were uniform. The honorable member for New England, who is trying to make political capital out of the poultryfarmers’ troubles, supports a party that, although it shared power in the Parliament for many years, did absolutely nothing for them.
– Well, nothing in comparison with what the Labour Government has done. We have benefited them, but the Australian Country party has only paid them lip-service. It is wrong for the honorable member to try to blame this Government for something entirely under the control of the Egg Marketing Board, which is an instrumentality of the State Government. Something ought to be done however, to remove the poultryfarmers’ burden of the cost of unnecessary transport from the farms to the cold stores and back over the same ground. Galvanized iron should be supplied to them.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– This morning, honorable members have an opportunity to discuss, in the interests of the Australian poultry industry, the recent contract signed by the Australian Government and the Government of the United Kingdom for the sale of export eggs or egg products, and whether the terms of the contract can be carried cut by our poultry-farmers. The poultry industry is most valuable to the Australian economy, and is one of our great export difficulties. Many of the difficulties which the industry is now encountering have been caused by Government interference, and refusal to allow poultryfarmers to control their own industry. In Queensland, commodity boards are essential, and they are controlled by the producers. One of the principal causes of the difficulties of the poultry industry to-day appears to be that the egg producers do not control the operation of the Australian Egg Board. As the result of government control, the future of this important industry is endangered.
Our principal export market for eggs is the United Kingdom, and members of the British Food Mission, who have been in Australia, have claimed that there is no danger of Australia overproducing eggs for export. They forecast years of good marketing conditions and prices in the United Kingdom. At the same time, they emphasise that quality is essential. Australian experts have stated that a surplus of eggs is sometimes caused, not because of the inability of the United Kingdom to take all our eggs available for export, but because too great a proportion of our egg production is below the export standard. Particularly since World War TI, the United Kingdom has been a most valuable market for our eggs. During the war our armed forces took a substantial percentage of our egg production, and shipping difficulties prevented the export of large quantities. To-day, however, conditions have changed, and members of the British Food Mission urge Australian poultry-farmers to increase egg production.
Unfortunately, the Australian Government has adopted the wrong approach. The contract price for export eggs for the next three years is 2s. 4d. sterling a dozen. If sterling falls, the effect will be reflected in lower payments to Australian poultry-farmers. As the honorable member for New England pointed out, certain deductions will be made from this price. They are: - an export charge of d. by the Australian Egg Board, a charge of Id. for oiling, and lid. representing the increased cost of feed, making a total reduction of 3d. a dozen. I regret that the Australian Government did not secure better terms for this industry, because the representatives of the United Kingdom were prepared to concede to the egg producers of Other countries a substantially higher price than that which Australia agreed to accept. Unfortunately, Australian poultry-farmers and even the Australian Egg Board, it is claimed, had no voice in the fixation of the price. Canadian producers receive lOd. a dozen more than the Australian contract price for their eggs, and, in addition, they will be permitted in 1949 to review the price if they consider that it is too low. But Australian poultry-farmer,?, under this agreement, will be bound by the contract for three years, and in the circumstances they have -justifiable grounds for complaint. If it is not too late, the Australian Government should have further discussions .with the representatives of the United Kingdom, as has been done in connexion with other contracts on other occasions, for the purpose of ascertaining whether a higher price can be obtained for our eggs.
Previous speakers have referred to the great difficulty which poultry-farmers are experiencing in obtaining galvanized iron and other building materials required for the expansion of the industry. It is impossible to secure these materials. Poultry-fanners have been allocated priority No. 3, but even those persons with priority No. .1 must wait for a period of six months before they are able to obtain supplies. One honorable member claimed that two years have passed since he lodged an application for certain galvanized materials. Most honorable members know that some of their, constituents have had a similar experience of long delay. The honorable member for Hunter attributed . this to the fact that the Australian Government had handed over to the States the distribution of galvanized materials, and he blamed the States for the delay. That is wrong. The responsibility must rest with the Australian Government in condoning the action of the Communists in regarding to work, or to transport the galvanized materials and the basic materials required in manufacture. Any other reason or excuse for this deliberate “ hold-up “ of production and of the expansion of an important industry must be rejected. 1 sincerely hope that the Government will reconsider this contract. As the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) is doubtless aware, egg producers have scarcely criticized the Government for having agreed to the terms of the contract, and I shall be interested to hear his reply. They also criticized the haste with which the Government nominated a panel of persons from whom ite delegate, or mouth-piece, on the board was chosen.
Writing in the Sunraysia Daily on the 19th February last, a poultry-farmer stated that egg producers were receiving such a meagre supply of poultry feed that they were being forced to sell all their birds. He said that a week before ho had had 900 birds. At the time of writing, because of the shortage of feed, ho had reduced his flock to 120 birds, and within the next fortnight he expected that he would be compelled to sell them if adequate supplies of feed were not made available. These conditions are detrimentally affecting the poultry industry in many parts of Australia. The honorable member for Swan (Mr.
Hamilton) pointed out that some poultryfarmers in Western Australia were selling for 2s. 6d. birds which were worth 10s. each.
– Order ! The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.- The contract for the sale of eggs to the United Kingdom is the subject of debate at the moment. Whether it is a good contract or not is open to argument. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) has advanced his views, but T consider that the .whole basis of the difficulty is to be discovered in the history of poultry-farming in Australia, My knowledge of the industry in New South Wales was obtained some years ago in association with my father, and I know that if it were not for assistance given by governments of various political beliefs in the past the industry would have been pushed off the earth long ago. From an analysis of the agreement, which I have read, I believe that poultry-farmers are on a pretty fair _ wicket. If they are hopeful of getting the “ famine “ prices that wheat-growers are receiving to-day, or wish to attempt in their limited industry, to get into the fields where the big money is, such as wool-raising, they should realize that poultry-raising as a general rule must be regarded as a supplementary industry. In America, of course, it is of great importance, being in California second only to the motion picture industry. In Australia, poultry-raising has had a very chequered career, and poultryfarmers themselves have contributed in some measure to that state of affairs. Twenty years ago the industry was totally disorganized, but to-day, thanks to government assistance and particularly to the setting up of State egg marketing boards, quite good prices are received by poultry-farmers. We must face the position that when wheat and offal are expensive the poultry-farmer is confronted with considerable difficulties. The fact that consideration has been given to a subsistence rate and a price that will enable poultry-farmers to make a profit is a substantial advance on the days when the industry was left to wilt and die, or to struggle through. The poultry industry is vulnerable in that a glut can be caused by backyard poultry raisers, although in New South Wales, at least, these are now controlled to a certain degree. Generally speaking, egg markets in the past have been poor and poultry-farmers have been the victims of avaricious merchants although the activities of these merchants have now been curbed to some degree by government control. One of the greatest scandals that ever occurred in New South Wales related to the settling of exservicemen on poultry farms around Sydney on land which could hardly grow enough feed to support a rooster. Another factor was the high cost of installing modern equipment. Naturally, the scheme failed entirely. Over the years, the ‘ poultryfarmer himself has been the most apathetic supporter of his own industry. In his view the industry is always in its darkest day, and the future is always dreary. That is a poor attitude to adopt because, in fact, there has been considerable planning in the industry, and I am
Hire that in New South Wales at least, poultry raising wall find an important place in the economy pf the nation. I believe that there should be a closer investigation, not so much of the question whether poultry-farmers are paying too much for feed, but of production methods. Undoubtedly, if feed were a little cheaper it would assist the achievement of the laudable ambition of providing more food for Great Britain, but the poultry industry is most vulnerable on the production side. A slight change of wind can cause moult; a scarcity of green feed can put fowls off the lay; and in the past the feeding of smutty wheat to fowls has had serious consequences. The provision of balanced rations and scientific care has been regarded as a rather lady-like avocation, or as coming only within the province of backyard poultry-raisers or retired miners and other workers who have decided to foresake heavy manual labour and live a few miles from a capital city. This view, however, is largely disappearing and the poultry industry has assumed much more stability. But with the question of stability arises the important problem of the future of the industry, and that, in turn, involves considerations such as types of farms now used for poultry raising, the kind of individuals who are running the poultry industry, the influence of backyard poultry-raiser? , and what can be done to combat diseases by scientific methods. As I have said, poultry raising is a Cinderella industry. Why, even in this House, talk about fowls causes a laugh. But this industry already contributes substantially to our national income and is destined, if guided on the right lines, to assume a position of great value in our economy. The honorable member for Now England debated only invalid issues relating to prices. Th, poultry-farmer who consistently complains of the bad deal that he is getting gives no recognition to the organizations that have been created to assist him. Originally, poultry-rakers were a disorganized group of individuals in which the consumers were completely disinterested, but to-day the industry occupies a position of importance in this country. We have solved the problems of where and how to raise better poultry, and of how to ensure the best production of eggs. The establishment of State egg marketing hoards h,i« been Mig salvation of the industry. The fact that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) and his departmental advisers have interested themselves in securing equitable contracts for Australian egg producers is another indication that the future of poultry-farmers is being watched carefully. In these circumstances, the reading of long-winded statements from local newspapers to the effect that the poultry-farmer is being ruined leaves me quite unmoved. If he is being ruined, it is because of his own inability to organize his industry and to understand, its place in the national economy. Also, it is the most protracted ruination of which I have ever heard. For the last 25 years I have been hearing that the poultry industry in this country is going out of existence; but statistics show that as one poultryfarmer leaves the industry another takes his place. With the exception of perhaps 40 or 50 poultry farms in New South Wales to-day, any inefficiency that exists in the industry is on the farms themselves. Too little attention is paid to the maintenance of flocks of the most economic size, and the efficient culling of flocks. Very little scientific culling is done on many farms to-day, with the result that hens that are no longer laying, or whose production is diminishing, are still being fed. Largely because of the poor land on which they are established most farmers make no effort to grow their own green feed, but attempt to get a balanced ration out of a bag.
– The honorable member is “ scabbing “ on the farmers now.
– That is. not true. 1 am merely telling the House what is wrong with the poultry industry to-day.
– The honorable member is telling a lot of lies.
– No. I- do not suppose that the honorable member for New England “has ever seen a poultry farm. Probably he has only raised this matter to-day because he has poultry-farmers in his electorate. The greatest need to-day is for a more scientific approach to poultry farming. On the marketing side, too, there is some room for complaint. For instance, there is far too great a tendency to sell pullet eggs as hen eggs. More efficient grading is required and that is something that the Minister might discuss with his State colleagues. The point that I wish to make after having investigated this matter is that the prices that poultry-farmers are receiving to-day are fair. I have no fear that poultry-farming will disappear from the economy of the nation. But there are many things that producers must do if they want to become as important to this country as the American, poultry-farmers are to the United States of America. I trust that exaggerated statements about the alleged imminent dissolution of the poultry industry will not be given too much attention. They are quite wrong, anc! in many cases, insincere. It is true that because of the price of wheat and offal the poultry-farmer to-day is enduring certain irritations, but also in the story is the fact that he is getting good standard prices. If he is efficient he will not be thinking of leaving the industry, but rather of consolidating his undertaking. At present, he is making money, and is better off than at any time in the history of the industry within the last twenty years.
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) has many industries under his control, and it is not to be expected that he could have an intimate knowledge of all of them, but he must know that the poultry industry is seething with discontent. A great deal of this discontent certainly arises from the operations of the egg boards in the various States, but much of it is also due to activities in. the Commonwealth sphere. The motion now before the House arises from an unwarranted act committed by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Some time ago I wrote to the Minister asking whether the Australian Government still controlled an amount of about £500,000 which was said by the poultry producers, rightly or wrongly, to belong to them. I asked, further, whether the Government intended to make a demand on the egg boards for an amount of about £200,000, representing sums said, to have been expended by the Australian Government during the war on plant for the pulping of eggs. I have had no reply to that letter. I hope that Minister will take the opportunity provided by this debate to give me an authoritative reply for the information of the people on whose behalf I wrote to him and of all other egg producers in Australia.
The subject before us at the moment is the new contract for the supply of eggs to the United Kingdom, the terms of which apparently were decided chiefly by the Minister without proper consultation with the egg producers’ organizations or with people in whom the producers have confidence. The value of the export trade is well recognized. Great Britain wants eggs badly, and Australian producers are anxious to deliver the goods. But, in order to enable them to do so, they must be paid a profitable price. In considering .the terms of the contract negotiated with the Government of the United Kingdom, one reaches the extraordinary conclusion that, after allowance has been made for increased costs of production and for the cost of oiling, the price received by the growers will be the same as the price which they have been receiving for a considerable time past. It is useless to assume that producers can maintain profitable production while costs are still rising and while materials, required for the expansion of their poultry farms are almost unprocurable. They must look ahead. In order to fulfil the contract, the industry must be expanded by increasing the number of fowls in production by about 5,500,000. Yet producers are expected to carry on for the same return as they have been receiving up to the present. The Minister will surely not deny that the price provided under the contract, taking into consideration the effect of increased costs, will be approximately the same as the. price which has prevailed for some time past. Thb increasing of flocks by about 5,500,000 fowls will require the provision of extra accommodation and new equipment on poultry farms. As far as we can see, the farmers will have to recoup this additional expenditure within a matter of a few years. This fact was made plain by the Minister in the statement which he made on ‘the 9th February, when he said -
With, a view to ensuring that at the end ot lilt contract period (viz., June, 1953) an expanded industry in Australia will not he left without an opportunity to progressively step down production - should such be necessary - tile future position will be reviewed in January, 1951.
Obviously, the Minister has taken into consideration the fact that the increased export of eggs cannot be regarded as permanent. In other words, he looks ahead to the termination of the contract and assumes that production will then have to be reduced.
– That is definitely what the honorable gentleman said.
– We shall be in a better . position three years hence to forecast the future than we are in now.
– That may be so, but the Minister’s statement indicated that he was looking ahead. He said that, at the end of the contract period, an expanded industry would not be left without an opportunity to step down production progressively. It is perfectly clear that there is no guarantee whatever that the level of production aimed at by the Minister will be permanent. He has said distinctly that there may have to be a stepping down of production. That means that the industry, if it is to expand and fulfil the contract - and I hope that it will be able to do so - must have some degree of certainty that it will be able to recoup the additional expenditure involved in the expansion within a limited period of years. The Minister has entered into this contract at a time when he knows that the industry is not in a satisfactory position. He has done so without proper advance consultation with the producers’ organizations, and has agreed upon a price which is approximately the same as the present price. Such a method of doing business is inexplicable. I cannot understand it, nor, indeed, can the producers do so.
Another objection to the agreement is that it is on a sterling basis. That fact has been mentioned by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott). It is most extraordinary.We are living at a time when no currency is on a stable basis. The world is definitely in a disturbed economic condition. Yet the Minister has entered into an agreement on behalf of an Australian industry on a basis of sterling. Nobody can tell whether sterling will retain its face value beyond the next few months, because Great Britain’s economic condition is indeed parlous. If there should be any devaluation of sterling, the Australian egg industry will he asked to bear the loss. It is being asked to expand and incur additional costs in order to satisfy Great Britain’s need without being given a guarantee that the price fixed in the contract will retain its already unsatisfactory value for more than a few months. When this Government negotiates contacts on such a basis, is it any wonder that industries, particularly primary industries, are wary indeed of anything that it does? Egg producers are having great difficulty in obtaining sufficient feed even for the fowls already in production. Every honorable member whose electorate includes poultry farms must know that producers have great trouble in obtaining offal and wheat in sufficient quantities to maintain the present level of production. Yet the industry will have to be expanded considerably if the contract is to be made good.
When the Minister replies, I hope that be will explain how he arrived at the price which is provided in the contract. Whom did he consult? Why did he refuse, as I am led to believe that he did, to consult representatives of the various egg producers’ organizations? This socialist Government apparently believes that the proper way to fix prices for our primary commodities is to negotiate directly with governments and that all the wisdom pertaining to any industry, large or small, primary or secondary, reposes in its departmental advisers. For example, it has made agreements in respect of Australian wheat without seeking the advice of the Australian Wheat Board. It places its faith purely and simply in government-to-government negotiations as a means of fixing prices. The egg contract provides another example of such methods. It is disgraceful that the price agreed upon is not based upon Australian currency and has no relation to production costs or the expense that must be incurred in expanding the industry sufficiently to satisfy the terms of the contract. Apparently this arrangement has been made entirelyor the advice of some departmental officers.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I speak in connexion with this important industry because on Tuesday morning I received a deputation from some South Australian egg producers who are very concerned about the future welfare of the industry as the result of a request that has been made to them by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) to increase their flocks so that greater quantities of eggs can be exported to Great Britain. They are experiencing considerable difficulty in obtaining sufficient supplies of bran and pollard to increase their flocks. They complain that whilst retailers say that they have not sufficient bran and pollard to supply their needs, the retailers have adequate supplies of expensive mashes and mixtures. They also complain that price controls do not apply to the sale of the ingredients of the ready-mixed preparations, and I particularly direct the attention of the Minister to that complaint. The deputation produced for my inspection some letters from poultry-farmers located in various parts of South Australia cancelling orders for the purchase of chickens. The reason that poultry-farmers were impelled to take such action was that the price of poultry feed is too high, and they cannot obtain offal to enable them to prepare their own feed. The contract under discussion expires in 1953, but contains provision for its extension beyond that time. However, the poultryfarmers who interviewed me fear that because of the decrease of poultry in this country in the next few years, Great Britain may go elsewhere for supplies after that time. That would, of course, be a very serious blow to the industry in this country. The prices charged for poultry feed . were quoted to me as follows : - Bran £8 a ton, pollard £7 a ton, and pelletts, which are supposed to be prepared from those ingredients, £12 18s. 7d. a ton. Can the Minister give me .any satisfactory answer to the complaints of South Australian poultryfarmers ?
– Before replying to the matters raised by honorable members in the course of this debate, I wish to pay a tribute to those engaged in the poultry industry. Largely because of the assistance given to them by Labour governments during the war, they have done a magnificent job. The industry has shown a percentage increase of production higher than that of any other in Australia. I hear the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) interjecting. Notwithstanding that he has in his electorate a large number of poultry- farmers he refrained from attending while the debate was taking place this morning.
– That is utterly untrue.
– Therefore, it ill behoves him, -when he has just entered the chamber, to indulge in stupid interjections.
– I had previously risen to seek the call.
-Order ! The honorable member will not be here to receive the call if he continues to interject.
– Apart from one interjection which I made during the progress of the debate this morning, 1 have not interrupted any honorable member, and I think that I am entitled to the same consideration. In view of the general attitude adopted by the Opposition parties in regard to the supply of food for Britain, I am surprised that they should attack the contract which we have made with Great Britain for the supply of eggs to that country during the next few years. Had any poultry-farmers been present during this morning’s debate, or had they listened to the broadcast of the proceedings; they would have been greatly discouraged by the speeches of members of the Opposition. So far from being impelled to maintain their present rate of production, or even to increase it, they would have had every reason to diminish their effors. Of. course, the comments and criticisms of honorable members opposite are entirely contradicted by the facts. Compared with other primary industries the Australian poultry industry is in a favorable position to-day ; in fact, its present position is nothing short of marvellous when one recollects the condition of the industry at the time the Curtin Government assumed office, whilst its plight during the regime of the Composite Government was almost hopeless. For verification of my contention, one has only to look at the statistics of production and prices. Prices paid to poultry-farmers to-day are double those paid in the time of the Composite Government.-
– - So are the costs.
– Of course costs have increased, but the important point is that even when the costs were low poultry-farmers were simply unable to make sufficient money to increase pro.dnotion. The industry was in a parlous position . in those days, and it did not recover until a Labour government caine into office. During the early stages of the war, when an antiLabour government was in office, requests were made by poultry-farmers that they be permitted to purchase some of the wheat which was being stored all over the country in such vast quantities, because of shortage of shipping, particularly as much of it was being destroyed by weevils. Those requests were refused, but when Labour came into office it not only permitted sufficient ‘ wheat to be sold to poultry-farmers to give them an adequate supply of stock feed, but it also enabled them to purchase it at a concession. In 1942, the Curtin Government approved the sale of wheat, to poultry-farmers at 3s. ‘6£d. a bushel, which represented a’ concession of 6d. a bushel. That was a substantial concession, but as the export price of wheat increased so the amount of the concession was increased until it amounted to 3s. a bushel. Because the Government had to pay wheatgrowers the difference between the concession price allowed to poultry-farmers and other stock feeders and the ruling price of wheat, the Government was, in reality, paying a direct subsidy to poultry-farmers and others of approximately £12,000,000. Because of that assistance the industry developed and prospered. As the result of the generous policy pursued by Labour, the industry is now in a position to export eggs on a substantial scale, and Australia has been enabled to assist Great Britain materially in its time of need by entering into the contract under discussion. Despite what may be said by honorable members who profess to be experts in this matter, the terms of the contract are exceedingly generous. So far as the United Kingdom was concerned, there was a current contract, with a further two years to run, providing for a price for eggs in shell of 2s. Id. a dozen f.o.b. Soon after the end of the war, we feared that our egg industry might perish. It was realized that Egypt, China, Denmark and other countries had previously supplied substantial quantities of eggs to the United Kingdom and a situation was visualized in which those countries would again be in a position to sell eggs and egg products to the United Kingdom market at a price lower than that at which they could be sold by Australian poultry farmers. It is said that the new price is unsatisfactory, but in my opinion it is a payable one and the poultry industry will prosper as a result of it. Britain, voluntarily relinquished its right for the next two years to obtain eggs from Austraiian poultry-farmers at a price of 2s. ki. a dozen in shell. It is true that its negotiators hoped to obtain seine advantages by the abandonment of that contract right. The situation in the United Kingdom has developed badly for the people of that, country, but in the sense that it will help our poultry industry it is perhaps fortunate for us. Britain desires, at least for the next few years, to be assured of substantial and increasing quantities of eggs from Australia and as a result its negotiations were prepared to abandon an existing contract right. On our part, we looked for some compensation in the form of an increased price to the industry to offset recent increases in the cost of feed and other things. After lengthy negotiation and discussion, the present contract was concluded. The United Kingdom negotiators pressed for a price less than the existing contract rate and I was placed in a position in which I had to press for a higher price than they were prepared to pay. I realized that the United Kingdom Government was the purchaser and that, in the absence of a contract, the Australian poultry industry might be faced with competition from other countries and lose almost the whole of its export trade. It is unfortunate when one has to bargain with people who are already suffering hardships.
On the one hand, the accusation is made that we are not interested in the people of the United Kingdom and do not desire to assist them in. their hour of need. On the other hand, honorable members opposite make speeches that tend to lower the morale of those engaged in the poultry industry and to encourage them to believe that they are not able, economically, to produce eggs at this price. Unfortunately, as in many other contracts entered into with Britain, a harder bargain was driven than would have been driven by a private seller. In my opinion, the price fixed is sufficient to enable our poultry-farmers profitably to supply these eggs. The United Kingdom expects a three-fold increase in our egg exports, and I believe the industry can expand its production to allow that to be done. It will entail only a 40 per cent, increase in our production. I have praised the poultry industry before and will continue te? do so, but I say that this price will be much more attractive if the industry improves its methods of producing and marketing eggs. The United Kingdom Ministry of Food recently found it necessary to impose a condition that eggs should only be accepted for export if they w«;re unwashed, but the response from the Australian poultryfarmers was not good. There was placed upon the Egg Boards, the Federal Egg Controller, and everybody associated with the industry, the task of encouraging and educating the poultry-farmers to adopt the proper technique, but it became so difficult that, eventually, it was necessary to impose a penalty rate of 3d. a dozen to ensure that eggs for export were unwashed. Only 30 per cent, of our vast egg production to-day is of a standard high enough to meet export requirements, but if the industry applies itself to this problem it will shortly be in a position to produce eggs of such a quality that it will be able to export 50, 60 or even 70 per cent, of the entire production.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) complained that the industry was not consulted before this agreement was concluded. There are so many . organizations that claim to represent the poultry- farmers of Australia, that if this or any other government wanted to consult the industry it would not know who its representatives were. There is the Australian Poultry Farmers Association, the National Utility Poultry Breeders Association and many other organizations, all of which claim to represent this industry. I suggest to the honorable member for New England that the Australian poultry-farmers to-day are in a much better position regarding contracts entered into on their behalf than they were in the days when governments supported by the honorable member left the industry in the hands of speculators in this country and in the countries purchasing the products. The present position is that the contracts are made between governments and that no speculators or dealers are interposed. Those speculators did not confer with the industry, but formed rings and offered prices that the poultry industry was forced to accept. It can at least be said of contracts entered into between governments, that as far as the government of the vendor country is concerned it drives bargains that will give to the producers an adequate remuneration for their products. In one sense, the industry was consulted in this case. Mr. Peacock and Dr. Brooks, the representatives of the British Ministry of Food, toured Australia. I think it is correct to say that they met the members of every State egg board except that of “Western Australia; that they informed the members of those boards of the present situation in the United Kingdom and of the outlook for the future, and that they informed them of the requirements of the United Kingdom Ministry of Food. They were very well received and obtained an understanding of the difficulties confronting the industry in the respective States.’ Finally, they came to Canberra and, after negotiations with myself, the officers of my department, and the chairman of the newly constituted Australian Egg Board, arrived at a decision which made the present contract possible. That decision was approved by Cabinet as a whole. In those circumstances I suggest that a reasonable arrangement has been entered into on behalf of this great industry.
The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) referred to people leaving the industry. He made a similar statement in the debate on. the Egg Export Control Bill, but inquiries ‘ that I have made reveal that production has increased in the areas represented by the honorable gentleman.
– More hens or more poultry-farmers ?
– -More hens, and a few more poultry-farmers, too. The honorable member for Flinders has proved to be a false prophet in the past, and will no doubt be proved false in the future. Honorable members opposite complain of increasing costs, and say that the price of wheat has gone up. That is quite true. On the other hand, those who represent the wheat-growers wish to be paid export parity prices for all wheat they produce. Members of the Opposition want a “ bob “ each way. They want the wheat-growers to be paid the export parity price, which is nearly fi a bushel, for all their wheat; but, on the other hand, they want the poultry-farmers - many of whom are also wheat-growers - to get their wheat at reduced prices. This attitude emphasizes the wisdom of the Government, which has ruled that enough wheat must remain in the country for all purposes, whether to feed fowls or human beings, and that it must be available at a price based on the cost of production. This system will stand us in good stead whether a wheat stabilization scheme is put into effect or not. It will prove our sheet anchor in the days - perhaps not so far ahead - when world prices for wheat will collapse. Wheat-farmers will then be glad that a home-consumption price has been established.
There is already evidence that the Government’s scheme for increased egg pro- duction is getting under way, because I nin being plagued by applications for more feed. It is estimated that, when the scheme is in full operation, there will be an additional demand for 2,000,000 bushels of wheat for poultry purposes. The poultry-farmers will be able to buy’ this wheat at a price which will reflect the Australian economic cost of production. That ic as it should be. To those poultryfarmers who fear that they will not be able to get enough wheat, I say that wheat will be available for all necessary purposes.
– At what price ?
– At the cost of production figure, as accepted by the Wheat Growers Federation. The federation accepted the price of 6s. 3d., as proposed by the Government, with the proviso that, if possible, it should be related to an index number.
– Don’t talk out time.
– -I will go to the honorable member’s electorate, and talk to the wheat-growers there. For too long they have been misled by people of the ilk of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull). He should realize that, there are a great many people in Aus tralia other than wheat-farmers. There are, for instance, consumers and poultryfarmers. The wheat-growers must understand that they have often been greatly helped by the Government and the taxpayers. Superphosphate subsidies and drought relief are two instances. The industry will receive in the future the same generous assistance as in the past, when it. becomes necessary, but producers must be prepared to do the right thing by others. [Extension of time granted.) If the State governments co-operate, as we hope they will, the poultry industry will be placed on a stable basisAll the moaning indulged in by honorable members opposite, and all this talk of unprofitable prices, is calculated, in the final analysis, to deprive the people of Britain of the eggs they need so much. Let us compare the position of poultryfarmers to-day with their position in the. thirties, when the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) was a. member of the Government. In 1935-36, the export price of eggs was 12.59d. a dozen. It is true that wheat at that time was selling for about 2s. lOd. a bushel, but other items of cost were such that the position of the poultry-farmers was very unsatisfactory. Indeed, the industry was declining. In 1936-37, the position improved somewhat, the export price being 15.93d. a dozen. In 1937-38, it was 15.10d., and in 1939-40 it was 13.96d. During all that time, the exports were negligible. They have been increased to the present satisfactory level because of the attractive prices offering, and because of the subsidies for wheat, which have cost the Government over £12,000,000. It is obvious that the poultry industry has a bright future, though there may be difficulties ahead. Poultry-farmers should be encouraged, instead of having their morale weakened by propaganda of the kind indulged in to-day by honorable members opposite. The Government will assist, and nurse and encourage the industry, in every way possible. We know that there is a shortage of building material. We hope that the position will improve, and the Government will do all it can to help. We know that there is a shortage of protein feeds, and that there is a tendency on the part of some grain producers to withhold a proportion of their production. That is unfair to the industry, and an attempt will he made to make other kinds of grain available in adequate quantities.
Motion (by Mr. Scully) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. J. S. Rosevear.)
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Originaluestionresolved in the negative.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department of Supply and Shipping - W. F. Jones, L. S. Prior.
House adjourned at 1 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
e asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Australian National Airlines Commission has supplied the following information : -
n asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Australian National Airlines Commission has supplied the following information respecting questions 1 to 4 and 6 to 9. I do not propose to ask the commission to furnish the detailed financial information requested in question No. 5 nor in 7, 8 and 9 for the reasons advanced hereunder by the commission which appear to me to be valid.
e asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The following information has been furnished by the Australian National Airlines Commission with the exception of the latter part of question 6 which concerns the Department of Civil Aviation.
n asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
fs it a fact that the Convair is only a feeder aircraft planned to give maximum efficiency over 300 miles?
d. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
The above information has been furnished by the Australian National Airlines Commission. I do not propose to comment further on the various statements appearing in the newspaper article except to state that I am informed by the commission that its requirements which are covered by the Convair 240 contract require the aircraft to have a payload for its full complement of 40 passengers and baggage and fuel (including fuel reservation as required by Civil Aviation Department regulations) for operations over the MelbourneSydney route and similar stages.
Food for Britain : Postage.
l. - On the 25th February, the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) asked the following question : -
Will the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral have inquiries made into the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the despatch by the Branch o’f the Returned Sailors Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia at Geeveston, Tasmania, of 30 food parcels for Britain addressed to the secretary at head-quarters of the British Empire Legion in London ? Will he ascertain whether these parcels were all addressed by one person in Hobart and sent in two lots from a Hobart Emporium, the postage being 5s. lOd. for each parcel? Will he further ascertain whether 23 of the parcels arrived and whether several warc acknowledged? Will he also ascertain whether seven parcels were returned marked insufficient address “ and whether the Geeveston branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia was thereupon asked to pay 5s. lOd. postage for each parcel for transmission from England and 5s. 10d. postage for each postage before its despatch again to England, making a total of 17s. (Id. postage in respect of each of the seven parcels returned ? In view of the fact that 23 of the parcels with identical addresses were safely delivered, will a remission of the return postage and of the proposed additional forward postage be granted?
The Postmaster-General has supplied the following information : -
It is impracticable to record the particulars of posting of individual food parcels for Great Britain, but it is understood that, in April, 1947, a number of such parcels was posted in Hobart by a local emporium- on behalf of the Esperance branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, Geeveston, Tasmania.
The department is not aware of the number of the parcels included in the posting which have actually been delivered in Great Britain, but seven parcels, which, evidently, were portion of the consignment, were’ returned by the British Post Office in October, 1947, marked “ Insufficient address. Returned to Australia “. I am. informed that four further parcels from the same sender and bearing a similar reason for non-delivery were returned during January. 1948.
Although it is understood that the parcels were intended to be forwarded to the secretary, British Empire Service League, 13 Manchestersquare, London, the address actually appearing on those which have been returned is “ The Secretary, Head-quarters, British Ex-service League, London “, and it is probable that the seeming inaccuracy in the designation of the league concerned and the omission of a street address has led to the non-delivery of the articles.
The charge for the return of the parcels from Great Britain was 5s. lOd. each and a similar fee would be incurred if the same parcels were re-posted, subsequently, to a corrected address as, in either case, the usual sea conveyance charges and handling costs in both Postal Administrations are involved.
Apart, however, from the fact that the department has not the power to grant free postal transmission in respect of undeliverable parcels returned to the sender or of such parcels if re-posted, it is clear that the nondelivery of the articles was duc to no fault of the Australian Post Office.
I might add that, under a special arrangement with the British authorities, uninsured food parcels posted after the 31st August, 1947, which prove to be undeliverable in Great Britain are not returned to the sender, but are treated as abandoned and the contents distributed to the best advantage in Great Britain. The parcels referred to by the honorable member were, however, posted prior to the date mentioned.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained and will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the right honorable gentleman’s questions are as follows : -
S asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is it a fact that a sub-committee of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives in Washington has issued a report calling on the United States to take the lead in fencing off Communist Russia from the non-Communist world, as otherwise America will have to face a violent global revolution ?
y. - I shall arrange for considered replies to be prepared and shall furnish them to the honorable member aa soon as possible.
y. - On the 27th February, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) asked a question concerning a press report that a Commonwealth vehicle had been driven from Adelaide to Melbourne to convey persons to a road safety conference. I have had this matter investigated and find that the Commonwealth car was utilized by the permanent head of the Department of Transport, who is also the chief executive officer of the Australian Transport Advisory Council, for the purpose of attending such a conference in Adelaide. The head of the Department of Transport has been making, in conjunction with the technical officers of that department, a comprehensive survey of the general transport position in Australia, covering rail, road, air and sea. It was agreed that the section between Melbourne and Adelaide provided an excellent crosssection in which the transport facilities could be examined in relation to one another, and, as the department has considerable data on the transport volume in this area, it was considered desirable for the officer concerned to be in a position fully to appreciate the problems involved. Knowing that the next meeting of the Australian Road Safety Council had been fixed for the 23rd-25th February, in Adelaide, and that as chairman of the council he would be visiting Adelaide, the officer arranged to travel by car. This journey by car enabled him to gain first-hand knowledge of certain transport aspects which could not have been fully appreciated otherwise.
s asked the Minister for Works and Housing, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
r asked the Minister representing’ the Minister for Munitions, upon notice -
– The Minister for Munitions has supplied the following answers : -
n asked the Minister for Works and Housing, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. - ‘
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 5 March 1948, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1948/19480305_reps_18_196/>.