18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S. Rosevear took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Commonwealth Grants Commission Act - Report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission on applications made by the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania for further financial assistance in 1947-48 from the Commonwealth under section 96 of the Constitution. “Che Government proposes to adopt the recommendations made hy the commission.
– I have to announce that during the absence of the Leader of the Opposition, who is proceeding overseas, I have been appointed to represent the Opposition as Acting Leader.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs state whether there is any truth in the statement that has been made over the air and from public platforms in Tasmania during the last two months that Australia exported 5,300 tons of wire netting to Albania two years ago?
– There is no truth whatever in the statement. Investigations show that no approval was given for the export of wire netting to Albania. A quantity of 273 tons of welded wire mesh was exported from Brisbane to Albania in December, 1946, on behalf of Unrra. The material had been offered to Australian merchants who declined to purchase it owing to its condition. This material had been in possession of the Army for war purposes and was rusty and not in a good enough condition for merchants to supply to Australian purchasers, who expect to obtain their wire in an excellent condition. A quantity of 3,000 tons of similar material was refused by merchants and was subsequently disposed of in small parcels direct to users in Queensland. The export of the 273 tons to Albania was approved by the Trade and Customs Department on the understanding that export permits were not required.
Marshall Aid Plan
– It appears from press reports that the British Government has refused portion of the Marshall aid provision from the United States of America on the ground that it would be offered in respect of consumer goods and that those goods are to be sought elsewhere. Has the Prime Minister received any information from the British Government as to its policy in this matter, and the extent to which Australia will be required to make up that balance? Will the right honorable gentleman state whether Australia is receiving any assistance under the Marshall aid provisions, and, if so, what are the conditions attached to that aid?
– Naturally, I feel some diffidence about discussing the affairs of the United Kingdom and its negotiations with the United States of America in regard to Marshall aid. Discussions have been going on for some time regarding not only the volume, or the amount represented by dollars, of Marshall aid, but also the type of goods which the United States of America would supply, or pay to have supplied, to the United Kingdom. I think it was hoped in the first instance that any sum made available for dollar purchases would be in the form of a gift. However, as the honorable member knows, under the act by which Marshall aid is granted the administration has power - I presume with the approval of the President - to make aid available in the form of grants, or loans, or both. For instance, I understand that the whole of the amount offered to Ireland, which comes within the European zone for the purposes of Marshall aid, is proposed to be made available as a loan.
In the case of the United Kingdom, it was suggested that 25 per cent, of the amount to be made available for the second quarter of 1945 should be in the form of a loan. Discussions have been in progress for weeks, principally regarding the type of goods to be received by the United Kingdom under the plan. With regard to the proposed loan, I understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking on behalf of the United Kingdom Government, has indicated that he does not desire to accept consumer goods representing the value of that loan and that, if the loan is to be made, it should be used only for the purchase of productive goods - in other words, for capital equipment of some kind. In the second part of his question, the honorable member asked whether Australia would participate directly in any way in Marshall aid. The answer is “ No “. The Marshall aid plan applies only to European countries. Of course, other grants have been made by the United States Congress to China and to Austria, Italy and France. A special grant has been made to Bizonia - that is that part of Germany which is under the control of the three major powers. They are distinct from Marshall aid. In effect, the United States of America has made four grants to other countries- Marshall aid, the previous interim aid to France, Austria and Italy, the appropriation covering Bizonia. and the special aid granted to China. There is no provision in the Marshall aid plan, or in any other United States scheme, for the making up of dollar deficits of the Dominions. It has been suggested that some of the Dominions might share in what are known as “ off-shore purchases “. In other words, goods might be bought from them with dollars allocated to countries receiving Marshall aid. Australia has received no indication that such purchases will be made here although they have been made in Canada. Under the Marshall aid plan, any goods bought with American dollars outside the United States of America are known as “ off-shore purchases “. Arrangements have been made by the administrator of Marshall aid,
Mr. Hoffman, to purchase dollar goods in Canada for export to the United Kingdom. Thus, Canada will share indirectly in Marshall aid. It may be that Australia will benefit from “ off-shore purchases “ in some indirect way, but there is no indication of that yet, and there is no provision in the Marshall aid plan to meet dominion dollar deficits.
– In view of the general outcry by the press and the members of the Opposition when any industrial unrest occurs in Australia, has the Attorney-General yet given any consideration to taking appropriate action against the British Medical Association?
– I must confess that I have not yet considered that very important matter. The analogy is, of course, a very striking one.
– In view of the disastrous effects upon Australian trade and commerce of the industrial disturbances threatened by unionists as a protest against the refusal of the British Medical Association to co-operate with the Government in its free medicine scheme and of the serious effects on the health ‘of the people of Australia of a union boycott of the British Medical Association, does the Minister representing the Minister for Health not think that it is time some action was taken by the Government to confer with the British Medical Association in an endeavour to iron out the difficulties before such negotiations are compelled by the calamitous results of the threatened action of the trade unions ?
– This matter was raised yesterday on a question asked by the honorable member for Darling, and I have since referred it to the Minister for Health who has been and still is negotiating with the representatives of the British Medical Association. He has been informed that the conferences that he has suggested are being called in New South Wales, and that similar conferences will probably take place also in the other States. I think it is safe to say that the Commonwealth Department of Health can be relied upon to ensure that the health of the people of Australia shall not be prejudiced, even if the progress of the Government’s scheme has to be impeded. All I can add to what I said yesterday in reply to the honorable member for Darling is that the Minister for Health has the matter in hand and will take all necessary steps to safeguard the health of the people of the Commonwealth.
– In the past, it was the practice of the Australian Government to make efficiency grants to rifle clubs. Will the Minister for the Army inform me whether any efficiency grants have been made to rifle clubs in any of the States? If not, is it the intention to make such grants available? I point out that rifle clubs in Queensland have not received such, payments for the years 1946-47 and 1947-48, and I ask that any grants be made retrospective to cover that period.
– As the honorable member knows, many rifle clubs were dormant during World War II., and are only now resuming their activities. I am not. certain of. tie position regarding efficiency grants-, but I shall inquire into the matter, and. inform the honorable member of- the result at the earliest opportunity.
– It has been brought to my notice by some authorities that there is a grave shortage of woollen goods available to- th& Australian people, and manufacturers1 allege that the’ shortage is due to the fact that large quantities of wool tops and yarn are being’ exported. If this is so, will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture’ examine the volume of these? exports ? If the; position is not as. it has, been represented to me, will the Minister ensure: that more yarn, will be made available to manufacturers so that more woollen goods, may be purchased by the Australian people?’
– There is not a grave shortage of woollen goods in Australia. The export of wool tops is1 under the jurisdiction, very largely, of the Australian Wool Realization Committee;, whose first duty is to. ensure that sufficient’ wool tops are made available to’ Australian manufacturers for reasonable’. domestic requirements. The export of woollen goods and worsteds is under the direct control of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. Because of the necessity to develop Australia’s export trade and seize the opportunities at present available to make our woollen goods and worsteds known throughout the world, we have consented to the export of up to 6 per cent, of our total production of worsteds, particularly to countries in the dollar area in order that we may earn dollars. A similar situation exists in relation to woollen goods. Notwithstanding the statements made about shortages, I inform the House that the output of worsteds this year is some million of yards in excess of the previous year’s figure. The difficulties which aTe being experienced in the supply of woollen goods and worsteds are due largely to the shortage of labour for the woollen manufacturing industries, but we hope that as the result of the efforts of the Minister for Immigration, there will soon be an increase of population adequately to staff some of these industries.
– Some time ago, I asked the Minister for Immigration whether consideration would’ be given to a scheme of subsidized’ air passages for British migrants, and he informed’ me that the Australian1 Government was already considering such a proposal. As many migrants from non-British countries are travelling to Australia by air, can the Minister say what progress has been made with the proposal to transport British migrants by air? - Thousands of British migrants are anxious to come to Australia, but are prevented from doing so because of the lack of transport.. I remind the Minister that many Tudor aircraft ordered by the British Overseas Airways Corporation will not be. taken into- use by that organization because1 of certain developments in competitive civil aviation, and it might be possible to utilize them, for the purpose of transporting British migrants to this country.
– Negotiations have taken pl’ace between the British and Australian Governments, but I regret that the British Government is1 unable to accept the share of financial responsibility entailed in our proposals. How.ever, further discussions may take place on some other basis. It is true that a number of migrants from non-British countries are travelling to Australia by air. For the most part they come in Australian machines, which are flown by former members of the Royal Australian Air Force, who have formed companies for the purpose of transporting migrants no Australia from countries which are not served by Qantas or other established airlines. Those migrants or their relatives pay the whole fare involved and no subsidy is paid by the Government. Negotiations are now proceeding between Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and government authorities, including Trans-Australia Airlines, to bring British migrants to Australia by air. It may also be possible to overcome the difficulty caused by the shortage of shipping by ‘bringing displaced persons, including Baits, by air. I can assure the honorable member that the practicability of providing air transport for migrants, both British and non-British, is under consideration all the time, but I point out that the cost involved in any such scheme present difficulty.
– My question arises out of the presence in this country of the splendid migrants whom we have received from Baltic countries. Has the Minister for Immigration noticed references in the press to the outstanding musical talent possessed by some of those migrants? I refer particularly to an article in to-day’s issue of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, which mentions a young Ukrainian pianist named Anatole Mirosznyk, whom Mr. Eugene Goossens has described as a man of exceptional gifts. Reference was also made in the press recently to a young Bait migrant who is at present employed a-t the Repatriation Hospital at Heidelberg, and who is said be an outstanding singer. Although the terms of the contract under which those and other migrants were brought to this country require them to remain in certain occupations for a definite period, I ask whether anything can be done to release those who possess outstanding cultural, literary or artistic talents?
– It is desirable that; Australia should have the benefit of thetalents of the young artists mentioned: by the honorable member, and there isno doubt that we shall bear a-, great deal more of them in the future, provided they have the tenacity and patience that must be allied: to genius if it is to fulfil its purpose. I am sure that they will find ready recognition in Australia and will be given; ample opportunities when they have fulfilled their contracts with the Government. However, they cannot be released^ from their contracts, because there may be many others among the Balticmigrants who have great ability in thefields of music, art, literature and otherprofessions. These people competeeagerly to come to Australia, and they understand fully the nature and implications of the contracts under which they are accepted. When they are sent towork here, they are not directed toemployment which might have a destructive effect on any skills or talents they possess, but a condition of” our acceptance of them is that they must be prepared toserve for up to two years in industriesand occupations that are vital to thedevelopment of Australia, and in whichthere is a, serious man-power shortage.
If we released the young man. Mirosznyk from his obligation to us, an unknown number of other Baits wouldalmost certainly claim that their skillfind talent entitled them to serve Australia immediately in cultural and professional spheres. Who was to judgetalent, particularly in. artistic matters.. would then become a vexing question, andthe whole of our plan to absorb displacedpersons from Europe, to their benefit andours, might be endangered.
If it became the general thing for people with unusual abilities to sign the contract under which displaced personsare brought here, and then to attempt toevade it once they were safely in thecountry, the possession- of talent might soon ‘become a handicap- to the would-be migrant. While we need labour,. it would” be only common sense under such- circumstances for us to confine our selection to unskilled types who were incapable of any other work. We donot want . to do that, of course; for as talented migrants fulfil their contracts and are assimilated into the life of the country, they can enrich our cultural and ;professional activities, as I hope they will do. The more intelligent migrants, of whom I am sure Anatole Mirosznyk is one, must understand those facts. If they do, I am sure they will carry out their contracts cheerfully, rather than take any risk of making talent a handicap, and prejudicing the chances of a great number more of their own people coming to Australia,
– I ask the Minister for Immigration whether it is correct that the entry permit of a Polish engineer who left the employment of the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission, to which he had been assigned, to take a railway job has been cancelled and that “the man has been returned to Europe? If this is correct, did the department give this migrant an opportunity to return to his job with the commission before he was deported? If not, why not? Have any other displaced persons been deported in similar circumstances? To what country was this migrant deported ?
– Yesterday, I received a very insulting and arrogant “telegram from a member of the Liberal party in Launceston dealing with a case of this sort. I do not know whether it is exactly the same case. It is a fact that some Polish migrants who went to Tasmania did not behave themselves. They were given every opportunity and encouragement by the Tasmanian HydroElectric Commission to fit into the Australian community, but they would just not play the game with the commission. “There may -be four or five men in that class out of about 500, a fact which speaks volumes for the conduct of the :great majority. When I was in Tasmania recently with the honorable member for Wilmot and other honorable members and honorable senators I discovered one man who claimed that he had been victimized. I asked the commission for the full strength of the story. T found “that the man was quarrelsome and bad fallen out with his compatriots. He was addicted to the use of the knife, and the commission told me that the best ‘thing to do with him was to send him back to where he came from. Well, I sent him back. He may be the gentleman referred to by the honorable member for Henty. One or two other men were suffering from neurosis and it did not seem that they would ever fit into life in this country. As compassionate cases, they were sent back to Europe. They were sent back to where they came from. If they were Poles who came from England, they were sent back to England. A few men amongst the displaced persons, five or six out of about 2,500 people, have been “ playing up “. Some have deserted job after job. If we allowed them to stay here, they would break down the morale of the migrants with whom they were associated. So it is better to get rid df five or six Poles or five or six Baits if they are trouble-makers who will noi help this country. Their own countrymen in each instance agree that the best thing to do is send them back. If the honorable member supplies me with the name of the person concerned in his question and some more particulars, I -hall make further inquiries and give him a personal reply.
– I direct the attention of the Attorney-General to a report from Singapore, dated the 2nd June, in which it is said that a storm of hostile comment has broken out in Singapore against Australia on the eve of the arrival of the Australian goodwill mission, led by Mr. W. Macmahon Ball. The report state; that the influential Progressive party has issued a statement in which it denounces the mission as a “ mockery “, refers to the gifts it bears as “ the traditional thirty pieces of silver “, and complains about the immigration policy of the Australian Government. Can the right honorable gentleman say whether any inquiries were made in the countries to which the goodwill mission is going to discover whether it would, be welcomed or received in a hostile manner? Does the Minister not think that it is unwise to send a mission to countries that bear ill will to Australia because of our immigration policy, and that the visit of the mission may tend only to increase that ill will?
– Inquiries. were -made in t>he South-east Asian countries by the Australian Government ‘before these officers left Australia. The purpose ‘of (‘heir visit is twofold. First, the Government decided to allocate to these countries, ‘by “way of what is commonly called >post-Unrra relief, sums of ‘money -or food and commodities, and it became necessary to discuss with the ‘appropriate officials in those areas the form that that relief should take. Secondly, it was decided, in co-operation -with one of ‘the United Nations organizations, that -as a contribution by Australia certain scholarships should be founded that would become tenable in Australian institutions and could be held by residents of these countries.
– They want trade as well.
– Trade has nothing to 4.o with the immediate purpose of this mission. Our trade -relations with these countries .are of supreme importance. Trade between them ,and Australia has increased substantially during the .last few years. I .quoted figures to the House recently in connexion with that very matter. The honorable member for New England, referred to some criticism of the Australian mission. That ^criticism was not made by any government, .because each of the governments -concerned welcomes the visit, as it would be expected to <do. Some organization not having all the facts has made some criticism of Australia. We have mo knowledge of -what the political purposes of these demonstrations may be. I am confident that neither the Government nor the vast majority of the people of any of these -countries could <k> other than welcome the representatives of Australia on a mission which will help the people of Asiatic countries. The Government’s migration policy has nothing to do with the matter. Our migration policy is well established; it is not a new policy. I have seen the report to which the honorable member referred. I believe that there is behind i-i. some agitation which is not representative of the feeling of the people of Malaya, -and, certainly, not of the Government of that country. I am hopeful that the work of these officials will be successful and Chat our .objective ‘will he achieved. ‘The criticism passed at ‘.the meeting in question is -completely unjustified and unfair to both -.the Government -and .the people <of Australia.
Reconstruction Training Scheme
– Is the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction aware that many ex-servicemen undergoing reconstruction training are living with their families on less than the basic wage? Does .he also realize that in these cases i.t is the children who a-re the first sufferers, particularly if the mothers are forced to accept employment? Will he reconsider the rehabilitation living allowance with a view to increasing it to .enable a man with a .wife and children to .live at least at the .standard of the basic wage?
– Trainees .under the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme -receive a living allowance, and in the case of most married men, if not all of them, the allowance is in excess of the basic wage. I suggest that as these men are being trained ,at the expense of the Commonwealth, a benefit to which they are .undoubtedly entitled, it would be rather unfair to pay single trainees a living .allowance above the basic wage. However, this matter is under review by the Government from time to time, and I assure .the honorable member that when any general review of benefits of this kind is made, the living allowance payable to trainees will be included in it.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether several aircraft programmed to land a-t Fairbairn aerodrome on Monday and Tuesday this week were turned back because of fog conditions? Were other flight schedules that included Canberra as a stopping place disorganized 2 Is no other aerodrome available as an alternative to Fairbairn or planned by the Department of Civil Aviation-? Is the Fairbairn aerodbome peculiarly subject to fog? If my statements are facts, will the Minister immediately consider the desirability of installing at Fairbairn the fog dispersal device- known as Fido, which has been employed very successfully in England by the Royal Air Force?
– I would not attempt a detailed reply to a question so complex as that asked by the honorable gentleman unless I were supplied with a copy of it beforehand. It is true that one day this week fog prevented any landings being made at all at the Fairbairn aerodrome. It is also true that some flight schedules were disorganized. That is common on occasions to all airports in Australia. The nearest alternative airport to the Canberra airport is at Wagga. I do not see any sound reason to provide an alternative airport for Canberra any nearer than Wagga, because that would’ involve great cost without getting .away from Canberra conditions. The number of occasions on which flight schedules have been disorganized or on which, it has been impossible for aircraft to land at the Fairbairn airport have been so few that it would be ridiculous even to talk about installing the Fido equipment, which was used in England to meet war conditions. It is a most costly apparatus and it burns great quantities of’ petrol. We are already short of petrol and it would be entirely out of the question to burn it for the purposes suggested by the honorable member. However, the honorable gentleman’s suggestion will be examined.. I will tell the honorable member later how many times a year fog is responsible for disorganization of air traffic to Canberra.
Air. FADDEN. - I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether orders have been approved for the export of 370 tons of Australian beef a month direct to the Palestine battlefields. Did Port Fairy recently load 21,000 56-lb. cases of Queensland butter- for Haifa, Palestine? Do these shipments indicate that the rationing of meat and butter in Australia is no longer necessary?
– The honorable member should be aware- that in accordance with the terms of the contracts for the sale of butter and meat to the United Kingdom announced by this Government a considerable time- ago, the whole of Australia’s surplus production of these commodities is available to the United Kingdom, with the exception of a small quantity of both products which may be sent to markets held’ by Australia before World War II. In accordance with this practice, some meat and butter undoubtedly go to Palestine from time to time. In addition, of course, the United Kingdom Government itself occasionally indicates what portion of its own contract butter and meat it desires to be sent to Palestine.
HabibBYRNONG Munitions FACTORY.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral whether he has referred to the security service the allegation that Mr. James Noonan^ a Communist, was employed in the Maribyrnong Munitions Factory? If so, when may the report on the investigation be expected?
– The matter was referred to the security service, and I hope to be able to provide the honorable member with the information that he seeks either to-day or to-morrow.
– In view of the urgent need of the people of Britain for fats and of the very meagre ration of bacon now available tothem,, will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture consider the possibility of increasing, during the coming northern winter, the supply of bacon from Australia to Great Britain, particularly asour own need for animal fats will thenbe reduced because of the summer conditions here?
– Every effort is being made to increase the quantity of baconbeing’ exported to- the United Kingdom,, and this effort will be: continued.
– Has the Minister for the Navy any information to give as the result of representations made by the Minister “ for Repatriation and myself concerning the possibility of Duntroon being made available to replace Taroona on the Tasmanian run, when the latter ship goes into dock for repairs next month?
– It is true that the honorable member for Wilmot and the Minister for Repatriation discussed with me last night the possibility of Duntroon being made available to replace Taroona on the Tasmanian run. Roth Duntroon and Westralia are required for the Kure service, more particularly as Kanimbla is to go overseas. Manunda has been reconditioned by the Navy and handed back to its owners, the Adelaide Steamship Company. The Government has now no control over any of the ships handed back to their owners, including Ormiston, which has been returned to the Australasian United Steam Navigation Company Limited. Manoora is being reconditioned at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, after which it will he returned to the Adelaide Steamship Company. It would appear that no ship is available to replace ‘Taroona while that ship is being over-hauled. I have been informed that the is ample aeroplane accommodation for persons who desire to travel to and from Tasmania.
– In view of a recent report in the press that India is paying dollars for silk ‘bought from Japan, to the value of about £20,000,000, will the Treasurer say whether there is any possibility of getting India to pay in dollars for the wheat which it buys from Australia, seeing that we have such a great need of dollars to pay for purchases from the United States of America?
– The honorable member has asked a question which, to answer properly, would involve a long explanation, and I do not think that I would be justified in taking up the time of the House at this stage in making such an explanation. India is within the sterling area, and to do what the honorable member has suggested would tend to break down the arrangement between the various members of the sterling group. However, I shall prepare a full reply to the honorable member’s question and supply it to him later.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of
Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) proposed -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to grant and apply out of the consolidated revenue fund a sum for war pensions.
.- J should like the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) to state the amount that is involved in this proposed appropriation and to say whether the Government intend* to increase war pensions. Many requests have been made to the Government through Opposition members and exservicemen’s organizations’ throughout the Commonwealth in this regard. If the Government does not propose to increase these pensions, will the right honorable gentleman give its reason for refusing to do so?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended ; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Chifley and Mr. Barnard do pre pare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Chifley, and read a first time.
– 1 move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The object of this bill is to provide £19,000,000 out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the payment of war pensions during the forthcoming year. The amount of £18,000,000 appropriated last June for this purpose will meet requirements only to the end of July. The upward trend in war pension payments is shown in the following table, which also reflects the steady increase of the Commonwealth’s liability in respect of the 1939-45 war : -
Expenditure from the proposed appropriation of £19,000,000 will be divided almost equally between commitments arising from the two world wars. Parliamentary approval is now required to permit the withdrawal of this £19,000,000 from revenue as moneys are required to be paid to the War Pensions Trust Account, in order that pension payments may be made as they become due. The bill has no bearing on pension rights, and merely seeks the appropriation of the amount required to effect payment at such rates as may be approved by the Parliament.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.
Message from the Governor-General reported transmitting Additional Estimates of Expenditure for the year ending the 30th June, 1948, and recommending appropriation accordingly.
Ordered to lie on the table and to be referred to Committee of Supply forthwith.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That the following additional sum be granted to His Majesty to defray the charges for the year 1947-48 for the services hereunder specified, viz.: -
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
Resolution of Ways and Means founded on resolution of Supply, reported and adopted.
That Mr. Chifley and Mr. Dedman do pre pare and bring in a bill to carry out the fore going resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Chifley, and read a first time.
Mr. CHIFLEY (Macquarie- Prime
Minister and Treasurer) [11.22]. -I move -
That the bill be now read a second time. .
When the budget was presented to the Parliament in September last, it was estimated that the total revenue would be £397,000,000 and the total expenditure £427,000,000. Defence and post-war charges aggregated £168,000,000 and of this amount £138,000,000 was to be charged to revenue, and the balance of £30,000,000, representing the gap between total revenue and total expenditure, was to be financed from Loan Fund. Since the budget was passed, various factors have combined to increaseby £46,000,000 the amount of revenue which it is now estimated will be available for the services of the year. Total expenditure will be increased by approximately £16,000,000 to £443,000,000, of which defence and post-war charges will absorb £178,000,000. In consequence of this favorable position, it will be practicable to meet from the Consolidated Revenue Fund not only the increase of £10,000,000 in defence and post-war charges but also the proportion of £30,000,000 which was to be financed from Loan Fund. The purpose of this bill, therefore, is to obtain the necessary additional revenue appropriation of £40,000,000.
The estimated position which forecasts a balanced budget may be summarized as follows: -
High wages, full employment and an accelerated rate in the issue of assessments are factors which have materially contributed to an anticipated increase of £25,000,000 in the yield from income tax including social services contribution. Customs and excise duties may possibly provide an additional £12,000,000, while the sales tax estimate suggests an additional £5,000,000, these collections continuing to reflect prosperous business conditions. Increases in other miscellaneous items may total £4,000,000. It is anticipated that the total estimate of £168,000,000 on services for which provision was made in the budget will be closely realized. Increased expenditure for price stabilization subsidies will be offset by savings on other items. An Amount of £10,000,000 has been expended this year in connexion with our obligations under the International Monetary Agreements. The payment was met temporarily from trust fund balances for the time being surplus to requirements. This expenditure will now be met from the Consolidated Revenue Fund -and -has been included in the defence and post-war charges section of the Estimates.
The- National “Welfare Fund Act requires that collections of social services contribution and pay-roll tax be appropriated to the National Welfare Fund for expenditure on social services. Accordingly, £69,000,000 was included in the budget for payment to this fund. The rapid acceleration in the issue of assessments in the salary and wage group is the principal cause of the earlier crediting of receipts under the “payasyouearn “ scheme to social services contribution. As a consequence, the amount due for transfer to the fund will be increased by £13,000,000. This increase of expenditure is offset by an amount of £10,000,000 which, mainly due to shortages of labour and material, will not be expended from the £32,000,000 programme for Additions, New Works, Buildings, &c. Under other heads of expenditure there will be- a net increase of £3,000,000, of which £2,000,000 has been absorbed by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department.
I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In Committee of Supply:
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) proposed -
That there be granted to His Majesty for or towards defraying the service of the year 1948-49 a slim not exceeding £74,728,000.
– This is a most important motion. The rulings in this chamber in the past have been that honorable members cannot challenge in the form of a bill what the committee has already agreed to as a resolution. On an occasion like the present, one has to review the circumstances in which the Government is placed. There ‘are certain old, well.known and well-tried procedures to which Parliament must conform and ,to which the Government likewise must conform. During the past few wee’ks, we have witnessed a departure ‘from .these timehonoured precedents on the part of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley). I prefer to the position which has arisen in relation to one of his Ministers. [ do not judge this case myself, but I say quite frankly that that Minister should withdraw from the administration of his department until certain matters have been clarified. Certain litigation has taken place and a sentence has been imposed on a very close collaborator of that Minister. a man who formerly was a member of this Parliament. Further litigation is pending. Sworn statements have been made in court, and further sworn statements by other witnesses yet to be called are threatened. The time-honoured procedure of democratic government in British countries is that, as soon as a Minister is called into question in relation to his transactions and his reputation as they touch the administration of his department, he shall withdraw from, the administration of the department until his reputation and his administration have been cleared by competent authorities. Precedents for such a course of action have occurred in this Parliament during my membership of it and during the membership of many other honorable members on both sides of the chamber. A precedent occurred recently in the United Kingdom. Today’s press contains references to the return to the Attlee Government of Dr. Hugh Dalton, who left that Government last year in circumstances which were not without precedent in the United Kingdom Parliament. Dr Dalton was not charged with any impropriety; he had merely made a slip in regard to the disclosure of some information contained in the United Kingdom Budget. As was said in a court in Sydney recently, no charge has been made at present against the Minister to whom I refer. I do not know that any charge will be laid against him. I make perfectly clear that I do not raise this matter as a personal issue.
This is a matter which affects the very basis of democratic government in this country. It, and certain other issues which are closely related to it, had much more to do with the referendum vote last Saturday than some of us would care to say. I have read press reports of certain statements made by the Prime Minister lately in regard to these matters.
I say to him that he is neither the judge nor the jury in these matters. He is only the head of the Government, and as soon as the administration of any of his Ministers is called into question, on whatever ground, it is his bounden duty to say to that Minister, “ Until this case has been clarified, you will refrain from administering your department “. 1 remind the right honorable gentleman that his predecessor, the late Mr. John Curtin, took that course in regard to the same Minister in relation to what has become known in history as “ The Brisbane line “ case. I see that the Minister concerned has come into the chamber, and so I take the opportunity to say in front of him what I have already said in his absence. I repeat that I do not make any charge against him, but certain things have been said in court and, if my information is correct, those statements were made on oath by an ex-member of this House who had been a very close friend and collaborator of the Minister.
Until this matter has been cleared up, the dictates of democratic . decency demand that the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) shall not administer any department as a member of the present Government. In the interests of democratic government and of truth and decency I hope that it will be shown that the Minister is free from any blame. Many of us, whatever our personal feelings in these matters may be, have some regard for the system of government under which we live and work and under which we hope to continue to live and work. This matter can be cleared up only in the proper time-honoured fashion. I deeply regret that the Minister, of his own volition, and the Prime Minister, under questioning, have both departed from that traditional procedure. I submit to the Prime Minister that, until that historic procedure is complied with, Supply should not be granted to His Majesty’s Government in this country. I leave the matter for the moment because later, according to the way in which the debate develops, the Opposition may be obliged to take certain action or to make certain other statements. I shall refrain from making those statements at present. I assure the Prime Minister that I am not without a “ bucketful “ that I could use in this matter. There are certain questions which I should like to have answered and, in the interests of public administration, they should be answered at the appropriate time. However, I shall not ask them now because I realize that other court proceedings are pending and I do not wish to make any statement in this chamber which might prejudice the conduct of those proceedings. Nevertheless, in the interests of the Government, in the interests of the democratic, system, and in the interests of the people of Australia, the Minister should refrain from administering his department until those proceedings are over and his name has been cleared nf some very nasty imputations which have been made against him, not by a political opponent, but by one of his closest previous collaborators in this Parliament, and in his party.
.- The matter raised by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) is one to which I made reference yesterday in reply to a question regarding pending litigation arising out of certain charges that have been made. I want to make it perfectly clear, although I think it is already clear, that the only charges or statements likely to reflect on the Minister are those that have been made by a convicted criminal and which were a complete denial of statements that he had previously made in interviews with Detective Wilks and others who questioned him about the matter dealt with in the court. The Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) and I have looked through all the files associated with this matter. As the honorable member knows, it has been before the public for some months, first during certain preliminary hearings before a magistrate, and later, in a case before a judge and jury. I have taken the opportunity to read through the transcript of proceedings in the case against Mr. Garden, with particular attention to the remarks of the judge in his summing up. I am not going to accept the word of a convicted criminal, whether or not he was a. friend or a political associate of the Minister at one time. I am not likely to accept charges against any individual on the word of a man who has been convicted of dishonesty. Such statements arc easy to make; they are particularly easy to make when a man is in a position such as that of the accused in the recent case. No one if more jealous than I am about the honour of the Parliament. I have a great deal of respect for this democratic institution, and I always feel a sense of hurt when charges of dishonesty are made agains any honorable member, whether he be a member of the Opposition or a supporter of the Government. But one cannot accept the principle that when a convicted criminal makes a statement, whether on oath or not-
– Does the Prime Minister ignore what the judge said?
– I have read Hi.Honour’s summing up. It contained some very pertinent comments. But 1 am not prepared to take the word of a convicted criminal, whether made on oath or not, or the innuendoes of any larrikin lawyer-
– Oh, cut it out!
– I have seen other instances of this sort of thing. 1 am not referring to any particular person.
– Why did the Prime Minister make that statement if he was not referring to any particular person ?
– I do not want to reflect on the legal profession any more than on any other profession, but my experience over the years shows me that in every calling there is always a small minority of people who are prepared to drag the sewers in order to throw mud al somebody else.
– That was not done in this case. It was conducted fairly.
– My last statement is just as true of the legal profession as of any other profession, including the political profession. I am not prepared to take drastic action or do anything that is completely unfair and unjustified in such circumstances as that. I assume al once that the honorable member for Barker has referred to this matter as one of principle, and I appreciate very much his approach to this subject. But I am not able to find any warrant at all for supposing that anything has happened either in administration or in any other way to justify the Minister for External Territories (Mr. Ward) offering to withdraw from his ministerial position or asking me to suspend him from his ministerial duties. That is purely a matter for himself. So far as 1 am concerned, I am completely convinced of his honesty. There is nothing in the evidence given in the court or in any document that is available, to indicate that there is the slightest dishonesty associated with the Minister’s administration or in regard to this particular matter.
Mr. ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) ] 11.43]. - If no other honorable member proposes to speak at this juncture, I must make one other observation. It arises from the statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) that he was not prepared to condemn the Minister for External Territories (Mr. Ward) on the word of a convicted criminal. I am not asking him to do that, but I point out to the right honorable gentleman that the person to whom he now refers as a convicted criminal, was the right-hand man and confidant of the Minister from the day lie became responsible for the administration of the external territories. I am not attempting to speak for the Opposition on this matter because there may be some difference of opinion - I do not know - but I speak for myself when I say that the Minister is under some obligation to explain to the Parliament how he name to have the relationship that he did with a man whom the Prime Minister has described as a convicted criminal. Those wre not my words. They were used by Hie Leader of the Government.
The appointment of the former member for Cook, Mr. J. S. Garden, to a position in a Commonwealth department has been the subject of question after question in this House. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has raised the matter repeatedly. I myself have not raised it, because of certain action which I tried to take on the day after I was sworn in as a member of this chamber. It appears that the suspicions which many members of the Opposition entertained have been borne out, and we are entitled to know how one of Hi? Majesty’s Ministers came to have employed very close to him a man who was attached, I believe, to another department. I placed certain questions on the notice-paper to-day in reference to this matter. Apparently, this man had the greatest possible freedom of access to the affairs of the Department of External Territories, in which he was not employed, and he was evidently a close collaborator of the Minister. The Prime Minister cannot get away from it as he has tried tu do. He cannot simply say, “ Those are the words of a convicted criminal “, and, ut the same time, state that the man who was the close associate of this convicted criminal and responsible for the appointment of this convicted criminal, shall go scot free. What the position of the Minister is, I do not know. I hope that in the interests of good government in this country it will turn out to be all right, but at present, like Jupiter’s wife, he is under a cloud, and until such time as the cloud lifts off Olympus, the Minister should not take his place among the gods.
.- I was not in the chamber when the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) first spoke on this matter. 1 entered the chamber to hear the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) use the expression “ larrikin lawyer “. I note that he used the words under parliamentary privilege. In my opinion, something should be said on this matter. In the’ case, the King against Garden in which the Minister for External Territories (Mr. Ward) was a witness and in which he was cross-examined-
– The Minister was a witness for the Crown.
– That is so. The crossexamination of the Minister was conducted by Mr. Isaacs, to whom the Prime Minister quite obviously referred, because he could not have been referring to anybody else at the time. I say that Mr. Isaacs conducted that cross-examination not only with skill, but also with dignity and decency.
– And with filth.
– If it were conducted with filth, then the filth was there. That is my answer to the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard). I repeat that Mr. Isaacs conducted the crossexamination with dignity and decency, and it ill becomes the Prime Minister to talk about larrikin lawyers.
There is one other observation which I want “to make. The Prime Minister is retaining the Minister for External Territories in office. Like the honorable member for Barker, I make no charges against the Minister. That matter has not been decided. The verdict of the jury in the case, the King against Garden did not and by its own nature could not dispose of any other matter which was alleged. The judge told the jury so. I hope that, for the sake of the honour of this Parliament and of the Minister, it will be proved that there is nothing in those allegations; but the Minister is still retained in office although grave allegations, some of which were actual disclosures of facts and some of which were mere allegations, have not been disposed of and proved one way or the other. The fact is that Mr. J. S. Garden, who is now a convicted criminal, who is serving a gaol term as a forger, and who admitted taking bribes, was employed not in the Department of External Territories but in some mysterious office in another department as liaison officer with the trade unions. Yet he was permitted by the Minister to. exercise authority in the Department of External Territories! Surely that is a matter which requires an answer. It should be explained. “What was Garden doing there? Why was he signing letters and using ministerial note-paper?
– There was no suggestion that he was exercising any .official authority.
– Tfe was. T have read the evidence in this case, This man was exercising authority and negotiating with the Minister’s consent in the Bulolo matter.
– That is not true.
– Is the Minister “game” to go into the witness-box and deny that statement before a royal com; mission, where the whole of the case could be raised?
– I am not afraid of any inquiry. This matter will be fully thrashed out before it is closed, but while proceedings are pending my hands are somewhat tied.
– -The case, in which most serious allegations were made, has concluded, and this Parliament and the people of Australia have the right to expect the whole matter to be cleared up. It can only be cleared up by a royal commission. I hope that the honorable gentleman is innocent, but until his innocence ha* been established he should not exercise his ministerial duties. Garden’s conduct either was known to the Minister, ot should have been known to him, because of the relations which existed between them. Those are not mere idle allegations, but facts which have been established.
– Order ! The field of the debate is becoming too wide. A case is to be tried in the courts in the near future, and honorable members know that any matter which h sub judice should not be discussed in this chamber. Whilst honorable members are entitled to discuss matters such as that raised by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) as to the propriety or otherwise of a Minister continuing in office, they are not entitled to discuss details of pending litigation or to express opinions on it.
– I do not understand your ruling-
– Order ! The honorable member must abide by my ruling or resume his seat.
– Mr. Chairman-
– The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) will resume his seat.
– I rise to order. 1 understand that discussion of a point, of order must take precedence over any other matter. I point out that in the first place the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) referred to details of a case which was recently tried in the courts.
– Order ! I . have allowed the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) to refer to that matter because it was raised by the Prime Minister, and for that reason I considered that the honorable member was entitled to do so. However, he has since referred to Garden and to the conduct of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Ward) in relation to Garden, and I consider that in doing so the honorable member is exceeding the bounds of debate on a supply motion. Reflections made upon Garden in this chamber may have some influence upon the trial which is about to take place. I therefore direct the honorable member for Parramatta to confine himself within the bounds of my ruling or to take no further part in the debate.
– I am obliged to abide by your ruling, which, however, I do not understand.
– Order ! The honorable member must not make comments of that kind. If he does not understand the ruling of the Chair it is because of his intelligence and not because of my interpretation of the Standing Orders.
– There is not only J. S. Garden. In the course of the case which was tried recently, it was alleged that the Minister for External Territories had certain relations with a man named Urquhart. That trial has been concluded, and statements made during its course do not affect the forthcoming trial.
– Order ! The honorable member is discussing something which is irrelevant to the debate.
– Urquhart’s matter has nothing to do with the case which is to be decided next month, so that I cannot understand how it can be regarded as sub judice. The basis of the contention that the Minister should not exercise his authority until he has been cleared by an investigation is that a great many allegations of a serious nature were made against him in the course of the proceedings which have now concluded. I have detailed some of them, and I was about to mention the Minister’s relations with a man named Urquhart. I do not intend to say any more in regard to that aspect of the matter because my practice, unlike that of the Prime Minister, is not to make unwarranted attacks upon people outside the Parliament. Nevertheless, the Minister has obviously a case to answer in respect of his relations with the man Urquhart. The Prime Minister stated that he had read (ho reports of the proceedings in the recent trial of Garden, and had come tothe conclusion that there was nothing for his colleague to answer. I can only say that the Prime Minister must be blind. I have read the addresses of both counsel and the summing-up of the trial judge, and it is obvious that the Minister for External Territories has a great deal to answer. The allegations made against him are of the gravest possible nature, and the people of Australia are seriously concerned about them. Something should be done to vindicate the honour of the Minister as well as the honour of the Parliament.
– More to vindicate your stinking politics than anything else.
– I did not mention this matter until the Prime Minister referred to a member of my profession who conducted a difficult case very fairly. If the right honorable gentleman cannot realize that the Minister has something to explain, then all I can say is that his standards are very different from those of most of us. The attitude which has been traditionally adopted in these matters is that enunciated by Edmund Burke, who declared that where any suspicion of wrongdoing exists against any person holding public office it is his duty, even though such suspicion should subsequently prove to be ill-founded, to cease to exercise office and the duty of the Government to institute an immediate inquiry. Although the Prime Minister stated that he had read the proceedings of the recent trial I cannot understand his assertion that the Minister’s administration has been vindicated. Many of the allegations made at the trial fairly cry to the high heavens for investigation, and the Minister should certainly not continue to discharge his office until he is cleared by a proper inquiry.
.- 1 exhort the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) to take some action in this matter, and 1 base my appeal on non-personal grounds. I think that the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has done the Parliament a service by raising this> matter, and plenty of support for his contention is to be found in the precedents of the Parliament. I point out that some time before any suggestion of scandal whatever arose I asked questions in this chamber concerning the activities of Mr. Garden, and his occupancy of rooms in the Commonwealth Minister’s suite in Sydney. I asked a specific question of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway), who, in the course of his reply, went to pains to extoll Garden and spoke of his great usefulness to the Government. However, the Prime Minister to-day referred to Garden as a convicted criminal, and as one of whom we should not take the slightest notice. I think that some explanation is required of the obvious contradiction in the views of Ministers concerning Garden.
The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) and I have referred to the administration of New Guinea by the Minister for External Territories (Mr. Ward) on a number of accasions during the past twelve months. At that time we did not know of any scandal, but we directed our questions to the inadequacy of the Government’s policy, the maladministration which was occurring in connexion with the lack of commodities and supplies, the failure to develop the territory and the unbalanced policy in regard to the natives. We pointed out several times the adverse affects of that policy upon the natives themselves, and the unrest which had occurred in the public servants in the territory. Yesterday I read a telegram from the Public Service Association of Papua and New Guinea, a copy of which was sent to the Prime Minister a week ago, asking him to conduct an inquiry into the causes of their members’ unrest. When I asked the right honorable gentleman whether he had received the telegram he evaded my question and said that he would inquire whether it had been received. However, he was quite definite in refusing to recommend the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into affairs in New Guinea, and he would not agree to the appointment of a select committee of the Parliament. I repeat that when I asked questions concerning the maladministration of New Guinea I knew nothing of the alleged timber concessions, nor did the honorable member for Richmond.
However, in view of what has transpired since, I consider that a proper inquiry should be instituted. For one thing, I point out that the Government has never reconstituted the system of selfgovernment in New Guinea which was established by a non-Labour government before the war. The territory W administered from Canberra by the Minister for External Territories and hi,officials and that is quite wrong. However, even if the Prime Minister did not consider that the unrest in New Guinea before the recent allegations were made was sufficiently serious to warrant, an inquiry, I cannot understand how he can overlook the comments of the trial judge in the recent case. The judge specifically criticized the ethics involved in an outsider, who was on the pay-roll of another department, being given access to departmental files and records. If the Primp Minister cannot realize the grave injustice to democracy entailed in such a procedure, then he should himself resign from office because he is not fit to be Unpolitical head of this great Dominion. 1 can only conclude that the right honorable gentleman does not realize thi- -eriousness of the allegations mad’against the Minister and the necessity for suspending him and instituting an inquiry to dispose of the allegations madeagainst him. I support the motion of the honorable member for Barker and appeal to the Prime Minister to reconsider his decision.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended ; resolution adopted.
Resolution of Ways and Means founded on resolution of Supply reported and adopted.
That Mr. Chifley and Mr. Dedman do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Chifley, and read a first time.
f 12.4”). - I move -
That the bill bc now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to secure an appropriation of £74,728,000, so that the necessary normal services of government may be carried out during the first four months of the financial year, 1948-49. The provisions may be summarized under the following heads: -
It has been the custom to base the provision in Supply upon the a mounts appropriated by Parliament in the Estimates of the previous year. A variation of this procedure has, however, been found necessary in the present bill to allow for the continued payment of substantial marginal and other salary increases granted under Arbitration Court a wards since the Estimates of the current financial year were approved. With this exception, the bill provides only for the estimated requirements to carry on the essential services on the basis of the Appropriation Act already approved by t he Parliament for the present financial year. It is estimated that, after excluding special appropriations, the total expenditure on defence and post-war charges will be £38,000,000. Provision is made in this amount for expenditure in connexion with t he post-war defence plan and repatriation and other charges arising out of the recent war. An amount of £9,000,000 is included in the bill under advance to the Treasurer to continue special grants to the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania pending the report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, and to cover unforeseen and miscellaneous expenditure. In past years, expenditure on Commonwealth works has also been met from this provision pending approval by the Parliament of the annual Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Act. With the expanding Commonwealth works programme, which totals £32,000,000 for the current year, it has not been possible to continue this procedure without inflating unduly the provision under advance to the Treasurer. It is, therefore, proposed to submit to the Parliament a separate Works and Buildings Supply Bill which will provide for expenditure on works in progress at the 30th June next for the same period of four months. Except as previously indicated, no provision has been made in this bill for any new expenditure, and there is no departure from existing policy.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.
Messages recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s messages) :
Motions (by Mr. Dedman) proposed -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenuebe inside for the purpose of a bill for an act to provide retirement benefits for members of the permanent defence forces of the Commonwealth, and for other purposes.
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of amendments to bo moved by the Minister for Defence in a bill for an act to provide retirement benefits for members of the permanent defence forces of the Commonwealth, and for other purposes.
.- The Minister has used the words “ amendments to be moved by the Minister for Defence “. In my opinion the motion should not refer merely to amendments to be moved by the Minister, because other amendments may be moved by honorable members opposite or members ofthe Opposition.
– The honorable member should know that the words used by the Minister follow the requirements of the Constitution.
Questions resolved in the affirmative.
Resolutions reported and - by leave - adopted.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 2nd June (vide page 1582).
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 - (1.) In this act, unless the contrary intention appears - “ initial engagement “ means an engagement as a member which did not commence immediately upon the termination of a prior engagement as a member and includes the period of any subsequent engagement which is continuous with the initial engagement; “ rank “ in relation to a member of the Permanent Naval Forces, means confirmed rank and, in relation to a member of the Permanent Military Forces or Permanent Air Force, means substantive rank;
– I move -
That, in the definition of “ initial engagement “, the words “and includes the period of any subsequent engagement which is continuous with the initial engagement “ be left out.
Sub-clause 3 of clause 23 reads -
A member (not being an officer) serving under an initial engagement for a period of less than six years, shall not contribute to the fund.
The definition of initial engagement in the bill reads - “ initial engagement “ means an engagement as a member which did not commence immediately upon the termination of a prior engagement as a member and includes the period of any subsequent engagement which is continuous with the initial engagement.
The purpose of the words which it is now proposed to delete was to ensure that members of the interim army who are technically members of the Permanent Military Forces and are serving under a second term of two years would not be entitled to become contributors while serving under interim force engagements. On further examination, however, it was found that these words would have the effect of extending eligibility to contribute to members whose initial and subsequent engagements aggregate not less than six years. As this effect would defeat the purpose of subclause 3 of clause 23, it is proposed that the words in question be deleted.
Amendment agreed to.
.- I move -
That the following words be added to the definition of “rank”: - “, temporary rank or acting rank, whichever is the highest “.
The pensions which the Government now proposes will be granted in respect of a confirmed rank for a naval officer and in respect of what is called a substantive rank for members of the Army or Air Force. The whole purpose of the bill may be circumvented if the amendment [ propose is not agreed to, because officers in the Army and particularly in the Air Force are frequently given what is classed as temporary rank. They may hold the temporary rank for years and may never revert to their substantive rank. Officers may be given what is called acting rank. That was a common practice in the Army and the Air Force in not only our services but also the British services. Recently, I read a letter written to the London Times by Field Marshal Bird wood complaining about the practice of classifying a man, say, as a brigadier, in which capacity he would hold a command and bear all the responsibility and expenses associated with that rank, and following a change of command obliging him to revert to his substantive rank. Under the measure, such an officer who is retired, owing to illness or for some other reason, would be paid benefit at the rate applying to the lower rank. There is a big disparity between substantive rank and acting rank. As the Minister knows, numbers of wing commanders who commanded squadrons and bore all the responsibility associated with such commands during the recent war had only the substantive rank of flying officer. Many of those men who have entered the Permanent Forces have been obliged to do so at their lower rank, which is equivalent to that of lieutenant. A man may be known as a lieutenant-colonel but have a substantive rank of captain. Many permanent officers at present in the Staff Corps who chose the Army as a career, having graduated from Duntroon and gained distinction in the field, are classed as majors or lieutenant-colonels, but, in fact, have a substantive rank many steps lower. I am referring not to extreme cases but to general instances. Therefore, the schedule setting out the pensions payable on retirement in respect of certain ranks goes by the board, because pension will be payable in respect of the substantive rank. In other words, an officer who may he serving as colonel reverts, upon retirement, to major or captain. Likewise, an air vice-marshal may revert to group captain or wing commander and pension will be paid at the rate applicable to the lower rank. As no other reference is made in the bill to this point, I believe that the Minister will accept, the amendment.
– The Government cannot accept the amendment. The definition of the word “ rank “ was considered and concurred with by the service boards. The details of the measure were fully discussed with those boards. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) contends that should an officer upon retirement hold a rank higher than his confirmed rank, pension should be payable at the rate applicable to the higher rank. The honorable member overlooks the fact that the individual’s contributions are made at the rate applicable to the lower rank. However, apart altogether from that aspect, the point he has raised cannot appropriately be dealt with under this measure. Any general complaint chat officers are not being fairly promoted to ranks in respect of which they act and carry all responsibility can best be dealt with under the Defence Act; or the honorable member, himself, can raise the matter in the House, on the ground that too many officers are holding acting rank and are being denied promotion to substantive higher rank. What the honorable member alleges to be an anomaly, or an injustice - I do not admit that any injustice exists - cannot be rectified under this measure.
Mr. ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) I 12.20]. - I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), and more so because the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman), in his attempt to reply to the honorable member, said that the bill had been approved by the services. It is not for the services to make the laws of this country : it is for the Parliament to make them. That is about the weakest submission that the Minister had made since the 9th! February, 1944, when- he said that there was enough wheat in the country to last three years without another grain being grown. The question of rank is interesting. The point made by the honorable member for Balaclava is perfectly pertinent. Look at some of the big figures in the world to-day. Consider the person known as Glubb Pasha, who is with some brand of Arab forces in Palestine.
– He is with the ArabLegion.
– At any rate, bis substantive rank in the British Army was reported in the press recently to be that of a captain, but he is a temporary brigadier, and apparently he draws the pay and allowance of a brigadier. I knew men in our own forces in the war whose substantive rank was that of lieutenant and their temporary rank was that of colonel, five steps up the scale. There is need to clear up some of the anomalies as between the services. As I understand the position, a man given acting rank in the Navy is paid according to that acting rank, but a man given acting rank in the Army is not paid in accordance with that acting rank, although a man given temporary rank in the Army is paid in accordance with that temporary rank. My grievance with this bill is that in accordance with clause 38 and, I think, clause 50 and the various schedules, a man is supposed to be paid a pension according to the number of units of pension that he has taken out. His right’ to take -out units depends on his daily pay. I want to know whether that daily pay means the daily pay that he actually receives or the daily pay for the substantive rank that he holds. If it means the daily pay for the substantive rank that he holds, we get the ridiculousposition of a man who may have the substantive rank of lieutenant in the permanent forces drawing the pay of ;i colonel and contributing for pension in accordance with the pay for a lieutenant and being retired on that basis. That i.= wrong. All the services should be instructed that no man shall receive a second temporary step in rank until the previous temporary step has been confirmed. That would remove one anomaly. The Minister’s explanation is not satisfactory. He has not done anything. during his term to remove the anomalies that undoubtedly exist and about which the honorable member for Balaclava rightly complains.
– I cannot accept the statement of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman). I am astonished that one who claims to have a mind receptive to proposals should be such a die-hard conservative. He tries to justify the provisions of the bill by saying that the service authorities to whom he referred the measure as it stands did not recommend what I recommend, but I challenge him to ask the service authorities whether they would agree to my proposal. I venture to say that they would accept it with both hands. His attitude is that because the services themselves did not make the proposal, the proposal cannot be any good. But as the Minister responsible for co-ordination of the armed forces he should not take that attitude. I agree with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron ) that officers should not be kept too long in acting or temporary ranks. The reason why they are promoted to temporary and acting ranks instead of substantive ranks is that it is the policy of the Government not to give them their full entitlement. If the service chiefs were asked whether they would approve of bigger establishments, they would unanimously say, “Yes”. That is not the policy of the Government, however. Its policy is for picturesque uniforms and an attenuated air force as a -means of defence.
– Were there not acting ranks when the honorable member was Minister for Air?
– I was never Minister for Air, or Minister for Defence either. There were acting ranks and temporary ranks when the parties now in opposition were in power, but had I been the responsible Minister I would have adjusted the anomalies years ago. The Minister’s sneering style is typical of him. Instead of taking refuge in the fact that an anomaly existed in years gone by, he should set about improving conditions. The Minister says that this matter should be raised on another occasion, but we shall not have another chance of raising it for a long time. If there were a bigger defence establishment, temporary and acting ranks would not be so necessary. In the present circumstances many a bright young officer is chosen to do an important job and given a temporary or acting rank, probably for years, to fma bie him to do that job. While doing it hp is paid according to his temporary or acting rank, hut when his service ends and he goes into retirement, he reverts to his substantive i n uk and is pensioned in accordance with l he rate for that rank, whereas, in justice, having become accustomed to the better conditions resulting from his higher pay in an acting or temporary rank, he should receive a pension equal to that received by former officers whose substantive rank was equivalent to that iti which they temporarily served. It is time that the Labour party awoke to its responsibilities. A Labour man once said that Australia was in the vanguard in social legislation at one time but was now in the award’s van. If there is anything farther back than the guard’s van. t,hf Minister is in it. Will the Minister undertake to submit my proposal to th, service authorities?
– He will not give any undertaking. ifr. WHITE. - No. The Labour caucus has accepted the bill and the Government has the numbers to pass it. So what does the Minister care? The rights of the people do not concern him. He should at least ask theheads of the Navy, Army and Air Force whether they agree with my proposal. I am prepared to abide by their answer.
.- No need exists for the bill to be amended in the way proposed by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) because clause 87 empowers the Governor-General to make regulations providing for the application of the legislation in the event of a change in the conditions of service. Under that provision a regulation that would have the effect sought by the amendment could be made.
– I do not think that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) need feel distressed that his amendment has not been accepted by the Minister for Defence (,Mr. Dedman) and will, therefore, never become law, because, from time to time, we have seen the Minister reject proposals made from this side of the chamber and, n few months later, introduce those very proposals himself. The Minister’s mind i.- not immediately receptive, but eventually the idea penetrates.
– Order! I ask the honorable member to deal with the amendment.
– The Minister’s refusal to accept the amendment augurs well for its incorporation in legislation later. The amendment provides for the recognition of the claims of those who, largely because of meritorious service, have advanced from their substantive rank to higher temporary rank, such as from captain to major or perhaps lientenantcolonel. Frequently, officers hold temporary rank for many years. As the measure now stands, I am not sure whether superannuation contributions by officers are based on substantive rank or temporary rank.
– Substantive rank.
– The higher rank.
– Obviously there is some confusion on this point. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) believes that contributions are on the basis of temporary rank, but the Minister assures us that they are on the basis of substantive rank. This is a. matter that should be clarified. The House obviously has not a clear conception of the intention of the measure.
– I am endeavouring to give honorable members a clear conception.
– I accept the Minister’s statement. This is the first time that the position has been put clearly in the House. I suggest that the Minister should ask his advisers to examine the amendment with a view to permitting officers holding temporary rank to contribute the extra units necessary to enable them to qualify for a higher pension. After all, the officers themselves will contribute a substantial portion of the pension. I understand that the Government’s contribution will be approximately 60 per cent.
– No. I dealt with that aspect yesterday. The Government’s contribution will be substantially in excess of 60 per cent.
– At any rate, the Government’s contribution will be substantial, and properly so; but the contribution by the officers themselves will not be inconsiderable. Again I urge that the matter be re-examined, and that the Minister seek the opinion of his advisers on it. He claims that the services committee has fully endorsed the proposal as it stands; but were any officers holding temporary rank members of that committee? Were all the members permanent officers enjoying the full benefits of their substantive rank? That of course would make some difference in the approach of individual members of the committee to this problem. Alternatively, how many officers holding temporary rank were consulted, by the committee? Were any such officers consulted? Have they been given a chance to put their views?
– No, but the Minister for Defence has had experience of both substantive and temporary rank.
– We are to assume, therefore, that he is a complete dictator. He is not prepared to listen to the opinions of officers holding temporary rank just because he, himself, at some time or other, has had experience of these things.
– That is a complete distortion.
– I am merely taking the Minister’s own statement.
– Order ! The discussion is too disorderly. I ask the honorable member for Richmond to confine his remarks to the amendment.
– I was confining my remarks to the amendment, but the Minister informed me by way of interjection that he had had certain experience. I hope that a little more consideration will be given to this important aspect of the proposal than the Minister appears at the moment to be willing to give to it.
– I support the amendment. I am glad that at least one Government supporter, the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan), is sufficiently interested Iri the proposals to endeavour to point out to honorable members a portion of the bill in which he believes the provision nought by the amendment of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) can be made. The passage to which the honorable member refers is in sub-clause 2 of clause S7, which provides -
The Governor-General may make regulations providing for -
the application of this Act in the event of change in the conditions of service ;
That surely relates to the policy of the services with respect to such matters as pay, promotion, &c, and not to the point at issue. This provision, whereby a member of the services is bound to accept the rate of pension applicable to his substantive rank rather than that applicable to bis temporary rank must be a great deterrent to the younger men. Many young men advance rapidly in the services, and soon are .acting in a higher capacity. They will be penalized by this provision. I agree with the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) that the clause should be re-submitted to the services committee for further examination. The amendment is intelligent, and I am sure its acceptance would be welcomed by all members of the services.
– In clause 4 there are more than two pages of definitions, but they do not include a definition of the term “contribution “. “ Contributor “ is defined as meaning a member who is or has been contributing to the fund under this legislation. If it were made clear that contributions were to be based on substantive rank, everybody would know where he stood, but at present the Government has one interpretation of the provision, and the Opposition has another. If the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) believes that the measure should express clearly the intention of the Government, there should be no difficulty in clearing up this point simply by inserting in clause 4, before the definition of “ contributor “, a definition of “contribution”, indicating that it shall be based upon substantive rank. There would not then be any doubt about the matter.
I have one further observation to make in connexion with this : clause. Ft deals with the relationship between the definition of “ retiring age for the rank held “. and that of “ rank “. We are informed that- “ rank “, in relation to a member of the Permanent Naval Forces, means confirmed rank and, in relation to a member of the Permanent Military Forces or Permanent Air Force, means substantive rank;
Then, “ retiring age for rank held “ if determined as meaning - . . the age for compulsory retirement of a member of the rank, branch and group of the member as prescribed at the dat, of the commencement of this Act -
That is already prescribed in certain aciwhich are named. The retiring ages for members of the forces are laid down. 1 should like to know whether the retiring age is to be determined according to substantive or temporary rank, because tinlower the rank the earlier the age bt which a member retires. For instance, a member holding the temporary rank of lieutenant-general may have only the substantive rank of brigadier or perhaps colonel. Many similar cases may bt found in the Army list. I endeavoured to get the latest list last night, but, unfortunately, none has been issued since 1940. T could cite instances of Army officers who held the substantive rank of lieutenantcolonel or colonel but who held the rank of lieutenant-general before they were confirmed in any general rank. That has been the practice in the Permanent Forces for years past. When considering the question of retiring age, does the Minister propose to hold that an officer should be retired on his substantive or his temporary rank? The longer an officer remains in the service the better the chance of his getting an upward lift to his confirmed rank and, consequently, a better pension. The Government treat*, the members of the armed forces, particularly those of the Permanent Forces, in a very mean way. A member of the forces is expected to devote his life, his energy and his intellect to the carrying out of a certain job in the defence of his country and deserves better treatment. The system of temporary rank is abhorrent to me. It should be approved only in respect of one step. Many men were “ turned out to-grass “ during the depression and, naturally, there is a feeling-of uncertainty amongst the members of the Permanent Forces as to their future. The earlier they are called upon to retire the smaller will be their pension. If honorable members will turn to the schedule to the bill they will find that an officer holding the substantive rank of vice-admiral, rear-admiral, lieutenantgeneral or air marshal is to be entitled to a pension of £845 per annum ; but if such an officer merely holds temporary rank in those categories he will be entitled to a pension of only £650 a year, or, in other words, £195 less. Further, if his retirement date is fixed according to his temporary rank he would be retired at a younger age. On account of the referendum campaign, I have not had the time to devote to the bill, which I would have had if the Parliament had been sitting continuously.
– The honorable member worked during the referendum campaign to good purpose.
– That is so. One-half of the “No” majority in South Australia was in my electorate.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to return to the bill.
– I have not departed from it except in respect of things which are of the utmost importance.
– Order ! The honorable member will return to the bill.
– These are matters which should have been submitted to a select committee of this Parliament. I scout the suggestion made a little while ago by the Minister for Defence that the members of the services are satisfied with this proposal. It is not u matter of the services being satisfied; the Parliament should be satisfied that the services are getting a fair deal under it. We have all sorts of people in the services. They are a mixed lot. Perhaps no greater gang of mixed wethers was ever got together than wa’s recruited by the services during war-time. I am. not impressed in the slightest way by the assertion of the Minister that some top men in the services have looked into this proposal and have expressed satisfaction with it..
– The “chair-borne” troops.
– I thank the honorable member for his very appropriate interjection.
Mi-. Dedman. - Was not that the sort of job the honorable member himself did during the war?
– It was on that occasion, and it was a job into which I fitted very well, as indeed does the Minister fit into his department, except that I did what I liked and gave what advice I thought desirable, whereas the honorable gentleman merely accepts advice. Certain vital principles inherent in this bill must be considered from the viewpoint of the men who are to serve in our armed forces. The principles are not clearly expressed in the bill as it has been drafted. The more I look at it, the more loopholes do I see in it, and the more unsatisfactory features I detect in it the more convinced am I that the bill should have been submitted to a select committee of this Parliament and that those in the services responsible for drafting it ought to have been brought before the select committee to justify their proposals. When such a committee reported back to the Parliament it would be in a position to give a much better decision than could possibly be given hy a committee of the whole House. That raises an important question, which I am sure you, Mr. Chairman, will permit ma to discuss, namely the effect of an enlarged Parliament upon our future deliberations in committee. With more than 120 members considering a bill of this description in committee we shall have a Gilbertian situation. When the Parliament is enlarged only certain bills of a very limited character will be suitable for submission to a committee of the whole House. That is a matter upon which I do not wish to digress further at this moment, though I can assure honorable members that I shall have plenty to say about it at a later date. All these questions should be properly considered from the viewpoint of their effect upon the serving members of the forces. The first matter to which further consideration should he given is the scale of retiring ages. As drafted, the bill does not specifically provide whether a member of the forces is to be retired at the age appropriate to his substantive or his temporary rank.
Sitting suspended from 12.^8 to 2.15 p.m.
.- The amendment of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) is intended to make the pension rates appropriate to the temporary or acting ranks held by members of the forces, and not to their substantive ranks. I understood, from what the Minister said, that the contributions to be levied on members of the forces were to be on the basis of their substantive rank, and not in respect of any temporary rank which they held. I find it hard to reconcile that statement with the first and second schedules to the bill. The first schedule specifies the number of units for which a member shall contribute, calculated on his daily rate of pay. According to that schedule, if a member of the forces was receiving pay in respect of his acting rank he would be called upon to contribute for a larger number of units than he would if the calculations were on the basis of his substantive rank.
The second schedule specifies the rates of contribution to be paid fortnightly by members of the forces, according to the number of units to which they are entitled. lt would appear that the rates of contribution’s are to be in respect of any temporary rank which a member of the forces may be holding, and not in respect of his substantive rank. I should be glad if the Minister would clear up that point, because of its effect on the amendment of the honorable member for Balaclava.
– I understand that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) wishes to provide that pensions shall be paid on the basis of the acting or temporary rank held by a member of the forces. The bill provides that they shall be paid on the basis of substantive rank. I presume the honorable member will agree that if pensions were payable on the basis of acting or temporary ranks, the contributions also would have to be calculated on that basis.
– Of course!
– The bill provides quite clearly that contributions are to be calculated on the basis of substantive rank. Honorable members opposite have suggested that some provisions in the bill indicate that the contributions are in respect of acting rank, according to a member’s daily rate of pay. Subclauses 1 and 2 of clause 2S make it clear that a member’s contributions are to be based on his substantive rank.
– But they do not say thai.
– I maintain that they do. If the amendment were agreed to an officer of low. rank who was about to be retired might be promoted to an acting or temporary rank a week or so before that event in order that he might obtain a higher pension.
– But no responsible officer would be a party to that!
– But that could happen, if the amendment were .adopted. Moreover, its effect would be the reverse in relation to contributions; because 1 believe it is agreed that: if pensions wenpayable on the basis of acting rank, contributions also would have to be made on that basis. An officer who had held an acting or temporary rank for a considerable time, and had paid the higher contributions appropriate to that rank, might be reverted to his substantive rank before his retirement. The bill provides that pension shall be payable on the basis of substantive rank upon retirement. Consequently such an officer would have been making contributions at a much higher rate than was necessary for a period of his service. This explanation must prove to honorable members how ridiculous is the idea .of the amendment, and where it would lead if adopted. I hope that the position i3 now clearer to the honorable member for Balaclava. Sub-clauses 1 and 2 are conditioned by the definition of “rank”. Thus it is clear under the bill that contributions are to be based on substantive rank. I suggest that the amendment is out of order in any event, because it would increase the amount of the appropriation.
– The explanation which the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) has just given is the strongest point in favour of the amendment of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) because a member of the forces may ha.ve served for a considerable time in an acting or a temporary rank.
– I ask for a ruling as to whether or not the amendment is in order.
– The amendment involves an increase of the amount of the appropriation and must, therefore, be ruled out of order.
– Cannot the Minister overcome the difficulty by bringing the amendment within the scope of the special appropriation? It is extraordinary that objection should he raised to the amendment only after a lengthy debate.
The CHAIR.MAN. - It was not clear to the Chair whether an increase of the amount of the appropriation would be involved. The Minister in charge of the bill has made the point that the amendment would increase the amount of the appropriation. Accordingly, I have to rule the amendment out of order.
– With respect, sir, if you were not clear as to the effect of the amendment you should have ascertained the facts.
– I rise to order. We have not yet come to the appropriation clause, and therefore any decision taken by the committee before that clause is passed cannot have the effect of increasing the appropriation. Clause 35 reads - (1.) Payments by the Commonwealth to the Fund for the purposes of this Act shall be made from the Consolidated Revenue Fund which is hereby appropriated accordingly. (2.) The payments shall be made in such manner and at such periods as are -prescribed.
Obviously^ those payments must be made in such amounts as the committee decides in respect of those clauses of the bill with which it deals prior to the consideration of clause 35. Once clause 35 is passed we cannot, I admit, make amendments which would increase the amount of the appropriation, unless a further message recommending that the appropriation be increased has been received, but until that clause is passed, the ruling should be that any amendment is in order which has to do with the amount of the payments to be made.
– There is no substance in the honorable member’s point of order. The Minister for Defence ha? circulated an amendment which, if agreed to, will increase the amount of the appropriation, and he brought in a special message to cover that increase.
.- In order that the matter may be discussed further, I move -
That consideration of the definition nt “ rank “ be postponed.
I move this as an instruction to the Government to make provision for a larger appropriation. The Minister stated that clause 28 provided that, a member’s pension shall be based on the pay appropriate to his substantive rank, but when the honorable gentleman searched the clause for a reference to substantive rank he could not find it, and that proves the point which I set out to make.
– We are now considering clause 4. It is permissible to postpone consideration not of part of a clause, but only of a clause itself.
– Then I move-
That the clause be postponed.
– I am afraid that the honorable member is still out of order. The committee having already agreed to an amendment to the clause, it cannot now be postponed.
– I agreed not to move my amendment until after the amendment of the Minister had been considered.
– The honorable member was not entitled to move his amendment prior to an amendment to an earlier part of the clause of which notice had been given. The procedure is that an amendment to an earlier part of a clause shall be considered before an amendment to a later part. I asked the honorable gentleman to state the part of the clause to which his proposed amendment applied, and he said that it was in line 4S. As notice had been given of ac amendment in line 15, he was not at thai time entitled to move his amendment.
– Seeing that you, Mr Chairman, advised me to defer the moving of my amendment, I claim that fct only way in which the matter can now be put right is to accept an amendment to postpone the clause.
– 1 have already ruled that proposal out of order.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 (Appointment of deputies).
.- This clause provides that, in the case of the illness or absence of any member of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board, the Treasurer may appoint a deputy to act in his place. I suggest chat it would be better if the authority which first appointed the member were allowed to appoint his deputy, too, when necessary. The board is to consist of the Commonwealth Actuary, a representative of the Treasury, and representatives of ibc Navy, the Army and the Air Force. Surely, if the representative of one of the armed services is absent, it is only right that his deputy should be nominated by the authority which appointed the original member. I can see no reason why the Treasury should have the power to appoint a deputy.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 7 to 12 agreed to.
Clause 13 (Cost of management).
Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) 2. 32].’ - This is another appropriation clause which provides that the cost of administration of the act shall be paid for out of moneys appropriated from time io time by the. Parliament for this purpose. I ask whether, in the appropriation message which has been brought down, these appropriations are limited, or can they be increased from time to time by ministerial action without reference to the Parliament? We have been told that this committee cannot increase the amount of the appropriation, but under the clause we are now considering it would appear thai: the Minister will be able to increase i lie amount of the appropriation at his own pleasure. It is time some order was introduced into these matters. If members of the Opposition are to be prevented from moving amendments to give effect to their wishes, the Government should not ask us for blank cheques which can Inter be filled in for any amount.
Claude agreed to.
Clauses 14 to 27 agreed to.
Clause 28 (Scale of units).
.- This clause prescribes the manner in which contributions shall be assessed. Subclause 2 (c) provides that the amount of 5s. shall be added to the other amounts which make up the daily pay of a member, and the number of units for which the member contributes is determined by his daily rate of pay. I want to find out what the 5s. represents. Why is it included? The reason for fixing thai amount is not evident from the terms of the clause.
– The daily rate of pay which is referred to in this clause is laid down in the post-war pay code. To this rate is to be added 5s. a day for services provided in kind; that is to say, for rations, quarters and clothing. The rate of 5s. has application to all ranks, whether married or single, and has been accepted by the three services as a reasonable figure which will be readily applicable to pay rates. In the Navy there will be certain other allowances, such as badge pay and good conduct pay.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 29 (Reduction in contributions).
– This is a rather peculiar clause. It provides that, if a contributor to the scheme is reduced in pay, which means reduced in rank in the service, he shall be entitled to fewer units. As the clause stands, it may happen that a man may contribute for a certain number of units for eighteen years and then, as sometimes happens in the forces, he may get into bother and be reduced in rank. In that event, will he receive, upon retirement, a pension based on the smaller number of units or on the greater number of unit? for which he has contributed ? From the viewpoint of the man who is to receive the pension, this is a vital point.
Mr. DEDMAN (Corio - Minister for Defence, Minister for Post-war Reconstruction and Minister in charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Re clear to the honorable member. It is designed to provide that a member shall not be called upon to pay contributions on a scale higher than is necessitated by his daily rate of pay.Without this clause, if an officer were reduced in rank he would continue to pay contributions at the rate applicable to the former higher rank. A member’s contributions have no relationship to his pension benefit on retirement, and no benefitwill accrue to a member by contributing for a higher number of units than is necessary, except in the case of invalidity.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 30 and 31 agreed to.
Clause 32 (Calculation of contributions by Commonwealth).
– I should like to know exactly what is meant by the mathematically vague statement in this clause. Just what does it mean in pounds, shillings and pence? Will the Minister give an explanation so that the uneducated may have some idea of the meaning of the clause rather than allow the financial commitments of the nation to be smothered up in terms of algebra?
– It is all very well for the honorable member to be critical of the formula, included in the bill. If it were possible to put the matter in simpler form, that would be done. In order to provide for all contingencies, it is sometimes necessary to use a formula which appears to be complex but which, in fact, is necessary to meet the circumstances. This clause sets out the manner in which the Commonwealth shall make payments to the fund. The procedure adopted in the case of the superannuation fund, namely, payment of 60 per cent, of the cost of pensions, is unsuitable for the retirement fund, because of the fact that the age of retirement varies. On the average, because members of the services retire at earlier ages than do members of the Public Service, the Commonwealth will have to pay much more than 60 per cent, of the cost of pensions. Because of the impossibility of forecasting the retirement rates, it is not possible to determine what the average percentage of Commonwealth contribution is likely to be. This difficulty is to.be met by the Commonwealth undertaking to meet the deficiency between the value of benefits payable and the accumulated value of members’own contributions. In the case of a lump sum payment, such as the refund of contributions plus a gratuity, the Commonwealth will meet its liability when the. claim arises. In the case of a claim for pension the Commonwealth will pay the portion of each fortnightly payment of pension which is not provided for by the pensioner’s own contributions.
The formula (A - B)- A X C can be explained as follows : - “ A “ means the total capital cost of the pension; “B” means the money which is available from contributions to meet the cost of pensions. B- A is therefore the proportion of the pension which the contributions will provide. Hence (A - B) -r- A multiplied by “fortnightly pension payable” gives the amount of fortnightly pension which the contributors cannot pay and which must be found by the Commonwealth.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 33 to 41 agreed to.
Clause 42- (2.) In the case of a member who on retirement -
– I move -
That in sub-clause (2.) paragraph (6), the words “ Three hundred and sixty pounds “ bo left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “a sum calculated at the rate of Thirty pounds for each completed year of service for pension “.
This amendment deals with the matter raised by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) during the second - reading debate. It will prevent an anomaly which would have occurred otherwise.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 43 (Non-completion of engagement).
– I move -
That the following proviso be added: - “ Provided that a member who has completed twenty years’ service for pension prior to attaining the retiring age for his rank and retires with the approval of the Service Board shall not be entitled to a refund under this section, but shall be entitled to the same pension as that to which he would have been entitled if the pension had been granted under section forty-one of this Act and if the engagement, which was uncompleted at the date of his retirement, had been an engagement for the completed portion thereof and he had retired on the completion of that engagement.”.
This clause had been inserted to provide for a member who does not complete an engagement. Payment of benefits under clause 42 is conditional upon a member completing his engagements. Cases may arise, however, where a member has completed engagements of, say, twelve years and is permitted, during his subsequent five-years’ engagement, to retire or io take his discharge. He would not lose his entitlement under his earlier completed engagements and. in addition, would be given a refund of his contributions for the period served under his subsequent engagement during which he was discharged or retired. It is, in fact, a protection to the man who already has an entitlement.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 44 to 49 agreed to.
Clause 50 (Service on Reserve).
– This is one of the clauses which requires some explanation. The purpose of the bill, as I understand it, is to provide a pension for officers who cease to be required by any one of the three services. Their retirement is due to certain reasonssuch as the introduction of age limits different from those which applied when they joined the forces or a decision of the services to reduce the number of officers. This clause is extraordinary, and, at first glance, unfair. Unless an officer on retirement, agrees to serve on the reserve maintained by the service of which he was a member, his pension will be affected detrimentally to him. In my view, service on the reserve should not be tied up with an officer’s entitlement to certain financial benefits on his retirement from the service. There may be an official view to the contrary, and I should like the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) to explain the reason for this provision before I make any further remarks upon it.
– This clause provides that if a member, on retirement, is requested to serve on the reserve and does not agree to do so, his rate of pension shall be two and a half times the actuarial equivalent of his contributions. This benefit would be substantially less than the heavily subsidized pension provided in the third and fifth schedules. A person joins the forces on the understanding that at certain periods of his servicehe may be required to serve on the reserve, and the Government is justified in making his pension conditional on his carrying out that obligation.
– If that be the view of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman), it might be better for us to adopt the practice which is followed, I believe, in the United Kingdom forces, whereby men in similar circumstances, go on leave on half pay, or a certain proportion of their full service pay. At any time they are liable to be called up for service. Measured by Australian standards service on the reserve does not entail very much. In my own case, it has not meant anything. If the Government’s concept of service in the future involves the acceptance of certain responsibilities and liabilities by an officer for service on the reserve, those matters should be clearly explained to the Parliament at this juncture, and they should certainly be made known to persons who are enlisting in the forces. I should be most grateful if the Minister would explain to me the nature of the service which the Government contemplates an officer will have to render, and whether persons enlisting in the forces at the present time are notified of this requirement.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 51 (Classification of percentage »f incapacity).
.- This <-la use is most ungenerous. A member of l be forces may develop invalidity, or become incapable of performing his duties, and he may be retired by the order of the Service Board. I believe that such a person, having entered into a contract with the Government, should be entitled on his discharge from the services by order of the board, to the full ‘ rate of pension. Under this clause, he will be classified in mie of three categories, which will determine, according to his capacity for work in civil life, the percentage of his retirement benefits. The Government should be fair. If a man is discharged for some reason not clue to his own personal fault, but by order of the board, he should be entitled to the full pension. I should like the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) to explain the reason for this ungenerous provision.
– The treatment which will be accorded to service personnel under this clause will be more generous than that which has been accorded to them in the past. In the Commonwealth Public Service, an officer is not retired because of invalidity unless the degree of invalidity approximates 100 per cent. In those circumstances the officer is entitled to the full pension for which he has contributed. However, a member of the forces may be retired from the service because of a small physical defect. At present, those members of the permanent forces who contribute to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund, if retired because of invalidity, are eligible for a pension based on the pension contributed for at the age of 60 years, and the degree of invalidity is determined by the Superannuation Board. In the past, this system has led to some dissatisfaction, where the Superannuation Board has assessed the degree of invalidity at a lower rate than that determined by the service itself. To obviate this difficulty, the bill proposes that invalids be classified into three categories, and that equitable benefits be provided for each of them. The bill prescribes what constitutes invalidity and the degree of invalidity, and the matter is not left to the Superannuation Board for determination.
– I have had some personal experience of this matter, because I handled the cases of certain members of the permanent forces not long ago. Under present conditions, men are retired from the permanent forces with degrees of invalidity substantially less than 100 per cent. In fact, they have been retired in war time with degrees of validity of less than 50 per cent. I understood the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) to say that men were not retired unless their degree of invalidity was classified at almost 100 per cent.
– No. That remark related to Commonwealth public servants.
– I ask the Minister whether any degree of invalidity for retirement purposes is now prescribed in the forces.
– No, the degree of invalidity is determined by the service concerned.
– In other words, what some individual in one of the services happens to think for the time being. Undoubtedly, some men have suffered grievous injustices at the hands of the Superannuation Board. In making that statement, I do not criticize the board, because it must carry out the provisions of the law, but the provisions which the Minister has incorporated in this clause will not meet the situation. If a person’s degree of incapacity is assessed at 60 per cent, or over, and “ over “ must include any degree of invalidity between 60 per cent, and 100 per cent., the pension which he is entitled to receive, according to the eighth schedule, is £130 per annum. The person may have contributed to the fund for many years. In one case which I handled, the officer had contributed for 23 years, and the pension which he received was less than this amount. What will be the position of a man who contributes for nearly twenty years, is retired with a 75 per cent, degree of incapacity and who is awarded a pension of £2 10s. a
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 52 and 53 agreed to.
Clause 54 -
Wherea member is retired on the ground of invalidity or physical or mental incapacity to perform his duties and the invalidity or incapacity is, in the opinion of the Board, due to wilful action on his part for the purpose of obtaining pension, he shall be entitled to a refund of his contributions under this act.
Amendment (by Mr. Dedman) agreed to -
That, after the word “shall”, the following words be inserted: - “, subject to the regulations,”.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 55 (Pension on death of married member).
. -Had it not been for a ruling given by the Chairman a little earlier I should have moved to increase from £13 per annum to £52 per annum the pension
.- I support the remarks of the honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons) and ask the Government to reconsider this clause, in order to ascertain whether some more satisfactory provision cannot be made for widows and children of members of the. armed forces. The Government has not been noted for its generosity in dealing with members of the services or their dependants. I recall the debate which occurred in connexion with the inadequate provision made for war widows. Now the Government is dealing with the widows of members of the regular forces, and it is obvious that it should make better provision for them. These proposals are extremely niggardly. All that the child of a member of the services is entitled to is £13 per annum, or 5s. a week, which is less even than the amount of child endowment payable. Widows themselves will receive only half the pension to which their husbands were entitled, and that certainly will not permit them to maintain their homes and rear their children decently. After all, the total amount involved in this proposal is not very great. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) himself estimated that after fifteen years’ operation the Government’s contributions would not amount to more than £2,000,000 a year. When we have regard to the type of men engaged in the regular forces and the services rendered by them it is apparent that the Government does not intend to provide very generously for them.
Paragraph b of sub-clause 1 of this clause provides that an allowance in respect of a member’s children shall cease when they have attained the age of sixteen years. Many widows of members of the forces like their children to attend universities, technical colleges and finishing schools, but this proposal will prevent many of them from doing so because payment of allowance in respect of children will cease at precisely the age when the children will be leaving school. I consider that in gratitude to members of the armed services for what they have done for this country the Government should at least extend the age for payment of allowances in respect of children so as to cover their attendance at universities, colleges and finishing schools.
.- I support the contentions of the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan). I am surprised that the Minister for Defence, who submitted certain amendments to improve the treatment to be extended to members of the armed forces and their dependants, should allow this clause to stand. I am even more surprised in view of what was said yesterday, and of the sympathetic remarks made by the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Riordan). T have already dealt with this clause in my second-reading speech and there is, therefore, very little more that I can say. However, I again draw attention to the sum of £13 a year that is proposed to be paid in respect of each child. How can any one clothe, feed and educate a child on £13 a year? Experience tells us that the permanent members of the defence forces who are likely to be killed in the course of their service in peace-time are not the major-generals and the admirals but the junior officers of the Royal Australian Air Force. The annual pension payable to a flight lieutenant in the Royal Australian Air Force if £275 a year. If he be killed in the execution of his duties, which are hazardous at all times, his wife becomes entitled to half that amount, or approximately £140 a year, plus £13 a year for each child. Young men are being asked to engage in a regularly hazardous occupation, but if they are killed their dependants are to be offered a sum of slightly under £3 a week. That is a disgraceful proposal, and I should like to hear what the Minister has to say in justification of it. Honorable members opposite frequently indulge in “ sob stories “ about the inadequacies of pensions and relate how the wives and children of men killed in the course of civilian occupation have nothing on which to live. Let some of those philanthropists rise and attempt to justify this grossly inadequate provision for the dependants of members of the defence forces of this country.
.- As the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) does not appear to be willing to discuss this matter, I desire to -test the feelin” of the committee. I move -
That the clause he postponed.
My intention is that, if the amendment he agreed to, it will be an indication to >he Minister that the appropriation should bbe increased to provide for the payment of larger allowances for the children of widows.
Mr. ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker)
I 3.8 J. - The proposal contained in this clause is not one that is likely to be acceptable to married men with young families, and it should not be acceptable 10 this committee. I support the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons) and I -hall be happy, if necessary, to press it to h division.
– What this clause does is to provide for the payment to the widow of a member of the permanent forces, who dies during service, the same rate of pension as would be payable under . the Superannuation Act to the widow of an employee of the Commonwealth Public Service in receipt of an equivalent rate of pay. The rates of pension payable under the Superannuation Act to Commonwealth public servants were revised recently. I do not know whether this point was raised then. It is true that a strong case can be made out at any time for increased pensions and invalidity benefits. Although honorable members opposite frequently make out cases for increases of pensions, they continually ask the Government to reduce taxa tion. They cannot have it both ways, l’.n the course of every budget or financial debate in this chamber, members of the Opposition appeal to the Government to reduce taxation. It is hypocritical of them to request decreases in taxation and at the same time to ask for increased pension benefits.
– The answer given by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) is the worst possible one that could be given. The Minister is a member of a government that is being forced to reduce taxation, not by members of the Opposition, but by its own supporters. The whip iscracking over him. Whether he be a poler or a leader, he will go in the direction in which the whip forces him to go. and the whip will crack next week. The honorable gentleman referred to members of the defence forces as being on exactly the same basis as members of the Public Service. The armed forces and thi’ Public Service are never on the same basis. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) referred to young Air Force officers. They will be required to go to places, such as those under construction in the interior of Australia, where all ssorts of dangerous experiments will be conducted. These young men, even in time of peace, will take their lives in their hands every time they get into an aircraft. There can be no comparison between the treatment that should be accorded to the dependants of public servants and to the dependants left by some of these young men who almost inevitably will meet their fate during their service. It is unworthy of the Minister to chide the Opposition because it desires to reduce taxation and at the same time to increase pensions. This Government is spending £405,000,000 of the taxpayers’ money this year. It is ready to pour out free medicine by the millions of gallons and pills by the tens of millions if anybody can be found to handle them, and to pay 12s. a day attendance money to a wharf labourer, whether or not there is work for .him to do ; but at the same time it proposes that the child of a man in the defence forces who is killed in the execution of his duty shall live on 5s. a week. That proposal is utterly unworthy of the Minister and will be repudiated by every branch of the Labour party in Australia. Honorable members opposite claim to speak for the underdog, but, by their actions, they show themselves to be the greatest advocates of monopoly, of special privilege and of grinding the faces of the poor ever to be seen in the Parliament of any democratic British country. If they give with one hand, they take away with the other much more than they have given.’ I have noticed in them a slant away from doing anything that will confer a benefit uponthe defence forces of this country. I do not make that statement willingly, but definite proof of it is afforded by the attitude adopted this afternoon by the Minister. It is an attitude that honorable members opposite should take into consideration.
– I have calculated the rate of pension that will be payable to the widow of a flight-lieutenant who is killed during service. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) quoted a figure of,I think, £3 a week. That is wrong.
– It was the figure quoted by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Chambers) yesterday.
– The pension payable would be £227 10s. a year, plus £13 ayearforeach child.
– That is not equal to the basic wage.
– The figure is not £140 but £227 10s. a year.
– I cannot see how the Minister arrives at that figure.
Question put -
That the clause be postponed (Dame Enid Lyons’s amendment).
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. j. j. Clark.)
Majority . . . . 9
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 56 agreed to.
Clause 57 - (1.) On the death of a male pensioner, pension shall, subject to this section, be paid to his widow as follows: -
– I move -
That, after sub-clause (1.), the following sub-clause be inserted: - “(1a. ) For the purposes of the last precedingsubsection, the pension payable to the widow of a male pensioner during her life shall, in any case where the male pensioner has commuted any portion of his pension, be calculated upon the rate of pension which would have been payable to the male pensioner at the time of his death if no portion had been commuted.”.
Clause 74 provides that, subject to such conditions as are prescribed, a pensioner may apply to the board for the commutation of a proportion of his pension not. exceeding 50 per cent, thereof, and that the board may grant the application subject to such terms and conditions as it thinks fit. It is intended that a pensioner shall not he allowed to commute any portion of the pension which would be payable after his death to his widow and children. For example, if a man commutes £100 of a pension of £360 per annum, and takes a pension of £260 per annum, his widow shall still be entitled to a pension of £180 per annum. Clause 57, as drafted, provides that on the death of a pensioner the pension payable to the widow during her life shall be one-half of the pension payable to her husband at the time of his death. The purpose of the proposed amendment is to ensure that the pension payable to the widow during her life shall not be limited to one-half the’ pension actually payable to her husband at the time of his death if he had commuted any portion of his pension.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 58 to 64 agreed to.
Clause 65 (General provisions as to pensions).
.- This clause provides that pensions in respect of children shall be payable until they attain the age of sixteen years, but I think the Government should be more generous and provides for the payment of pensions until the children reach the age of eighteen years, particularly if they are the children of widows. It is at that age that it is most costly to educate children. Children of widows are entitled to special consideration because, had their fathers lived, doubtless their financial circumstances would have been much better, enabling them to stay longer at school and even attend universities. I do not know why the loss of a father should debar a child from that opportunity. I know that The Minister personally considers that all children with talent should have the opportunity of attending a university. [ hope that he will therefore give favorable consideration to my suggestion.
– The Government cannot accept the suggestion of the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin). This provision is exactly the same as that for public servants under’ the Common: wealth Superannuation Act. Apart from, that, not long ago, the Commonwealth granted a tax concession in respect of children attending colleges or universities up to the age of eighteen years. Living allowances are granted to university students.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 66 to 77 agreed to.
Clause 78 - (5.) If a member elects under this section lo become a contributor for limited benefits under this Act -
– I move -
That, in sub-clause (5.), paragraph (ah after the word “ shall the following words’ be inserted : - “, subject to the regulations,”.
Under this clause the amount of deferred pay standing to the credit of a serving member who elects to become a contributor for limited benefits is to be paid by the Commonwealth to the member on his retirement or to his legal representative on his death. The relevant service regulations governing deferred pay provide for the forfeiture of deferred pay in whole or part in certain circumstances, e.g., in cases of dismissal for misconduct. The purpose of the proposed amendment, which is in accordance with the principle of clause 60 of the bill and of the amendment made to clause 54, is to enable regulations to be made preserving the provisions of the relevant service regulations.
Amendment agreed to. .
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses, 79 to 87 agreed to.
Schedules 1 to 8 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 2nd June (vide page 1596), on motion by Mr. Pollard -
That the bill be now read a second time.
).- The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) spoke after the honorable member for Indi and Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. McEwen) last night and, before I deal with the International Wheat Agreement, I intend to make one or two comments on his speech, particularly because he represents a very large wheat-growing district. He first referred to the international wheat agreement of 1930 and, to chide honorable members on this side, he said that we were in power at that time, whereas, in fact, the Scullin Government took over the administration of this country in October, 1929, and remained in officefor two years and three months until you, Mr. Speaker, and some of your colleagues decided that Australia would be better governed by some other party.
-Order! The honorable member is incorrect. I was not here at that time.
– At any rate, the Scullin Government was in office and the Parliament was the poorer for your absence, no doubt. I am sure that had you been here our party would have been in office a little earlier. The Minister for Works and Housing attacked the honorable member for Indi for having made a speech that was written by some one else-
– I did not.
– I said that the Minister for Works and Housing did, and the honorable gentleman is not the Minister for Works and Housing, and I trust that he never will be, because in his present capacity he suits us very well. It is not fair for members of the Government to attack members of the Opposition on the score of their delivering speeches written by other people. Members of the Government normally read speeches that are carefully prepared for them.
– Not always carefully.
– No. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr.Fadden) has had painful experience in that respect. At any rate, Ministers’ speeches are prepared, and we know the identity of the people who prepare them. The Minister for Works and Housing then went on to talk about the wonderful position in which the wheatfarmers are placed to-day, I. presume because of the exertions of the Government. It is a wonder that the Government does not break its back carrying the great load that it has assumed with regard to primary industries. But the price of wheat rose suddenly without any effort by the Government. It rose before we had to import wheat. I reminded the Minister for Defence and Minister for other odds and ends, Mr. Dedman, earlier to-day of a statement that he made on the 9th February, 1944, when he was so confident of the security of Australia with regard to wheal and other grains that he said that if we did not grow any wheat for two years we should have enough for ourselves and some left to export. Prophets are often put into serious troubles by their prophecies and the Minister found himself a member of a government that imported wheat from the United States of America. At the other end of the continent, in the State from which the Minister for Works and Housing comes, wheat-farmers were being paid 12s. an acre not to grow wheat. Not only wheat, but also barley, maize, and oats were imported to this country. I saw some of the oats sent to the Mount Gambier mill for milling into oatmeal, of which I am particularly fond.
– Do not forget the noxious weeds.
– Yes, I saw the noxious weeds, too. The oats would not have been bought at stock feed prices in most parts of Australia. Last night, the Minister for Works and Housing told us what this Government had done for the wheat-growers, but he studiously avoided mentioning the New Zealand wheat agreement, although reference was made to the sale of wheat to the United Kingdom and India. We find evidence of the true measure of the charity and spirit of human brotherhood of this Government in its wheat dealings. For countries which bore the brunt of the war, such as the United Kingdom, the price of Australian wheat is the famine figure of 17s. a bushel. In the case of India, one of the allied countries in World War II., the price is 18s. 6d. a. bushel. For New Zealand, however, a lose neighbour which suffered none of the depredations of war by invasion f the homeland and bomb damage, the price was very much lower, “‘3. 2d. a bushel, although I undert.and that it has since been varied -lightly. The contract for the sale of wheat to New Zealand remains in fon:e for five years, notwithstanding the International Wheat Agreement, but strangely enough, the contracts with India and i,i.ic I United Kingdom are subject to the International Wheat Agreement. At least, that is my information, but apparently be Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who is now at the table, is not prepared to indicate at this stage whether r not T am correct.
– If the honorable member for Barker read the newspapers he would know that, when the contracts for the sale of wheat to the United Kingdom and India were announced, it was specifically stated that they were subject fo any international wheat agreement that might be made.
– Time after time we hear the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) telling us that »’e are foolish to take any notice of the press, and naming various journals which he declares to be lying rags, prevaricators, and so on. If. is most interesting to hear >ne Minister speaking in this vein, whilst another, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), asks us why we do not read the press reports of his statements. It is high time that there was a Cabinet decision as to whether we should or should not believe what is printed in the press. I am inclined to accept with some reserve statements attributed by the press even to His Majesty’s Ministers of State, because I am not unmindful of the number of occasions on which another senior member of the
Government has declared with great vehemence that he has been sadly misrepresented by the wicked journals of this country.
– I understand that th° honorable member himself had a law 9,111 against the press on one occasion.
– Yes, but that was for libel and not for misrepresentation. The Minister for Works and Housing was extremely critical of the attitude of the Opposition parties to the wheat industry throughout its history, and he extolled the Australian Labour party for what he claims it has done for this industry. He failed to mention, however, that the present position of the. wheat industry is due solely to market movements, and he did not condescend to explain to us his own attitude to the industry when before he joined the Australian Labour party he sought election in certain Western Australian State electorates as an unendorsed Australian Country party candidate. If my information is correct, the word “ unendorsed “ was in very small type, and the other words in large type. But no doubt some people find it necessary to change their views with changing conditions.
– Why did the honorable member for Barker get out of the Australian Country party?
– I am not very far out of it now. It has been reported to me that some of my colleagues think that I should be back in the party. That information is public property. If any of my colleagues hold that view, they have only to say so.
An analysis of the International Wheat Agreement contains 22 articles, and I shall deal with some of them in detail. Article I. is the smallest and probably the most important. When I read the objectives of the International Wheat Agreement, I cannot help being reminded of the objectives of the Australian Labour party which I always keep bandy because I often find them very useful for reference.
– The honorable member might consider joining that party.
– If I did that I should have to associate with the honorable, member for Denison (Dr.
Gaha), and there are some things that I just will not do. Article I. of the agreement states -
The objectives of this agreement are to assure supplies of wheat to importing countries find to assure markets to exporting countries at equitable and stable prices.
That is somewhat reminiscent of the objective of the Australian Labour party rotating to the socialization of the means >f production, distribution and exchange. I have been associated with the wheat industry for a great part of my life, although, I am happy to say, I have not been a licensed wheat-grower for the last five or six years. Notwithstanding what may be said by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and his associates, “i- claimed by those representing the wheat industry, in the long run there can bc no such thing as equilibrium between supply and demand in wheat. There are some things that cannot be controlled by law. Certain factors are not subject to the National Security Regulations, the policy of the Australian Labour party or the dictates of an international wheat conference. T refer to weather and the disease. I have never believed that the international marketing of commodities can be controlled in the way that some people believe to be practicable. My mind goes back to the international Silver Agreement. I remember, too, the International Sugar Agreement, commonly known as the *’ Chadbourne Agreement “, under which the sitmar industry in Java went out of existence. Sugar was being produced in Europe from beet at a fantastically un- economic price, when the world price of s n par. produced in Java and in the West Indies was 1d. per lb. or even less. Wheat is one of the basic foodstuffs of mankind; tint it i« not the only one.
– What about oats?
– Oats :is more important in the country from which the honorable member’s forebears and mine came.
– They did not do too well there apparently.
– The oatgrowers must have done so poorly that the family of the honorable member for Bendigo also decided to get out. They got out much earlier than our people did, so our people must have been better stayers. I do not want to be drawn into an argument in relation to the Jacobites at this stage. On some other occasion I shall be happy to oblige the honorable member for Bendigo. We can then have Claverhouse and Dundee and everything in. The wheat industry is not the most important grain industry iti the United States of America. In thai country the average production of wheal is in excess of 100,000,000 bushels, but the average production of maize is in the region of 3,000,000,000 bushels, and practically none of it is exported. Argentina is also a. big maize producer. This agreement makes no reference to or provision for the impact upon the wheal industry of other grains such as barley, oats, maize, sorghum and linseed, ail of which have an important bearing on tin stock-feed position. It is true that some reference is made in the agreement to additional supplies, but it is important to remember that the agricultural position in the United Kingdom is such thai it is stated in an economic journal published there last year that by importing £1,000 worth of wheat or other grain. United Kingdom producers can produce live-stock worth £2,000. So, taking n long-range view, if the United Kingdom can import grain and convert it into live-stock, and live-stock products, it will be economically sound to do so. I do not see anything in this agreement which leads up to the consummation of an objective such as that. The same remarkapply to other European countries. The latest issue of Broomhill’s Corn Trad<News which I have been able to obtain states that sowings in Europe thi.year are only approximately 50 per cent, of the average sowings in the past. Notwithstanding that, the agreement provides for total fixed sales to three countries for a period of five years of 500,000,000 bushels per annum. The average annual imports of the major importing countries for the five years prior to the war totalled approximately 520,000,000 bushels. The agreement provides for sales of 500,000,000 bushels, notwithstanding the fact that sowings in Europe have been reduced by nearly 50 per cent. We have the interesting proposition that while the agreement provides that certain countries shall contract to purchase at the minimum price the quantities of wheat specified in the schedule, the selling countries are to contract to sell a similar quantity of wheat at the maximum price. The machinery whereby the actual price to be determined is not laid down in the agreement. Certain reports are to be made to the International Wheat Council, but what power that body is to exercise, the Lord only knows. If it does not prove more powerful than the United Nations, or Unrra, and some other international bodies that have been established in the past, it will not amount to much. Apparently no provision has been made for an international wheat market, and no attempt has been made to arrive at a balance between world offerings and purchases. The only construction I can place on Article VII. is that it is the intention of the International Wheat Council to establish an international wheat agency. It has been difficult enough for a monopoly such as a Commonwealth wheat pool to carry out obligations which had formerly been carried out by merchants in Australia. It will be utterly impossible for any international organization to carry out its obligations with the world as its sphere of operations, and with one centre virtually acting as the deciding authority. Furthermore, there seems to be an obligation on the part of the grower countries to sell certain quantities of wheat. How are the two biggest sellers of wheat to be fitted into this agreement? One of the four biggest sellers, not only of wheat but also of maize, barley and linseed, is Argentina. Latterly that country has changed its internal policy in regard to linseed, with disastrous consequences to European and other buyers. Instead of selling raw linseed, Argentina has adopted an economic policy within its own borders which is, perhaps, equalled or excelled only by Russia. The difference between the price at which the farmer in Argentina is compelled to supply his commodity to the Argentine Government, and the price at which that Government sells his commodity, is very considerable. As part of its economic policy the Argentine Government is trying to force all linseed grown in Argentina to be converted into linseed oil and oil cake for export. Ry this means it hopes to control the world market for linseed and thereby to obtain from linseed oil users a very much higher price than they have been accustomed to pay. That position need.watching. Argentina was a party to the international wheat agreement concluded. I think, in 1930 and, if my memory serves me aright, it did not honour many of ite obligations under that instrument. It was due largely to the attitude of Argentina that that agreement broke down. Argentina is not a party to this International Wheat Agreement; it stands outside hoping t<“< break the agreement. What will be the position when the price of wheat falls? Famine prices for wheat were charged by the Argentine Government recently to Belgium, Holland and western European countries. No information has been given to us as to the basis of the recent contract entered into between Belgium and Russia. I questioned the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture on this matter before the recent recess for what I might describe as the referendum retreat from Moscow. According to reliable grain authorities, Belgium had then recently purchased 400,000 tons of wheat from Russia. Belgian purchases for the next wheat year represent only 465,000 tons. What is the position of Belgium in relation to these Russian purchases? If Belgium buys 400,000 tons out of this year’s Russian crop, how will it meet itsobligation to purchase 465,000 tons from the United States of America, Canada and Australia? Practical questions of this kind require straightforward answers from the Government. I do not know what is to happen when the price of wheat falls below the maximum price of twu dollars. The minimum price is to be « dollar and a half for this year and provision has been made for the price to fall by 30 cents yearly. According to the schedule, 1952 will be the final year. The maximum price is now 2 dollars, with a minimum of 1 dollar 10 cents. It can be argued in regard to prices that under the agreement the gap to be bridgedbetween buyer and seller countries will become 10 cents wider each year. Had the agreement been so drawn that the gap would become narrower and the chances of disagreement between buyer and seller would become less as time went on, I could have understood it, but the agreement has been so drawn that I cannot understand the basis on which the price conditions were arrived, at; because it stands to reason that Russia will come into the wheat market sooner or later. That country is really operating in the wheat market now. and, according to the latest reports, a proportion of the shipping passing through the Bosphorus is loaded for the United Kingdom. The latest issue of Com, Trade News which I have seen and to which I have already referred lists 27 ships as sailing for Europe from Argentina. Does the Govern-, ment believe that shipping from Argentina to purchaser countries under this agreement will completely cease on the 31st July? If it does, it ought to join an optimist society or the like, because I cannot conceive Argentina withdrawing from the wheat market. T do not believe that buyer countries will voluntarily, and in accordance with the terms of this agreement, refuse to buy any wheat from Argentina, or claim to have bought to the limit allowable from the United States of America, Canada or Australia. 1 do not deny that the price of wheat is declining. It is reasonable to assume that when European agriculture regains its normal position the price will decline further. Any guarantee given by the Government will react against the taxpayer long before the five years have expired, and the amount involved will be considerable.
Article II. is to me one of the interesting features of the agreement. It seems to me that any country is to be entitled co resell wheat at a profit if it can do so. Certain reports will have to be made to the council, but, in my opinion, they will have no effect. Normal trade conditions will apply. Should there be a price rise, a huyer country which could find a market for wheat it had imported could take advantage of it, and the original seller would thus be prejudiced. I could have understood a prohibition of resale by buyer countries except at the prices at which they had bought. It appears to me that no protection is being given to seller countries.
Paragraph 0 of Article III. is interesting. It reads -
The Council shall prescribe the degree oi tolerance which shall be permitted exporting and importing countries in fulfilling their obligations.
That can means only that the council shall determine the degree to which importing and exporting countries shall not be called upon to fulfil their obligations. Under international law, the power to enforce sanctions must reside’ in some authority if the fulfilment of contractual obligations is to be assured. There is no provision of that kind in this agreement, and apparently any country will be at liberty to break its contract without incurring a penalty. Outside purchases may be more costly, or they may be less costly, but sooner or later they are bound to be cheaper. According to my reading, the first objective of the agreement postulates the belief that hereafter much more wheat will be available in the world than is available to-day, and that wheat will be offered on a market, the nature of which, if this agreement is varied, will be determined by seller countries such as Argentina and Russia, because all other exporting countries, as well as importing countries, for as long as they prefer to be bound, will act within the limits imposed by th<= agreement.
Russia has seldom intruded in the wheat markets since the end of World War I., but only for political reasons. Russian wheat and other grains are now being sold largely for political reasons, and those sales will continue notwithstanding anything that may be done under this agreement. Article IV. relates to the enforcement of rights. How rights are to be enforced, I do not know. A country which finds itself unable to buy the wheat to which it is entitled under the agreement will have the right to appeal to the council. A seller country which cannot sell its wheat at the prices named in the agreement, also will have the right to appeal to the council, which will attempt to rectify the position. Beyond that, I cannot envisage any action which could be taken.
There are some observations that 1 wish to make on the international aspects of the agreement. What will happen in
Australia when the guarantee of our obligations has to be mct? This agreement cannot be carried out effectively unless the Government takes certain action within Australia. The Government is at present licencing the sowing of wheat, and no grower can sow without a licence. During the last couple of years, any grower who applied for a licence received it. But the very continuance of that system shows that the Government expects that it’ will again become necessary to restrict sowings of wheat. What will then be done, we do not know. Probably the responsibility for meeting the situation will not then rest upon the shoulders of the present administration. I have a fair idea of the size and variety of the legacies which it will bequeath to a future government. By no means the least of them will be those associated with the wheat industry in particular, and primary industries in general. Does the Ministry propose to control wheat in Australia by virtue of the power contained in Section 51 of the Constitution relating to external affairs? Hoes it regard this agreement as an obligation into which it has entered pursuant to that provision? Having assumed that obligation constitutionally, does it consider that it has the power to constrain the wheat-growers in regard to their production? As our population increases) it stands to reason that the quantity of wheat required for homeconsumption also must increase. The limit of wheat production in Australia has not yet been reached. The mechanization of the wheat industry, with the use of tractors instead of hor.;es, even the reduction of the amount of labour required-
– The amount of wheat which Australia can produce is limited by the area, of land available.
– Do not I* funny!
– Then why did the Government in which the honorable member was a Minister provide money to remove farmers from marginal wheat areas?
– From marginal areas, yes, and I can justify what was done in that regard ; but within the high rainfall areas of Queensland,
New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia there are still large areas of land which have been untouched for wheat-growing.
– There are hardly any wheat lands which have not yet been touched.
– If tinMinister were to look through the window of the “ Spirit of Progress “ on the journey between Albury and Melbourne he would see hardly one wheat crop in a distance of over 100 miles, although most of the land through which the railway passes enjoys a good rainfall, and the soil is suitable for wheat-growing. If he were to visit the electorates of Gwydir. New England, Calare, Riverina, Hume.EdenMonaro, Macquarie and Darling he could see millions of acres of land upon which wheat could be grown if wheat-growing were a suitable proposition.
– If wheat-growing is 11 0 a. suitable proposition with the export price of wheat at 20s. a bushel, when will it be? The honorable member should noi talk nonsense.
– To listen to the Minister one would think that he was responsible for the price of wheat. If he persists in his statement that the production of wheat in Australia cannot be greatly increased, then it is evident that he does not know the potentialities of Australia. Let him ask the official:of any State Department of Agriculture how many more millions of acres could be devoted to wheat-growing if it were a suitable policy, and he might be surprised at the reply he would receive.
– If the present area de voted to wheat-growing were doubled, there would only be 120,000,000 bushels for export, but production cannot be doubled because there is not enough suitable land for the purpose.
– I have not advocated that production be doubled. It was the Minister who introduced that fed-herring, but it is one that I can cook, and he himself will have to learn to like it before this debate is finished. We shall invite him to be heard when the bill is in committee. We shall also invite him to be heard in his own wheat electorate of Forrest before long - and some of us will be over there, too.
– My electorate is principally a dairying district.
– Some wheat is grown in it - enough, at least, to feed the Minister’s chickens, which will come home to roost in due time. We must consider how this agreement will affect the wheat industry, which has an important future before it. This Government has a responsibility for the wheat industryarising out of certain aspects of Commonwealth policy. One of these is uniform taxation, which makes it impossible for State governments to control their own financial destinies, and that is as true of Western Australia as of any other State. The sources of revenue upon which they formerly relied have been taken from them.
– That is the best thing that ever happened to Western Australia.
– The ( lorn mon wealth has always had the power ro control exports and to enter into trade agreements with other countries. Whether in accordance with this agreement or otherwise, the Australian Government can make a contract for the <ne of wheat upon any terms it sees fit. The Australian wheat-farmer has no option but to comply with Government policy because he cannot export wheat except upon the condition laid down by i he Government from time to time.
The question then arises whether the agreement should be endorsed. My firm belief is that it should not. I have never been in favour of international agreements. I have never been in favour of the League of Nations or the United Nations or any of that kind of nonsense, and I very much doubt whether the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture is in favour of it, either. Not one country which is a party to this agreement has vet ratified it.
– The Canadian Government has done so.
– I have hunted through the records, and can see no indication of it.
– The Canadian Government ratified the agreement without submitting it to the Parliament.
– That is what the Australian Government did in the case of the New Zealand .wheat agreement.
– The Canadian Government is tinder no constitutional obligation to submit the agreement to the Canadian Parliament, any more than the Australian. Government is obliged by the Constitution to submit the agreement to thi.Parliament, but we believe that it is the right thing to do.
– If it iright that this agreement should be submitted to the Parliament, why was noi the New Zealand agreement also submitted ?
-The New Zealand agreement is not now under discussion. “Mr. ARCHIE CAMERON.- The New Zealand agreement must be reported to the International Wheat Council before the 31st July next. That agreement has never been brought before the Parliament, and its exact terms are unknown to honorable members on this side of the House. I am opposed to the International Wheat Agreement, but since the Government is determined to go on with it. there is an unfulfilled obligation on the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to explain to the growers the policy of the Australian Government regarding the internal arrangements for the Australian wheat industry. He did noi attempt to offer such an explanation during his second-reading speech on the bill, nor do I think that he will do so. As with all international agreements, we must either accept this one as it stand.* or reject it altogether. I do not like it. There are too many signatories to it. and too many of them are undependable. They mean nothing in the family of nations. The three selling countries, which are parties to the agreement, can normally be relied upon, but two other important sellers, Argentina and Russia. are not parties to the agreement, although they will be in the market. The Minister has not yet explained what is to happen in regard to Argentina. In the interests of Australia, of the wheat industry and of the individuals engaged in it, this bill should be rejected. But if it is to be passed, the Minister should make a clear and concise statement of the situation that the wheat-growers . must face for the next five years in connexion with the management of their own industry.
.- I n the first place, I compliment the Government, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), and the officers who represented Australia, upon the success of negotiations for the International Wheat Agreement. As the result of my long experience I can speak for the wheat-growers of Australia; I have been a wheat-grower since childhood. We have been fighting for a stabilization plan for the industry as long as I can remember. Now, for the first time in our lives, we can look forward to five years of guaranteed prices, which will never be less than the cost of production. I do not believe that any wheat-grower in Australia would not accept such a plan with both hands if left to himself, but, unfortunately, there has been a great deal of propaganda condemning the scheme. I was astounded last night by the speech of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen). I agree with the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) that that speech had been prepared by men who oppose the plan, not because they are acting in the interests of the growers, but because they represent vested interests. I have heard the honorable member for Indi make some good speeches in this House, hut never before have I known him to read a prepared statement from start to finish as he did last night. Not once did the honorable member take his eyes from the sheets of paper in his hand. That proved conclusively to me that he was not speaking from his heart but was merely acting as a mouth-piece for vested interests. I have never heard the honorable member make a sincere speech on behalf of the wheat-growers. Neither by word nor by deed has he demonstrated any genuine concern for their welfare.
I was amazed by his statements last night, because I know that, if the wheatgrowers of Australia were to vote on the agreement, the Government’s decision would be carried by a majority of 90 per cent, at least, if not 99 per cent. I have met many wheat-growers during the last few weeks in all parts of the Riverina electorate. In the course of my travels during the referendum campaign, I met, only one man who was opposed to the agreement which is the subject of this bill. He was a stranger to me, and I do not know whether or not he is a wheatgrower. However, I do know that many of the men with whom I talked are ardent supporters of the Australian Country party and belong to the Farmers and Settlers Association and the Wheat Growers Federation. Every one of them was pleased to know that the Government had prepared a plan which would enable them to look forward to the five years ahead with confidence. The scheme has the full support and commendation of growers who realize what this Government has done forthem. Listening to the remarks of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), I had great difficulty in deciding whether he favored the plan or opposed it. He clarified his attitude only slightly by his final remark that he would not endorse it. The honorable gentleman painted a very gloomy picture of the prospects for the sale of Australian wheat in other countries. I am not concerned with what happens to other countries. My main concern is the welfare of Australia’s wheat-growers. That is my duty as a member of this Parliament. As the honorable member for Barker said, the responsibility of this Government is to legislate in the interests of all classes in the community, including the wheatgrowers. This Government has accepted this responsibility and given effect to its obligations. We cannot foretell whether other nations will fail to meet their obligations in the future, but we have bitter memories of what has happened in this country in the past.
No market fluctuates so rapidly and over such a wide range as the wheat market. This instability has caused great suffering in Australia, and many honorable members, in common with wheatgrowers, must have sad recollections of such suffering. Let us consider the history of the wheat industry in Australia, not during the last few months, but during the last 25 years. I ask honorable members to recall the crash of 1929 and the early ‘thirties, when a Labour Government tried to establish a guaranteed price for wheat in order to help the growers.
The Labour party, in my opinion, is the only political organization that is sincere in its professions of sympathy not only for the wheat-growers but also for other primary producers. It has proved this sincerity by its actions when in power, instead of relying upon empty words such as I have heard continually from honorable members opposite since I became a member of this Parliament eight years ago. The Scullin Government introduced legislation to fix a price of 4s. a bushel for wheat. That bill was passed by the House of Representatives, but the Senate, in which the Labour party lacked a majority, rejected it. The majority of senators at that time were influenced by the same trend of thought as influences those who condemn the present stabilization plan. What chaos followed the rejection of the Scullin Government’s plan ! Thousands of farmers went broke. Storekeepers in my electorate called a meeting at Cootamundra in order to consider what should be done about the wheat-growers’ debts. At that time, in only one portion of the electorate which I now represent, the farmers owed over £1,000,000 to the storekeepers. The wheat-growers were, not the only people to suffer. Small businessmen in every town “throughout Australia felt the crippling effects of the situation. I attended many meetings in the Riverina electorate in those days, and 1 know that many fine businessmen became bankrupt. Indirectly, responsibility for this state of affairs rested with the members of the Australian Country party in the Senate, who brought about the defeat of the Scullin Government’s plan for the wheat industry. I offer no apologies for making that accusation. Thousands of farmers lost their properties, hundreds of storekeepers lost their businesses, and chaos and unemployment existed throughout this fair land. That was the beginning of the great depression.
Let us recall later events. In 1940, when I was elected to this House, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) was Minister for Commerce. In order to discredit the statement made last night by the honorable member for Indi that this Government must hear the blame for the restriction of wheat acreages in Australia, I shall quote a statement which the right honorable gentleman made in that year. According to my memory, the honorable member for Indi was a Minister at that time, as was also the honorable member for Barker, though I cannot recall whether he then belonged to the United Australia party or the Australian Country party. The assertion of the honorable member for Indi that this Government compelled farmers to reduce areas under wheat production is definitely untrue. That restriction was introduced by the Government in which the right honorable member for Cowper was Minister for Commerce. At the conclusion of the conference of Premiers, held in Canberra in November, 1940, the right honorable gentleman announced his Government’s plan for the stabilization of the wheat industry. He said -
The plan is as follows: -
There will be a guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. per bushel f.o.b. ports, bagged wheat. All costs of receiving, handling, railage, storage, and placing on board will be found, out of this price.
I am pleased to say that that price never came, into operation. That was the miserably inadequate payment offered to the growers by honorable members opposite who now shed crocodile tears over the good plan which this Government will put into operation for the next five years ! A price of 3s. lOd. a bushel, from which all expenses were deducted, would have provided the growers with a final .return of only about 2s. lOd. a bushel. That happened when the enemy was at our doorstep and we were fighting for our existence. I want to make perfectly clear to honorable members and to the wheatgrowers of Australia the details of the plan proposed by the right honorable member for Cowper when he was Minister for Commerce eight years ago. It contained this provision -
I emphasize the words “ will be shared equally”. If the price of wheat rose to 10s. a bushel, the government of the day proposed to take 5s. of it into the fund. The present Government proposes to take only 2s. 2d. into the fund irrespective of the high prices which wheat might realize. But honorable members opposite urge the wheat-growers to distrust the International Wheat Agreement. They claim that the Government and its supporters are the enemies of the farmers. The truth is that members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party have been the enemies of the wheat-growers in the past, and will continue to be their enemies in the future.
The speech which the honorable member for Indi made last night received widespread publicity in the press and over the radio. He told the farmers that the Labour Government intended to rob them of their profits. I know who robbed the farmer in the past, and I shall prove it later in my speech. At every opportunity, honorable members opposite have kept the man on the land down, and even now, they would do everything possible to keep him down. Those facts are on record. To-day, I am pleased to he able to say that wheat-growers are in a happy position as a result of the beneficial legislation introduced by the Labour Government. The plan which the right honorable member for Cowper devised in 1940 also provided -
Those words are plain. The farmers would have been obliged to obtain a licence to grow wheat. Last night, the honorable member for Indi blamed the Labour Government for the introduction of the licensing system. The plan also contained these provisions -
The application for a licence will contain an undertaking to adhere to conditions, of which the following will be the principal: -
The licensee will sow the acreage authorized from year to year by the Government; in deciding this acreage, the Commonwealth Government will have regard to the maximum marketed crop on which the guarantee will operate, viz., 140,000,000 bushels.
If the wheat harvest had exceeded 140,000.000 bushels, the farmers would have been thrown to the wolves. Under rhe plan devised by the right honorable member for Cowper, they did not know what price they would receive. Other details of the plan were -
The right honorable member for Cowper was responsible for the dictatorial proposal to restrict reserves of hay. What happened a few years later ? In a period of drought, because of the lack of fodder reserves, we had the greatest difficulty in keeping our stock alive. Yet honorable members opposite have the audacity to blame the Labour Government for this situation. These are not suppositions but facts. When I listen to some of the speeches by honorable members opposite, I realize the depths of hypocrisy to which they descend in order to mislead the primary producers. Often this misrepresentation of the position is hard to take. If a man speaks the truth,I admire him. My philosophy is that if a man takes me down once, let there be shame on him ; if he takes me down twice, then let the shame be onme for giving him the opportunity to do so.
My knowledge of conditions in the wheat-growing industry has been gained from bitter experience. I am not speaking with my tongue in my cheek. I have suffered hardships, as have thousands of other Australian wheat-growers, many of whom, I regret, did not recover from the years of low prices under anti-Labour governments. To-day, many of them are carrying their swags as the result of the bad legislation and mistakes of previous governments. The right honorable member for Cowper’s plan in 1940 also provided -
That plan would have been put into operation, had the wheat-growers of Australia not realized that the anti-Labour government of the day was not in sympathy with them. At that time, we were fighting hard to secure for each wheat-grower 4s. a bushel for the first 3,000 bushels grown. I recall lie great meetings which were held in the wheat-growing districts throughout Australia, when farmers actually begged for this right, and their appeals fell on deaf ears. Surely they were not asking for anything to which they were not entitled. They did not advocate a guaranteed price for the whole of their crop. They sought only to protect the interests of the smaller growers, and give them an opportunity to pay 20s. in the £.1. Their appeals were refused point-blank by the anti-Labour government of the day, yet honorable members opposite now assert that the Labour ‘ Government is not giving primary producers a fair deal. I am pleased that I have been associated with this Government during the last eight years, and to know that during that period the position of the primary producers, particularly the wheat-growers, has substantially improved. My greatest difficulty to-day is to obtain motor cars, tractors and utility trucks for nearly every fanner in my electorate. Eight years ago, fanners could not even pay for the registration of their motor cars. T was in that plight, and I made no apologies for having put my vehicle up on blocks.
Wheat-growers, while receiving low prices for their grain, were not able to sell all of it. They received as little as ls. and ls. 3d. a bushel for their wheat. The anti-Labour government of the clay appointed a committee to investigate the cost of growing wheat, ft reported that wheat could not be produced economically for less than 3s. 6d. a bushel. The anti-Labour government took no notice of the report, and farmers received ls. 5d. a bushel for their wheat in No. 1 Pool at the outbreak of World War II. Those facts expose the insincerity of honorable members opposite who criticize the International Wheat Agreement. I emphasize that Australian farmers will receive not less than 6s. 3d. a bushel for their wheat during the next five years, and they may receive as much as 12s. 6d. a bushel for all their wheat provided the market holds firm. It is gratifying to know that farmers cannot receive less than 6s. 3d. a bushel - a price which they have never obtained before. Yet honorable gentlemen opposite claim that it Lnot a just price. This week, the High Court of Australia upheld the Commonwealth’s right to acquire the 1945-46 wheat crop at the values which it prescribed. I am most gratified that the decision of the Court was in the Commonwealth’s favour. .Some of the persons who were responsible for the appeal were formerly members of this Parliament, and even Ministers, but they did not utter one word of protest when the price of wheat was ls. 5d. or ls. 6d. a bushel. They took it lying down, and they will do so again. They appealed to the High Court only for the purpose of making political propaganda. Members of the Farmers and Settlers Association in my electorate have assured me of that, and I make the statement believing it to be true. Those responsible appealed to the High Court, not primarily because they hoped to ob tain an increased price for the 1945-46 season’s wheat, but because they desired to make political propaganda for the general election next year. I have no doubt that that is true. Knowing the history and the fight that we have waged for a. stabilization plan, for the wheat industry, I find it difficult to listen calmly to the speeches made by opponents of th, International Wheat Agreement.
I propose to read an extract from a serious statement made by Mr. F. H. Al. Cullen, a member of the Wheat Grower? Federation of Australia, who knows as much about the wheat industry and the problems of the wheat-growers as any other individual. He made this statement on the 16th June, 1947,. which, 1 remind honorable members, was less than twelve months ago -
To those in the wheat industry who haw given much thought and attention to the future permanent stabilization of their industry then? can be little, if any, encouragement in tinpresent uncertain position. Personally I had high hopes last year -that we would have won the third and final round, in our long struggle for the protection of the industry, and by now have seen the implementation of a plan by Federal and State co-operation. Instead we find to-day the growers in an almost complete state of bewilderment over the position which has arisen and a far greater barrier than ever erected by the federation itself to the speedy implementation of a satisfactory plan.
It is almost nine years since I sat in the House of Assembly in Sydney, whilst I listened 10 the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. B. S. B.
Stevens, read to the assembled representatives of the wheat industry, in the presence of all Premiers - the unanimous decisions of the Premiers Conference of that day. With great satisfaction and with a degree of pride in our effective representation, we heard Mr. Stevens inform us of the unanimous agreement of the Premiers that the industry was entitled to a home consumption price of at least 5s. 2d. at ports. There was reason for that satisfaction when it is realized that we had fought for the recognition of that principle for ten years, and also when it is realized that the export price at that time was considerably less than 33. per bushel at ports. By this decision we had won the first round in the industry’s light for stabilization.
Two years later as federal president, I sat in Queen’s Hall, Parliament House, Canberra, with the federal secretary anxiously awaiting the decisions of a Premiers Conference which was discussing wheat stabilization in one chamber, whilst the Federal Cabinet was considering the same question in the Cabinet room. The Assistant Minister for Commerce was the first to advise us of the agreement reached by the Premiers Conference and approved by the Federal Cabinet that a plan should be implemented to commence with the 1041-42 season. The plan agreed upon did not cover the full requirements of the industry, but it gave us the principles for which we had been striving for so long. With satisfaction and relief because we had gained recognition of these principles we accepted the Government’s proposals on behalf of the Australian wheat industry, and with still greater satisfaction and relief we later received the commendation of the federation for the job that had been done. We believed we had won the second round in our progress towards permanent stabilization.
It was recognized that the plan agreed upon was purely a war-time measure, and that the time would come when consideration would have to be given to its reconstruction to meet peace-time conditions if the industry desired its continuance. Despite the many difficulties associated with the prosecution of a total war - lack of man-power for production of primary produce - lack of essential resources, of shipping, &c, the stabilization plan gave general satisfaction to the industry. With all the known imperfections of the varying wartime schemes there has been evident a general desire for its continuance into the post-war period.
This desire was first expressed by the Wheat Growers Federation at a conference with the Minister for Commerce and his departmental officers in Sydney during December, 1944. Again at their conference in August, 1045, the federation agreed that stabilization measures should bc ready for introduction at the conclusion of hostilities and requested the Federal Government in co-operation with the federation to draft the necessary proposals. The Federal Government entrusted the responsibility of recom,mending a basis for such a plan to an inter-departmental committee on which were two practical wheat-growers in Mr. W. S.
Kelly and myself. The fact, however, that we were both at that time serving the Common wealth Government in some official capacity apparently detracted from our value as producer representatives in the eyes of those whose main aim was to destroy the plan we had created. It is on record, however, that thi1 federation met the Minister in Sydney on 10th and 11th December, 1945, at a two-days’ conference and that as a result of the discussions at that conference agreed substantially to the plan as embodied in the legislation late drafted for approval by State, and Federal Parliaments.
In April, 194C, the State conference of the V.W.W.G.A. approved a policy but gave their executive definite authority to negotiate with the Government to obtain the best possible plan and later in the year the executive unanimously agreed not only to accept the di at legislation but to request all members of Parliament to support the legislation. Having agreed at the joint conference with the Minister in December, 1945, to the main provisions oi the Government’s proposals, the federation al its meeting in Perth in April, 194G, adopted a policy entirely opposed to agreement readied previously with the Minister and presented these proposals to the Government at a time when the legislation to implement the Govern ment plan had been drafted and printed foi submission to the various parliaments. In view of this disagreement, therefore, thi’ federation again met the Minister in conference in Sydney on 1st July, 194(i, and mainly because the Minister promised to recommend to Cabinet the appointment of a cost-of-production inquiry committee, agreed by a majority of five organzations to two to support the legislation. Again in November, 1940, by the <same majority the federation agreed to support the Federal and State legislation despite the fact the delegates of two State organizations “ walked out” in protest.
Except in the Federal Parliament and in tinParliaments of Tasmania and Queensland tin- draft legislation as it emanated from tinPremiers Conference has not been passed and it appears to be generally accepted that the Government plan has been defeated. And ye the fact remains that no parliament hae actually refused to pass the legislation, even South Australia having passed the bill with the provision for a ballot of growers. Very well, then, that is the present set-up and the industry must seriously consider where it goes from’ there. At the present time wheat stabilization is in the melting pot and in my humble personal opinion so is the future of the industry itself.
I remind honorable members that the man who made that statement really understands the problems of wheatgrowers, and I repeat that the statement was made less than twelve months ago. In making the statement Mr. Cullen was speaking in all sincerity, and he certainly was. not lending himself to any political party as a propagandist. He went on to state -
Political propaganda, opposition, intimidation have played the major part in confusing the growers and defeating the Government’s proposals. If the plan is lost and a position again arises, creating a set of conditions similar to those experienced during the last depression then I hope not to share in the responsibility of making the industry live again through the chaos of depression and despair. Whilst no Government decisions have yet been made regarding the future of stabilization it is> reasonable to believe that some consideration will be given to this all important question - even if it is only in respect to the marketing of the 1947-48 season’s crop - when the next Agricultural Council and Premiers Conferences are held. In the meantime, however, the State and Federal wheat-growers organizations have further considered the questions and arising from these discussions has come a “ new “ federation plan. When one considers the many and various decisions of the federation over the past two years’ and its actual commitments to the Government one is compelled to wonder how long it will be before it will decide whether they desire stabilization now - or not. One is also compelled to wonder how long any Federal Government, with its knowledge of the everchanging views f the federation can in future regard its decisions with any degree of seriousness. Whatever may have been the faults of the proposals I. assisted in drafting - at least acceptance of those proposals -by the industry and their implementation last year by all parliaments would have removed the fear that so many growers have - including those who were strongest in their opposition to the plan - of the result of the High Court decision in the case at present before it. The recent decisions of the federation are in marked contrast not only to the Victorian policy but also to the’ decisions of the “ famous “ Perth conference on which the opponents’ of the Government plan so strongly pinned their faith. On that occasion, des’pite its previous acceptance of the Government’s proposals, the federation pressed for the elimination of the 1945-40 crop - requested the payment of average export sales, reductions on all sales of stock feed above the normal demands based on 1940, i.e., approximately 10,000,000 bushels and opposed a ballot of growers. To-day the federation policy dedeclares that no plan shall commence until the harvest following the actual acceptance of the plan the payment of average export sales realizations on all stock feed and a compulsory ballot of licensed growers. These alterations are sufficient to make any grower who has closely followed our progress towards a postwar scheme, more than ever concerned over our chances of obtaining a scheme before the transitional powers all terminate. But of equal concern to me is- the knowledge one has, that so many of those who are responsible for this new policy know and admit how little cbn ncp they have of having it implemented. That to me - as a grower myself - is tho. greatest tragedy of the present position.
Mr. Roberton ; the new federal president who has been the most prodigal in his statements on stabilization - and incidentally walked out of the Perth conference, is understood to have told the federation on hisappointment in April as federal president that he would liddle around with the federation with these plans, but in the end they would have to come back to the only effective plan, i.e., his own Roberton quota plan. And M-r. Jones, another of the “walk out” delegates, openly admitted that the wheat stabilization plan was a dead letter and attempted to draw the delegates away from stabilization by concentrating on orderly marketing despite the decisions of his own associations. And even in the Victorian association it has been known that executive members who have advocated support for the federation’s proposals openly admit that the plan will never be implemented.
The facts- contained in the foregoing statements give us a clear idea of the motives actuating many other people who have expressed themselves on this matter. One asks oneself whether those other people are speaking in the interests of the wheat-growers or as the mouthpieces of vested interests, including the great speculators.
I am more than pleased to have this opportunity to congratulate the Government, not only on what it has already achieved for the wheat-growers of this country, but also on the bright future which it has assured for them by its implementation of a five-year plan. Wheat-growers cannot receive less than approximately 6s. 6d., or more than 12s. 6d., a bushel. . I believe that those prices, and the assurance for the future contained in them, will satisfy every reasonable wheat-grower. Certainly I do not think that any wheat-grower ever expected to receive such a price in this generation ; indeed, twelve months ago none of us thought that we would be getting the price which we are at presentreceiving for our wheat. Honorable members opposite have emphasized that it is impossible to foretell the future, particularly as it may affect the price of wheat. Whilst that is perfectly true, the fact remains that we have at last received some concrete assurance for the future. That is something for which we have been fighting for years.
I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to a statement which appeared in the Sydney Daily Telegraph. about three weeks ago. The report stated that a wheat-growers organization in this country had made representations to the Canadian Government urging it not to ratify the International Wheat Agreement. I do not know whether the report is correct or not, but if it is it indicates the lengths to which some of the spokesmen for vested interests will go. I emphasize that that agreement includes a plan of stabilization for which we have been fighting for years. According to this report, the Canadians replied that they proposed to support acceptance of the agreement, and certainly not to protest against it. I should like the Minister to inform the House of the facts in regard to this matter. I understand that the Canadian correspondent said that, unfortunately for the people concerned, information concerning their alleged action was in the possession of the Government. Although the correspondent used the word “ unfortunately “, I consider that it was very fortunate, not only for the Government, but also for the wheat-growers, that the Government received information of the communication. I respect any man who comes out into the open and expresses his views, irrespective of what they may be. However. I consider that the individuals who ave alleged to have sent the message to Canada should be sincere and tell the people the truth, instead of indulging in mis-statements of fact and attempts to mislead the wheat-growers and primary producers of this country. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEvven) said that the primary industries would suffer by reason of this agreement. Did those industries suffer before this Government came into power, or did they not? They did, most decidedly. What price would the oat-growers of Australia be getting for their products to-day if it were not for the foresight of this Government in establishing an oats pool? Early in the season, when the prospects were good, the Government, in its wisdom, guaranteed a price of 3s. 3d. a bushel for oats at country sidings, and later increased it to 3s. Gd. That was an amount that neither I nor any other grower had ever before received for oats as a guarantee. Had a pool not been formed, we should have been selling our products at approximately ls. or ls. 6d. 8 bushel. In a time of glut 1 have sold oats for as little as ls. a bushel. In my opinion, but for the formation of the oatspool, that would have happened again this year. We do not know what oat-growers will receive for their oats when the price is finalized this year, but having regard to the sales that have been made already, it will probably be approximately 6s. or 7s. a bushel. That will be an all-time record price for oats for other than seed, in Australia.
It was said last night that this Government did not have the interests of the primary producers at heart. I contend that it has, and that it has proved that it has by the bounties paid in years of drought and the subsidies paid to primary producers. Prices have been guaranteed for wheat, oats, wool, potatoes, onions, rice, sugar, mutton and lamb and other commodities. When I first entered this Parliament the then Minister for Commerce advised the sheep men of Australia not. to mate their rams with their ewes because there would be no sale for their lambs. That statement is on record. Of what value in the past was the advice of the members of the Opposition parties ‘. It was not worth a cigarette “bumper’”. They are not sincere in their efforts to stabilize the prices of all primary products.
I cannot adequately express my gratitude to. this Government for having concluded this agreement, the negotiations for which went on for many years. For the first time in the history of Australia wheat-growers can plan for five years ahead. They know they will receive a good price for their wheat for the next five years and that that price will not fall below the cost of production in Australia. This Government appointed a committee to ascertain that cost, and upon the committee reporting that it was 6s. 3d. a bushel, the Government immediately increased the home-consumption price from 5s. 2d. to 6s. 3d. a bushel. Although it. was reported on a previous occasion that the cost of production was 3s. 6d. a bushel, an anti-Labour government reduced the home-consumption price to ls. 6d. a bushel - a reduction of 2s. a bushel. That shows the difference in sincerity between the Labour party and the Opposition parties. A Labour government, as a consequence of the findings of the committee inquiring into the cost of production, increased the price immediately by ls. a bushel, but an anti-Labour government reduced the price to ls. 6d., which was practically confiscation. Those are the facts. I leave the wheat-growers and other primary producers of Australia to judge whether their real friends are the members of the Australian Labour party, among whom, as a primary producer, I am pleased to be numbered, or whether they are the representatives of TIle Australian Country party. During the time that the Opposition parties held the reins of government in this Parliament and in the New South Wales Parliament, the position of the farmers reached its lowest point in the history of Australia. Thousands of them were on the dole, and had to go to the farmers’ debt adjustment boards and farmers’ relief boards to a.=k for something on which to live. There is no differ- 1’iice between a man who receives a dole nf 6s. a week and a farmer who goes to the Farmers’ Debt Adjustment Board to ask that an allowance be made to him. If it were not for the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Act and the moratorium legislation passed by the States, thousands of farmers would not be on their land to-day. Their hearts and spirits were almost broken and they were practically bankrupt. Honorable members of this House who live in the towns and represent industrial areas and commercial interests do not realize what this Government has done for the primary producers, but fortunately the great bulk nf the primary producers know and appreciate it. Many of them realize that honorable members opposite are now talking with their tongues in their cheeks, and that the tears they are shedding ro-day are crocodile tears.- The men on r.he land were almost down and out, but now they are prosperous and their overdrafts have been reduced. The greatest proof of prosperity is full employment for all. During the depression there was misery on every hand and semi-starvation in every home, whilst the hospitals were filled with people who were sick with worry because they could not pay their way. The responsibility for that rests upon the supporters of the so-called Australian Country party, who now urge the wheat-growers not to accept this agreement because, as they contend, it is no good and they will not be paid for their wheat by the importing countries. That remains to be seen, but no country wants to repudiate its debts or not to pay its way if it gets the opportunity to do so. I congratulate the Minister and the government representatives at the Washington conference at which this agreement was drawn up. t am pleased to support a. government that has done something for the downtrodden wheat-farmer. It was said last night that the Labour party could claim no credit for the present satisfactory position of the wheat-growers, but 1 think the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) made the position clear. Owing to the foresight of our Prime Minister in keeping Australia on an even keel during the dark hours of the war and since then, we are the envy of the world. That is because we have had determined and capable men at the helm. When we talk to men who have travelled the world and are thankful at having returned to this fair land of the Southern Cross, we realize what great leadership we had during the war years and thereafter. I pay tribute to the late John Curtin, who was faced with the responsibility of taking immediate action to save this country. He rose to the occasion and succeeded, in spite of the limited time available to the Government to save this continent. Today, Australia is a great land of which all of us are proud. The late John Curtin has been succeeded by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), who in my view has achieved a record equal to that achieved by any leader in the troublous times in which we live. Like every other Prime Minister, he has had unpleasant things to do. Labour assumed office in the National Parliament during the greatest war in the world’s history, when enemy submarines entered Sydney Harbour and numbers of our towns were bombed. It has discharged tremendous tasks to the benefit of our people as a whole. Since the cessation of hostilities it has achieved orderly transition from war to peacetime conditions. To-day, not half of 1 per cent, of our people are unemployed, whilst our ex-service personnel are being trained and fully rehabilitated. In the face of those facts no reasonable man can deny that Labour has done a marvellous job. I repeat that much of the credit for that success is due to the Prime Minister. I hope that he will be spared for many years to continue to lead our national Government and that the Australian people as a whole will soon come to recognize his greatness. Before Labour took office hundreds of thousands of our people were unemployed. Although material was being allowed to rot, the workers of this country were looking for jobs. They were deprived of the right to earn an honest living. Our primary producers were crying out for irrigation and power schemes, but they were given the dole. Their paddocks were full of sheep and their silos were full of wheat, but our people had not the wherewithal to purchase the bare necessaries of life. To-day, conditions have changed. A Labour Government is in power in this National Parliament and there is prosperity throughout Australia.
I again compliment the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture upon the magnificent job he has done in bringing about this agreement, which 1 am confident will prove to be the salvation of our wheat-growers. It will guarantee them security for the next five years. Of course, we cannot foresee what may happen in that period. If the atomic bomb is let loose, perhaps, we shall all go together; for the present, however, the welfare of Australia is in good hands. The Government has done a magnificent job. Empty promises mean nothing; only facts count. To-day, we have full employment and every business man to whom I have spoken admits that he is prosperous. Business men in my own electorate have told me that they now have no bad debts on their books, whilst primary producers are in a better position than they have ever been previously. This agreement will guarantee to our wheat-growers prosperity for the next five years.
– We have just listened to a long story from the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Langtry), who, from his point of view, has dealt with the history of the wheat-industry during the last ten, or fifteen, years. I remind him that thiincreases of the prices of primary products, including wheat, which have taken place on the world market during the last few years have not resulted from any action on the part of this Government, and could not have been influenced by action on the part of any other government which might have been in office in this country during that period. They have resulted from conditions existing throughout the world generally. However, this Government has reaped the benefits of those increases, and has claimed that it has been responsible for them. The honorable member for Riverina made several extraordinary statements concerning the wheat measure passed in 1940 when the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) was Minister for Commerce. The honorable member complained about the licensing system, set up under that legislation which provided for the curtailment of production. But what did this Government do when a surplus of wheat was being produced in Australia? It paid a bounty to growers in Western Australia not to grow wheat, and it se badly misjudged the position as a whole that a year later we had a deficiency of 47,000,000 bushels of wheat in this country. Yet, according to the honorable member, this Government is .acting wisely in the interests of the wheat industry and will provide security to the growers. The truth is that the Government has had an extraordinarily lucky break in respect of increases of world prices, and, as the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) pointed out, all of its agreements and plans, international or local, are dependent upon- seasonal conditions. The honorable member for Riverina did not point out that the licensing system, about which he complained, is still in existence. Legislation dealing with the wheat industry provides for the restriction of production. However, because of a world shortage of wheat those restrictions have been lifted for the present but not permanently. Consequently, every ex-serviceman who has gone on the land has no guarantee that he will be permitted to grow the quantity of wheat he may desire to grow in the future or any wheat at all. Therefore, the Government cannot claim credit for having done what the honorable member for Riverina has claimed on its behalf. On the contrary, it has left undone many things which it should have done.
I do not propose to follow the honorable member’s example by giving my story of the dead past. He and his colleagues are continually looking backwards, whereas We on this side of the House are more concerned with the future of the wheat industry and the welfare of the growers. The issue now before us is whether the International Wheat Agreement which was agreed to by the representative of Australia at the Washington conference in March should be ratified. I propose to discuss the agreement and alSO to deal with certain statements that have been made with regard to it during this debate. 1 agree with the statement made by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) that the wheatfarmers of Australia since 1931 have looked forward to an international wheat agreement, and that there have been discussions almost continuously since that lime, with a view to reaching such an agreement. The Minister pointed out that in 1933 an agreement for two years was reached, but when referring to it he made a statement which should, be a very grave warning, indeed, to us in our consideration of the agreement now before the House. The present agreement has been made between three exporting countries and 33 importing countries. The Minister said that the agreement of 1933 had not operated successfully, mainly because of the reviews which were made from time to time at the request of Argentina, and also because that agreement did not oblige importers to accommodate their importations to the quotas allotted to exporters. That was a grave warning. Our experience under the 1933 agreement should have been taken to heart by the officer who represented the Minister at the negotiations at Washington which led up to this agreement.
However, I am afraid that that officer must have forgotten the history of the 1933 international wheat agreement, because we find that this document does not contain one single provision to ensure that the agreement shall be enforced. Admittedly, it provides that the decisions of the International Wheat Council shall be carried out by the contracting parties;, but that is merely a pious affirmation. The agreement says that obligations under it must be carried out ; but no provision is made in respect of penalties or sanctions in order to force importing countries to take the quotas of wheat which they have agreed to accept, or to compel exporting countries to export the quotas allotted to them under the agreement. The Minister went on to say -
The principle of such an agreement has been accepted by all interests concerned.
He was referring to the growers and governments in Australia. He added -
Australia, if satisfied on details, should participate.
But can the people of Australia be satisfied on the details of this agreement? One of my chief points of criticism of the agreement, in addition to those already raised in the debate, is that the Government gave no representation at Washington to the owners of the wheat about which negotiations were proceeding. I believe that the Canadian growers were represented there. I do not know whether their representatives attended the conference as members but they were present in at least a consultative capacity. The Australian wheat-farmers, however, had no representation there at all. This Government, like all socialistic governments, is too prone to take the view that when it acquires wheat it owns the wheat and can do whatever it likes with such wheat, that it can approve international agreements for the sale of wheat on world markets at whatever price it likes, that it can abrogate existing contracts, and that behind the farmers’ backs it can make a secret agreement for the sale of wheat to another government as it did with New Zealand - an agreement which for months and months it denied having made. The sooner the Government and ail other governments of the same political colour realize that they are not the- owners of the primary produce that they acquire in pools for marketing purposes but are trustees acting on behalf of the primary producers the better. It is their duty, as trustees, to do the very best they can for the people for whom they are acting and not to play fast and loose with the products in those pools for political purposes. The wheatgrowers of Australia, in advocating wheat pools and an international wheat agreement, always believed that the government, whatever its political colour, wouldact on their behalf and protect their interests. Australia is a great producer and exporter of primary products and, therefore, it is the duty of the Government to consult the growers on every possible occasion and to be guided by the views that they put forward. It is fundamental to the whole success of primary production and orderly marketing that there must be complete cooperation between the representatives of the Government and the representatives of the growers. In this matter, such cooperation did not exist. Consultations did not take place. The agreement was made in Washington with the wheatfarmers and their representatives completely ignorant of its terms. In many respects, the agreement may be detrimental to the wheat industry. The kind of negotiation that preceded this agreement has not always been practised, even by this Labour Government. I recall that when the negotiations were being carried on between the Government of the United Kingdom, the Government of South Africa, the Government of New Zealand and the Government of Australia for the formation of the Joint Organization for the orderly marketing of the carry-over wools of the Empire clips and the British wool purchase, the wool-growers were consulted. They had their representatives in Great Britain at the time. The then Secretary of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture had intimate consultations with them and was very largely guided by them in the proposals that he made.
– Were the graziers consulted?
– Yes, they were consulted.
– They were not consulted.
– They were consulted by the representatives of the Government in the negotiations for the formation of the Joint Organization. The chief criticism levelled against this agreement ithat it brings into its ambit only three of the exporting countries. That has been plainly pointed out by the honorable member for Indi and the honorable member for Barker, but I point out that from 1934 to 1938 the average annual exports of wheat from Argentina amounted to 122,000,000 bushels. It has been estimated that Argentina will export 150,000,000 bushels from the 1947-4;! crop and that, given a good season, it will export from the next crop about the same quantity. Before 1914, Russia was a very large contributor to the world’s wheat market, but since the revolution of 1917 that country has been a very uncertain factor in the world wheat market and has, as a matter of fact, contributed little to it in the last few years, but as the honorable member for Barker pointed out, Russia, as it mechanises production, may at any time, particularly for political purposes, dump wheat on the world wheat market and upset it to a considerable degree. So, this agreement, which provides for the transfer of 500,000,000 bushels of wheat, from the exporting countries to the importing countries, takes no notice whatever of the very great quantity of wheat produced by those two countries, Argentina and Russia. Another point of weakness in the agreement is that it is not binding on the importing countries. Although paragraph 3 of Article XI. provides that “ each contracting government undertakes to accept as binding all decisions’ of the council under the provisions of this agreement “, no sanctions whatever are provided for. We have seen other international agreements break down. We have seen the League of Nations break down ; we have seen countries that were bound to accept the imposition of sanctions on other countries refuse to do so. Consequently, the graves clanger exists that the 33 importing countries will not take their quotas of wheat from the exporting countries, except when it suits them to do so. So there is great danger that the importing countries will not carry out their undertakings, particularly as there is no restriction whatever on importing countries increasing their own production of wheat. The production of greater quantities of wheat by the importing countries would mean a considerable curtailment of the quantity of wheat that they would otherwise be compelled to import. Another point of weakness is that the agreement contains nothing to prevent importing countries from purchasing wheat from countries outside the agreement on slightly cheaper terms than are provided for in the agreement, and the only benefit that would accrue would be that the importing countries within the agreement would be making a stronger market for the countries outside the agreement that were selling wheat outside the terms on which the wheat compulsorily imported from the exporting, countries was sold. That was one of the points made by the Minister in explaining why the wheat agreement of 1933 broke down. The honorable member for Barker spoke of certain agreements between Belgium and Russia. Let me recall a few of the agreements that have been made by Argentina with countries that come within the ambit of the International Wheat Agreement. Argentina has agreed to supply 44,000,000 bushels of wheat to Brazil. Under the International Wheat Agreement, Brazil’s quota is fixed at 19,000,000 bushels, or less than half of what it is to receive from Argentina. Switzerland is to take 3. 700,000 bushels of wheat annually from Argentina whereas the allocation to Switzerland under the International Wheat Agreement is 7,300,000 bushels. Czechoslovakia, India and Italy also have contracts for the purchase of Argentine wheat, and they, too, are allocated certain quotas under the International Wheat Agreement. It can be seen, therefore, that the failure of Argentina to enter the agreement creates many difficulties.
The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) pointed out that acceptance by Australia of the International Wheat Agreement would mean a loss of at least £12,000,000 or £13,000,000 to this country in the first year on current contracts with India and the United Kingdom. Whilst I agree that this is not a time when we should endeavour to impose harsh contracts upon Great Britain in view of the present economic position of that country, I believe that the wheat farmers of Australia are entitled to some guarantee of security in view of this sacrifice. I am reminded of one of Aesop’s fables : A fisherman caught a small fish which said to him, “ Return me to the sea and you can catch me again when I have grown much larger “. The fisherman replied, “ A present certainty is much better than a larger uncertainty “. The present certainty of the existing contracts with the United Kingdom and India may well be much better for the wheat-farmers- than the uncertainty of the International Wheat Agreement. The agreement provides for a reduction of the price of wheat by 10 cents a bushel each year until 1952. Admittedly, with wheat at its present price, the figures specified in the agreement seem to be satisfactory, or even high, but we must remember that there is no means of forcing importing countries to accept the quotas of wheat allocated to them, and nobody knows to what level the price of other goods will rise in the world’s markets in the next five years. The position, therefore, is that the wheat-farmers are being asked to sell their product at a constantly falling price, whilst prices on the markets on which they buy their requirements may continue to rise. The agreement does not impose any obligations upon the wheat importing countries to reduce the price of their secondary products - in the case of India, primary products, including jute, woolpacks and cornsacks - to Australian buyers. Apparently that did not occur to anybody. Consider these figures : A farm tractor which cost £375 in 193? costs approximately £800 to-day. The price of superphosphate has increased from £3 5s. a ton to £5 18s. a ton and cornsacks from 8s. 6d. to 2Ss. 6d. a dozen. In the light of these increases, I say that the agreement has to be examined most critically to ascertain whether the farmers are being protected. The agreement might be of great benefit to the farmers if it were for a longer period, but in my opinion it will not be of any benefit at all if it operates for only five years; The farmers start off in the initial year with a lass of £12,000,000 or £13,000,000 on contracts already made. A substantial fall in the price of wheat during the next four or five years appears unlikely although I .believe that the acute shortage of this commodity is passing.
– The honorable member does not agree with the honorable member for Barker on that point.
– That is so. The supply of wheat will not he sufficient to meet the demand in the next five years, and for that reason there does not appear to be any danger of a substantial fall of price during that period. There are many reasons for making that statement. First, the population of Europe is increasing despite the suffering and heavy losses of the war period. On the other hand, live-stock figures for Europe have decreased, and that will bring about an increase of the consumption of wheat. The production of rye in Europe has not increased since the end of the war, and although wheat plantings are being extended as rapidly as possible, and the prospects of a larger harvest this year are bright, production will still be a long way below pre-war levels. The position in Asia is even more difficult. There, the demand for wheat is likely to remain very high for two reasons: First, the population of Asia is increasing rapidly - the population of India alone is increasing at the rate of approximately 4,000,000 per annum - and, secondly, there is a shortage of one of the staple foods of the Eastern peoples, namely, rice. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has estimated that world production of rice will not meet the demand before 1952 - In the United States of America, wheat production has been extremely high during the last four seasons, each of which has produced a crop exceeding 1,000,000,000 bushels. The last season was only the fifth occasion on which that has happened in that country. The exportable surplus of the 1947-48 crop is estimated at 500,000,000 bushels, which exceeds the total production of Australia and Argentina. The average pre-war crop in the United States of America was only 716,000,000 bushels. Although there has been a substantial increase of wheat acreage since those days, the greatly increased crops are duc also to the heavier yields resulting from very much better seasons: Therefore, it is doubtful if production in the United States of America will continue indefinitely at the present level. If it should fall while internal consumption remained at the present level, the United States of America would have very little” wheat for export. It seems evident, therefore, that during the next five years the price of wheat will remain high, though probably not so high as at present. The principal ground for criticism of the’ agreement is that it is for five years only, whereas it would probably have benefitted the farmers more, had it been foi ten years. I admit that there i.provision in the agreement for it:renewal, but when supply is rapidly overtaking demand it will be difficult to get a price which. will make up for the immediate losses which farmer, have had imposed upon them. The Government was unwise to enter into thisagreement without consulting the growers, particularly in regard to the duration of the contract. The agreement may be wrecked by the fact that it provides no sanctions against signatories who fail to comply with its terms. It is what would be called in law a naked pact. It cannot be enforced, and in practice, it may not be worth the paper it is written on. However, if it is to be worth anything, it should be for a period of at least ten years.
.- I support the bill, and congratulate the Government upon having introduced it. It is a history-making measure; it is, indeed, a wheat-growers’ dream. It gives to the wheat-grower something which he has been struggling to get for many years. It is difficult to understand why the Opposition has attacked the agreement, especially when one compares the record of thi? Government with that of previous non-Labour governments. During the last federal election campaign, a little yellow pamphlet was circulated bearing this legend - “The Wheat-grower - please look inside and see what the Country party and the Liberal party have done for you “. When one looked inside one found absolutely nothing. During the last five years, members of the Australian Country party and the Liberal party have criticized und voted against almost every measure which the Government has introduced to help the farmers. Their purpose was to frighten the farmers into believing that the Labour Government wished to injure them, to destroy their livelihood, and to take away their freedom. In the past honorable members opposite have spoken much about freedom. The same kind of stupid propaganda has been trotted out in connexion with the present measure, but on this occasion members of the Opposition have become almost hysterical because, I believe, vested interests in the wheat industry realize that the day of the speculator and manipulator will be over when this ‘ bill comes into force. The hysteria was immediately noticeable after the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) told a meeting of wheat-growers at Horsham a few weeks ago that the Government would not again permit the sale of Australia’s export wheat on the open market. I am convinced that honorable members opposite are fighting not for the wheat-growers, but for the wheat merchants. When governments which they supported were in office, thousands of farmers were allowed to go bankrupt. Honorable: members opposite profess friendship for the farmers, but their friendship ,is of the synthetic kind. Under the International Wheat Agreement world prices for wheat will be’ stabilized for a number of years. Every wheat-grower knows quite well that present overseas prices for wheat are famine prices, that they cannot be justified and will not continue. Few growers relish the fact that the hardpressed British people, who impoverished themselves in defence of freedom, are being forced to buy bread made from wheat sold at 17s. a bushel. The growers do not regard that price as fair, particularly having regard, to the fact that, before the war, Great Britain was Australia’s best customer for wheat. Members of the Opposition have declared that the agreement will break down, but their arguments lack consistency. If it is true, as they say, that the prices fixed in the agreement are too low, the importing countries which are parties to the agreement are not likely to do anything; to break it down. Is it suggested, then, that the United States of America and Canada, which pressed for the agreement, and are apparently quite happy about it. will break it down? Do honorable members opposite claim that Argentina and Russia, which have not signed the agreement, are capable of flooding the world’s markets with wheat and, by under-selling the other producing countries, break down the agreement? If so, why have honorable members opposite so consistently fought against the Government’s proposals to stabilize the price of wheat at 6s. 3d. a bushel at Australian ports? On this issue, the Opposition has not been able to clarify its position. It is important to note that, although 33 importing countries have signed the agreement, Great Britain has contracted to buy 180,000,000 bushels a year, or 36 per cent, of the total of 500,000,000 bushels available for purchase. That is most important, because Britain is by far the world’s largest importer of wheat, and in the past has been a dominating factor in making or breaking the market. No honorable member will deny the importance of having Britain’s signature to the agreement, or suggest that its contract will not be honoured. That should not be overlooked. The fundamental factor in any agreement is that it shall be fair to both buyer and seller. The breaking of agreements usually results from unfair and harsh provisions. This agreement is fair to Australian wheat-growers for the one reason that under it prices in the first, four years will be substantially above the cost of production. In the fifth year, the price will approximate to the cost of production. The floor price will be 8s. 6½d. a bushel at ports in the first year, and will be progressively reduced by 10 cents each year up to the fifth year, when it will be a little over 6s. a bushel.
The Opposition has conveniently omitted to tell the wheat-growers that the ceiling price has been fixed at 12s. a bushel at Australian ports for all five years. During my travels recently in connexion with the rents and prices referendum, I met only one man who was opposed to this agreement. When I told him .that Opposition members were dishonest in regard to this proposal, and had not informed the farmers that they were to be entitled to 12s. a bushel over a period of five years, he replied that that was not correct. I assured him that it was, and he again disputed my statement. 1 further emphasized that I was right.
– The honorable member said 6s. a bushel.
– No; I said 12s. a bushel. The agreement clearly states that sales may be made up to the ceiling price. I was asked why such provisions were not published. It is well known that the Labour movement finds difficulty in having the truth printed at any time. My reply was that if he were to read the reports published in Hansard he would learn the truth. I stressed that during the five years prices will range between the maximum and minimum figures. It is wrong, therefore, for Opposition members to continually quote the floor price, without explaining that the growers’ returns could be shillings a bushel higher.
The agreement will ensure to the Australian wheat-growers prosperity for five years. It will therefore make history. I am sure that if the growers believed that the Government was not being firm on the matter, we should receive numerous telegrams urging immediate signing of the agreement. I have not received one such telegram from a constituent although a good deal of wheat is grown in my electorate. I have not left my wheat-growing constituents in any doubt as to my attitude. [ believe that that applies to all the other members on this side of the House. The agreement will take care of 85,000,000 bushels of Australian wheat each year. Home consumption will total approximately 50,000,000 or 60,000,000 bushels a year. “We shall therefore have an assured market at a. payable price for an average crop. Furthermore, we shall be free to sell any additional surplus wheat in any market that may he offering. I believe- that the wheat-growers are not taking honorable members opposite very seriously, because they know that the role of those members in this House is one of destructive criticism. The Opposition has fought every measure introduced by the present Government, whether it has been good or bad. Surely some of those measures have merited their support!
Since I entered this Parliament five years ago I have watched the Opposition play “ political football “ with every measure that has been introduced. The Opposition has no administrative responsibility and can easily gamble with words as to what may happen in the future. It has filled the role of gambler particularly well. Honorable members opposite are spokesmen for interests which have made much money by gambling in foodstuffs. The Government must safeguard the people’s future. To refuse to ratify this agreement would be to gamble with the future of the wheat-growers. We who sit on this side of the House refuse to do that, and intend to support the bill. It is not necessary for us to trace for many years the history of the parties which now compose the Opposition. They were in control of the treasury bench for almost a quarter of a century, and have a- dismal record indeed. During’ that period, every one engaged in primary industry in this country was fighting with his back to the wall.
During my recent campaign in support of a “yes” vote in the rents and prices referendum, I met a man who had journeyed some distance in order to meet me. He told me of his struggles, and said that on many occasions during the last twenty years he had felt like a condemned man waiting for a rope to be placed around his neck; that he had been broken down, under the heavy burden of interest rates and the like, and that the Australian Labour party had been elected to power just in time to prevent, him from experiencing utter failure. He said that he had been lifted out of bondage, and expressed the view that the great primary industries of Australia are to-day in a more flourishing condition than they had been at any time previously in “their history.
Honorable members will be interested in this extract -
The economic security of those engaged in primary production is dependent upon Labour remaining in office, as no party has done more for the farmer than the present Government.
It is amazing the solicitude the LiberalAustralian Country party members have for the farmer when they are not in office and the “electioneering” concern they have for their welfare.
What a contrast between what they actually did for the farmer during the many years they were in office and what they now profess should be done.
Some time ago a leading article appeared in a primary producers’ journal which made the following caustic remarks concerning promised made by the Country and Liberal parties in the past: -
Pre-election promises are worthless; it is actions that count. Therefore it would be preferable for Mr. Fadden to recite what he did for the primary producer when he led a majority in the Federal Parliament rather than give nebulous promises for the future.
And the article went on to say that at all the elections since 1931 these two parties had assured the farmers that they would be able to effect stability in rural industries. “ But “, the statement adds, “ growers know how United Australia party-Country party administration broke this promise and failed to redeem this pledge “.
When journals representing country interests condemn their parliamentary representatives when their party is in office, there must be sound reasons for complaint. Here are a few other criticisms from country newspapers. The Western Australian Wheat-grower, in its issue of the 1st May, 1940, said -
What traitors these federal Country party representatives have proved themselves to the people they claim to represent.
On the 7th February, 1945, the Ouyen and North West Express had this to say -
Over a number of years we have seen what portfolio-seeking politicians have done to the wheat industry. The grower has been used as a “ political football “, especially by men such as Mr. McEwen, M.P., and other Country party members.
That is the honorable gentleman who led the bitter and vicious attack on these proposals last night. The article continued -
The game is on again, and God help the grower if he takes notice of the propaganda being poured out by these men who in the past have sold the industry again and again.
The Albury Border Mail - not too favorably disposed towards me at any time - in its issue of the 1st May, 1940, criticized the Australian Country party, of which the honorable member for Barker was then leader, in these terms -
He (Mr. Cameron) knows all about the raw deal the wheat-farmers have had in the past. For did not his party desert the man on the land?
On the 15th May, 1946, the Producers’ Review of Queensland, issued this warning to farmers -
Farmers will remember the days when dairymen received as low as6d. and 7d. per lb. for butter, and wheat dropped to the world’s lowest level for more than three centuries.
A few days ago the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) at the Australian Country party pre-selection meeting at Wagga, in a bitter attack on the Government, referred to the Government’s attitude towards the dairying industry. I thought it was time I came back and engaged in a little research into the history of the honorable member. 1 found an interesting speech made by him in 1938 when members of the Opposition were seated on this side of the House. It will be a long while before they ever sit. here again. Referring to the plight of the dairy-farmers in Queensland, the honorable gentleman said -
Out of12,275 dairy-farmers in the State of Queensland only 99 have an income of £150 a year.
What an indictment of governments supported by honorable members who sit in opposition to-day! Let us look back to what happened in pre-war years. According to the Melbourne Herald of the 1st August, 1940, the Farmers Debt Adjustment Board contended that 75 per cent, of Victoria’s 13,000 wheat-growers were then facing a financial crisis. In 1939 Mr. Simpson, then State President of the Victorian Country party, declared that 80 per cent, of the Victorian wheatgrowers were bankrupt. Mr. Dunstan. ex-Premier of Victoria, said in March. 1940, that there were 2,000 deserted wheat farms in Victoria. In South Australia between 1,400 and 1,500 farmers passed through the Bankruptcy Court in a few years. In 1936, the Western Australian Minister for Lands said that on the 30th June of that year, there were 2,790 abandoned properties in Western Australia. All of these things happened when Tory governments were in office, yet their representatives in this chamber had the audacity to attack a measure such as this which is designed to give to the wheat-farmer that security for which he has been fighting down through the years. The report of the Rural Bank of New South Wales for 1943 showed that during the previous year the bank had been, in possession of 202 properties, the reason being because the United Australia party- Australian Country party governments had refused to take any action to place primary industries on a sound economic basis. Yet, to-day, the representatives of those parties pose as the saviours of the farmer. Referring to the propaganda disseminated by the Liberal and Australian Country parties in 1945, Mr. Everett, a Victorian representative on the Australian Wheat Board, said -
Certain politician!! have been particularly active lately to try and make the growers believe they are not being justly treated to try and smash your confidence in the Wheat Board. They know they can never persuade me to twist and cog in with their filthy propaganda of inaccuracies.
Criticizing the honorable member for Indi, he added -
Mr. McEwen should be the last man to i’1-iticize those who are endeavouring to secure the best price for growers’ wheat; he should have demonstrated his sincerity when he was ;i member of conservative governments. There was no action from Mr. McEwen until the Menzies Government was practically defeated by the wheat-growers at the 1940 elections. lt was then they brought in their famous wheat stability plan to pay growers a pittance of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. for a limited crop of 140.000,000 Bushels-.
It will be remembered that all costs of receiving, handling, railage, storage and placing on board had to be found out of that price. The honorable member for Barker, an ex-leader of the Australian Country party, and now a member of the Liberal party, declared that in his opinion that price was too high and said that he was not enthusiastic about any wheat stabilization scheme. It cannot be said that the United Australia partyAustralian Country party Government was by any means generous in its payments from No. 1 and No. 2 wheat pools. Faced with the necessity for introducing a wheat acquisition scheme because of the changed conditions brought about by the war, the first Menzies Government introduced a wheat plan late in 1939. When the decision was made to introduce the plan, there were fairly large stocks of old wheat- with grain agents and mills, as well as a quantity in the hands of farmers. That wheat was acquired for the No. 1 pool at 2s. 9.9di a bushel which, when costs were deducted, returned to growers less than 2s. a bushel. The incoming crop was also acquired for the No. 2 pool, the first advance being 2s. lOd. a bushel. Additional payments brought the price to 3s. 6f d. a bushel, but freight and other charges cut the figure to little more than 3s. a bushel. Both the then Prime Minister, the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), and Senator McLeay, as Minister for Commerce, in announcing the extent of the financial assistance to be made available for the wheat acquired, said -
I am now able to announce that we have arranged not only that the amount of the advances shall be increased to 2s. 10id. a bushel for bagged wheat, less rail freight, and 2s. 84d. a bushel for bulk wheat, less rail freight thus giving an average return of 2s. (id. a bushel on bagged wheat at the country siding, but also that the advances shall be paid in one amount as soon as practicable after the delivery of the wheat. 1 earnestly say that these financial proposals represent not only a fair but also a, generousapproach to the problem by the Government.
On the 31st November, 1939, an amendment was proposed to guarantee to the growers a price of 3s. 6d. a bushel f.o.b. on the wheat acquired in the No. 2 pool. When the Labour party attempted to have a vote taken so as to allow the Parliament to give a decision on the amendment, all members of the Australian Country party voted with the United Australia party and prevented the Parliament from expressing its views on the matter. The Sydney Morning Herald is not a Labour newspaper, and it rarely praises anything done by this Labour Government, but at that time it declared -
Gradually it began to dawn on the party that they were “ on the spot “. They realized that they must either support the motion or leave themselves open to the accusation that all their talking for the farmers was mere “ sham fighting”. Members cast round for a way out. They found it by persuading the Government to shelve the debate and breathed a sigh nf relief.
On the 9th April, 1945, the Sydney Morning Herald also stated, in an article on primary production -
The Ministry has got down to work on problems associated with the future of primary production in a way undreamt of after the last war.
That, referred, to the Labour Government. Also speaking on the war-time Labour
Government, a trustee of the Australian
Natives Association declared -
The present Government has done more for the man on the land Ulan any previous government.
Even as late as the 7th April, 194S, the Sydney Morning Herald commended this Government for its wheat stabilization plan. It stated, in a leading article -
After the greatest world-wide food shortage yu record, a gleam of hope comes -from the International Emergency Food Committee, which, for the first time since the end of the war, finds it possible to express “ cautious optimism “ about future prospects. The first reaction must be a sense of relief that the appalling destitution which so much of the world experienced in 1947 should be giving place to better conditions. For Australia, as a food exporter, it also carries the warning that the present sellers’ market appears to bc on the wane, and the criticism being levelled by wheat-growers against the new international wheat agreement appears short-sighted as well as ungenerous.
The article concluded with this declaration - l t is noteworthy that during the Washington negotiations the concessions were made mainly by the purchasing countries, and the two other exporters involved appeared to be well satisfied with the terms. North American growers are stated to be “ more interested in seeing a guaranteed minimum which shows them a profit than in gambling on the continuance of the present boom “. The Australian wheat-farmer also should weigh the long-range benefits carefully before condemning the scheme.
I am convinced that the wheat-farmers of Australia are wholeheartedly behind i he Government’s plan. During the last, few weeks, I travelled through every wheat-producing area in my electorate and met many farmers. As I have already said, not one of them raised his voice in opposition to the Government’s proposals. Only those who represent the manipulators and the speculators condemn the plan. Why are not members of the Opposition honest with the people? They should tell the truth.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– I have shown that the Sydney Morning Herald, on the 7th April last, supported the International Wheat Agreement, and commended it to Australian wheat-growers. Three years ago, this newspaper also praised the manner in which the Australian Labour Government had handled, our major primary industries. This afternoon, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) gave limited commendation to the agreement. The only criticism which ho offered was that the duration of the agreement was not sufficiently long. However, I claim that the agreement will bring to the wheat-growing industry a period of prosperity unparalleled in the life of this country.
I shall now examine briefly the record of achievement of the Australian Labour Government compared with that of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party which occupied the treasury bench for nearly 25 years. The Labour Government took office in 1941 at the most critical period of our history, when this country was threatened with invasion. Despite the necessity to concentrate on the conduct of the war, it did not overlook the needs of primary industries. Before that time, the prices which primary producers received for their commodities were extremely low. For example, pig meats were only 3d. per lb. To-day, the price is approximately lOd. per lb. For nearly ten years until the Labour Government took office, the highest net price paid for butter-fat in New South Wales was about 9£d. per lb. Many promises had been made to dairy-farmers that the price would be increased, but nothing definite was done, and it was left to the Labour Government to place the dairying industry in the most flourishing condition in it? history. To-day, the price of butter-fat is about 2s. 5rd. per lb. What is the position of the wool industry ? The Opposition parties, when they formed the Government of this country in the early stages of World War II., had struck a bad bargain on behalf of wool-growers. The Labour Government, realizing its responsibilities to- a major primary industry on which the credit of the nation depends to a substantial degree, despatched a representative overseas to make a new agreement with the United Kingdom Government, and on his return, he was able to announce to Australia a fatbetter bargain, which placed an additional £10,000,000 in the pockets of woolgrowers. The Labour Government has also protected the wool industry for the next twelve or thirteen years. In 1.941, when, the Labour. Government took office, potato-growers were receiving approximately £2 a ton for their product. To-day, the price is approximately £12 10s. a ton.
– Order! The House is debating the International Wheat Agreement, and is not considering the price of potatoes.
– I was merely showing how the position of primary industries has improved under the administration of the Labour Government. I strongly commend the wheat agreement to the people of Australia.
.- The statement of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) that the Government, by its own actions, has forced up the prices of wool and wheat, is fantastic, and may be dismissed as utter rubbish. Every one knows that the Australian Labour Government does not control the wool industry or the wheat industry throughout the world, although it would like to think that it does. At the moment, the Australian Government is not affiliated with any party in the United States of America which controls the prices of wool and wheat in that country. We all know that the present high prices of wool and wheat are purely accidental and are directly related to conditions which have arisen from the war. They have been caused by shortages and by no other reason. No government can claim credit for them. The honorable member for Hume also spoke of the great enthusiasm that the International Wheat Agreement had aroused in his electorate during the referendum campaign.
– That is why a substantial majority of the people voted against the Government’s referendum proposals.
– That is probably the reason. They confused the referendum proposals with the International Wheat Agreement. Large numbers of growers and growers’ representatives have protested against the agreement.
– The honorable member is the only person who seems to be protesting against it.
– I can produce three or four letters from growers’ representatives protesting against the agreement. The long tirade in which the honorable member for Hume indulged against the administration of previous governments and prices in various years is not really relevant to the International Wheat Agreement, which is the subject now under consideration. Honorable members opposite have concentrated on describing what happened in the wheatgrowing industry five, ten or fifteen years ago. 1’ remind them that the House is considering what is happening now, and what is likely to happen in future, to this great industry. I am glad to say that I was not talking about wheat 35 years ago, and I believe that Australia, which is a young country, should be concerned with what is happening now and what will happen in the future. A few days ago, I asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) whether the United State? of America and any wheat importing countries had ratified the International Wheat Agreement. The honorable gentler man replied that he had not received from the United .States of America any notification regarding its ratification of the agreement, or any information that any wheat importing countries had done so. Obviously, the United States Senate is dubious about ratifying the agreement. From reports received from the United States of America, we learn that the authorities are being besieged by American wheat-growers, who desire to ensure, quite naturally, because they grow the wheat, that they shall get a fair deal. The American authorities are hesitating about ratifying the agreement, and from reports which I have read, 3 believe that grave doubts exist as to whether Congress will accept it.
There have been many sorry attempts during the history of wheat-growing in Australia to achieve an international wheat agreement. The present attempt is by no means novel. Plans have been prepared, and negotiations have proceeded for many years. The last agreement was considered in 1933, and Argentina was a. signatory to the document. However, Argentina, which was one of the major contributors to the scheme, found cause to withdraw from it. Similar difficulties may be experienced with the present agreement. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, in his second-reading speech, emphasized this point. He said -
The agreement of 1033 did not operate successfully, mainly because of reviews required by Argentina–
At that time, Argentina was a party to the agreement. The Minister continued - and the lack of obligation on the part of importers to accommodate their importations to the quotas of exporters.
One of the main difficulties of that agreement was that it did not contain any penalty provision, and the Minister, in the course of his second-reading speech, rightly stressed that fact. Countries, other than, and in addition to, those who were parties to the earlier agreement, are parties to the present agreement, so that there is even more reason for the insertion of a penalty provision in order to compel performance by the parties. Another point of difference between the present agreement and the earlier one is that Argentina, which was a party to the earlier agreement, is not a party to the present one. That country does not now even have to pretend that it will abide by any agreement.
The wheat-growers in various countries including the United States of America, a re aware of the weakness of the scheme because of the lack of a penalty provision to compel performance. Wheat-growers in the United States of America have striven strenuously for a scheme of stabilization, and even now would welcome the introduction of such a scheme, provided that they were assured that its operation would be just and equitable. They believe that the wheat which they grow is their own property and that they should be consulted as to its disposal. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) stressed the fact that in Australia the Government arbitrarily grabs the wheat from the growers and holds it in nominal trusteeship for them.. However, the Government should realize at all times that the wheat which it acquires in that way is not its property but belongs to the wheat-growers. Wheat-growers, like other primary producers, believe that the high prices now obtaining overseas for wheat are dangerous and may decline suddenly. They know, too, that the present highprices are not due to the administration of the Government, but have come about because of the operation of circumstances beyond the control of any government. Much difference of opinion exists as to the period during which the present boom will last. Some experts think the period may be two years, whilst others think it may be longer. However, because of the substantial increase in the population of the world, the greater demand for food and the necessity for repairing the ravages of war, it is evident that the price of wheat will not fall to depression levels for at least a year or so. When disastrous slumps occurred in the past they were due, not so much to over-supply in any one year, as to an accumulation of stocks over successive seasons. On page 659 of the Commonwealth Year Booh No. 29 of 1936, the following statement appears: -
The collapse in the price of wheat which occurred between 1928 and 1931 was chiefly due to the accumulation of stocks in exporting countries.
There is no evidence that a similar accumulation of stocks is occurring in wheat-producing countries at the present time. Given a continuance of favorable seasonal and other conditions, I believe that the price of wheat will continue to be high. However, no one can foretell the future with certainty, and should a slump occur it is obvious that many wheat importing countries would ignore the agreement and would purchase wheat from countries not included in the agreement. In a time of want and depression it may be very difficult indeed for countries with hungry people to resist the temptation to break the agreement by purchasing wheat at prices much lower than they have contracted to pay. The agreementis so elastic in its terms and contains so many loopholes that countries can easily find justification for evading it. As evidence in support of what I am saying, I quote the following provision of the International Wheat Agreement : -
Article V. (Adjustment of Obligations).
Any contracting Government which fears that it may be prevented by circumstances, such as a short crop in the case of an exporting country or such as the necessity to safeguard its balance of payments or monetary reserves in the case of an importing country, from carrying out its obligations and other responsibilities under this Agreement shall report the matter to the Council.
We have only to recall the example set by Russia in the recent past. In distributing its food that country has obviously been guided by political expedients. There is no reason to believe that Russia and other countries will become “ good boys “ almost overnight ; in fact, the indications are all to the contrary. Furthermore, we must remember that inducements will be offered to those countries to sell their wheat at lower prices than those demanded by the countries which are parties to the present agreement. In these circumstances the Australian wheat-grower may find that he is the only primary producer whose produce is compulsorily acquired by the Government, and he will wonder why he hae been favoured with this singular distinction.
Let us examine the possible underlying principles of the agreement. The first is that wheat-growers in Australia and consumers in important countries are to receive a mutual benefit. The second is that the agreement obviously embodies some important element of diplomatic policy. If the agreement is to operate to the mutual advantage of our wheatgrowers and of consuming countries, then it is of paramount importance to the wheat-growers that they should be consulted by the Government and taken into its confidence. However, the agreement is shrouded in mystery, and there is a grave suspicion in the minds of Australian wheat-growers that it will result in another happening similar to the New Zealand wheat deal, with similar disastrous consequences to themselves. If the agreement embodies some important design of foreign policy, then growers should not be penalized in millions of pounds to give effect to that design. If de Government could convince Australian wheat-growers that its proposals embodied certain diplomatic aims which were sound and to the advantage of Australia, wheat-growers would undoubtedly co-operate. Of course, in co-operating with the Government they would expect it to bear its proper share of .any financial burden entailed. Will the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), who is now sitting at the table, indicate on which of the two suppositions I have mentioned .the International Wheat
Agreement was made ? In order to dispel the grave suspicion which exists in growers’ minds that they are to lose a great advantage in the world’s markets during the next five years will the Minister reply to the questions I have raised? The suspicions which exist in growers minds are very real, and should be dispelled at once. The growers are to be called upon to sacrifice much in order to gain what may prove to be a nebulous and doubtful future advantage. If they sold their 1947-48 crop at the price at present ruling on the world market, they would receive more than under the terms of the International Wheat Agreement. Another weakness of the agreement is that there is no assurance that importing countries will not, for some political or economic reason that they may explain at the time, find that they, too, have to grow more wheat. They might do it very successfully and eventually become exporting countries, in which event our markets there, which are apparently assured to-day, would disappear. Above all else, the agreement should provide assured markets for the Australian wheatgrowers, but it might very well be that they will have no markets at all.
Much has been said about the wonderful price that the growers will receive in the fourth and fifth years of the operation of the agreement, but it should be pointed out that if costs of production in the wheat-growing and every other industry continue to rise at the present rate they will more than offset what the wheatgrowers will get. The committee that recently inquired into the cost of production of wheat in Australia fixed it at a figure of 6s. a bushel, but, having regard to the rapidly rising costs of labour, fencing material, farm machinery tractors and other items, it is doubtful whether that amount will be adequate in four years time.
The method of price calculation prescribed in the agreement is based upon No. 1 Northern Manitoba wheat in stow Fort William or Vancouver. It would have made it easier for the Australian wheat-growers to understand the situation if the price quoted were the price at Australian sidings, because in that event there would be no need for them to make calculations allowing for freight and so on. The wheat-growers deliver their wheat to the sidings and they have a good idea of what it has cost them up to that time, but after it leaves the siding they have great difficulty in calculating what the freight charges are. They receive cheques for mysterious amounts and have no hope of finding out whether the calculations upon which those amounts are based are correct or not. If the basis is to be the price of No. 1 Northern Manitoba wheat in store Port “William or Vancouver, we shall lose the difference between the freight rates from Port “William to London and Australian ports to London in the case of sales to the United Kingdom, hut it would be expected that we should gain the advantage of the lower freight rates from Australia to the Far Eastern countries. In his second -reading speech, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) said -
In the case of India, and United Kingdom purchases for delivery to Ceylon and Malaya, the Canadian c.i.f. price would be much higher than the Australian c.i.f.; consequently, when the Canadian f.o.b. equivalent was the basic price of 2 dollars (12s. 3d.), the Australian f.o.b. equivalent would be much higher - perhaps 14s. 5tl. In this case, under the agreed formula, Australia will charge 12s. 5d., the basic f.o.b. maximum.
On that basis we stand to be penalized to the extent of 2s. a bushel. I should like the Minister to clear that up, because it seems contradictory to say that we should -be penalized to that extent in respect of countries nearer to Australia.
A good deal has been said about wheat exports to the United Kingdom. I do not think that any one will begrudge that country a fair deal in that regard, but what the Australian wheat-growers object to - perhaps it is strange that they should have the temerity to raise objections about what happens to their own products - is that their wheat should be bargained away to other countries without any apparent advantage. If there i3 any advantage to them or to Australia it is shrouded in mystery, and the Government has taken neither the members of the Opposition nor the wheatgrowers into its confidence. The wheatgrowers want to know what advantage the Government is gaining by using Australian wheat in this way. All that the wheat-growers know at present is that they” are losing millions of pounds, but they cannot see what advantage is being gained. The Government has the clear and simple duty to take the wheat-growers into its confidence and te let them know what is happening. The negotiations for the agreement were shrouded in mystery and carried on in great secrecy. The International “Wheat Agreement should be ratified by this Parliament, only after the fullest consultation with the wheat-growers’ organization, which, after all, represent the wheatgrowers of the whole of Australia.
.-] have listened with interest but also with perplexity to the speeches that were made by honorable members opposite. The members of the Opposition seem, to be somewhat divided. Some of them damned thi? agreement with faint praise, while other.openly supported it. Some of them were gloomy about the future prospects with regard to the price of wheat, but others were most optimistic. Judging from their speeches, it seems that honorable members opposite are a little undecided. Some of them fear that they will displease their supporters among the wheatgrowers, and others want to serve their masters, the big wheat speculators and the vested interests that control the Australian Country party organization. The speech that struck me as being most reasonable and frank was that made by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott). He could find no particular fault with the agreement other than that it was to operate for only five years. Acting upon the old adage that you cannot have too much of a good thing, -the honorable member wanted the term to be extended to ten years. The arguments advanced by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) and other members of the Opposition against the agreement do not seem to carry any weight with the honorable member for New England. The plain fact is that the opposition to the International Wheat Agreement is 90 per cent, party political. The only wheat-growers’ organizations in Australia which have expressed opposition to it are .the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales and a certain organisation in “Western Australia which are off-shoots of the Australian < Country party. On the other hand, however, the genuine bona fide organizations of wheat-growers wholeheartedly support the agreement. It is also supported by international organizations of wheatgrowers. In order to show how malicious is the propaganda being disseminated by the affiliates of the Australian Country party to which I have referred I point out that the Farmers and Settler3 Association despatched the following cablegram to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture : -
Fanners and Settlers Association representing wheat-growers New South Wales protesting against ratification International Wheat Agreement urges the Canadian growers take similar action letter follows.
To that cablegram the Canadian organization replied -
Canadian Federation Agriculture since its formation has strongly urged International Wheat Agreement as best means we see to establish stability in wheat prices and markets and has hailed new agreement as historic development in international trade on cooperative basis. Since International Federation Agricultural Producers has likewise given whole-hearted approval such programme earnestly plead you reconsider your policy this matter.
That is the view which that great organization of wheat-growers in one of the leading wheat-producing countries takes of the attitude adopted by the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales which, as I have said, is merely a political tool of the Australian Country party. To that association’s request for support, another outstanding growers’ organization, the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, replied as follows : -
Have learned with surprise representations made by Farmers Settlers Association Sydney i.o Canadian Federation Agriculture requesting it join opposition to ratification International Wheat Agreement. Fully concur in reply by President Canadian Federation and strongly support his plea that Farmers Settlers Association reconsider their policy and join their colleagues Canada, United Kingdom, United States and thirty-two other signatory countries in supporting agreement and urging its prompt ratification. International Federation Agricultural Producers unanimously endorsed International Wheat Agreement at its conference Holland 1947 and repeatedly urged its conclusion. Confident Paris conference will vigorously re-affirm position and give new
International Wheat Council meeting Washington early July firm assurances International1 Federation Agricultural Producers continuing’ support. James Turner, President.
James Turner, the president of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, was the leader of the British Food Mission which recently visited Australia. Those two overseas organizations whose views I have quoted are representative of growers in exporting and importing countries. It is obvious, therefore, that the Australian bodies to which I have referred are endeavouring to defeat this agreement solely in the interest of the Australian Country party. Our genuine wheat-growers have sought such an agreement right down the years, because by that means we would have obviated many of the difficulties which have confronted the industry in Australia. That fact is borne out by the views expressed by the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Langtry) and the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon), who have devoted their lives to the production of wheat. As a wheatgrower myself, I know the trials and tribulations which have confronted the industry in this country for many years. I have learned from bitter experience that members of the Australian Country party have posed as spokesmen for the industry, but whenever the growers’ interests have been at stake they have acted in the interests of wheat speculators who fatten and batten on the growers, and the members of that party, in their opposition to this agreement, are simply defending those vested interests. 1 recall an incident which occurred at a meeting of the local branch of the Australian Country party which was held in Dunedoo, in my electorate, for the purpose of selecting a candidate to oppose me. ‘Some frank talk took place among delegates to that meeting, a number being rather militant and outspoken with respect to the policy of the party towards the wheat industry. At one time the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) used to be equally outspoken as a delegate to meetings of the Victorian branch of the Australian Country party. Those delegates wanted to know why the Australian Country party was so favorably disposed towards vested interests and wheat speculators in the cities. They said, in effect, to their leaders, “ You are losing the support of the genuine rural producers throughout the length and breadth of New South Wales and Australia “. One of those leaders, a prominent man in the Australian Country party, who had travelled from Sydney to attend the meeting, replied, “ I know there has been quite a lot of militant and very harsh and adverse comment on the attitude of the Australian Country party towards the vested interests in the cities, but remember this: It is from those big city interests that we get practically the whole of our party political funds “. He said, “ Those that pay the piper have the right to call the tune “. They are calling the tune to-day and honorable members of the Australian Country party throughout Australia are responding to that call. Opposition members, especially those in the Australian Country party corner, do not like the truth. These are hard facts that they cannot counter. They are trying to make the people believe that all the restrictive measures applied to the wheat industry have been applied by this Government. The honorable member for indi-
– Who made a very good speech.
– Yes. I admit that it was a good speech. It was well prepared and assistance in its preparation was given by men from the commercial side of the wheat industry.
– Who prepared the Minister’s speech ?
– -Lt is not a speech at all.
– I should not like the honorable member to prepare a speech for me. In his speech, which he read very nicely and which was, as I say, well prepared, the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) said -
No group of people in this country is more encompassed by laws than the wheat-growers. A law to say who will grow wheat; a law to say how much they may grow ; a law to say what they must do when they have grown it. A thousand laws to encompass them - and every une must observe under threat of dire penalties.
Who was the Minister who introduced the laws and regulations that the honorable member for Indi referred to? As was pointed out by the honorable member for Riverina, it was none other than the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle
Page). Members of the Australian Country party are now trying to run away from their own handiwork. I saT to the credit of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) that no member of the Opposition knows more about wheat than he does and that he ha:the knack of saying what he thinks, a knack that is not shared by many of lii? colleagues. But he expressed to-day hi? anticipation of a falling wheat markeat an early date, an anticipation that is shared by the organized wheat-growers of the world. Other- honorable gentlemen opposite are optimistic about the future of the wheat industry. Anyway, the controls in the wheat industry to which I have referred were imposed by the right honorable member for Cowper. The honorable member for Indi went on to say-
The grower who has a permit to grow 20i> acres cannot tell the Government that he hae decided to sow 250 acres. But the Govern ment does not appear to regard itself in any respect bound by what, after all, is a set 0 laws establishing a business relationship between the wheat-grower and his Government
– Tell us something about the wheat agreement with New Zealand.
– One singular thing about members of the Opposition, especially those in .the Australian Country party, is that they cannot refrain from interrupting. I say with respect to the Liberal party that its members are not so consistent in that respect. We listened in silence to what was said by the honorable member for Indi, and other honorable gentlemen opposite, but whenever one of us rises to speak there is a continual barrage of interjections that have to be subdued by Mr. Speaker. The members of the Australian Country party know that my speech is being broadcast and they hope by their puerile and stupid interjections to prevent a proper transmission of my speech to the listening public. Ever since broadcasting of the parliamentary proceedings has been in operation they have adopted those tactics. They show themselves to be ignorant of ordinary courtesies. The lengths to which they go for political gain are despicable. One remark made by the honorable member for Barker was that our Government tried to restrict wheat production and that we paid wheat-growers in Western Australia not to produce wheat.
– At the rate of 12s. an acre.
-Order! I will name the next honorable member who interjects. Honorable members have had a “ fair go “. They must now keep quiet.
– Yes, 12s. an acre was paid as compensation for one-third of the acreage that the growers in Western Australia did not sow. How did that come about? Introducing extraneous matters during the referendum campaign on rents and prices, Australian Country party supporters talked about the restriction of wheat production and about wheatgrowers having been paid not to produce wheat. Believing that credit should be given where credit is due, 1 give credit to Mr. John Teasdale, leader of the Western Australian wheatfarmers and now a member of the Australian Wheat Board, who knows a great deal about the commercial side of the wheat industry. When I took over the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, I found that- he had written to the department asking that we give to the wheat-farmers of Western Australia a wheat holiday so bad was the position of the industry. Wheat was stacked at all the country sidings and some of it was becoming infested with weevil. Men with a sense of responsibility, such as Mr. Teasdale, were apprehensive. He suggested that compensation be paid to the wheat-growers of Western Australia and that they have a “ wheat holiday “. He had written to my predecessor, the right honorable member for Cowper, making a similar suggestion. The man who made that suggestion was not a supporter of the Labour Government, but one of the leaders of the Australian Country party, and one of the most outstanding wheat men in Australia. The then Minister for Agriculture in Western Aus.tralia. Mr. Wise, who later became Premier, came to Parliament . House; Canberra, on behalf of the wheat-growers of his State. The Minister for Agriculture for South Australia also came here. We had’ a conference that lasted a considerable time. Mr. Wise asked that we compensate the. wheat-growers. It was desired to keep the industry intact. 1 agreed to recommend to the Cabinet that the wheat-growers of Western Australia be compensated in respect of one-third of their acreage. Cabinet agreed and the wheat-farmers in Western Australia benefited considerably. At that time weevil infestation was very great. We were all alarmed. It cost the Australian Wheat Board tens of thousands of pounds to erect at Fremantle a wheat hospital for the purpose of cleaning the wheat. There was so much weevil in the wheat that members of the State Parliament pressed for the removal of the hospital from Fremantle because of -the nuisance caused by the weevil to thousands of dwellers in the area. Those are the hard cold facts, yet honorable members opposite would have the people of this country believe that we as a Government restricted wheat production wantonly. After the restrictions had been in operation for two years, I received a deputation from wheat-growers’ organizations in Western Australia asking me to recommend to the Government that the payment of compensation be extended. The deputation stated that the compensation scheme had enabled Western Australian growers to meet their commitments, and that with the guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel for the first 3,000 bushels, they had been able to lift the wheat industry in their State out of the doldrums. They were able to see some hope for the future. After two or three years, they still wanted the scheme to be continued, but I informed them that production would have to be restored because it was expected that there would be a demand for all the wheat that could be produced in this country. The main reason for the wheat shortage in Australia was an unprecedented drought during which wheat was the only available basic feed for stock. Millions of sheep were kept alive by drawing upon the huge stocks of wheat held in Australia at that time. I remember attending a farewell dinner, at the invitation of the Australian Wheat Board, to .Sir Give McPherson, the chairman of the board, who was retiring. Sir Olive had. rendered yeoman service to this country as- chairman, of the board, and, because of ill health, was retiring of his own volition and against my persuasion. Speaking at that dinner, Sir Olive said that he wished .to thank the Australian Government, and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture personally, for what had been done for the Australian grazing industry by making available large quantities of wheat for stock feed at a concession price. He said that upwards of 20,000,000 sheep, which otherwise would have perished, had been kept alive during the drought. These are matters that are never mentioned by members of the Opposition, who are only too ready to condemn the Government for actions which they claim to have been inimical to the interests of Australian primary industries. “We have done everything humanly possible to assist not only the wool industry, but also other primary industries. I am quite aware that the present upward trend in wheat prices is not due to the efforts of this Government ; but at least we have not done anything to retard that trend. We have created various marketing organizations. We have fulfilled our promises to the representatives of all sections of the primary producing community. For the first time in our history, a special committee has investigated labour costs of production in the wheat industry. That committee was appointed by the Labour Government and included representatives of wheatgrowers’ organizations. Its recommendations have been applied, with the result that wheat-growers have been safeguarded against price fluctuations for the next five years by providing a guarantee of 6s. 2d. a bushel - the highest price ever guaranteed in the history of wheatgrowing in this country.
The policy of the Labour Government towards the wheat industry is in contradistinction to the actions of administrations supported by the Australian Country party. When the report of the Gepp commission on the wheat industry was made to the Parliament, no action was taken to implement it. It was pigeonholed. Deputation after deputation waited upon successive anti-Labour governments urging support for the wheat industry. The story told last night by the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) and this afternoon by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller), and in the great speech of the honorable member for Riverina - one who has been through the mill and knows the industry thoroughly - is known by all wheat-growers only too well.
Honorable members opposite talk glibly of restrictive regulations being enforced by the Labour Government, but I remind the Opposition that these regulations were largely creatures of their own making. The efforts of the Labour Government have been directed towards liberalizing them so far as possible. When 1 assumed office as Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, one of my first actions was to amend the regulations restricting wheat production in Queensland, which, at that time, was not even sufficient to meet local demands. The regulations as amended permitted the Queensland growers to plant as much wheat as they wished. I challenge honorable members opposite to point to any action taken by this Government to restrict wheat production anywhere in Australia during my term of office as Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, or during the term of office of my successor. It is one thing to make assertions, but to back them up with facts is an entirely different matter.
I shall not prolong my speech, because other honorable members are seeking an opportunity to speak on this measure. I think I have demonstrated clearly to the wheat-growers just who their friends are in this chamber. I have shown that the greatest wheat exporting countries in the world, the United States of America and Canada, as well as Australia are anxious that this agreement shall be approved. The Government has the support of many thoughtful journals in the Commonwealth, including the Sydney Morning Herald. History has a knack of repeating itself, and I am afraid that in the absence of the protection of an international wheat agreement, the disasters that the wheat industry in this country has suffered in the past will be repeated. It has been illogically asserted that because two great wheat-growing countries, Russia and Argentina, will be outside the International Wheat Agreement there will be a calamitous effect upon those countries participating in the agreement. We are informed that Argentina and
Russia will undersell the other countries, and so force down the price of wheat. Gould any argument be more favorable to an international wheat agreement? Flow much more helpless would be the growers in Australia and Canada if there were no agreement? In my opinion,- the making of this agreement is one of the best things that Kas ever been done for the wheat-growers if this country. Just after I became Minister for Commerce I called a conference of individual growers and representatives of the Wheat Growers’ Federation who discussed at great length the proposal to arrange for an international wheat agreement. Earlier negotiations in the same matter had been conducted by my predecessor in office. At that conference, held in this building, the growers unanimously approved of the proposal for ;,n agreement. A year or so later, the Minister foi- External Affairs (Dr. Evatt ). on behalf of the Australian Government, signed such an agreement in the United States of America. Argentina was also a signatory, but it has since withdrawn. I commend the bill to the House, Mid declare that the evils which honorable members opposite have predicted will never eventuate.
.- I listened to the speech of the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), but did not hear him say much about the International Wheat Agreement. I heard him make some complimentary remarks about himself, and began to wonder whether he would dislocate his elbow in attempting to pat himself on the back. He, like other Government spokesmen, claimed that honorable members on this side of the House disapproved of an international wheat agreement. I throw that back in his teeth. I have not heard any honorable member on this side of the House express disapproval of the principle of an international wheat agreement. They have, however, criticized some aspects of this agreement. The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) insulted the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) by saying his speech had been prepared by some one who was opposed to the interests nf the wheat-growers. That is a fabrication. The Minister also said that I had at one time advocated the burning of crops. If he can prove that charge, I am prepared to give £100 to any children’s hospital which he names.
– I can prove it.
– The Minister spoke like a man with a distorted mind, as the electors of Forrest will realize. 1 am sure that the farmers of Western Australia, would be only too pleased to buy the barbed wire which the Minister mentioned. I know hundreds of farmers who would be prepared to pay any price for wire which they need to fence their properties.
– There is nothing to stop them.
– The Minister claimed that the Government was entitled to take credit for the satisfactory financial position of the farmers to-day. As a matter of fact, many complaints are coming from the farmers because they have received only 4s. 6d. a bushel for last year’s crop, with a promise of another. 2s. 6d. to come shortly, from which freight will be deducted. They remember that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) paid that the Government proposed to make this payment so that the Treasurer could get some more money back in taxes. Another spokesman for the Government, said that millions of pounds had been paid by various governments to the wheatfarmers during the nineteen thirties. I was growing wheat then, and I remember with gratitude the assistance which farmers received from non-Labour governments. I remind the Minister that the whea.t-Growers have since repaid those advances many times over by accepting concession prices for their wheat, and by the losses which they have sustained in connexion with the New Zealand wheat agreement. The wheat-growers of Western Australia will be less disposed to appreciate the remarks of the Minister for Works and Housing when they recall that a few years ago he stood for the State Parliament as a Country party candidate.
– That is not true.
– It is true. The Minister advertised himself as a Country party candidate, but printed in small type in the advertisement was the word “ unendorsed “. The Minister was asked whether, if he were elected, he would support the Country party, and he said that he would. He was also asked what he would do if not elected, but he did not have the intes- tinal fortitude to answer.
– It is untrue.
– The electors of Forrest have not forgotten. The wheatgrowers want an international agreement, hut not one that will be detrimental to their interests. For this year alone the wheat-growers are being asked to pay a premium of £13,200,000 against a possible price decline, and next year they will be required to pay a further £25,000,000. Out of an exportable surplus of 1.45,000,000 bushels for the present year, we have contracted tosell to the United Kingdom 80,000,000 bushels at 17s. a bushel, and 25,000,000 bushels to India at 18s. 6d. a bushel. An additional 40,000,000 bushels are to be sold at the present market price of 20s. 6d. a bushel. When those prices are averaged we find that, taking into consideration the 40,000,000 bushels that will not be delivered to ports before the 1st August, the growers will, in effect, pay an insurance premium of £13,200,000 against a price drop. That is a high premium to pay, particularly when we remember that there might not be a. price drop at. all. I am unable to agree that that will happen. Indications in all the wheat-growing countries throughout the world are otherwise. Since 1942, the Government has been contending that, the price of wheat would drop, hut that has not happened. On the contrary, the price has increased annually. We must bear in mind that wheat acreages throughout the world have declined slightly during the last ten years. I am mindful of the fact that for a portion of that period a world-wide war was waged. But we must also bear in mind that throughout the world the wheat yield, too, has slowly declined, whereas the population of the world has risen by 3/4 per cent, annually. The quantity of rice available to the rice-eating peoples is to-day 5,500,000 bushels below normal, and many of those who were rice-eaters prior to the war have not been able to restore their crops to anything approaching a state of normalcy. During the war, they acquired a taste for flour. Therefore, I contend that there will be a greater demand for wheat during the next few years.
M’r. Haylen. - . Does the honorable member know what the Russian figures are?
– If the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) were to reply to that interjection, he would say that the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has a better knowledge than we have of what is happening in Russia. Although I am not very greatly concerned about events in Russia, a study of the statistics has proved to me that over a period of years that country has flooded, the wheat market only when prices have been low, its aim being to make more acute the chaos then existing. Those who say that the price of wheat will decline in the very near future express what is merely a figment of their imagination. We must bear in mind that Australia will have to pay £38,700,000 during the first two years of the currency of this agreement. That is a very high price to set against an imaginary decline of prices. Some members of the Government party and the people of Australia may regard wheat-growers a.grasping individuals who do not want the people of the United Kingdom and the starving peoples of Europe to obtain supplies of wheat at a reasonable price. I assert that the wheat-growers are prepared to make a contribution to the general welfare of the community, both at home and abroad; but they do not consider that a commodity which they slave to produce should be the plaything of governments, or that they should be singled out tobear the whole of the brunt of easing the food shortage burdens of the world. If the Government desires to obtain a political or an international advantage, as ithas clone for a number of years, it should recompense the growers at least proportionately to the amount of which they are being deprived. To my mind, this agreement will favour one country more than another. At times, Australia will find it difficult to supply the quantity of wheat which the Government proposes that it shall contract to provide.
An investigation of the available figures shows that on numerous occasions since 1932, less than 85,000,000 bushels of the Australian production has been available for export. Such a situation, which I believe will be repeated, will have drastic effects on the economy of this country.
Let us consider the circumstances of other countries which it is hoped will be parties to the agreement. During the last four years, the American production of wheat has exceeded 1,000,000,000 bushels annually, and the quantity required for home consumption has been approximately 700,000,000 bushels annually, for which the American people have paid at the rate of 16s. 6d. a bushel, the balance having been exported by the American Government at a price of 14s. 6d. a bushel. America will become a party to this agreement on the basis of sales of its exportable surplus of 1.85,000,000 bushels at 2 dollars a bushel, and will stand to lose on those sales approximately 2s. a bushel. Australia stands to lose 6s. .a bushel under the arrangement which it recently made with the Government of the United Kingdom, and with the world price at 20s. 6d. - in some instances 21s. 6d. a bushel - it will stand to lose 9s. a bushel. The American price for flour is £39 a ton at the mill door, and £22 a ton at the mill door is received for offal, compared with £7 10s. in Australia. Under the .agreement, there is to be no compulsion on any of the powers to take any portion of the surplus wheat as flour. After making available 185,000,000 bushels, America will still have left for conversion into flour approximately 300,000,000 bushels a year. It could almost give it away, and still not lose on the transaction having regard to other factors. But in Australia we shall be faced with an entirely different set of circumstances. Under the agreement, Australia will be required to provide S5,000,000 bushels of wheat a year which is approximately 12,000,000 bushels above our average export surplus in the years from 1936 to ‘ 1945. There is nothing in the agreement which makes it obligatory on buyers, to .accept any portion of the wheat as flour, and for that reason it is apparent that they will prefer to accept wheat, with a view to protecting their own primary producers. Honorable members will appreciate that wheat can be gristed into flour and the offal be made available to those engaged in pig-raising and dairying. Obviously, that will have a very bad effect on the wheat industry in Australia.
Another important consideration is thai America, with 300,000,000 bushels available annually for conversion into flour, will be enabled to accept a low price, ann Australia may consequently be placed at a disadvantage, in its efforts to hold the markets that lie to the north of this continent. Government members may accuse me of having at heart the interests of the flour millers alone. That is not the case, because the flour-milling industry operates parallel with the wheat-growing industry in this country.
Should a deadlock arise between the buyers and exporting countries concerning the acceptance of a proportion of the wheat in the form of flour or at a certain price, the council may be approached. If that body is not able satisfactorily to resolve the matter, the whole question will be submitted to a vote of all of the signatories to the agreement. Obviously, in that event, the buying countries would support each other.
I am convinced that the wheat-growers should protest, not so much against the principle of an international wheat agreement as against the manner in which this agreement has been drawn, and the Government’s apparent haste to accept it. All countries have been endeavouring to conclude an international wheat agreement. When the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) met representatives of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation in Canberra recently and attempted to brow-beat them in respect of their fifteen-point plan, he had in his hip pocket a facsimile of this agreement. The Vice-President of the Executive Council said that a farmer’s organization in Western Australia - he did not name it - had opposed the agreement. In case he does not know, there is only one farmers’ organization in Western Australia, the Farmers Union, and that body has not yet discussed the agreement. 1 am aware, however, from my discussions with some of the members of the executive of the wheat section of the Farmers
Onion, that they view the agreement very warily indeed. It will affect Western Australian wheat-growers very adversely if there is not written into it a provision making it obligatory on buying countries to take a portion of our wheat in the form of flour. Unless that be done, the agreement will destroy our flour-milling industry, the requisite quantities of offal will not be available for our pig, dairying and poultry industries, and we shall not be able to meet our obligations to Great Britain. I understand that it is the intention of the Government during the period of the egg agreement with Great Britain to increase the poultry population of this country by approximately, 4,500,000 birds. How that objective will be reached with such a blank wall facing the flour-milling industry, I have no idea. It is only natural to assume that the buying countries will prefer to take their quotas in the form of wheat, because by so doing they will be able to make offal available to their own producers. The Government should inform the flour-milling and primary industries that steps will be taken to ensure that a quota of at least 600,000 tons of flour, a quantity approximately equivalent to the pre-war figure, will be included in the quota of 85,000,000 bushels. That would absorb approximately 30,000,000 bushels of wheat. Unless that be done, or some other equitable arrangement be made, the flour-milling industry will revert to two shifts and shortly thereafter to one shift a day.
Australian wheat-growers will suffer great disadvantages because of the basing of the price on Canadian prices in store at Fort William and Vancouver. I can well understand the desire of the Canadians to have this agreement ratified, because they stand to lose very little by it whereas Australians may lose considerably. It must be borne in mind that the two exporting countries other than Australia are situated in the dollar area and that dollars are very scarce whereas sterling is much more readily available. That, no doubt, is one of the reasons why our wheat has been realizing such high prices. We may lose approximately 9s. a bushel whereas producers in the dollar areas may lose only approximately 2s. a bushel. Moreover, the basing of freight rates at store, Fort William and Vancouver, is against the interests of the Australian growers. The Minister contended that that would resolve itself in our favour. As Ave know the price is to be based on that operating in respect of Northern Manitoba No. 1 wheat, and the difference between that price and our f.o.b. basis represents approximately 4d. a bushel. How, in view of that, the Minister can contend that this provision will be favorable to us, I have no idea. I would be pleased if he would enlighten us on that, point. In his second-reading speech the honorable gentleman failed to mention whether the Australian wheat-grower would receive his costs of production for his product if wheat comes down t« the floor price at the end of the fifth year. We know that the costs of producing wheat have risen steeply. It is of no use for members of the Government to say that a production costs committee has been established. After years of agitation by the wheat-grower’s representatives the Government did appoint such a committee, but when the committee furnished its report the Government refused to accept its findings. The committee recommended payment of 6s. a bushel at, sidings. To-day. the wheatgrower receives approximately 5s. 5d. a bushel at sidings. The Government apparently had no confidence in the findings of the committee. What the wheatgrower would like to know is whether, in the event of the price receding, Australian producers will at least receive their cost of production. To-day, no great profit is being made by the wheatgrowers. This year they have received only the 4s. 6d. advance, notwithstanding the fact that the price of superphosphate has risen to £6 a ton in Western Australia and that the cost of kerosene, oil, tractors and trucks and, in fact of all the requirements of the farmer, have increased by at least 50 per cent. Notwithstanding these heavy imposts, the Government, which is supposed to be so helpful to primary producers, is holding large sums of money - no one has been able to ascertain the exact amount - belonging to the wheatgrowers. The growers should be guaranteed at least their costs of production irrespective of how low the price of wheat may fall.
Whilst on the one hand we are prepared i.o peg the price of wheat at a maximum of 12s., no indication has been given by the buying countries that they will peg their price at that figure, or that they will allow the price to be reduced in the future. During the negotiations, Argentina adopted the only sensible course when its representatives said, “ Argentina will be a party to the agreement conditional upon the buying countries pegging the prices of the products we buy from them to this figure or reducing them over the period of the agreement by an amount corresponding to that which they may desire the price of wheat to be reduced “. The representatives of the Australian Government were more or less led up the garden path. I see nothing in the whole agreement which merits any commendation of their efforts. It represents a very poor bargain indeed for Australia. It is merely a buyers’ bargain, and the sellers, particularly the Australian growers who have had the advantage of selling in sterling areas, stand to lose considerably. The result might have been much more satisfactory to us if the Government had sought the advice of representatives of the wheat-growers themselves, or even of the Australian Wheat Board. One member of the board has been lauded in this House to-night as one of the most competent expert? on the wheat industry in Australia, or in the world for that matter. I refer to Mr. Teasdale, who was mentioned by the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully).
Had the Government consulted Mr. Teasdale, or any other member of the Australian Wheat Board, the International Wheat Agreement would probably have had a different complexion from Australia’s point of view. I am certain that Mr. Teasdale would have been able to place before’ the conference facts about the world wheat industry that would have had a very important bearing upon the discussions. But no ! The Government did not bother to do that. Instead, it selected a man who represents the brokers in the United Kingdom to attend the conference, not as an adviser on ,all aspects of the wheat industry, but just as an adviser on selling problems.
– He is the London representative of the Australian Wheat Board.
– Yes, but he is thselling representative.
– He is an official of the board.
– Yes, I know Mr. Tadman. A representative of the Wheat Growers Federation or of the Australian Wheat Board should have been sent to represent Australia at the conference. But did the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture think even to bring a representative of the growers or the board to Canberra in order to brief Australia’s representatives? No! The growers we >v completely ignored. All this talk about representation of the growers is so much hocus pocus. The growers are represented only nominally. They have been stripped of all the powers they ever had.
The intention of the Government i.plain. To use the words of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture when speaking at Ballarat, this Government will go on and on until we have a great co-operative Commonwealth, and it will not be deterred in carrying out its Socialist policy. When it has control of the wheat industry, it will have control of almost every primary industry in Australia. That is political dynamite. The Government wants to get hold of the wheat industry so that it can grind the farmers down and do as it wishes with their products. Members (if the Government forget the high principle involved and that they merely hold the wheat in trust for the growers. It is not the Government’s property; it has been acquired by the Government, but the Constitution provides that it must be acquired on just terms. Even though the Government secured a fifty-fifty vote iti the High Court, recently, it should not expect the wheat-growers to take its orders lying down and allow it to use their industry as a political football. The growers realize that, if governments gain control of the handling of wheat forever, that will be the end of their freedom. The Minister for Works and Housing said last night th.at the Commonwealth Government should have control of the wheat industry and he referred to the situation in Western Australia. The Parliament of Western Australia has passed a law which, has not yet been proclaimed but which will protect the growers from a reversion to the pre-war conditions, which the Minister declared that the anti-Labour parties were eager to bring about. The honorable gentleman made some wild statement about members of the Opposition wishing to throw the growers back into the- hands of the private buyers. Unfortunately for him, the Government of Western Australia has got in a little early with ite legislation. Its act will give the wheat-growers power to elect a board to control their own wheat, and they will take control of the industry in that State with a view to thwarting the socialistic moves of this Government. In this instance, the Commonwealth Government will have to bear the onus of proving the law to be wrong, when it is proclaimed, lt was foolish of the Minister for Works and Housing to say that we on this side i.f the House intend to throw the growers back to private enterprise. He must recall vividly the occasion when he wanted to hand over the co-operative bulk handling organization to a Labour Government in Western Australia. Fortunately, the growers rejected his advice, and the result is that to-day the cooperative system is a credit to the people of that State. It works easily and efficiently, and it is under the control of the farmers.
– That is like the rest of the honorable member’s statements. It is k complete lie.
– The people in the Forrest electorate recently told the Minister a few home truths, which, I am sorry ro say, he did not like.
– The honorable member cannot tell a home truth at all.
– We had a victory on Saturday, for which I am grateful. I notice that there was a large “ No “ majority in the Minister’s electorate. He may soon, be looking for a Victorian electorate, as some people have suggested. If so, the people of Western Australia will not object.
There has been a lot of talk about an imminent drop in prices. That is one reason why the representatives of this Government, who ought to be discharged instead of commended, hastily committed themselves to the international agreement without paying due regard to its implications. In this connexion, the words of Sir John Boyd Orr, the retiring DirectorGeneral of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, on his arrival in England from the United States of America on the oth May, are of special interest. He said -
The whole human race is rumbling to destruction. The nations of the world ave insane. They are spending a third of their national income in preparing for the next war, instead of using the world’s steel and industrial pro du et ion to conserve the resources of the laud.
The Government’s excuse that a prospective serious fall in wheat prices within a very short time necessitated the conclusion of this agreement is one of the worst “hand-outs” it has given to the wheat-growers since it has been in office. It ought to come out into the open and state its real objectives, and it ought to tell the growers how much of their money it has in its possession. If the Government were frank, we might be able to appreciate some of its motives. However, at the moment I can see no good points in the agreement. I agree with the principle of an international wheat agreement, but the Government has no right to hand our products away as it will do under this arrangement. It is trying to break down the right of the growers to handle their own produce. It wants virtually to own the land, the produce and the growers. It realizes that, its defence powers will expire soon. The people have refused to extend those powers to it permanently, with the result that it has decided, in a fit of pique, to throw control of prices back to the States, instead of retaining its administration until the end of the year. The only way for the Government to gain control of the wheat industry now is to enter into an international agreement. Therefore, ] hope that the Government of Western Australia will proclaim its wheat legislation and throw upon the Commonwealth Government the onus of taking the power away from it.
– What will the State do with that power?
– I have plenty of facts and figures to show the honorable member if he wishes to see them..
It is now my turn to throw bouquets, as honorable members on the Government side of the House have done so freely. I support the remarks of the honorable member for Indi who stated the case against the agreement very ably. Supporters of the Government were most unfair when they tried to ridicule him for reading his speech, because the honorable member had been very sick, as they well knew.
– That was the first time that he had read a speech in this House.
– Yes, although some honorable members opposite declared that he always reads his speeches. I have not known him to read any other speech since I have been a member of this House. He had a right to do so because he was leading the debate on this measure. He discussed the agreement adequately and stated the case for the growers very well.
– For the merchants.
– The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) would not understand that, if we let the milling industry go in Australia, we not only let a section of the wheat industry go, but also let the pig, dairying, meat, poultry and other primary industries go. Of course, he cannot see that far. He and his colleagues can never do so.
The International Wheat Agreement, in its present form, is wrong, and the Government should endeavour to have it reviewed for the purpose of including sanctions and penalty clauses, so that buyers may be kept “ on the rails “ for the duration of the agreement. If that review were made, all would be well. But in the absence of sanctions and penalty clauses, this agreement will be a bad deal for Australia. I make that statement, even though I fully support the principle of an international wheat agreement.
.- The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) devoted the major portion of his speech to indulging in personal recriminations, which are always a poor support of any case. He mentioned that the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) said that the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), who led the opposition against .the International Wheat Agreement, supported millers and speculators. Actually, the honorable member for Wannon did ‘not mention millers.
– He said middlemen.
– He referred to merchants. However, the honorable member for Wannon will be able to take care of himself when he speaks on the International Wheat Agreement. He has had many years’ experience as a wheatgrower. Indeed, I am sure that his experience of the industry is equal to that, of his critic.
The honorable member for Swan made so many erratic statements, that I find difficulty in sifting the wheat from the chaff, but 1 should like to take up his challenge on socialism. Like the honorable member for Indi, he had to conclude his speech by saying that this was a socialist, communistic measure. I remind him that none of the 33 countries which, we hope, will ratify the International Wheat Agreement, is Communist or even Socialist. Australia, for one, is not.
– The Australian Labour Government is.
– It is not. The honorable member for Swan has, by implication, accused the other countries which are parties to this agreement of being socialistic. Why did he not carry his remarks to their logical conclusion? If it is good enough for 33 other countries to protect wheat-growers and consumers within their borders, surely it is good enough for the Australian Government to take similar action. When it does so, it should not be accused of being a Socialist administration. If it is the act of a Socialist administration to protect the wheat-growers of Australia with a guarantee of prices and markets for the next five years, many of our wheatgrowers will say, “ We want that kind of socialism “. They have never had it before.
The debate on the International Wheat Agreement may be truthfully described as the “ battle for wheat “. Throughout my experience, the Australian wheatfarmer has been a shuttle-cock between various political parties. He has never had any satisfaction, and before the International Wheat Agreement was drawn up Lis future was never guaranteed. Wheat-growers received bounties from many previous governments, hut those payments served only to help them over the style for a brief period. Wheatgrowers have also had the benefit of the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Act; which the Lyons Government sponsored in 1935. Under that legislation, £12,000,000 was made available to aid wheat-growers who were trying to recover from the effects of the financial and economic depression of the early 1930’s. I admit that that was a good measure up to a point. As I know many farmers who were assisted by it, I shall not criticize it or condemn it out of hand. But bounties and farmers’ debt relief were only palliatives in an attempt to solve, the wheat problem for Australian farmers and give them security in the future. None of them was far reaching, and all of them were surface solutions.
The International Wheat .Agreement is, in my opinion, the first really solid bedrock attempt to place the Australian wheat industry on a sound and profitable basis for at least five years, with the possibility of an extension of that period for a further five years. The speech of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) on this bill to-day was one of the most reasoned contributions that he has made to any debate, principally because he was having some difficulty with his voice and could not reach the top of his form. Therefore, he modified his statements. The honorable member for New England, who is a member of the Australian Country party, stated that, so far as he could judge, the International Wheat Agreement contained some anomalies but that his main objection to it lay in the fact that the duration of the agreement was five years and not ten years. I hope that the honorable member’s objection will later be met, and that the agreement will be extended to ten years.
For the first time in the history of wheat, a world plan has got beyond its birth pangs. All other attempts to stabilize the wheat industry of the world have been still-born. The post-war world in which we live must be a co-operative world, otherwise it will disintegrate into ruins. World War II. was fought in order to bring co-operation into the world. Ruthless competition in trade has been responsible for most wars. We have emerged victorious from World War II., and the necessity for world co-operation is prominent in the minds of men. The leaders of the allied countries in World War II. stated that they were fighting for a co-operative world. The International Wheat Agreement is a practical attempt to introduce co-operation into the world’s wheat industry. Unrra, the International Trade Organization and the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization are struggling towards achieving co-ordination between nations. Definitely, that is a progressive step. The principle of co-operative trading and marketing is accepted by all true lovers of democracy, and by many producers in this country. [Quorum- formed.] The need for a co-operative spirit amongst the nations of the world was never more apparent, and the absence of such a spirit during the last 40 years has led to the successive calamities which we have witnessed. The wheat stabilization plan is a practical attempt to introduce co-operation into an industry which has hitherto been torn asunder by rivalries and factions operating in ruthless competition throughout the world. The wheat-farmers themselves recognize the need for co-operation, and in this country they have formed themselves into a great association to forward their interests. I believe that the majority of farmers in this country support the agreement, but for years past they have been subjected to pressure by organizations which have sought to exploit them politically. The result is that to-day many farmers find themselves and their organizations operating as political counterparts of the parties represented by honorable members opposite. It is becoming more and more difficult for a wheat-farmer or primary producer who is a Labour sympathizer to make his voice heard at meetings of farmers because so many farmers have become tainted with the politics of the Liberal and Australian Country parties. Because of that taint primary producers’ organizations are being subverted from their true purpose.
The plan envisaged in the International Wheat Agreement will ensure adequate markets to Australian growers, provide a guaranteed return for at least five years, and remove the gamble from wheat-growing. The scheme has received support from various newspapers, including the Melbourne Herald. A leading article in the issue of that newspaper published on the 23rd April> 1948, contains a very fair statement of the position, and I propose to read it to honorable members. It states -
Wheatgrowers, with memories of their struggles when world prices fell to a record low of 2/1 a bushel in 1H39 have a natural desire to get the fullest possible benefit from the present high levels on the world’s free markets. Many of them are critical of the International Wheat Agreement, for which ratifying legislation has been introduced in the Federal Parliament. But careful study should be given to the safeguards provided by the agreement. These may be of more benefit to the industry than, a gamble on the continuance of the present prices.
The agreement requires Canada, the United States and Australia to provide 500 million bushels annually for the needs of 33 importing countries for five years, beginning with the 1.948-40 season. Australia’s quota is 85 million bushels. With freights at their present level the return on this in the first year should be 12/ a bushel for wheat sold to European countries, and 14/5 *for sales to India and Malaya. The minimum to which returns under this plan could fall by the fifth year is estimated to be C/4.
That price has not been approached since 1928, the year prior to the depression. At that time farmers in the Wimmera district, who were neighbours of my family, were receiving 6s. 6d. a bushel, and even more, for wheat. The article continues -
Apart from the quota, any surplus which we have for export may bo sold at uncontrolled world prices. Levels on the free market are high at the moment, but no one can tell whether they will remain so, or whether the Government is unduly “ slump-minded “ in its view of all commodity prices. Canada and the United States are likely to have big harvests this year, and other countries which are outside the agreement, such as the Argentine, may also have surpluses which will bring down prices.
All things considered, the Australia wheatgrower stands to gain from some assurance of guaranteed minimum prices over a period of years. The industry can plan with confidence to raise its annual output. If it does not reap full advantage at the moment, it can at least look to some stability in the future.
I consider that that is a very fair statement of the position. The publishers of the Herald are not wheat-farmers, or partisans of the Government, and can be relied upon to view the position impartially. I commend the article to the serious consideration of honorable members.
One of the arguments advanced by members of the Opposition is : “ Why not. pay fanners the full export price of wheat”? That is a strange contention, because members of the Opposition are continually telling us that farmers are not producing to the maximum to-day because of the incidence of high taxation. The plain fact is that if farmers were -to receive the world parity price of wheat their incomes would increase to such fantastic levels that most of it would be taken from them in taxes. They would be relatively no better off than they are now; but -of course, they cannot have it both ways. Who are the people who are opposing the wheat stabilization plan? Amongst them are some farmers, who are well established; but I certainly could not imagine struggling wheat-farmers opposing this agreement. Unfortunately, big men are obtaining control of the industry. In the main they are those who have “made their way” in the industry over the years because of successful farming, favorable conditions, and the financial backing which they have enjoyed. When considering the criticisms of the agreement advanced by wheat-farmers, we must be careful to analyse the type of farmers from whom they proceed. I say quite confidently that the majority of wheat-farmers are behind the International Wheat Agreement.
The attack made upon the agreement by members of the Opposition is an inconsistent and haphazard one. Some members of the Opposition are violently opposed to the agreement, whilst others approve the agreement in principle, but are critical of details. The honorable member for Swan appears to belong to the latter category. He approved the principle of the agreement but is opposed to the form in which that principle is expressed. In what other form, in what other words, would he embody that principle? What other conditions would he include in the agreement? He cannot answer those questions, and the criticism which he has offered of the agreement is purely destructive. One wonders what members of the Opposition would do for the farmers if they were in office. I should say that they would favour the agreement. They would be impelled to do so because of conditions in the world to-day and because of the necessity for providing some security for the farmers. The fight waged by members of the Opposition against this proposal is a sham one, and they are merely acting as the spokesman for large farmers who are bitterly anti-Labour. I remind honorable members that the Australian Country party does not always represent the interests of Australian farmers, and I point out that its leader in this House is not himself a farmer; he is an accountant. Members of that party represent substantial city interests, just as members of the Victorian Country party did under the leadership of Mr. Albert Dunstan. Under the influence of members of the Australian Country party, many growers’ organizations are degenerating into political machines dominated by large growers with decided political views. Much of the criticism of the International Wheat Agreement has come from that source.
I propose to recount briefly the story of the wheat industry in this country prior to the outbreak of World War II. Only eight years ago. the Australian wheat industry was at the lowest ebb it had reached since the worst of the depression. The price of wheat was 2s. Id. a bushel, and thousands of farmers were virtually bankrupt. Prices were erratic and farmers had no idea of what they would get for their products from one lay to another. When the season opened and wheat was ready for market, prices varied from day to day. From daylight until dark my father was pestered by agents in his paddocks or wherever they could find him. One would say, “I can offer you a farthing a bushel more than Jones”. Jones would offer a farthing more than Smith, and so on. This battle went on during all the time that the wheat was ready for delivery. The farmers did not know what price would be paid for their crops until the cheques arrived. It was a colossal gamble, and there was a continual fight between agents for the wheat. Just prior to that, throughout the world hundreds of tons of wheat were fed into the furnaces of engines as fuel in place of wood, coal and coke.
At the time of the depression, I was on my father’s wheat-farm in the Wimmera. I think I can speak on this matter with some authority, because I am the son of a man who grew only wheat in the Wimmera for 30 years. Like many other wheat-growers, he was beaten by the hanks and by the depression with its attendant evils. He suffered heavy losses and finally had to give up. I have bitter recollections of the wheat bungle before the outbreak of World War II., of the erratic prices, the- instability, the uncertainty that hounded farmers for year after year. They could not pay their bills as they went along, and the machinery, fertilizer and bag companies as well as the grocers and others extended credit to them during the winter months. We all know of the promissory notes and how the farmers had to promise to pay £300 or £400 to their fertilizer companies, banks or mortgagors on a certain day in February. When harvest time arrived, the price of wheat fell and the farmers could not meet their promissory notes, so they tried to reduce their expenses. In my own home many foodstuffs disappeared from our diet and, like other ‘farmers’ families, we just lived. The banks took over many farms because the farmers could not carry on, and eventually they owned thousands of acres. Many farmers became employees of the banks and were paid an allowance of £3 a week. Occasionally, a bank manager was forced to pay £1 or 25s. a week to the son of a wheat-farmer. They were virtually working for the banks, which took all the proceeds from the sale of the crop and paid back £3 a week. Many farmers were saved momentarily by the farmers’ debt adjustment boards. Some of them, strange to say, recovered, and that was why I said that I should not criticize out of hand the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Act. It saved many men. The creditors went short, but they got something. At this juncture, I want to pay tribute to the grocers and the business people. In those days, they stood behind many farmers and enabled them to carry on. If they had not done so, many men would have been forced to leave their farms. If at any time during the months from July to December any of those business people had asked for the money that was owing to them, the farmer would have been forced to walk off his farm and to say, “You can take what I have in the way of horses, machinery, and so on. I cannot pay you “.
The wheat industry is one of our greatest primary industries, but its story until 1939 is one of tragic failure, debt and bankruptcy. In the depression years 20,000 Australian primary producers went off the land. By 1935 the industry was in such a state that the Lyons Government appointed- a royal commission to inquire into it, and honorable members know that royal commissions are not appointed until something is drastically wrong. The industry had got right off the rails. It was unproductive and a burden on the country. Thousands of farmers walked dejectedly from their farms in those years, having been beaten by debt and high interest rates. The findings of the royal commission appointed by the Lyons Government in 1935, under the chairmanship of Sir Herbert Gepp, make very interesting reading. It was discovered that the total indebtedness of the wheat and woolgrowers of Australia was £228,000,000, made up of various sums owing to banks, insurance companies, machinery pools, State banks and trading banks. I propose to cite figures taken from the records of 70,000 wheatfarmers, of which 60,000 were engaged in the production of wheat alone, and 90,000- wool-growers. The total debts of wool and wheat growers in 1934-35 were as follows : -
The wheat crop of that year amounted to approximately 135,000,000 bushels, “of which no less than 60,000,000 bushels Went to meet the interest charge on the industry. The interest charge in 1935 for the wheat and wool industries amounted to £14,000,000. Nearly half of the 1935 wheat crop went to pay interest on the farmers’ debts. That was the tragic state of the industry in that year. The figures I have just quoted are taken from a speech made in this House on the 4th April, 1935, by Mr. Abbott, the United Australia party mem’ber for Gwydir, at that time, as reported in Hansard, volume 146, page 749.
Another tragedy that befell the wheatgrowers was that they could not educate their children is the way in which they wished to because the industry was in a dreadful state. Many boys of seventeen and eighteen years of age stayed on their fathers’ farms, working for nothing. .The farmers had insufficient money to pay for their education. My grandfather was prepared to pay for my board in- the two places at which I studied, Horsham and Ballarat. I count myself as very fortunate indeed because of a family of seven children I was the only one who was able to go to a high school. .In addition to that tragedy, many wheat-farmers forfeited their life insurance policies. The premiums could not be paid and the policies were lost. I know of one person very close to me who lost two policies in the depression years. The “ rake off “ of insurance companies in the years from 1930 to 1935 totalled nearly £2,000,000. At that time the wheat-growing industry had reached probably its lowest ebb. As the result of the investigation carried out by the commission to which I have referred, the government of the day enacted the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Act; but that measure was the only practical outcome of that investigation, and it provided only temporary relief to the industry. This is the first occasion on which a government in this country has got its teeth into the problem and is prepared, however imperfect the machinery ituses may be, to do something of lasting benefit for the industry. In 1935, the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), who then represented the electorate of Echuca, speaking on the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Bill, said -
I do not suggest for a moment that the whole of the difficulties of these industries can be met by a revision of the tariff; but we should not ignore the statement by the royal commission that a capital obligation amounting to not less than £500 is added to the burden of the average wheat-farmer by the incidence of the tariff. Complementary action would involve marketing legislation, to give the producers control of the marketing of their product. It would also involve the establishment of home-consumption prices, and of price stability. There should be, in addition, such action as would reduce, wherever possible, the costs of production.
Speaking in this debate only last night, the honorable member for Indi, in a very able address, totally opposed this agreement, yet it represents a world plan of price stabilization. I have listened to nearly all of the speeches he has made in this chamber since I was elected to the Parliament, and, invariably, he has repudiated the views he expressed in 1935. I mention that in passing as evidence that the views expressed by the honorable member and his colleagues primarily depend upon which side of the House they find themselves. In 1935, the honorable member had much to say about “price stabilization” and “organized marketing”; but he opposes this agreement, which embodies those principles on a world scale. Reverting to the debate in 1935 on the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Bill, I quote Mr. C. L. A. Abbott, who was then member for Gwydir. He said -
Australian governments cannot continue indefinitely raising money from the taxpayers, or borrowing it. The necessary effort musthe made by all who are concerned in the welfare of our primary industries. In those I include the great financial institutions, which have been singularly lacking in any definite assistance of a voluntary nature up to the present. We must agree that the effort which is being made at the present time cannot be confined purely to governmental action, as it is in this bill. One must ask oneself whether the practice of borrowing money to lend out again in order to retrieve the position is sound. Personally, I do not see that it is. . . . No matter what has been done by governments for those industries in the past - -
He was referring to the wool and wheat industries - there is” no escaping the fact that their financial position is unsound. Instead of giving the House columns of figures, the honorable member could have simply confined himself to the fact, which has been often pointed out- 1 emphasize this point - that of the people engaged in primary industries at the present time, only about 5 percent, contribute anything by means of income taxation to the finances of the States’ and the Commonwealth.
That is a significant statement. Only 5 per cent, of wool and wheat growers in this country in 1935 paid either State or Federal income tax. Mr. Abbott went on to explain the reason for that fact. We are familiar with the reason. At that time those producers were bankrupt. Yet, to-day they talk about high taxation. If they are sincere they ought to cast their minds back to the conditions which existed in their industries in 1935, when they had no income on which to pay tax ; and, to-day, they ought to be only too glad to be able to pay it. Unfortunately, many of them prefer to allow themselves to be used as political tools by the Opposition parties. Mr. Abbott also made the following interesting statement: -
No one realizes more than I do that thepeople are looking more and more to parliaments to assist them in their struggles-
The Opposition would not agree with that view to-day -
I have been depressed by correspondence that I have received from many producers, not only within my own electorate, but also in other parts, because it indicates a state of hopelessness in regard to obtaining relief from financial obligations. These men frankly say that the power of financial institutions is too great, and that Parliament will do nothing to assist them.
To-day, this Parliament is endeavouring to implement the ideas expressed by honorable members opposite when speaking on the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Bill in 1935. Other supporters of the anti-Labour Government in those days, including Mr. H. Nock, the then member for Riverina, Mr. Scholfield, the then member for Wannon, and Mr. A. Lane, the then member for Barton, emphasized the tragedy which had then befallen the wheat-growers. But only one of those gentlemen offered what I would consider to be a statesmanlike proposal for salvaging the industry. They were prepared to provide merely temporary relief in the form of bounties. Mr. Nock in his speech on that measure said -
The Commonwealth Government cannot afford to delay in bringing this about. It should cut out the system of bounties, and should take the rural industries out of the political cockpit, by giving them control boards and either by excise or by a homeconsumption price, benefits which will stabilize them, and make the proposals contained in this bill and the efforts’ of the producer worth while.
With the honorable member for Indi, Mr. Nock was the only member of the ministerial party at that time to propose price stabilization as a real means of saving the industry. In submitting this agreement for our approval, the Government is now endeavouring to give effect to that principle not on a national but on a world scale.
Honorable members may be surprised to learn that wheat can be grown successfully in Tasmania. However, whilst that State once produced 1,700,000 bushels annually, Tasmania’s production in 1946 _ totalled only 95,000 bushels. That is a tremendous decline of production; but the reason for it is clear. Wheat-growing became such a gamble throughout the Commonwealth and proved to be so unprofitable and insecure that farmers in Tasmania, which is ideally suited to mixed farming, switched over to the production of other crops. This is a deplorable state of affairs. In my electorate some farms have yielded an average of 60 bushels to the acre. Unfortunately, Tasmanian wheat is not so hard as other Australian wheat and its use is principally confined to the making of flour for the manufacture of biscuits. The point is that we did grow more wheat and when wheat prices became so unprofitable and the wheat industry so tragically chaotic, many farmers got out while the going was good. Luckily they could turn their attention to the growing of other primary products, but the wheat-farmers in the Riverina, the Wimmera and Western Australia do not find it so easy to swing to another type of farming. Tasmanians who abandoned wheat-growing have never gone back to it, but we are hopeful that they will do so now that they are assured of profitable production. Proof of the seriousness of the collapse of the wheatgrowing industry in Tasmania is provided by the fact that each month 4,600 tons of wheat for gristing and the making of flour, purchased from the Australian Wheat Board, and grown’ on the mainland arrives in Launceston and Hobart. Importation of wheat into Tasmania on that scale should not be necessary. I hope that the agreement will inspire Tasmanian farmers with confidence in wheatgrowing, because it can provide a profitable vocation for them, even though the cost of production is naturally higher in Tasmania than on the’ mainland. The benefit resulting from a revival of the wheat-growing industry in Tasmania would be twofold. First, the wheatgrowers would have a profitable industry, and, secondly, imports of wheat from the mainland would be substantially reduced. It is a matter of interest that we are introducing a new type of wheat known as Magnet into Tasmania. It was developed by Dookie Agricultural College especially for sowing in Tasmania in an attempt to produce wheat of a better type than Tasmania has hitherto produced. So there is hope for the wheat-growing industry in Tasmania. The agreement will provide absolute financial and market security for the wheat-farmers for the next five years. They will be able to plan ahead, which they have never been able to do before. Hp to now they .have lived a handtomouth existence day by day, week byweek, month by month, and year by year. In fact, they have not known from the beginning of the season in December to its end in February what the price of their product will be. The agreement will ensure security for them. Under it the price will not fall below 6s. 2d. a bushel and may reach 12s. a bushel in the next five years, the odds being that the price will be nearer 12s. than 6s. 2d. It is a great thing for a farmer to ‘be able to sow his crop with a sense of security. It is essentia] that the wheat industry, which, like the wool industry, is a section of the backbone of our economy should provide that security for those engaged in it. I point out to critics of this measure that world prices can tumble even to .as low as 8s. a bushel in the next five years without troubling the wheat-growers of Australia, who, notwithstanding downward fluctuations of the price, are guaranteed, by the agreement, a return of between 6s. 2d. and 12s. a bushel. None of us can prophesy accurately whether wheat prices will fall or not in a year or so, but we can profit by our experiences. We know that after prices went through the roof in 192S, there was a crash. I think that, on the law of averages, we can say that within three years the price of wheat will be very much lower than 12s. a bushel. I commend the agreement to the wheat-growers of Australia as one who has worked on a farm and knows the trials and. tribulations of wheat-growers, as do all honorable members, on either side of the House, who have engaged in the industry. If honorable members opposite are sincere they will concede that I have spoken the truth about the industry and have not exaggerated. I appeal to all wheat-growers to think this matter out apart from party politics. The agreement is for the good of the industry on an international scale. I think this is the greatest scheme ever thought out for the wheat-growers of not only Australia but all other wheat exporting countries as well. 1 admit that there will be difficulties. Although difficulties cannot be divorced from the establishment of a new organization, those difficulties will be lessened and finally erased if the spirit of co-operation prevails. For the sake of the industry, we should all, whether we be members of the Labour party, the Liberal party, or the Australian Country party, do our best to bring the scheme to fruition.
– As the representative of a very large wheat-growing electorate, I have been most interested in this debate. I desire to deal with certain salient points immediately. First, democracy has been referred to in many speeches. Democracy does not exist in the way the Government is handling the agreement. Many tributes have been paid to the wheat-growers, and the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) spoke about the hardships that they have to put up with, but they are not considered of sufficient importance to have their opinions taken into consideration. The Government has said that . very definitely and it has been repeated by Mr. George Evans, president of the Wheat-growers Federation, in a statement made jointly by him and Mr. Stott, of South Australia. They said, after having seen the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. - Pollard), “ The International Wheat Agreement will be ratified whether the growers like it or not “. It is bad enough to have something placed before one with the tag, “ Take it or leave it “ attached, but the Government has not given the wheatarrow ers even that choice. It says to them and to the people of Australia generally, “ We will ratify this agreement and you have to take it. You cannot leave it “. That is the very negation of democracy. The speeches that have been made on this agreement appear to be utterly ridiculous ; and mine will be equally ridiculous for all the good that I can do by speaking, because the Government’s mind is made up. I should not have risen to speak but for the fact that the debate gives me the opportunity to inform the people of Australia of the anomalies associated with the agreement. Everything was firmly settled before the agreement was placed before the Parliament. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture said that he thought it best that the agreement should be adopted and that the Government could have ratified and gone on with the agreement, as did the Government of Canada, without reference to the Parliament. What is the difference between the Government’s ratifying the agreement without debate and its being determined to ratify it regardless of the debate? There is no difference at all. Regardless of what revelations are made in the debate and regardless of how the wheat-growers protest, the Government will not alter its decision to ratify the agreement, because it claims the decision is in the best interests of the wheatgrowers and the people generally. Itprofesses that it is taking this action for the good of the people. It reminds me of the protestations of Hitler and Stalin that the countries occupied by German and Russian armies were occupied for their own good. This decision represents dictatorship. At Canberra we have a dictator for Prime Minister and minor dictators in the Cabinet. Yet this is called a democratic country. The dictatorial attitude of the Ministry has been manifest in many ways, but specifically in this agreement.
I propose now to occupy myself with certain statements made by honorable gentlemen opposite. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), who was formerly Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, became famous in that capacity for some of the things that happened under his administration of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. He has said certain things about the Australian Country party. It was not to his liking when that party selected a certain man to oppose him in his electorate. He quoted something that was said and endeavoured to make out that the Australian Country party is not growing in strength, whereas all over Australia the party is stronger than ever. The honorable member for Wilmot admitted that meetings of primary producers are more favorable to the policy of the Australian Country party than that of the Labour party. That is a definite contradiction of the interpretation placed by the VicePresident of the Executive Council on a happening in his constituency. He made a modest admission which has not been made by any other honorable member opposite when he conceded that the high price of wheat now ruling was not due entirely to the efforts of the Government. His colleagues continually inform us that the Labour Government won the war, and has been responsible for the high prices of all primary products. Anybody with any intelligence knows that to be ridiculous. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Puller) said that under anti-Labour administrations there was dismay amongst the wheat-growers, but when Labour came to power everything was changed. The fact is, of course, that Labour assumed office just when world prices for primary products were rising ewing to the war. It is common knowledge, too, that the Labour Government has used the primary producer in every possible way to assist it to implement its policy of socialization.
The Vice-President of the Executive Council concluded his speech by claiming to have demonstrated clearly to the wheatgrowers who were their friends. He is entitled to his own opinion, but his statements and actions in recent times will do little, I am convinced, to induce primary producers to believe that members of the Labour party are their friends.
Frequent references have been made in this debate by honorable members opposite to the support of the Government’s proposals by certain journals, including the Sydney Morning Herald. These utterances are in marked contrast to the speeches of the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell), who usually devotes, about a quarter of an hour to a “ hate “ session on the press every time he replies to a “ Dorothy Dix “ question in this House.
Reference has been made to the fact that Russia and Argentina are not signatories to the International WheatAgreement, and honorable members opposite have argued that the danger of those two countries underselling other wheatproducing nations on the world’s markets, will be very much greater in the absence of an international wheat agreement. 1 remind the House, however, that whatever competition Australian wheat-growers would have to face in the absence of such an agreement, they would not have to suffer a sudden and immediate slashing of the price of wheat from £1 a bushel to approximately 12s. a bushel, as is proposed under this measure. This, in effect, is a bill to reduce the price of wheat The world parity price can be taken as £1, and at that figure we have made certain sales. Now, in one fell swoop, it is proposed to reduce the price to 12s. a bushel, and even that, as the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) reminds me, is only to be the first maximum. The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) said that it was easy to be wise after the event. We all know that members of the Labour party have been predicting a fall of prices for the last two years, although prices have continually risen during that period. Perhaps they had in mind the International Wheat Agreement when they made those predictions. It is not hard to forecast accurately a fall in prices when one knows that legislation is to be introduced for that purpose. But that is not all. The agreement provides for a progressive reduction of the price of wheat for five years. At the end of that time, it is probable that the price will be less than the cost of production. Undoubtedly, there are many people in the community who would view very favorably the offer of a job at £10 a week. They would regard that as a good salary, but how would they react to a proposition that the £10 a week should be reduced to £9 at the end of the first year, £8 at the end of the second year, and so on until the figure reached £5 a week at the end of the fifth year? What would be the ultimate condition of any man who accepted a job on such term st As I have said, the progressive reduction of the price of wheat under the International “Wheat Agreement may reduce the price ultimately to less than the cost of production. What would be the state of the wheat industry should that happen? Generally speaking, if a man is employed for a certain period at a specified wage, he will be offered the same wage if his boss wants him to continue in his employment; but what hope can there be for the wheat-grower if we pass legislation which may force the price of wheat down below the cost of production? He will be obliged to accept lower living standards. Any business man knows that once prices or production are forced down to uneconomic levels, it is most difficult to get them up again.
The honorable member for Wilmot has spoken of the hardships endured by the wheat-grower. I agree with what he has said. Anybody else but a wheat-grower would have gone out of production; but the wheat-grower is a natural producer, and that also is the answer to the question, “Why does he produce when taxes are so high?” He is a blood brother to the pioneer, and is quite different from those individuals in the cities who support “ go-slow “ tactics and strikes. As I have said, he is a natural producer, and is prepared to work many hours to provide this country with the life-blood of its existence. Now, after many years of low prices, he has an opportunity to obtain a reasonable return for his labour and perhaps to build up a reserve sufficient to tide him over the years of drought and other adversity that the wheat industry always encounters; but what is happening? He is to be deprived of 8s. a bushel under this agreement in the first year alone.
The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Langtry) quoted certain remarks by Mr. Cullen of Victoria. These included an attack on the former president of the Wheat Growers Federation, Mr. Roberton. That attack, the honorable member claimed, proved his case completely. Nothing could be more ridiculous. Mr. Cullen has lived in the city for a long time although, admittedly, he was once a wheat-grower. The mere fact that he has made certain statements contrary to the opinions of the wheatgrowers does not mean a thing, but apparently the honorable member for Riverina .believes that it does. The honorable member also said at various stages of his speech that the wheatgrower could not get less than 6s. a bushel, then 6s. 3d. a bushel, and finally 6s. 6d. a bushel. I should like the honorable member to make up his mind. Referring to the speech of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), the honorable member for Riverina made an utterance which I consider was a gem. He said that any honorable member who read his speech did not have his heart in it, and did not know what he was talking about. By saying that he condemned. his own colleague the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller), who shortly afterwards read 95 per cent, of his speech..
– The honorable memberknows that I was only referring to notes-
– The honorable member says that he was only referring to notes, hut I shall leave it to the House to judge.
It will be noted that under the agreement the votes allotted to the exporting countries are based upon the quantity of wheat which each exports. Australia is to supply 85,000,000 bushels, which will entitle it to 160 votes out of a total of 1,000. Canada’s export quota is 230,000,000 bushels which will entitle that country to 490 votes, whilst the United States of America, with an export quota of 1S5,000,000 bushels, will have 350 votes. The importing countries are also to have between them 1,000 votes so that, at a meeting of the council at which all representatives are present, Australia will have only 160 votes out of a total of 2,000, whilst the United States of America and Canada between them will have 840 votes. The smashing of prices is essential to the United States of America and to Canada, because both those countries are in the dollar area, and many of the importing countries are unwilling or, perhaps, unable to buy from the dollar area. This places Australia in a much stronger position than the exporting countries of North America. Russia and Argentina kept out of the agreement largely because of the advantage which they will enjoy in competition with countries in the dollar area. It is on record that the representatives of Argentina said that their country would keep out of the agreement because no attempt was being made to reduce the price of machinery and other commodities used in the production of wheat. The Australian Government proposes to ratify this agreement to reduce the price of wheat, while other countries continue to charge high prices for the machinery and jute goods which we need. On two occasions recently I have asked in this House what the price of cornsacks will be next season, but no satisfactory answer has been given. However, it appears to be fairly common knowledge that the price this year will be 30s. a dozen. Seeing that the price of everything which the grower needs continues to rise, it is difficult to understand how any government which claims to represent the primary producers can accept an agreement, the purpose of which is to reduce the price of wheat. The growers should have been consulted on this matter. The Government tried to introduce a so-called wheat stabilization scheme some time ago, but under the Constitution the scheme can be enforced only with the co-operation of the States. The Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, said that a poll of the growers should be taken before the scheme was put into operation, but the Government refused to do this. However, Mr. Playford held a poll of the growers in South Australia on the subject, and the Commonwealth’s scheme was rejected. The honorable member for Riverina said that if a vote were taken 90 per cent, of the growers would favour the International Wheat Agreement. 1 have recently conducted twenty meetings throughout the Wimmera and I am convinced that 90 per cent, of the growers are opposed to the agreement, because it is not in their best interests. The maximum price under the agreement is about 12s., and the minimum price about 6s. a bushel and these prices are f.o.r. ports. I was at a meeting recently at which the president of the Country party in Victoria, Mr. S. Lockhart, ‘said that Australia at the International Wheat Council would be like a small boy crying out in a very small voice because its voting strength would be not more than 8 per cent, of the total. The honorable member for Wilmot said that we must be prepared to co-operate. I remind him that the millennium has not arrived, and the kind of co-operation for which he asks is not practicable. Some time ago, Australia subscribed to the Bretton Woods Agreement, and not long afterwards France devalued its currency, and threw all the machinery out of gear. Nothing much has been said about it by Government spokesmen, because the truth in regard to that matter does not make good hearing. Australia sank -millions of pounds in the Bretton Woods business, and now we are being asked to subscribe to another multilateral agreement which may cost us many more millions of pounds. We should get all we can while prices are high. If the wheat-growers were able to get the full benefit of the prices now ruling they could stabilize their own industry, and improve their farms in a way that will not be possible while this Government is in office. The powers of the Government in connexion with the acquisition of wheat are waning. Before very long it will have no power to acquire wheat, so it is looking around for another way to keep control in its hands. We remember that when the 1946 referendum in connexion with conditions in industry was defeated the Government appointed conciliation commissioners, and so overcame its difficulties to some degree. Now, when it is faced with the loss of its power to acquire wheat, it seeks to retain its power over the industry by making Australia a party to an international wheat agreement. The Government of the United States of America has not yet ratified the agreement. What will be the position if the United States of America and Canada fail to ratify it? Will Australia continue to regard itself as bound by the agreement? The tale of woe which we have heard about the wheat industry is true enough. The honorable member for Wilmot said that it had become a real burden on the nation. That is true, and it was because world parity prices for wheat were so low. However, since the Labour Government has been in office, world parity wheat prices have been steadily increasing until Argentina is able to sell wheat at as much as 30s. a bushel. The Australian wheat-growers are entitled to the benefit of such high prices, but that benefit is to be denied to them under the agreement. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture said that no restriction had been placed on growers in the harvesting of their crops. The VicePresident of the Executive Council challenged any one to prove that any such restriction had been imposed. I interjected that I was prepared to accept the challenge. As a matter of fact, the Minister’s statement was not true. It is a well-known fact that in my constituency there are certain wheat-growers - whose names I can furnish if desired - who had a certain amount of self-sown wheat over their basic acreage; one man had 30Q acres over and wanted to strip 5.0 acres of .it. That was in the harvest of 1942. He was not allowed to harvest the 50 acres. I contend that wheat-growers should be allowed to take advantage of good seasons and God’s bountiful gifts.
It would not be of any use trying to introduce a scheme such as the International Wheat Agreement when wheat prices are low, because it is obviously designed to bring prices down. Take for example the time when wheat was standing at 2s. 2d. a bushel. If the International Wheat Agreement in its present form had been brought in then the first cut applied would have reduced the price to ls. 6d. a bushel and eventually it would have been brought down in the terms of the agreement to 6d. a bushel. Charges would have amounted to lid. a bushel, so that the wheat-grower would have finished up paying for the wheat to be taken from him. I claim that the measure has been introduced only because prices are high.
The honorable member for Riverina said -
I sun not concerned with what happens to other countries. My main concern is the welfare of Australia’s wheat-growers.
That is in line with the following statement by a Labour member recently when discussing the poultry problem -
I am not concerned with poultry or wheat; all 1 am concerned with is the egg industry.
I would point out that that member represents a city constituency. There are 33 countries overseas which are signatories to this agreement, but the member was not concerned with them.
Then the honorable member for Wilmot said -
We want a great co-operative world.
Surely, before these speeches are made, Government members should decide on a policy which will avoid such contradictions.
The honorable member for Riverina congratulated the Government on four occasions. He suggested that Australia is the envy of the world, but I cannot agree with that. Let us consider his contention. Are we the envy of the world because we have had greater absenteeism in the coal industry than any other country ; because we turn ships around more slowly than any other country; because we are one of the highest-taxed countries in the world - in 1939, taxation per head of the population of Australia was just over £17, and now it is £55 a head - or are we the envy of the world because our primary producers are prepared to work long hours in order to produce goods to feed the peoples of the world ? Will we continue to be the envy of the world if we do not foster the main factors in our national economy? Certainly not! The things that have been fostered by tho Australian Labour party do not bring economic stability.
The honorable member for Riverina also pointed out that the test of the prosperity of a country is full employment. That is highly ridiculous of course. He went on to say -
With everybody employed we cannot get materials. ls it any wonder that the primary producers cannot get materials? The only way for a country to be prosperous is to have full productive employment and to deny skilled labour to unnecessary services, which are keeping men from productive work. I am referring to TransAustralia Airlines, which retains expert engineers to service aircraft. Such skilled men could be more advantageously employed duplicating spare parts for the machinery used by our primary producers.
– Order !
– It was pointed out toy the honorable member for Riverina that contented people are prosperous people. We might reasonably ask, are we a contented people? - with the housewives of this country still having to stand in queues and carry coupons in order to procure foodstuffs and many articles in short supply.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! The honorable member should confine his remarks :to the subject under debate.
– I am replying to “the honorable member for Riverina. “Suffice to say, the people of Australia arc anything but contented,, and they proved “that in no uncertain manner at the recent prices and rents referendum. He went >on to say that the Government has done a great deal for the wool industry, and I :think therefore, that I am within my Tights in referring to that industry. 1 would point out that when Government restrictions were removed the price of wool rose tq a higher level than ever before and of course it is well known that this Government transferred over £7,000,000 of the wool proceeds to Consolidated Revenue.
-Order !. The honorable member must confine his remarks to the matter under discussion.
– It has been pointed out by the Minister for Works and Housing that the wheat-growers have been given £40,000,000 in subsidies.
– I said assistance.
– And now he states the wheat-growers must make some contribution ! It gives us an indication that he does not realize the contributions which the wheat-growers made to this country in the past. Had not the courts recently ruled that the Government had power to acquire wheat and that the wheat-growers were not entitled to the full overseas value of their product for the 1945-46 crop, the Government would have had to pay to them no less an amount than £30,000,000 alone. The Government, however, had the law on its side, and thus the wheat-growers made a contribution of £30,000,000 to the benefit of this country. Another contribution which they have made is the provision of stock feed at concessional rates for the sheep and poultry industries’ amounting to millions of pounds. Million of sheep have’ been fed on wheat, and for a long time, the wheat industry has been subsidizing the poultry industry by making wheat available at concessional prices. In spite of that> the Minister for Works and Housing has’ the temerity to say that the wheat-growers should make some contribution. No industry has made greater contribution’s than has the wheat industry to the welfare, progress and stability of this country. The industry will continue to do so; but it demands a fair deal from the Government in order to enable it to recoup some of its losses’. Wheatgrowers have waited long, enough for good pa-ices; now that good prices prevail,, farmers should be able to take advantage of them.
The ratification of this agreement will penalize the wheat-growers. Endeavours have been made’ in the past to reach an international agreement in respect of wheat, but because Argentina refused to become a! party to it, no workable arrangement could be made. This agreement will become unworkable because Russia and Argentina are not parties to it, and it is therefore not a world agreement. If prices fell,. Russia and Argentina could undersell, the producing countries which are signatories to this agreement. In such circumstances, the agreement would collapse. Government supporters have said that the wheat-growers have complained because wheat was sold to the United Kingdom at ls. 6d. a bushel less than world parity. That statement is without foundation. I represent a great number of wheat-growers, and not once have I heard any complaint from them about that sale. They realize that the transaction was necessary because of the economic crisis through which the United Kingdom was passing; but at the same time, they contend that if concessions are to be made to the United Kingdom, the cost of them should be borne, not by the wheat-growers alone, but by the whole community. These are salient facts which should be brought to the notice of the people.
We are not to be given an opportunity to amend the articles of this agreement. The first three clauses of the bill are preambles, and clause 4 provides that “ approval is .given to the acceptance by Australia of the International Wheat Agreement in accordance with Article XX. of that agreement “. The text of the agreement then follows. It cannot he amended or altered in any way. Probably, ‘there are some honorable members opposite who do not agree with all the articles in the agreement, but they, too, are powerless to alter them. It is amazing that such an important agreement as this should be signed, not by a senior Minister, but by the Australian representative in Washington, Mr. Makin. The agreement was apparently approved by a .gentleman representing the Australian Wheat Board in London and an employee of the Department of Commerce. One would think that an agreement of such vast importance to Australia would have warranted the personal attention on the spot of a senior member of the Cabinet. However, the Government thought so little of it that it was content to allow this important agreement to be handled by public servants.
No matter how good or bad this agreement may be, the Government has completely disregarded the opinions of the wheat-growers in regard to it. Many of the wheat-growers are the sons of those who pioneered this country, who established their’ holdings in the Mallee and other wheat-growing areas and who invested’ their savings in the industry, only to find that the Government swoops down on their product, takes it from them, and sells it without consulting them on the subject.
– The banks have “ cracked down “ on the wheat-growers.
– The honorable member for Wilmot has repeated to-night his speech on the Banking Bill. He ‘referred to the conditions that obtained in the wheat industry some years ago. I remind him that those conditions were common in all countries in those days. If we are to retain a semblance of democracy, we must give to our wheat producers an opportunity to say what should be done with the product of their labour. We should not ride rough shod over the wheat-growers as this Government does. As a representative of the Wheat Growers Federation has said, this agreement will be. ratified whether the wheat-growers like it or not. He added that at least £12,000,000 will be lost in the first year of the operation of the agreement in respect of sales to the United Kingdom. Unlike the honorable member for Riverina, I find that wheat-growers in my electorate are bitterly opposed to the agreement. Honorable members opposite have cited certain authorities as being in favour of the agreement. 1, have pointed out that most of those authorities are in the pay of the Government. Few of them are wheatgrowers of any importance. Most of them hold government posts at the pleasure of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Wheat-growers generally are opposed to the agreement, -and resent the failure of this Government to consult them about the disposal of their product. Lord Macaulay said that the principal purpose of government is the protection of the person and property of the individual. This Government has not protected the property of the wheatgrower. On the contrary it is ignoring all the principles of democracy.
Debate (on motion by Mr.Mcleod) adjourned.
House adjourned at 11.9 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 June 1948, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1948/19480603_reps_18_197/>.