18th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Deputy SPEAKER (Mi. j. J. Clark) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. CHIFLEY ) proposed -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
– I must lodge my protest against the proposal to adjourn the House to next Wednesday. We all realize that a horserace which is a classic event in Australia will be run in Melbourne next Tuesday, but in my opinion it is not ‘ important enough to warrant the House taking an extra day off when the -notice-paper, is so cluttered that it will be impossible for us to discharge our parliamentary functions properly in the brief period that, it is anticipated, remains of the current sittings. It is generally rumoured that the Parliament will go into recess about the middle of November, which is only a fortnight hence. If that report is correct, we shall have only two days next week and a few days in the following week in which to complete the business that we have on hand. In that brief sitting period, we shall be called upon to debate, amongst other things, the merits of the proposed redistribution of Commonwealth electorates. Charges have been made in the press, and many citizens believe them, that there has been a gigantic jerrymander of the electoral divisions.
– Order I The honorable member must confine his remarks to the motion before the House and must not discuss any matters listed on the notice-paper.
– I am enumerating the subjects which are listed for debate.
– That is permissible, but the honorable member must not debate them.
– Very well, I shall not refer to them in-detail. In the next two weeks the House will be called upon to consider a number of important measures, including the Australian Broadcasting Bill 1948, the proposed redistribution of electoral divisions, the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Bill 1948, which provides for the transfer of a large number of employees of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to the control of the Public Service Board, and two bills dealing with the wheat industry, which will require lengthy debate. In addition, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) has made a request for a debate on international affairs, which the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has promised to grant if time will permit. All of these matters will have to be dealt with within a period of only a few sitting days, yet the House is now being invited to adjourn until next Wednesday, presumably so that honorable members Who are interested in horse-racing will be able to attend the Melbourne Cup meeting. I know from experience that, either next week or in .the following week, the Prime Minister will tell us that, because of the limitations of time and the urgency of business, he must apply the gag and “guillotine” ‘ the business. He has attempted to justify this proposal on the ground that members of the Opposition have wasted the time of the House.
Government MEMBERS. - Hear, hear!
– If no time is to be wasted, let us sit on Tuesday, so that we may discuss the matters which the Government considers to be. urgent. I protest against this proposal, and I reject the explanation made by the Prime Minister in his attempt to justify it.
.- It is unusual for the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) and Opposition members generally to protest against a proposal that the House should not sit on Tuesday. Whenever a proposal is submitted that the House should sit on four days a week, Opposition members almost invariably complain bitterly that the additional day’s sitting will interfere with their work in their constituencies and will prevent them from dealing with the volume of correspondence which takes up- so much of the time of all honorable members of this Mouse. It is surprising that the honorable member for
Richmond, who represents a New South Wales constituency, should complain about this proposal. Even when the House sits on four days a week, honorable members representing New South Wales constituencies are able to visit . their homes every week-end, a privilege which is denied to honorable members representing constituencies in distant States. If the House does not meet until Wednesday of next week, honorable members from distant States will’ be able to visit their homes and families and enjoy a privilege which is given to honorable members representing New South Wales constituencies every week. I understand that- the honorable member for Richmond invariably takes advantage of the week-end break to visit his home. There is no lack of willingness among . members and supporters of the Government to continue to sit until Christmas if the business of the House renders such a course necessary. The honorable member for Richmond and other honorable members opposite have shown . a desire to end the sittings of the Parliament at times when the Govern- ‘ ment has been anxious. that the Parliament should continue to sit in order to complete the business on the noticepaper. The case stated by the honorable member for Richmond is a poor one indeed. His suggestion that the “ Government is anxious to hurry through the business of the House and to limit the discussion of important legislation has no foundation. As the representative of a Western Australian constituency, with little opportunity to visit my home, I am prepared to agree that the House should sit on Monday every week, and, if necessary, all day on Fridays, in order that the fullest opportunity shall be given to honorable members to debate the matters brought before them. If that practice were followed, honorable members representing New South Wales constituencies would.be placed in approximately the same position as are honorable members representing constituencies in the more remote States. I protest against the unworthy propaganda indulged in by honorable members opposite in an attempt to gain some political advantage from this proposal.
. I, too, protest against the proposal of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) to interfere with the normal routine of the House by abandoning the sitting on Tuesday next in order to enable honorable members who support the racing industry bo attend a notable event which is .scheduled to take .place in Melbourne next Tuesday. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) has drawn attention to the fact that the notice-paper contains a list of 22 bills which have yet to be disposed of as well as many -other items. Other bills which have been presented to the Senate, and which have yet to come before us, will demand the closest consideration because they constitute a challenge to the liberty of the subject which we understood had been firmly established many hundreds of years ago, through the evolution of the parliamentary system of government in Great Britain. In addition, a disastrous strike is pending in the coal-mining industry in New South Wales. Virtually, civil war is raging between two of the most powerful unions in the Commonwealth., and, in the words of Lenin-
-Order! The honorable gentleman must confine Ms remarks to the matter before the Chair.
– The matter before the Chair is whether this House can afford, in -view of the crisis that facing Australia, to adjourn from Friday at midday to Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.; whether we can allow matters of State to be passed over for matters of pleasure; and whether we can allow internecine warfare to continue between two great industrial organizations.
– Order ! The honorable member must not -discourse on any issue that is not directly connected with the motion now before the House. I have given my ruling, and he must obey it.
– I shall obey the ruling. It is not many months since the Parliament of the Commonwealth increased the salaries of its members by 50 per cent. The people of this country are entitled to expect this Parliament to
set an example. There is an enormous amount of business before us, and if this motion be carried the Australian people will be entitled to ask, “ Why are those gentlemen who are elected to the National Parliament to carry on the business of the country, giving themselves an extra day’s holiday when 9S per cent, of the people of the Commonwealth are unable to enjoy the luxury of a trip to Melbourne at the expense of the taxpayers to see the Melbourne Cup run? The proposal shows the duplicity and dishonesty of the Government.
– in reply - The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) and the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) should keep their heroics for some more appropriate occasion rather than waste the time of the House when we are endeavouring to get on with the business that is before us. The decision to sit on Wednesday next instead of Tuesday was influenced by several factors. First, I understand that Tuesday is .a public holiday in Victoria. I shall not have the pleasure of enjoying that holiday, but I understand that there is a holiday in that State. However, the guiding factor in the Government’s decision was that employees of the Government Printing Office and officers of the Parliament, including the Hansard staff, have had a great strain imposed upon them during the last seven or eight weeks. During that period, this House has been sitting not only four days a week, but also on Wednesday mornings, and quite frankly, the Government thought that this would be an opportunity to make next week a little less arduous for those people. It is true that some consideration was given to the fact that Tuesday is a public holiday in Victoria, not that very many honorable members from that State will be at the races. I understand that the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell), who represents the Melbourne constituency, has never been on a race-course. In view of all those factors, and after consultation with the Leader of the Senate, it was decided that the House should not sit until Wednesday nest, and that the Senate should not resume until the following week. The fact that the Senate will not meet next week is not associated in any way with the Melbourne Cup, and the adjournment of this House until Wednesday will afford some relief to parliamentary officers and the staff of the Government Printing Office, who have been hard pressed by the enormous volume of work which has been thrown upon them. I make no apology for the decision, because it is usual practice for this House not to sit on a Tuesday except towards the close of a session. Indeed, several members of the Opposition, one of whom is now abroad, have mildly protested to me on a number of occasions when the House has sat four days a week. The cheap heroics in which the honorable member for Richmond and the honorable member for New England have indulged will not make any impression on me. Most Ministers will be attending to their ordinary administrative duties next Tuesday. As I have stated, the decision to adjourn until next “Wednesday was influenced by the desire to give officers of the Parliament a respite, and by the fact that next Tuesday will be in the nature of a public holiday.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– Has the Minister for Immigration seen a statement in yesterday’s issue of the Melbourne Herald that Siamese students in Australia are leaving the country bitter and disillusioned at the treatment they have received from the Department of Immigration? Has the Minister been informed that one of those students, Mr. Saipradit, who came here to study political science, was refused an extension of his vise after he had been in Australia for only six months ? What was the reason for that refusal? Will the Minister confirm or deny the accuracy of Mr. Saipradit’s statement that he was put through a form of third degree by an official of the department before his application was refused? Does not the Minister consider that the visits to Australia of the nationals of countries in South-East Asia for cultural purposes should be encouraged, and that it is essen tial, for that purpose, that they should be treated with courtesy and understanding?
– I wonder how long it is going to take the honorable member for Flinders to realize that material published in the Melbourne Herald is published for propaganda purposes only and not for the purpose of giving information. Every person admitted to Australia as a student is admitted for a period long enough to enable him to complete his course. Every student is expected to leave Australia when he has concluded his course of study, obtained his degree or done whatever else he came “to do, except when he is able to obtain employment with a merchant or in some other approved category. The individuals to whom the honorable gentleman has referred were not interrogated by the Department of Immigration. If the honorable gentleman had read the footnote to the article he would have seen that I made -a denial of the statement made in the article.. The honorable gentleman comes into this chamber, after presumably having read my denial, and repeats the original charges made in the Herald. If he did not read what I said, he apparently read only what pleased him in the newspaper, noted it on the tabloids of his memory and decided to ask his question based only on that adventitious circumstance. The people who have been asked to leave Australia - and there are a number of them - were interrogated presumably by a department other than mine. I now make a categorical denial of any assertion that my department interrogated them and I have assurances from my officers that they know nothing of the supposed interrogation. An interrogation probably did take place, but the officers concerned were officers of the investigation service. The only conclusion I can draw from the statement and from other reports I have heard is that some of the students are Communists who have been here for some time and have been asked to leave by investigation officers. The honorable gentleman is very active sometimes in desiring to have every Communist in Australia deported to Russia, but on other occasions he complains because other Communists have been deported.
– I direct the attention of the Prime Minister to a statement published in the July issue of the Com-, munist Review, that was made by Mr. Thornton, secretary of the Federated Ironworkers Association, in which he said that the policy of the Federated Ironworkers Association is decided in consultation with the leaders of the Australian Communist party and that that also applies in many ways to the Waterside Workers Federation, the miners’ federation and the Seamen’s Union.
– Order ! Honorable members have a habit of rising and making long statements preceding their questions. It would be much preferable if they stated their questions first and gave their explanations later. By giving their explanations first they engage in a lot of propaganda not properly allowable at question time. I request the honorable gentleman to put his question.
– In view of the published statement to which I have referred will the Prime Minister say what action the Government proposes to take to protect the Australian Workers Union, particularly on the south coast of New South Wales, from the attacks of the miners’ federation, whose policy, as Mr. Thornton has stated, is decided by the Australian Communist party? Mr. CHIFLEY. - I have not seen the article. I do not read that particular journal and I am surprised that the honorable member for New England reads it. If the honorable gentleman desires me to do so, I shall read the article. The honorable member may rest assured that I have always been interested in the affairs of the Australian Workers Union, of which I have been a member for many years. That should be proof of my interest generally, and of my approval of the way in which the union conducts its affairs.
– Will the Minister for Works and Housing inform the House whether the Government is taking steps to provide homes for elderly people in Australia? If so, will consideration be given to the building of single unit homes in all States, pursuant to the CommonwealthStates Housing Agreement? If so, is the Minister in a position to say what would be the approximate rental of such homes?
– The matter of building homes for aged people was brought to my notice by the Minister for Social Services some time ago, and the honorable member for Bourke has also asked a question relating to it. I have given consideration to the matters raised, and examined the position in the light of the Commonwealth-States Housing Agreement. A short time ago I wrote to all State Premiers pointing out that whilst the Australian Government considers that every effort should be made to provide houses for newly married couples, some endeavour should also be made to provide single-bedroom units, or small multi-unit homes, for aged people in localities where younger people also live. I believe that the provision of such units would avoid aged people being removed from their environment. They could then continue to mix with other people and would feel that they were still part of the community in general. The amount of rent payable by those aged people would be in accordance with the economic rent provisions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. If the basic wage was approximately £6 a week this being the basis of calculation, the aged couple, both pensioners having no other source of income, would be required to pay approximately 14s. or 15s. a week as rental.
– It is reported from
Washington that a security alliance force of 50 divisions is being formed in Europe, to be ready at a strategic frontier along theRhine in case of emergency, and that Britain will supply one-third of the force and the bulk of the air fighter strength. Is the Prime Minister in a position to make any statement on this matter? As our fate would be involved in any clash between-Russia and the democracies, will the right honorable gentleman consider the advisability of Australian representation with the British force? In this connexion I point out that the Australian troops with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan are gradually being withdrawn.
– The answer to the first portion of the honorable gentleman’s question is “ No “. The matter raised in the second part of the question would be one for consultation between representatives of the United Kingdom, Australia, and, no doubt, other dominions, in order to decide what assistance should be provided by the Dominions. I have no doubt that the British Government will communicate with the Australian Government should its assistance be required in this, matter.
– Provision has been made in the budget for an expenditure of £30,000 this financial year to provide home, help to. families when mothers: are sick or when they require help for some other reason. Will’ the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services inform the House whether it is intended that money shall be provided to the States, which will be required to bear the responsibility of providing home help ? If that is not the Government’s intention, what course is proposed to be. followed in this matter?
– The. method by which the money to which the honorable’ member has referred will be expended is now being determined by the Minister for Social Services. Requests have been made to the Government from a number of sources to provide a housekeeping service as a form of assistance to help promote the health of families. To some degree, such a service is already being provided in Canberra. Following requests’ made by the States to the Minister, he recommended to the Government that a sum be set aside for the purpose of inaugurating such a scheme, perhaps, on a small scale as a commencement. Before doing so the Government will consult with bodies directly interested in work of this kind. The president of the Country Women’s Association in Queensland spoke to me about the matter some time ago, and I intimated to her that the Minister was examining the best method of utilizing this money in a way that would, perhaps, be the forerunnerof a much wider scheme, as it was thought that the Government might initiate a scheme of the character in respect of its general health, services. As soon as the Ministerhas completed his examination of the matter, I shall inform the honorablemember of the result.
INTER-UNION Dispute tit New South Wales.
– In view of the fact that the trouble on the south coast coalfield in New ‘South Wales is- now havingan interstate effect and is liable to throw idle the workers at foundaries in Victoria as well as in New South Wales-, I ask theMinister for Labour and National Service whether the Commonwealth is likely to intervene with a view te reaching asettlement of the dispute.
– As- the honorable member is aware, the’ dispute primarily is under the jurisdiction of the Joint Coal Board which has been dealing with it. The honorable member would alsoknow that it is an unusual dispute. Having arisen between two unions, it is, perhaps, for that reason1 more difficult of settlement. The parties are meetingagain this morning. As it is possiblethat workers in other States may be affected, although’ I do not think they will be, I shall examine whether the dispute has yet come within the jurisdiction’ of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation: and; Arbitration.
– Has the Minister - representing the. Acting Attorney-General seen the press- reports- dealing with &. rather unfortunate incident concerningjustices of the- High Court? Those reports state that one of the justices, after claiming that he had been offended by theactions, or statements, of one of his brother judges, left the Bench during court proceedings. Is that report correct? Is it a fact that incidents of that kind have not been uncommon among members of the High Court? Has the Chief Justice any disciplinary power to ensure that incidents of that kind will not recur? If not, will the Minister consider- introducing an amendment of the relevant legislation in order to ensure that such incidents which detract from the standing of the court will not be allowed to recur?
– I have read the. reports to which the honorable member has referred, and I know that the Acting Attorney-General also has read them. Naturally, such incidents are disturbing to him and to the public generally. They reflect internal trouble even in the High Court. I do not know whether the Acting Attorney-General intends to take any action in the matter, but he has it under consideration.
Standardization of Gauges
– Last year the sum of £500,000 was allocated for the standardization of railway gauges in Australia, but the Estimates and Budget Papers that were recently presented to the Parliament revealed that only £24,287 of that had been expended. Will the Minister for Transport inform the House of the reason for the -failure of his department to utilize the whole of the £500,000 that was made available to it for this purpose? Was the sum of £24,287 used to convert any non-standard gauge railway lines to standard gauge? If so, in what places was this done? If no such work was undertaken, will the Minister say how the money was expended ?
– The reason why the whole of the sum of £500,000 that was made available for this purpose was not expended is a very simple one. Some of the State governments did not co-operate with us to the degree that it was hoped that they would do. If they had cooperated fully and passed the necessary enabling legislation, work on the standardization of railway gauges would have begun long ago. If the honorable gentleman had any knowledge of this subject, he would realize that an expenditure of £24,000 would not enable much physical work on railway gauges standardization to be done. The money was used to maintain technical staff to prepare plans which will be put into operation when the State governments view the problem of railway gauge standardization from a national point of view and co-operate with the Australian Government in undertaking the work. It is hoped that the States that have been delaying the introduction of standardization will realize the necessity to standardize and modernize the Australian railways as soon as possible, and that the work will then proceed expeditiously and smoothly.
Aircraft Spare Parts
– My question to the Treasurer concerns the allocation of dollars for imports from the United States of America and its relation to air safety. Will the right honorable gentleman say whether a high priority is given to the allocation of dollars for the purchase of aircraft parte from the United States of America ? Are there any means by which the Treasury can obtain information concerning the age of engines in aircraft operated by private or public companies so that the urgency of the need for new imports may be determined ?
– The practice is to provide sufficient dollars for the purchase of spare parts for essential machines. Ample dollars are made available to purchase spare parts for American aircraft that are now operating on essential services in Australia, because the machines must be maintained in a condition in which they can operate safely and efficiently. Restrictions have been placed upon the purchase of complete aircraft from hard currency countries. Requests for dollars to purchase such aircraft were recently made by Trans-Australia Airlines and other operators, but the Government was unable to accede to them. Many parts of an aircraft can be replaced, and that is true of the engine. An aircraft engine may be treated as a spare part. That applies to wireless and other equipment that can be replaced to maintain aircraft in proper flying condition. I can assure the honorable member that the Department of Civil Aviation is maintaining a close watch and is imposing a strict check on all aircraft in service to ensure that their engine and radio equipment and other accessories are fit for service, and it will not permit any aircraft to continue in service unless it is in good order.
– Under the legislation which the Government has introduced to reimburse States by way of grants for money expended on the prevention and cure of tuberculosis, it seems probable that those States which have, so far, expended the least money will obtain the greatest benefit. I understand that the amount expended by the States for this purpose varies from 2s. to 4s. a head of their population, and it is obvious that the State which has expended the most money will receive proportionately the smallest grant. Will the Prime Minister inquire into the matter so as to ensure that the proposed scheme will not penalize those States which have expended the largestsums of money ?
-I can assure the honorable member that the legislation to which he has referred will not penalize any State at all. As part of its campaign to eradicate this dread disease, the Australian Government proposes to defray all new capital expenditure incurred by States in the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, and also to defray all increased maintenance costs incurred by State governments for that purpose. Any moneys expended by the States to increase facilities for the treatment of sufferers from tuberculosis, including the purchase and maintenance of new scientific equipment, will be reimbursed to them by the Commonwealth. That is part of the Government’s contribution to the national campaign against the disease, which, I am sure the honorable member will agree, should have been undertaken a long time ago. In regard to the honorable member’s suggestion that those States which have done most to combat the disease will be penalized by the Government’s proposals, I point out that all attempts made by any State government to combat the disease will be taken into account. At thelastconference of Commonwealth and State Ministers the statistics of the incidence of tuberculosis in the several States and detailed information of the efforts made by them to combat the disease were the most complete which I have ever seen at such a conference. We were given a complete picture of the financial resources available to each State for the prosecution of a national campaign against the disease, and, as a result, it was possible to prepare a detailed plan of campaign against the disease for the current financial year, and, also, I believe, for the next financial year. Whilst the State Ministers did not express complete satisfaction with that plan, they did not make any serious criticism of it, but appeared to be satisfied that the Commonwealth had put forward a very reasonable proposition. Under that scheme it is proposed that the Commonwealth shall not only meet expenditure incurred in the campaign against tuberculosis during the current financial year, but that it shall also increase its contribution by approximately £6,000,000 during the next financial year.
The following bills were returned from the Senate: -
Without requests -
Appropriation Bill 1948-49.
Without amendment -
Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill 1948-49.
Bill presented by Mr. Dedman, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill he now read a second time.
The Genera] Assembly of the United Nations in the second part of its first session adopted a convention dealing with the privileges and immunities of the United Nations, including provisions relating to officials of the organizations and to representatives of members. The convention was recommended for accession by the members of the organization, and has already been accepted by about twenty nations. The convention . requires that, before accession, a member state must be able under its own law to give effect to it. This bill provides for the approval of the Parliament to accession of Australia to the convention, the purpose of which is set out in full in the schedule to the measure. The bill also authorizes fulfilment of similar conventions relating to other international organizations. Draft conventions relating to the privileges and immunities of specialized agencies like the World Health Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization, have already been prepared in terms almost identical with that relating to the United Nations. The General Assembly of the United Nations when it adopted the convention, called upon all members to legislate to prohibit the unauthorized use, for commercial and other purposes, of the name, seal and emblem of the United Nations. The World Health Organization has taken similar action, and other specialized agencies will doubtless do so. The bill will therefore, enable appropriate action to be taken to prevent infringement of those resolutions. The Income Tax Assessment bill which has been passed by the House contained certain provisions to provide for observance of the convention and in due course the Defence Act will be amended in a similar manner. The enactment of this legislation will ensure that Australia shall be able to comply with its international obligations to accord appropriate privileges and immunities to officials of international organizations visiting Australia and living in Australia in the event of permanent offices of the organizations being established here.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 12th October (vide page 1452), on motion by Mr. Pollard -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Members of the Parliament are now being asked to approve of legislation that cannot stand on its own feet. It is a part of a composite Australia-wide plan requiring complementary legislation by the State parliaments to make it effective. It is, beyond question, most amazing and I am quite sure, most improper that the Parliament should be asked to pass the bill without being allowed to see even the nature of the State legislation, because it is obviously conceivable that the terms of the State legislation may throw an entirely different light on the Commonwealth measure. I believe that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) must have discussed with State Ministers, in draft form, the terms of the legislation which they will present to their parliaments and I can only regard it as a gesture of contempt to this Parliament that he has not circulated with this bill a draft of the State bill. In introducing the bill, the Minister described it as a measure “ to give effect to the plan of the Australian Government for stabilizing the wheat industry “. That scarcely tells . the story. It is, of course, the third plan of the present regime and represents the latest, and possibly the final, abandonment by the Labour Government of its earlier plans and schemes. The Labour Government first propounded the idea of stabilization of the wheat industry by guaranteeing 4s. a bushel for the first 3,000 bushels grown by each producer, and 2s. a bushel, increased in a later season to 3s. a bushel, for wheat grown in excess of 3,000 bushels.
– Three shillings was the first advance.
– Two shillings a bushel was the only guarantee for wheat in excess of the first 3,000 bushels. The Minister knows that very well. That was known as the Scully stabilization plan. It was a silly and unjust scheme, and, inevitably, it was abandoned. In 1946, a bill for a more comprehensive scheme” for stabilization of the industry was introduced. It was my province to point out in’ this House the weakness and injustices of that scheme. Like the Scully plan, it also has been abandoned. This bill will repeal that measure. A few months ago the Government forced through this Parliament a bill to ratify the International Wheat Agreement. That also is now a dead letter.
Before examining the present plan, let us consider the principles of a true stabilization scheme. First, there should be a guaranteed price covering the cost of production and a reasonable profit. Secondly, the guarantee should apply long enough to provide real stability, having regard to varying seasons, amortization of machinery, equipment, and the like. Thirdly, there should be an assurance that the plan will last, that it will not break down, and that the Treasury will be able to meet the calls made upon it, under the plan, if any. Fourthly, the plan should be fair to growers, fair to taxpayers, and in the public interest generally. At this point, we arc bound to conclude that some limit must be placed upon the total guarantee. Those are the principal features of an adequate and justifiable stabilization plan.
In Australia, everything is complicated and made extraordinarily difficult by the division of constitutional authority between the Commonwealth and the States. The Labour party has at last been forced to acknowledge the status of the States in respect of wheat stabilization. This plan recognizes the constitutional limitation of the power of the Commonwealth to control prices and production and to direct sales within Australia. I commend the Government for the fact that it has, after ten years of education from this side of the House, recognized that it is the only proper constitutional and fair means of working out a wheat stabilization plan. If ever there was an instance of the justification of our parliamentary system, which provides for a free and critical Opposition, this is the classical example. This measure, of course, is primarily directed to the fixation of prices and the equalization of returns to growers through a pooling system. It is history that the Australian Country party first propounded the necessity for pooling to achieve orderly marketing. It declared for a wheat stabilization plan ten years ago, and faced up to all those diffi- cul ties. First, we devoted ourselves to ensuring that the price paid by Australian consumers to Australian growers should be related to Australian costs of production and Australian standards of living and should not be determined, as it had been hitherto, by export parity, which was sometimes decided by the purchasing power of an Asiatic country. The Commonwealth being without price-fixing power except in wartime, and the States being then unwilling to use their powers, the two parties now in Opposition fixed a home consumption price for wheat in 1938, for the first time in Australian history, by employing the flour tax method. A price of 5s. 2d. a bushel in bags at ports was established for growers,, and consumers were provided with bread at a price of ls. for a 4-lb. loaf. That afforded stability alike to the wheatgrowers and to the wage-earning consumers.
I remind the House, the growers, and the public generally, that what the present Opposition parties did in this regard ten years ago stood and served both growers and consumers for nine years. The prices of 5s. 2d. a bushel for wheat and ls. for a loaf of bread remained until the Labour Government increased both of them within the last year. I also remind the House and the public that, when we introduced our scheme in 1938 and put it on the statute-book, every member of the Labour party in this Parliament spoke and voted against it at every stage. To-day, ten years later, those members embrace the principle and have the temerity to claim the credit for having worked it out. It is not inopportune to point out that the principle of establishing a home consumption price payable to producers and a stable and reasonable price for consumers, of which the Australian Country party was the first proponent and has been the constant advocate, has been of immeasurable benefit to growers and consumers and to the general economy of the country. We had a long fight to stabilize the wheat industry, .a longer fight to stabilize the butter industry, and a sharp and hard fight to stabilize the dried fruits industry. I do not think that Australian economists or wageearners and family men have yet begun to realize the unique and almost immeasurable benefits that have been derived by everybody from the primary industry stabilization schemes which the Labour party found in operation when it came into office and which, during the difficult years of war, kept our costs of living and costs of production at levels which made this country the envy of almost every other country.
The benefit to Australian consumers of having the cheapest bread, butter, sugar and dried and canned fruits, at prices which never varied one farthing a pound year after year during catastrophic war, whilst most other costs went up and up, derived from the creed, which the Australian Country party started to preach 30 years ago, of stable prices for producers and consumers. Imagine how much better off still we should be if we could have had the same system for the stabilization of prices of meat, eggs and other foodstuffs! Think what an insurance the application of this policy of the Australian Country party would be against inflation and depression alike! Yet, some people think that the Australian Country party is a sectional party. In establishing an Australian home price, this plan merely makes a slight adjustment of what we did ten years ago. A price of 5s. 2d. a bushel for bagged wheat in 1938 has become 6s. 3d. a bushel for bulk wheat in 1948, and the States now agree to fix prices, so the flour tax device, which was designed to achieve nothing but price fixation, is no longer necessary. It will not be denied, I hope, that 5s. 2d. for bagged wheat in 1938 compared more than favorably with 6s. 3d. for bulk wheat in 1948. It is true that we did not apply the 5s. 2d. home-consumption price to wheat for stock feed. On prices then prevailing for eggs, bacon and dairy products, producers in those industries could not have paid 5s. 2d. a bushel for wheat. In this plan, stock-feed wheat is included. On last year’s level of value, it cost wheatgrowers approximately £7,000,000 to aid other primary producers. Growers have made it plain that they are willing to supply a reasonable amount of stockfeed wheat at the Australian homeconsumption price. Resolutions of representative bodies of growers have declared for a limit of this concession to 15 per cent, of the surplus over Australian home-consumption needs. This bill provides nothing on that point, and the only interpretation that I or any one else can put upon it is that all the stock-feed wheat demanded will be supplied at the home-consumption price. In a year when there is a combination of high export prices and a small crop, and a big demand for stock feed - factors which a drought would produce - the loss .to wheat-growers through such a system would be most serious. The fair and proper thing to do is to fix some limit, either a percentage of the crop or of the export surplus, or a definite quantitative limit, say 10,000,000, 15,000,000 or 20,000,000 bushels, whatever may be agreed as a fair amount, as a limit of growers’ liability to supply stock feeders at the home-consumption price. Beyond that limit the Government should make good to the Australian “Wheat Board and through the board to the growers, the difference between the home price and export values. The Opposition parties make their position quito clear on this point. It is regarded as just as important to producers in the stock-feeding industries as to consumers that stock feeders should be assured of all their requirements at the constant homo price, for we believe in consistently following this policy of stabilization right along the line. The cost of concessions, however, must not be borne entirely by the wheat industry. The Australian Country party has always held the view that an industry cannot be adequately stabilized by a mere five-year guarantee, with all the uncertainty that prevails as the end of the period of the guarantee becomes imminent. Preparations for a wheat crop commence almost two years before the crop is harvested. One does not need to he an expert to see that, with this industry, a five-year guarantee is inadequate. “We have always believed that, if a period is to he put to the guarantee, ten years should represent the minimum.
– It is surprising that the honorable member’s party did not make such a provision when it had the opportunity to do so.
– “We have always ‘believed in a policy of continuous guarantees, annually related to prevailing costs. of production. I criticize this plan on that ground also. I remind wage-earners, and economists for that matter, that they are as interested as are producers in this question of long-term stability of prices.
The next point in this plan before the House is the guarantee of 6s. 3d. a bushel for five years, subject to annual adjustment to keep in line with costs. The stabilization plan introduced by the Menzies Government in 1940, which guaranteed 3s. lOd. a bushel for the following harvest, was accompanied by a declaration that that guarantee was to be the commencement of an annual guarantee which would be reviewed in the light of costs. Judged either by a cost of production basis actuarially arrived at, or by growers’ demands, a guarantee of 3s. lOd. a bushel in 1940 compares more than favorably with 6s. 3d. to-day. In 1940 the growers’ organizations, after a cost of production inquiry of their own, asked for 3s. lOd. a bushel at sidings. The Menzies Government gave them 3s. lOd. a bushel at ports. In 1947 the growers asked the Labour Government for the cost of production as determined by an investigating tribunal. The tribunal recommended 6s. at sidings before the 40-hour week award had been made. This Government gave growers 6s. 3d. a bushel at ports, which is equal to not more than 5s. Sd. a bushel at sidings. So, at best, on each point so far examined, this Government, eight years later, is copying our policy, but is acting less justly. The very essence of this or any other stabilization scheme should be a guarantee of at least the cost of production, plus at least such a profit as will maintain the industry in such a way a3 to make it as attractive to the investment of enterprise and capital as are other industries. The basic guarantee of 6s. 3d. a bushel falls short of this elementary requirement. Last year the Government established a reasonably representative committee to inquire into the cost of wheat production. The committee’s recommendations were founded on two provisions. The first was that it should be considered that a wheat-grower principal or owner would be sufficiently remunerated at £6 10s. a. week, allowing for the fact that generally he had his home on the farm. The Opposition parties say that that wage is ridiculously less than the award for any other skilled worker, and is incomparably less than the wheat-grower himself pays to his harvest hands. I do not need to produce evidence on that. Here is an item which I noticed in yesterday’s press -
The Victorian Railways wants casual or regular workers. The average earnings, with overtime, approximates £10 a week.
Surely it is conceded that wheat-growers work overtime.
– They do, for some part of the year; at others they work undertime.
– The Victorian Railways is constantly publishing advertisements for lad porters, nineteen years of age, and offering a wage varying from £7 to £8 a week. It is ridiculous to expect a wheat-grower principal or owner to be content with £6 10s. a week. I do not. think that it is necessary for me to flog this point. In the second place the cost, of production committee made its cost findings on the arbitrary assumption that a return of 3£ per cent: interest was adequate on the farmers’ capital investment. In its regulations, the Government has fixed the rate of interest on bank overdrafts, at’4£ per cent. That money is adequately secured. The interest rate on mortgages is also fixed at 4£ per cent, notwithstanding that the investment is adequately secured. The average competently conducted joint company last year earned from 10 per cent, to 18 per cent, on sharehold funds ; yet the Government expects the wheat-grower, with all the risks associated with his industry, to be satisfied with a lower return on his investment than he pays to the bank on his overdraft, or to his mortgagee in interest. I am dumbfounded to think that the Government expects men to remain in an industry which pays them a wage of £6 10s. a week, and interest on their capital investment minutely higher than that which can be obtained by investing in government bonds. No other industry is expected to maintain itself on that basis. Thirdly, the cost of production Committee made a very interesting observation, but did not reach any conclusion upon it. lt reported that most farm machinery was now nearly worn out and that the cost of replacement would be very much higher. But the committee really did not know what to think about that situation, and did not take it into account in making its recommendations, t am not here to criticize the committee, but surely that was a fantastic approach for it to make to this problem. Then, to cap the matter, the Government arbitrarily reduced the figure given in the finding of the committee by several pence a bushel and it has also disregarded the added costs inevitably associated with the introduction of the 40-hour week which came after the committee’s investigation. After all, the only atraction in this stabilization Scheme lies in the fact that it carries a government guarantee of 6s. 3d. a bushel, at ports, for up to 100,000,000 bushels per annum. I draw the attention of the wheat-growers to what this guarantee really means. It is for five years, including the harvest about to commence. The Government starts off holding, in the stabilization fund, £15,600,000 of the wheat-growers’ money, withheld from the last harvest payments. The world price to-day, and the world-wide demand, make it quite evident that the crop which is about to be harvested, that is, the first guaranteed crop, will all be sold at prices, which, under the terms of this legislation, will net for the Government, in money withheld from growers, at least an additional £10.000,000. .So, the guarantee is given with about £25,000,000 of the growers’ money held by the Government, or in sight, and with four more years to go. No study of production statistics, consumption demands and monetary or political influences could lead any reasonable person to believe that the price for the following crop will be such that it will be necessary to draw upon the stabilization fund. So, within a few months, the Government will be holding enough growers’ money to make good a deficiency of ls. 8d. a bushel on 100,000,000 bushels of each of the last three harvests of the guarantee period. Any suggestion that there is implicit in this five-year guarantee any likelihood of a call upon the Commonwealth Treasury, requires an extreme depth of pessimism, or a vivid flight of imagination. In short, growers who sold themselves into ministerial bondage on the persuasion that there was some real benefit possible or likely to accrue to them out of the Government’s guarantee, have had a confidence trick played upon them. Take the very real problem of placing some limit upon Treasury responsibility. In 1940, we faced this problem by applying the guaranteed price to a maximum quantity for the next harvest of 140,000,000 bushels delivered for sale. Labour repealed that provision, and replaced it with a guarantee of so much for the first 3,000 bushels produced by each grower, with “ half price payment for any excess, with the inevitable consequence of smaller sowings and reduced production. Labour then repealed that, arrangement and substituted a most cumbersome and bureaucratic system of licensing growers and restricting acreage per grower. With its repeal Labour completed the circle, and now, in this measure, has come back to our 1940 plan, and, in the light of the altered world demand, with famine replacing the glut that we had to contend with, has grudgingly applied the guarantee to 100,000,000 bushels of export wheat. In 1940, we introduced the principle of the wheat export tax to stabilize and equalize returns. Labour repealed that tax and now, eight years later, a part of Labour’s plan is to re-enact a wheat export tax act. So again, the Labour party is revealed as being unable to find any better device than that which we worked out eight years ago. Notwithstanding the terrible crop failure of 1945-46, the Labour Government withheld from wheat-growers millions of pounds actually received from export sales. It took the same action with regard to the 1946-47 and the 1947-48 crops. We declared that that was, in our opinion, illegal and, beyond argument, most unjust and harsh. We moved in this Parliament two years ago to have that money repaid to growers. The Labour Government declared repeatedly that it would not repay those deductions, ‘but now, the* High Court has shown that our claims were right, both in law and in equity, and the Labour Government has to disgorge to its rightful owners, £11,000,000 wrongfully withheld in respect of the 1945-46 and the 1946-47 crops. But it is not to refund the £15,500,000 that it holds from the 1947-48 crop deductions, which, we are sure, was just as illegally and unjustly taken from the growers. If ever legislation could be described as recalling the humiliating retreat fromMoscow, it is this measure. However, I do not employ that simile because this Government is so obviously retreating towards Moscow.
I have made it clear that the Australian Country party supports many of the provisions in the bill. Outside the Parliament, the general structure of the scheme would provide a case for action for breach of copyright, so identical are “many of its principal machinery elements with the wheat stabilization plan which was placed on the statute-book in 1940 on the initiative of the then Minister for Commerce, Sir Earle Page. But however much we may claim for the credit for being the first political party to originate the principles of the plan, and no matter how much we may attack details of. some of its provisions, incorported in this plan is one most important principle which the Australian Country party will never endorse. We shall resist that principle whenever a Labour government applies it, and we shall alter it when the Australian people put us in a position to do so. I refer to the principle of private ownership of property - the right of a man who plans, works, invests capital and takes the risks of production to be allowed to enjoy the benefits of the ownership of that which he has produced. The Australian Country party was brought into existence largely for the purpose of protecting producers against the exploitation of speculators and middlemen. Realizing that legislative protection against such exploiters could not be extended to every individual producer, the Australian Country party conceived a plan of collective handling and disposal of primary products embracing all the co-operatives, of orderly marketing and voluntary pools, and when the objective could not be otherwise obtained, compulsorily pools where a majority of the . producers so decided. But never did we conceive that the ownership of produce so handled should be recognized in law as other than belonging to those who produced it. Therefore, our plans for many years have been for pro- ducer-controlled authorities, and for the full ultimate distribution to producers of the net realization of sales. Whilst adapting our ideas even to the principle of compulsory pools, we have never wavered on the principle that ownership remains with the producer. This bill intends to perpetuate the practice of the war-time administrative processes of the Labour Government since 1941 of regarding a Minister, not as a trustee for the producers, but as the full and unrestricted owner of the primary produce that comes into his possession, to be sold without consulting the producers at whatever price he may decide, or his political policies may require. That system is being built as a permanent feature into this legislation. Australia is at the crossroads between socialization and free enterprise. Speaking at the Trades and Labour Day dinner at Ballarat, on the 25th April last, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture is reported as having said -
We will go on and on until eventually in Australia we will have a great co-operative Commonwealth. Its wealth will be owned by the people and will be operated in a socialistic manner for our people as a whole.
I ask the people of Australia, particularly the wheat-growers, to recognize that this legislation bears the fingerprint of the socialist. However, there is a difference. In a socialist state, I presume, any one who engages in wheatgrowing is assured of wages whether crops are harvested or not. But under this Government’s plan for the wheat industry, the primary producer will carry all the risks of production, including drought or flood. The principle may be stated thus - “ No crop no payment “. When there is a crop, the producer must obediently hand it over to the Minister, who will sell it secretly and for much less than its real value to New Zealand, as the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) did, or to Japan, as the Minister did a couple of weeks ago, without the by-your-leave of the producers or their chosen representatives, and even without consulting their representatives on the Australian Wheat Board.
– That statement is not true.
– My reference to the wheat deal with New Zealand is perfectly true, so the Minister needs to square off. If the price is not sufficiently high to cover the cost of production, the Government will make up the difference by drawing upon the millions of pounds which the Minister, has withheld from the growers from the sale of their produce on earlier occasions. When the political parties now constituting the Opposition in this Parliament return to power, they will maintain the basic principles of wheat stabilization, which are incorporated in this bill, because, as I have explained, this legislation is substantially a copy of the plan which the Menzies Government placed on the statute-book and which the Curtin Government repealed. Admittedly, some figures relating to costs and guarantees have been altered in order to bring the price up to date, but any government would have taken that action. What the Opposition parties do promise the wheat-growers and all Australians who are interested in the fight against the insidious imposition of socialist practices on persons and industries in this country, is that we shall restore recognition of the ownership of this basic foodstuff to the man who worked and took the risks associated with production. We shall make the Australian Wheat Board a body of principals, instead of a body of puppets. No Minister will be empowered to make secret sales of other people’s produce at concessional prices in order to gain a political advantage.
There are implications of the widest consequences in this question of export control and ministerial control. The Commonwealth Constitution does not permit a government to engage in trade, but the Labour Government has devised a process for defeating that constitutional limitation in relation to the products of the export industries. By canalizing all the products of an export industry into the control of a board and then establishing absolute ministerial control over that authority, the Government has contrived to gain control of export sales. Under our growing Australian economy, we are steadily emerging from the position of being an exporter only of primary produce, and are progressively developing the export of manufactured goods. The wheat plan may well become a pattern for wider application. By the adaptation of this plan to any other export industry, the Government will have ready at hand the means of diverting any export commodity into its possession. With a Minister as the only selling agent on terms of his own determination, the day may well come when Australian manufacturers engaged in production for export will find themselves in the grip of a Minister, as the wheat-growers are to-day. Governments formed by the political parties on this side of the House established and maintained the Tariff Board to conduct an open inquiry into the terms of entry of goods into this country; but this bill provides that the terms for export shall be as authoritative as anything that Mr. Stalin or Mr. Molotov could have devised. Honorable members opposite will contend that wheat-growers do not desire to be protected in this manner from autocratic ministerial sale of their products because the majority of them have voted in favour of this plan.
– The majority of wheatgrowers voted in favour of the Government’s stabilization plan against the advice of the members of the Australian Country party.
– I have anticipated that comment by pointing out two things; first, that the Minister himself told the House that there were 70,000 wheatgrowers in Australia, and secondly, that he later told the House that 29,912 of them had voted for this proposal. It is true that a handful of wheat-growers in Queensland and perhaps a few in Tasmania had no opportunity to vote, but had they had that opportunity the result would have been the same.
– Is the honorable member excusing the non-voters?
– There remain 40,000 wheat-growers - a substantial majority of the total - who either voted against the proposal or refrained from voting. On the Minister’s own figures it cannot be claimed that a majority of growers declared in favour of his plan. But the real point is that the question put to the growers was a political trick, something like the old question, “ Have you stopped beating your wife? Answer Yes ‘ or ‘ No ‘ “. The answer entraps you, whatever you say. The substance of the question put to growers was, in effect, “Do you want this stabilization plan, or no stabilization plan? “ That is analogous to taking a poll of wage-earners, on the question, “ Do you approve of a guaranteed basic wage of £5 a week or no guaranteed basic wage?” A man with family responsibilities would be compelled to vote for what he conceived to be some measure of security even though it was less than a just level. So I offer no apologies for saying that I do not accept the wheat-growers’ vote as indicative of their approval of everything in this plan. In fact, it is well-known that many of the foremost of the growers’ representatives have declared that they do not approve of much in the plan.
The stage was set for the ballot by ceaseless government propaganda reminding the wheat-growers of the low prices that they had experienced in the 1930’s. On top of that came a succession of authoritative ministerial declarations, by both the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and his predecessor, the present Vice-President of the Executive Council, that a substantial fall from prevailing prices for wheat was a certainty and that it could be expected soon. In fact, if earlier ministerial predictions had come true, wheat-growers would already be receiving a low price. In the face of that emphasized ‘ and oft-repeated reminder of depression prices and the prediction of an early price fall, growers were in effect asked to vote on the question, “ Do you want the Commonwealth’s plan involving guaranteed cost of production or would you sooner have nothing? “
The Lyons-Page Government quite apart from legislation of a permanent stabilization character, made appropriations in this Parliament to keep wheatgrowers going, and to help to adjust the depression debts of farmers generally, most of the sums provided for the latter purpose going to the wheat-growers. For those purposes, the Lyons-Page and Menzies Governments had voted about £20,000,000 to primary producers during the post-depression decade. Neither the Curtin Government nor the Chifley Government has asked this Parliament to vote one penny towards sustaining the wheat industry.
– That is not true. The present Government has made outright gifts for drought relief, and the honorable member knows it.
– To provide drought relief is not to sustain the wheat industry. I did not include drought relief in the figure of £20,000,000 that I have mentioned.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order! The honorable member should be allowed to continue his speech and any issue that he’ may raise can be answered during later debate.
– I have admitted that Liberal-Country party governments helped the primary producers, principally the wheat-growers, over a ten-year period, to the amount of £20,000,000 of the taxpayers’ money. The amount was a bagatelle compared with what the wheatgrowers have contributed to the taxpayers. Every taxpayer is a bread eater and last year 61,000,000 bushels of wheat were sold to Australian consumers at lis. Sd. a bushel less than could have been obtained from other purchasers. That represented a concession made by the wheat-growers to the taxpayers, of £35,700,000 in one year! That concession has continued, although not at such a high rate, for some years past, and will continue again this year at a very substantial rate. Thirty-five million, seven hundred thousand pounds is a lot of money to take from any industry in one year. But, in addition, the Government took directly another £15,600,000 in the form of the wheat tax. Three judges of the High Court of Australia definitely questioned the validity of the Wheat Tax Act 1946. Now this bill reimposes it retrospectively.
The plan contained in the bill guarantees the price only in regard to 100,000,000 bushels of the export surplus, and then only after all of the growers’ money has been expended. The Government, to make doubly sure that it shall not have to contribute to the so-called guarantee,, proposes a retrospective tax on tie wheat harvested in the season prior to the commencement of the plan. This retrospective tax on growers amounts to £15,600,000 out of the value of their last crop. With another tremendous extraction from growers out of the value of the wheat now about to be harvested, the Government will, within a few months, be in possession of a fund of, perhaps, £25,000,000, all taken from the sale of growers’ wheat in the last season and the current season. This is the money which will provide the so-called guarantee, and the Government will not be obliged under this legislation to contribute one penny towards making good its guarantee until every £1 of this immense reserve of growers’ funds has been expended.
It seems decidedly questionable whether the proposal to validate retrospectively the tax amounting to £15,600,000 on last year’s wheat crop will stand the test of legal challenge. Litigation on this subject is still unresolved. The High Court of Australia has given a ruling bearing on the matter, and an appeal to the Privy Council is pending. Three judges of the High Court, Mr. Justice Starke, Mr. Justice Rich and Mr. Justice Dixon, in the course of their judgments, implied that the previous Wheat Tax Act was invalid. The question of the invalidity of the Wheat Tax Act arises because it purported to levy tax on wheat compulsorily acquired. If that was the position in respect to Nelungaloo wheat in No. 9 pool, it also applies in like degree to wheat from No. 11 pool. No subsequent or amended act can alter the fact that the No. 11 pool wheat was compulsorily acquired, and that, even on the majority judgment of the court in the test case, the farmers are entitled to a distribution of all the money in the realization fund. The proposed deduction of £15,600,000 therefore cannot be justified in law. .From the point of view of simple, understandable equity, I have no hesitation in describing it as bare-faced robbery. The Minister, in explaining the present measure, said -
The cost variations will be reviewed each season by representatives of the States.
That is the part of his speech which purports to make good the guarantee that there shall be a year-to-year adjustment of the guaranteed price in relation to the home-consumption wheat which will take care of rising or falling costs of production. . Whilst I hope that it will not transpire that there is any catch in that provision in the measure, I point out that the whole conception .of this plan is dependent upon the six States acting uniformly in price fixation, and that two of the six States are buyers of wheat, not sellers. I hope that if it becomes necessary to ask those States to approve higher prices they will be as willing to raise prices against their own consumers as the Minister expects them to be.
I draw the attention of honorable members to the changed composition of the Australian Wheat Board. The war-time board was composed of a chairman appointed by the Government, a representative of the millers, and seven representatives of the growers, who were elected by the growers. The new board is by no means so favorable to the growers. The first five members of the board specified in the bill are to be appointees of the Minister from persons other than growers ; the remaining seven members shall be growers’ representatives. It is almost certain that the first five, that is, the Minister’s appointees, will be nien who are resident in Canberra or Victoria.
– The honorable member is fishing for information.
– By reason of their proximity to the head office of the board, those members will be able to maintain a weekly or fortnightly attendance at board meetings. It is not so easy for grower representatives from remote States to maintain regular attendance at meetings. The old board used to sit fortnightly. An extraordinary physical strain would be imposed on growers’ representatives from Western Australia and northern New South Wale.’? should they endeavour to maintain an unbroken record of attendance.
Recently, Mr. John Teasdale, tinWestern Australian growers’ representative, who is not a young man, told mc that he had travelled 600,000 miles in eight years, when discharging his duties as a member of the Australian Wheat Board.
– He will beat the record of the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) if he keeps on at that rate.
– I predict that in the new board it will be easy to get a quorum from the Minister’s appointees and nearby growers’ representatives, and that the influence of growers’ representatives will diminish substantially. However, I think I have made a contradictory statement, because I fail to see how something which does not exist in fact can be diminished. The influence of the growers’ representatives on major issues has been non-existent under this Government, whether they were in attendance at board meetings or not. The notorious New Zealand wheat transaction was concluded without the growers’ representatives even knowing what the Minister was planning. All of last year’s surplus was sold to the United Kingdom and to India without the approval of the growers’ representatives. The abortive international wheat agreement of a few months ago, under which ceiling prices for Australian wheat were fixed and the whole export crop sold for five years within a bracket of upper and lower limits, was concluded in the blackest secrecy so far as the growers’ representatives were concerned. The Minister is now busy selling wheat to Japan, and maybe to other countries. Therefore, I do not consider that it is worthwhile for either the growers or me to worry, because the growers’ representatives on the board are likely to bc swamped by ministerial nominees.
– The honorable member’s statement that I am selling wheat to Japan is not true.
– A fortnight ago the Minister said that he had sold a substantial amount of wheat to Japan.
– I did not say that I had sold it.
– The Minister said that he would not reveal other negotiations that were pending.
– Negotiations of the board.
– That seems to becompletely in line with the New Zealand transaction, the sales to the United Kingdom and to India last year, and the international wheat agreement. All I can say is that the Minister has changed hi3 mind. However, I point out that norepresentative of the Government told the growers, or, as far as I am aware, the State Ministers, before the ballots of the growers were taken, that the Government planned to alter the constitution of the board so radically against the growers.
The practical effect of the alteration will be that Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia will each have only one vote out of twelve on the new board. My colleagues from those States will have something to say about that aspect of the matter later in the debate. I shall not anticipate their remarks. I shall be interested to learn whether the Australian Labour party representatives of the wheat-growing areas in those State9 will be content with such a token representation. I should like the Minister to inform the House whether Mr. Cullen, executive member of the Wheat Stabilization Committee, and one of the Minister’s confidants on wheat matters, knew that the Commonwealth plan involved such a reduction of the relative strength of the growers’ representatives on the new board. If so, why did he not tell the growers that this was also part of the plan when he was campaigning recently in support of the plan ? This is a matter of considerable interest to Victorian wheat-growers. The atmosphere of the dominance of the board by the Minister permeates the whole of the proposed legislation. That could be said, also, in respect of every other board established by the Australian Labour party in connexion with the primary producers.
What irks and startles many producers is the manner in which the Minister continually defies the spirit of his own legislation. Au example of that attitude wa9 the replacement of the late Mr. Maycock, who was an elected growers’ representative, by an appointee. That appointment was not confirmed by a subsequent election. Although the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board died about eighteen months ago, the Minister has not bothered to appoint another chairman. The Minister has not even condescended to proffer any semblance of an explanation as to why this board, which ostensibly is controlling the handling and sale of a commodity which, when, taken at its world value is worth more than our wool clip, has had to function without an executive chairman during that period. I point out that this has been a critical period for Australia so far as wheat transactions, and the formulating of policies for the future control of the industry are concerned.
– The ordinary members of the board gained very good experience when acting as chairman during that time.
– Rumour is rife that Mr. F. Cullen, executive member of the Wheat Stabilization Committee, is to be appointed chairman of the Australian Wheat Board.
– The last rumour I heard was that Mr. Wilson was to be appointed. This suggestion appears to be yet another shot in the dark.
– If the Minister wishes to deny the rumour, now is the time for him to speak.
– What is the honorable member like at picking cup winners?
- Mr. Cullen is an experienced grower who has held high office in growers’ organizations. He has occupied his present position for a number of years. Primarily, the function of the Australian Wheat Board is to handle the selling of the export surplus of wheat. It is the biggest single business in Australia, selling perhaps £100,000,000 worth of one commodity. Mr. Cullen has had no experience whatever in connexion with the selling of wheat. [Extension of time granted.]
– I am prepared to coneider any suggestion that the honorable member may care to make regarding a nominee.
– That is very interesting. If the Minister waits until after the next general elections he will have a few of his friends looking for job3, but he will not be in a position to make the appointments. The sale of, perhaps, £100,000,000 worth of any one commodity is the biggest single business in Australia, but Mr. Cullen who, it is rumoured, is to be appointed chairman of the board, has had no experience whatever in the merchandizing of wheat. His only entitlement to appointment to that particular office has been achieved exclusively in the realm of political service to the Labour party. As honorable members know, it has been my practice since wheat has been my controversial subject to travel the country to state the Australian Country party’s point of view; and I have performed that normal function of a member of the Parliament far and wide. But to every town in which I have ever addressed a meeting Mr. Cullen has followed me, ostensibly in his guise as president - or ex-president as his position was from time to time - of the Wheat Growers Association, attacking the point of view I put forward and sponsoring the Labour party’s point of view. He has engaged in this campaigning continuously for years past while drawing a salary of £1,000 a year and expenses as executive member of a board established to limit wheat-growing during years when millions were starving for wheat and when, in fact, there was no limitation on wheat-growing in Australia. In other words, he has been maintained on the public pay-roll at this handsome salary to do a political job. He continued that job in addressing meetings supporting the Government’s present plan. If it transpires that he is appointed to this highly paid job of chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, then I shall say that he performed this service for Labour in the hope and expectation of reward.
– What a filthy louse you are.
– The Minister describes me as a “ filthy louse “.
– I withdraw it.
– I did not ask the Minister to withdraw. I would not ask him to withdraw. We know him to be a larrikin.
– The honorable member is always implying some ulterior motive ro people.
– I was about to say chat such an appointment would be as cynical and as immoral as the suborning by Labour of the former wheat-growing member for Wimmera, Mr. Alec. Wilson, who now enjoys his reward, after a trip around the world at the Government’s expense, in the sinecure of a seven-year appointment as Administrator of Norfolk Island. To the embarrassment of all parties, wheat has been a most controversial and difficult issue in Australian politics for years; but no other party has sought to escape its embarrassment by debasing the political morals of this country in the manner that Labour has done.
In conclusion, the general structure of stabilization embodied in this plan is a structure which the Opposition parties approve, because they devised it. This plan is a copy of that put into operation by the Opposition parties; and when we again assume office we shall maintain stabilization in this form because in this form we placed it on the statute-book in 1940. The Curtin Government repealed that legislation. But woven into the whole fabric of this plan is the principle of direct ministerial control of this product and of the lives and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of persons who are directly and indirectly dependent upon the industry. The Opposition parties do not condone that principle which we identify precisely as part of the socialist objectives of the Labour party, which we say are indistinguishable from those of the Communist party. At the first opportunity that comes to us we shall tear that element out of the plan and again make the Australian Wheat Board a body of free men and thus again free the wheatgrowers and their dependants from the thraldom of socialism which this imposes upon them.
.- It is regrettable that the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) has seen fit to make personal attacks upon the former member for Wimmera, Mr. Wilson, and Mr.
Cullen, who holds a government position to which he was appointed by the Menzies-Fadden Government, not this Government, to carry out the licensing of wheat-growers, the very thing which the honorable member for Indi has just attacked as being socialistic and communistic in character. The honorable member for Indi attacked several features of the bill, all of which were fully explained to the wheat-growers of this country. The honorable member, himself, admitted that he had travelled the country far and wide to put before the growers his view of the Government’s proposals. The farmers in Victoria were well aware of the proposals embodied in this measure. The honorable member himself has attested that fact. But knowing all these things, the wheat-growers of Victoria recorded the highest percentage of votes recorded in any State in favour of the Government’s scheme. As the honorable member has indicated, they voted with a full knowledge of the facts, including the proposal with respect to proportional representation of growers on the Australian Wheat Board. Certainly, the wheat-growers in South Australia were well aware of all the facts, because the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) made his second-reading speech on this measure before the ballot of the wheat-growers was held.
– The vote ,in favour of the Government’s scheme was lower in South Australia than in any other State.
– The wheat-growers in that State recorded a handsome majority in favour of the Government’s scheme, a majority which, I am sure, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) hopes, that he will get at the next general elections. The honorable member for Indi said that the Government had played a confidence trick on the growers. In view of the fact, to which I have already referred, that the growers cast their votes with a’ full knowledge of the Government’s proposals that statement is ridiculous. Of the growers who voted, 62 per cent, cast their votes in favour of the Commonwealth scheme. The honorable member for Indi said that there was an alternative to the Commonwealth proposal and referred to the old trick of asking a man whether he has ceased to beat Lis wife. I remind the honorable gentleman that the wheat-growers of “Western Australia were asked specifically whether they supported the State scheme or the Commonwealth scheme. The legislation in connexion with the State scheme was then on the Western Australian statutebook. The growers were fully aware of the implications of that scheme and of the Commonwealth scheme, and they were asked to say which of them they favoured. When the ballot was taken, <52 per cent, of those who voted said that they favoured the Commonwealth scheme. That was a remarkable result. The wheat-growers of Western ‘ Australia export a larger proportion of their crop than do the wheat-growers of any other State, and at the present time, export prices of wheat are high, while the home consumption price is fixed at the cost of production. If export prices remained at the present level, the Western Australian wheat-growers would lose more money as a, result of the operation of the Commonwealth scheme than would those in other States. If the export price fell, they could take advantage of our large internal consumption, the bulk of which takes place in the eastern States. I emphasize that the ballot was conducted at a time when the export price of wheat was high. Notwithstanding that fact, having considered both schemes, 62 per cent, of the Western Australian growers voted for the Commonwealth scheme.
– Sixty-two per cent. itf those who voted.
– Yes. That is the basis on which the honorable member was elected to the Parliament. He was elected by a majority of those who voted.
The honorable member for Indi stated that this scheme was the result of ten years’ education by the members of the Opposition. The fact is that the schemes that have been produced while I have been a member of the Parliament have always been attacked by honorable members opposite, because, as one honorable gentleman said on one occasion, they do not want a wheat stabilization plan that will satisfy the farmers, for then they would have nothing on which to attack the Labour party. The honorable member for Indi said, further, that this scheme is a replica of one that was put into operation by the Bruce-Page Government, which stabilized the wheat industry by guaranteeing a home-consumption price of 5s. 2d. a bushel. The honorable gentleman said that every member of the Labour party in the Parliament at that time voted against that scheme. The fact is that the scheme did not stabilize the industry. The guaranteed homeconsumption price related only to consumption by humans and had no relation to stock feed and the like. It was, in effect, a. tax on the people’s bread, and of no benefit to the wheat industry, which was at that time, in a depressed state. Few wheat-growers received anything from the miserable bounties or bonuses that they begged from the Government. Practically everything was taken by the banks to meet interest on loans. The money derived from the tax on the workers’ bread and that which was made available for debt adjustment did not go to the wheat-growers. In the main, it went to the banks to improve their security. The Lyons-Page Government promised that £20,000,000 would -be made available for debt adjustment but, in fact, only £12,000,000 was provided for that purpose. Very little of that money was of any assistance to the growers. The storekeepers who stood by the farmers when times were bad, the oil companies and the suppliers of superphosphate received only a small percentage of it and, in some instances, were written off as unsecured creditors. The taxpayers’ money was used to pay off mortgages, so that the private banks could get their pound of flesh. Is it surprising that those banks made £12,000,000 available for that purpose? They lent the money to the Government, and the Government paid it back to them, in effect, by improving their securities for loans. Is it surprising that the Labour party objected to that? Had I. been a member of the Parliament at that time, I, a9 a wheat-grower, should have been one of the strongest opponents of so miserable a scheme.
The honorable member for Indi said that the Government of which he was a member stabilized the wheat industry. Mr. J. E. Maycock, in an article in the South Australian Wheatgrower, said -
I have still a keen remembrance of the distress which existed in the fanning: community of Australia in the early thirties, after tenyears of good prices, when Farm Assistance Acts and debt adjustment legislation was enacted in all the wheat-growing States of Australia. 1 remember that 3,000 farmers went bankrupt in this State in ten years.
That shows how the industry was stabilized! I repeat that in South Australia, which ranks only third amongst the major wheat-growing States, 3,000 farmers became bankrupt. The statement continues -
I remember that for four or five years my work consisted chiefly of meeting hundreds of fanners, taking out a statement of their assets and liabilities and then being forced to tell them that they were in such a financial position that they had no hope of recovery and that the only business proposition before them was bankruptcy.
These men came from all parts of the State, good country as well as bad. I remember that most of these men were aged between 55 and 65. They had spent a lifetime working on the land; honest, industrious and lovable citizens; and I had to tell them that their country did not want them any more, that they were human scrap! A few were fortunate. They were over (15 and could get the old-age pension of £1 per week!
I remember! I’ll never forget! And I don’t want it to happen again and it won’t if I can help it. I stand for wheat stabilization.
Those are the words of the late Mr. J. E. Maycock, and they express his experience while he was secretary of a wheatgrowers’ federation, when, as he had stated, most of his time was occupied in assisting wheat-farmers to go through the bankruptcy court. Yet the honorable member for Indi had the audacity to say this morning that the Government of which he was a member stabilized the industry by imposing a tax on the bread consumers of this country. An idea of the assistance given to wheat-farmers by that Government can be gained from the fact that in the State of South Australia alone, 3,000 wheat-farmers became bankrupt.
The honorable member also attacked the Government’s plan as being socialist. However, in the next breath he advocated that a similar plan should be introduced for the marketing of meat, fruit and wool. After holding the Government’s plan for the wheat industry up to contempt as a socialist venture, he actually advocated that a similar scheme should be applied to other primary industries ! He told us that the Australian Country party was formed to ensure the orderly marketing of primary produce. I think he used the term “ collective marketing “, and when I interjected, “ That sounds too much like Moscow to me “, he altered his previous statement and said that the political party to which he belongs was not formed on the principle of collectivization but of compulsory pooling. What is the difference between compulsory pooling and collectivization? Does compulsory pooling represent freedom of enterprise for wheat-growers? If the Australian Country party advocates compulsory pooling, then I ask the honorable member why his party, which was founded approximately 30 years ago and has been represented in various anti-Labour governments since, has never made any attempt to implement that principle? The answer is that the members of the party have either forgotten that principle or they do not believe in it. I remind honorable members that the present plan, which has been endorsed by 62 per cent, of the wheatgrowers, is a form of socialism-
– -Of course, it is right in the Minister’s barrow.
– Of course it is, and I challenge the honorable member to vote against the implementation of the scheme when the division is taken. We shall know where he stands then. The vote cast by any honorable member at a division is the real test of the sincerity of his belief. All this talk of the honorable -member and some of his colleagues, who have gone through the country accusing the Government of socialism, is just so much propaganda. Of course, it is true that the Government’s wheat scheme is a socialist one, and if members of the Opposition had any honesty they would also tell the people that they believe in the principles of socialization, as indicated by their support of this bill. I shall tell the honorable member just how much we believe in that principle. We have applied it to the poultry industry and to the marketing of butter, and now we propose to apply it to the wheat industry. Our proposal for the wheat industry has received the endorsement of 62 per cent, of the wheatgrowers. “We have removed the element of gambling from one of the nation’s major foodstuffs, and have applied the principle of collectivization in order to guarantee to the industry a reasonable and profitable return to the workers engaged in it.
I turn now to another contention of the honorable member for Indi, who said that the present scheme was based on the same principle as the scheme introduced by the Menzies Government, in which the Australian Country party was represented. He said that the Government which evolved that scheme did not believe in restricting wheat-growing, but I point out to him that it was that Government which first introduced licensing of wheatgrowers. Obviously licensing would be introduced only for the purpose of restricting production, and the principle enunciated by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) was that production must be controlled. I shall read to honorable members portion of the -statement that. he made in the House of Representatives on the 29th March, 1944. It is as follows: -
The stabilization plan which I introduced provided a guaranteed payment of 3s. 10d., f.o.b. ports for 140,000,000 bushels of marketable wheat. This was based upon an estimated crop of 100,000,000 bushels, the understanding being that 20,000,000 bushels would be kept on the farms for seed. If the wheat were sold for more than 3s. 10d-, the grower was to receive the full amount. The plan provided for a production ceiling of 140,000,000 bushels of marketable wheat, and included a system of registering farms and licensing growers, because our objective was that the men actually engaged in the industry for years past should gain the advantage of the plan. We did not wish others to come in suddenly because the industry had been stabilised, and take the benefits from those who had done yeoman work in the past.
Because members of his party are now asserting that they do not advocate licensing of any kind, I emphasize that the right honorable gentleman advocated the reintroduction of licensing as late as March, 1944. Not only were the members of the Australian Country party responsible for the introduction of licensing in this country originally, but they continued to support that policy until 1944. Let us examine for a moment the wonderful scheme which the honorable mem ber for Indi alleges stabilized the wheat industry of Australia. At that time a costs investigation committee recommended that farmers should be paid 3s. lOd. a bushel at rail sidings, and the Menzies Government decided to pay them 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. Yet when, after a recent committee of inquiry had recommended that 6s. a bushel at ports should be paid to wheat-growers, the present Government decided to pay them 6s. 3d. f.o.b. ports, the honorable member for Indi criticized the proposal.
In the first year of operation of the restriction scheme introduced by the Menzies Government, the growers produced a marketable crop of 153,900,000 bushels. Since that Government was obliged, by the conditions of the scheme, to pay the guaranteed price on only 140,000,000 bushels, and the growers could deliver wheat only to the Government, the result was that the Menzies Government virtually confiscated 13,900,000 bushels. The growers received no more for the additional 13,900,000 bushels, and they might as well have left it on the farm. As a former wheatgrower, I know that those engaged in the industry at that time would have fared much better under the system introduced by the present Government. I shall quote some more facts of the remarkable scheme introduced by our friends opposite. Consider for a moment the financial burden imposed upon the taxpayers of this country by that scheme. Consumers had to pay flour tax on the 30,000,000 bushels which were sold for local consumption at 5s. 2d. a bushel. That returned to the Treasury approximately £2,000,000, which was required in order to meet in part the guarantee of a fixed price for the remaining saleable crop of 110,000,000 bushels. The result was that the industry could expect no assistance from the then Government unless the overseas price of wheat fell to approximately 2s. 6d. a bushel. About £2,000,000 was collected from the wheat-growers. The guaranteed price was only 3s. lOd. a bushel at ports, which is equal to 2s. lid. or 3s. at sidings, on the basis of 4£d. or 4 3/4d. a bushel freight. Had the price dropped to 2s. 6d. a bushel overseas, the Government would have got sufficient out of the bread eaters of Australia to save the Treasury from making any contribution at all. That is the scheme that the right honorable member claims saved the wheat-growing industry. I think I have proved conclusively that the Page scheme has no relation to this scheme. The next step was taken at the last general election by the Leader of the Australian Countrv party (Mr. Fadden) with, I believe, the approval of the Liberal party. It was a little step ahead, but incomparable with the stride taken by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) in this bill. The right honorable gentleman promised that the price of wheat would be “ reviewed periodically, having regard to fluctuations of production costs and parity with the internal index of commodity prices and having regard to the cost of production, world prices and prospects”. The right honorable gentleman said that the guaranteed return would be related to internal costs and export prices and prospects. So, clearly, he intended that if overseas prices crashed, regardless of the prices index of this country, prospects of overseas marketing had to -be taken into consideration.
– That was practically no guarantee.
– I agree. The bill provides that, regardless of overseas prices, Australian wheat-growers are guaranteed the cost of production. Although the right honorable gentleman stated that he did not propose to restrict production, he did say that he proposed the continuance of the licensing of growers, because he said that he would issue licences to ex-servicemen. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
House adjourned at . 12.55 p.m.
The following answers to question were circulated: -*
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– On the 22nd October, the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell) asked that an investigation be made of the allocation of petrol for taxis, particularly with reference to the needs of’ taxi cab proprietors in country districts. The Minister for Shipping and Fuel has supplied the following information : -
The petrol ration to taxi cab proprietors in country districts islese than in capital . cities, mainly because of the smaller areas of the towns requiring less taxi traffic than in larger centres. I suggest that in any cases where it is considered the ration allowed to taxi proprietors is insufficient to cover the reasonable needs of the district or to provide reasonable living for the proprietor, the matter should be brought under the notice of the Liquid Fuel Board in the State concerned for review.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 October 1948, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1948/19481029_reps_18_199/>.