18th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. J. J. Clark) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 10.30 a.m.
INTER-UNION Dispute is New South “Wales.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether Cabinet has discussed the dispute at the Kemeira tunnel. If so, has he any information to impart to the House?
– A full report on the dispute between the Australian Workers Union and the miners’ federation in connexion with the Kemeira tunnel was submitted to Cabinet this morning by the Minister for Shipping and Fuel. Cabinet has requested the Acting AttorneyGeneral to have a full investigation made of the whole subject. 1 cannot say anything more at present.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether the statement on the dispute between the miners’ federation and the Australian Workers Union on the south coast of New South Wales that was made by the chairman of the Joint Coal Board and published in the press to-day reflects the policy of the Australian Government? Was the statement issued on directions given to the board by the Prime Minister under section 18 (2.) of the Coal Industry Act 1946? Does the statement that there is only one way in which the dispute can be settled, that is, by negotiations between the unions concerned, represent the policy of the Australian Government? Will the right honorable gentleman inform the House of the Government’s reasons for not referring the dispute to the full bench of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. If the dispute is entirely an inter-union one and, if the contention of the Australian Workers Union is correct, it does not concern coal-mining and, consequently, does not come within the ambit of the Coal Industry Tribunal.
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member has referred. The Joint Coal Board operates under the joint authority of the Australian Government and the Government of New South Wales, but those governments can intervene only in matters of general policy. A change in the policy of the board can be made only by the Premier of New South Wales and myself. Since I have already stated that I have not seen the statement mentioned, it follows that I took no part in its preparation. In regard to the technical and legal considerations mentioned by the honorable member concerning the proper authority to settle the dispute, I have already informed the House that the Acting Attorney-General and the Minister for Shipping and Fuel have examined all aspects of the dispute. I cannot add anything further at this stage.
– I refer to the statement made by Sir Stafford Cripps at a meeting at Bristol two days ago that it was essential for socialism that the British Empire should be liquidated, and that what the British Government had done in Burma and elsewhere was in furtherance of that policy. Will the Prime Minister state whether that is also the policy of the Labour Government of this country? If it is not, will the right honorable gentleman make it abundantly clear to the Labour Government in Great Britain that we in Australia regard a strong British Empire as essential to world peace and to our own national security?
– I did see a press report of a statement alleged to have been made by Sir Stafford Cripps at Bristol, o!1 somewhere else in the United Kingdom. I do not propose to make any representations to the British Government about Sir Stafford Cripps’s statement, which is entirely a matter between himself, his own Government and the British people.
– Are we not the British people ?
– I had intended to say the people of Great Britain. The Australian Government does not attempt to interfere, as so many people seem to desire it to do, in the management and government of other countries.
– This is a matter which concerns us.
– In answer to the latter part of the honorable member’s question, it has been made perfectly clear, both in this Parliament and elsewhere, that Australia stands unitedly with the United Kingdom, and with New Zealand and the other dominions, in preserving the common interests of the British Empire. There has been and will be no diversion from that policy. I do not intend to discuss what might be happening in South Africa, India or Southern Ireland. The governments of those countries are responsible for determining their own affairs. I have expressed the view that I think it is highly desirable that whatever views countries which have been contemplating severance from the British Commonwealth of Nations by legal means might hold about local nationality, I believe that they should continue to retain a link, no matter how slight it may be, with the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, in order that they may continue to work together in the cause of world peace which we regard as the paramount consideration of any government in the world to-day.
– I refer to a report in the Sydney Daily Telegraph on Monday last, under the caption “ Government Whaling Plan Irks Mawson “. It contains a statement by Sir Douglas Mawson on the policy of the Government regarding whaling activities in the Antarctic regions. Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture read the report? If so, are the statements by Sir Douglas Mawson correct? Is the honorable gentleman in a position to im part to the House any information on thissubject ?
– I have not seen the press report of the statement attributed to Sir Douglas Mawson and therefore I am unable to comment on it. Some time ago the Australian Government, which has shown great interest in whaling, brought to Australia a whaling expert from Norway. Under the guidance and direction of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, the Norwegian expert is now touring Australia investigating whaling propositions from every angle. I anticipate that at an early date proposals based on his recommendations will be placed before Cabinet for consideration and that the Government’s policy on Antarctic shore whaling and offshore whaling will be made known to the Parliament and the people of this country.
Victorian Slaughtermen’s Strike - Beef Prices
– I point out to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture that a continuance of the present strike of slaughtermen in Melbourne will have a catastrophic effect upon our exports of fat lambs to the United Kingdom. As the grass-seed season has now arrived in many fat-lamb raising areas of Victoria, many thousands of lambs will have to be shorn and weaned from their mothers, and perhaps will never be available for export as fat lambs unless they are slaughtered within the next few days. In view of the loss of about 100,000 fat lambs a week as the result of the strike, will the Minister ensure that everything will be done by the Government to bring to an end this hold-up, which is proving disastrous to Australian producers and the people of the United Kingdom?
– The Australian Government shares the concern of the primary producers and the workers in this industry at the prolongation of the strike. I understand that the Wages Board, which is handling this matter under State jurisdiction, has embodied in its determination the decision of the Conciliation Commissioner and that there is to be a mass meeting of employees next
Saturday morning to consider their attitude to that determination. The Commonwealth is doing everything possible to facilitate a return to work.
– I have received complaints from butchers in the northcoast area of New South Wales to the effect that they are prejudiced in the purchase of beef because of differences in the prices paid by the United Kingdom under contract, by local buyers, and by buyers operating on behalf of Palestine, the Philippines, Malaya and other places. They complain that they are unable to buy stock against the competition of buyers representing the Philippines, Malaya, and other overseas markets outside the United Kingdom and have requested me to ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, as I now do, whether the prices of all export meat can be pegged at the levels fixed in the United Kingdom contract or whether other action can be taken to provide equality of treatment for “buyers operating on behalf of the United Kingdom and the local market.
– Difficulties have arisen because of differential prices offered for meat required for export. The United Kingdom Ministry of Food buys meat for Great Britain at one price and for what are called its “ outports “ that is areas for which it is responsible, at another price. Australian exporters, and I have no doubt Australian producers, are also supplying other overseas markets, including small markets in the Philippines, South Africa and the Middle East. The situation is complicated by the fact that different prices are offered for beef required for local consumption. Do I understand that the honorable member urges that there should he a uniform export price and that meat exporters and producers should be deprived of the advantage which they gain from the higher prices offered on behalf of some external markets?
– I am not urging anything.
– But I am doing so. The answer to the question asked by the honorable member’s correspondents is to be found in the fact that meat exporters. and ultimately meat producers, will gain a substantial advantage if we retain some of our export markets outside the United Kingdom. Buyers from those markets purchase meat at prices higher than are paid under the United Kingdom contract. Therefore, Australian producers would suffer if the Government enforced uniformity of export prices, and I assume that the honorable member would not advocate such a policy. The honorable member can inform his correspondents that this difficulty has arisen only since the Australian Government was forced to relinquish control of prices as the result of the advice given to the people by members of the Australian Country party and their allies during the recent referendum campaign. Such problems did not arise when we had one price-fixing authority in Australia. Six different authorities control local prices to-day, and, in addition, prices for meat sold to the United Kingdom are fixed by contract. Under the present system, the situation may be satisfactory in one State but unsatisfactory in other States. I suggest that the honorable member inform his correspondents that the trouble would not have occurred but for the defeat of the proposals submitted to the people by this Government at the referendum.
– I am informed that following the recent pension increases granted by the Australian Government, the Queensland Government has increased its accommodation charge at the Eventide Home in Brisbane by 3s. a week. Will the Prime Minister discuss with the Queensland Minister for Home Affairs the desirability of permitting age pensioners, at least, to enjoy the full benefit of the pension increase by restoring the accommodation charge to its former level?
– I have already been informed that there has been an increase of the accommodation charge at the institution mentioned by the honorable member. I understand that the charge includes both food and lodging. As pensions were increased because of the general increase of the cost of living, I assume that the Queensland Government believes itself to be justified in making an additional charge for accommodation. I am not familiar with the details of the accommodation that is provided, but I shall have inquiries made and inform the honorable member of the result.
– In directing a question to the Prime Minister I point out that owing to the shortage of manpower it was found impossible to make the recent increase to age and invalid pensioners and other retrospective. Taking into consideration the buoyant state of the Government’s finances, and the services rendered to Australia by the old pioneers and exservicemen, will the Prime Minister recommend to the Government that, as a gesture to those people, all pensioners receive a grant of £5 during the visit to Australia of the Royal family next year?
– During the debate on the Social Services Consolidation Bill, a full explanation was given of what has been done with respect to increases’ in age and invalid pensions and of the Government’s reasons for its actions. At the moment my mind is against the honorable member’s proposal to make a special grant to pensioners during the Royal visit. I am not going to be led aside by what might appear to be very worthy objectives. I am fully appreciative of the great work done by the pioneers of Australia and I believe that the Government has given them more consideration than any other government has done in the history of this country. I repeat, however, that at the moment I am not disposed to favour the honorable member’s suggestion, but I shall have his suggestion examined.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether His Excellency the Governor-General of New Zealand, General Sir Bernard Freyberg, V.C, intends shortly to visit Australia, as has been reported in the press? Has His Excellency’s itinerary been prepared in consultation with the Australian Government? Is Tasmania the only State in the Commonwealth which will not be privileged by a visit of the Governor-General of New Zealand. If so, will the Prime Minister say why Tasmania has been omitted, and will he give an undertaking that reconsideration will be given to the details of His Excellency’s tour to provide for the inclusion of Tasmania, thus giving to the people of that State an opportunity to pay their respects to this famous soldier hero from our sister dominion?
– It is true that His Excellency the Governor-General of New Zealand will visit Australia. When I was in New Zealand, I took the opportunity to discuss the forthcoming visit with His Excellency, and I understand that the itinerary which has been prepared meets with His Excellency’s approval. I believe that His Excellency does not desire to be hurried, but wishes to have some leisure to make private observations about Australia outside the purely formal functions. The itinerary is purely a matter for His Excellency, but as the honorable member for Franklin has raised the matter, I shall convey to His Excellency the view which has been expressed that he should take the opportunity, if possible, to visit Tasmania even if only for a brief period.
– Will the Prime
Minister consider the recent recommendation of the Victorian Anti-sweating and Industrial Improvement League, as follows : -
That a commission should be set up -
To inquire into the regimen which prevailed in 1907 when the basic wage was fixed and the regimen and way of life which is practised in the average Australian home to-day (1948).
That it should estimate a basic wage based upon the increased comforts and different way of life observed in 1948 and not that of 1907.
That a commissioner should estimate the increase in productivity and wealth of Australia over periods (say, of five years), and recommend improvements to our Australian standards of living with consequent increases in the basic wage to provide them.
– The regimen on which the basic wage, or “ C “ series index, is calculated has been the subject of representations by other bodies, notably the Australian Council of Trades Unions, which proposed at one time that a committee be appointed, consisting of representatives of employers and employees, to prepare a report on the matter. The employers were not- prepared to nominate representatives, an stated, as one of their reasons, that, .under the Constitution and legislation of this Parliament, the only authority with power to deal with the basic wage was the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The unions which made the representations for the appointment of such a committee realized that the recommendations which it might make could not have a legal and binding effect. I also pointed out that fact to the representatives of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, but they considered that it might be helpful if a body representing employers and employees could re-examine the regimen upon which the “ C “ series index was calculated. Nothing definite emerged from the earlier suggestion, but requests have now been repeated for the appointment of a committee to examine the matter. I do not know whether any proposals have been made regarding the composition of the committee, other than that there should be an independent chairman. However, it must be realized that irrespective .of any report which such a committee might make, the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration is the only body which can make a determination on the basic wage. The Government has made provision in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act for the establishment of a research bureau to be attached to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and consultations have taken place between the present Chief Judge, who has been ill for some time, and Judge Kelly, who has been relieving him, upon the composition and form of the research bureau. One of our difficulties has been to obtain the services of a suitable person for the position of director of the bureau. Three men whom we had in mind for the job preferred to remain in other positions, although the appointment to the position of director of the research bureau would have meant a considerable increase of salary. Last week, the Acting AttorneyGeneral had further discussions with the Acting Chief Judge, and we hope, at an early date, to establish an authority which will assist the court in investiga tions of the kind to which the honorablemember for Bourke has referred. I do not know that I can promise at the moment that any special committee will beappointed, but I can assure the honorable member that the matter that she has raised has been canvassed very closely, and it is hoped that the research bureau will have sufficient statistical information gathered in collaboration with the Commonwealth Statistician,, to enable it to keep the court fully informed regarding such variations. The position is, of course, that customs change and that the necessity for different kinds of articles provided previously in the regimen may also havepassed and that other kinds of articles have now become necessary. I shall keep the honorable member’s suggestion in-, mind.
– Can the Minister for Civil Aviation inform me whether obsolete navigational aids have been purchased by the Government at a cost of about £1,000,000 and are being installed? How much of the sum involved is in dollars? Are those navigational aids thebest that the Government can procure? Will the Minister investigate this matterto determine whether those aids ought tobe installed in view of statements made in many quarters that they have been obsolete in the United States for several’ years ?
– The allegationscontained in the honorable member’s questions are the subject of investigation hy a court of inquiry. I could give someinformation on the matter but I do not propose to depart from the line I have followed regarding other questions touching the matter under investigation by the court of inquiry, and” that is to offer no comment at all until the court of inquiry presents me with itsreport.
– I havea question on the notice-paper regardingthe employment on defence works of the nationals of other countries by the Government of the United States of” America. If the Minister acting for the-
Minister for External Affairs is agreeable, I suggest that the question be removed without being answered, because the matter has already been dealt with to my satisfaction by His Excellency the United States Ambassador to Australia.
Question not answered.
– Oan the Prime Minister inform the House whether a recently published statement that oil supplies from sterling areas are being sold to the United States of America for dollars is correct, and if so can he state to what extent such trading has affected Australian supplies of petrol? Is it a fact that certain supplies of such petrol have been shipped to Australian ports en route to dollar destinations? If this is a fact, will the Government ascertain whether there are any alternative exports that could be diverted to the United States of America to compensate that country for an increased supply of petrol to Australia from the sterling area?
– The matter of the use of petrol, whether it be from dollar areas or sterling areas, is one which is difficult to comprehend fully. Many considerations are involved, including those of availability of supplies and haulage. Petrol which is obtained by the United Kingdom and the Dominions from dollar areas is paid for out of the dollar pool. There is a “ dollar petrol “ deficit of up to £150,000,000 per annum. It is true that petrol is lifted from various points of the sterling area and sent to dollar areas and continental countries, and we, in turn, receive “ dollar petrol “. A very lengthy reply would be necessary if I were to deal fully with this matter. I shall endeavour to get for the honorable member some concrete figures setting out precisely the position. I read a lengthy statement on the subject the other night which covers all of the aspects of the matter that he menioned. That statement endeavours to make it as clear as it can be made that in some cases the use of tankers involves “ dollar freights “ irrespective of whether the tankers carry sterling or dollar petrol. I shall try to furnish the honorable member with a full explanation of the matter raised by him.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister with respect to the shortage of liquid fuel. A paragraph published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday last, after referring to the shortage, and the “ lean week-end “ experienced by private motorists, stated -
Obviously, the paragraph was intended to be published not on the Saturday, hut on the Monday. Is it a fact that the paragraph was published in that newspaper’s country edition but was deleted from its city edition, in which was substituted another paragraph which stated that Sydney was having it9 face lifted for the Royal visit? Would the right honorable gentleman suggest that the board of directors of the Sydney Morning Herald should lift its own face?
– I understand that some confusion occurred in the minds of those responsible for the production of the Sydney Morning Herald in respect of the paragraph mentioned by the honorable member. That, of course, is not unusual. The paragraph was intended to reflect on certain people associated with the Government. The Minister for the Interior and I have commissioned the Public Service Board to arrange for its inspectors throughout Australia to keep a close watch on the use of government cars with a view to preventing the excessive consumption of petrol. Therefore, the publishers of the Sydney Morning Herald, and everybody else, can rest assured that a check is being kept upon the consumption of petrol. I know that in the column of the newspaper in which that paragraph appeared many inaccurate statements have previously been published.
– On the 17th September, 1 asked the Minister for Repatriation whether the widows and dependants of many public servants in New Guinea, who were murdered by the Japanese, or who later died in captivity, would receive increased medical and other benefits, which widows of ex-servicemen would receive under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act which has recently been passed by the Parliament. The Minister replied -
All those who now obtain benefits under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act will receive the increased benefits which are provided in the amending legislation that I have introduced. Other persons who receive benefits as ex-gratia payments will also get benefits similar to those which are provided for persons who are eligible under the act to receive them.
Despite the Minister’s assurance, a widow in the category that I have mentioned has written to me in the following terms : -
On receipt of your reply I wrote to the Repatriation Commission without satisfaction. So I personally called at the Repatriation offices in Brisbane on October 26th, and was told that definitely neither my child (aged ten years) nor myself could have medical benefits,
– Order ! The honorable gentleman should put his question.
– Will the Minister for Repatriation inform the House of the present position in this matter? Was he wrong when he made his statement, or have instructions not yet been sent to the Brisbane office of the Repatriation Commission? In any case, will the Minister see that his assurance in this matter is honoured?
– The question asked by the honorable member relates to payments, including, in some instances, ex gratia payments, to the dependants of officers who were employed in several departments, notably the Department of External Territories. Such payments are not made under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act but are administered by my department. In many instances, because of the shortage of staff, the increases of repatriation benefits provided under the amending legislation passed recently have not yet been adjusted, whilst the adjustment of payments of the kind mentioned by the honorable member is contingent upon the passage of an Executive minute. The honorable member, who was formerly a Minister, must be aware that such procedure requires considerable time. However, all of these payments will be adjusted in due course.
Taxation - Cornsacks
– I ask the Prime Minister whether in the event of a fall in the price of wheat a wheat-grower on an income of, say, £3,000, derived solely from the sale of wheat under the scheme whereby the Government guarantees a price of 6s. 3d. a bushel, would be liable to taxation?
– I should be glad if the honorable member would produce actual and not hypothetical cases. The Government has sufficient actual matters to deal with without peering into the crystal glass to find solutions of hypothetical propositions.
– In view of the fact that, since the poll of wheat-growers was completed, State governments have undertaken to pass legislation complementary to the bill which is now before this House and which will obviously be passed with, at the most, only slight alterations, is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture prepared to advise the Australian Wheat Board thathe considers that it is unjust to ask growers to pay cash for the sacks which the board will acquire when it acquires the growers’ wheat?
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture answered a question on this subject last week, and in accordance with the promise which he then made to the honorable member, he asked me to examine the matter. I did so, and I found that almost half of the available stocks of corn-sacks had already been distributed and that most of them had been paid for. I also ascertained that the Australian Wheat Board wished the present system of purchase to be continued. I dealt with this matter while the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture was absent from Canberra over the week-end and I have not had an opportunity to discuss it with him since his return. Therefore, he may not entirely agree with the view which I now express. However, at the moment, judging from the advice of the board, it seems desirable that the present system should continue. I shall discuss the subject further with the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health whether the Government has decided to continue its subsidy to the Communist-controlled Eureka Youth League? If so, how does the Government justify the expenditure of the taxpayers’ money for such a purpose ?
– The payment of a subsidy to any organization in Australia that is affiliated with the National Fitness Council is a matter for that council to deal with. The subsidy that is paid to the Eureka Youth Movement has not been the subject of consideration by the Australian Government.
Mr.WHITE.- Does the Prime Minister intend shortly to make a statement to the House regarding the results of the conference of Empire Prime Ministers that was held in London recently? If so, will an opportunity be afforded to the Parliament to debate it?
– The honorable member for Warringah asked recently that an opportunity be provided for a debate on external affairs. I promised the honorable gentleman that I should consider his request. Some very delicate questions, arising from deliberations of the conference of Empire Prime Ministers, are now under consideration. I shall consider whether some of the matters that were discussed at the conference can be made the subject of a report to the Parliament. Others are very confidential, and I am not at liberty to make information concerning them available to the public except with the consent of the Prime Ministers of the other countries concerned.
– Some months ago, I asked a question of the Minister for Comimerce and Agriculture with regard to supplies of ammunition for shot guns and 22 calibre rifles for the destruction of pests, particularly rabbits. At that date, the duck shooting season was due to begin. The Minister laughed the question off, and said that he would look into it. He cannot use that excuse on this occasion. Will the honorable gentleman take steps to ensure that Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand Limited, which has a monopoly of the manufacture of ammunition in Australia, is compelled to manufacture first-class ammunition and sell it at reasonable prices? If not, will he allow the importation of sufficient ammunition from South Africa or the United States of America to deal with rabbits and other pests ?
– I resent the statement that I laughed this matter off when it was raised previously by the honorable member for Bendigo. On that occasion, I informed the honorable gentleman of the facts of the situation that then existed. The Australian Government has no control over the activities of Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand Limited within Australia. The honorable gentleman would be well advised to direct his question to the Government of Victoria, which can exercise some control over goods that are manufactured in that State. He might also direct similar questions to the governments of the other States.
– A recent application by the Boy Scouts Association of Queensland to be given the benefit of certain concessional tax deduction or rebates as an educational or charitable institution was refused by the Treasurer, although similar concessions have been granted to other movements. In order that that body may obtain the small concession to which it is entitled, will the Treasurer reconsider his decision in the light of the submissions made by that association when it made its original request ?
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Balaclava says “ Hear, hear ! “ without knowing anything whatever about the matter. One of the difficulties which confronts the taxation authorities in dealing with applications for concessions by similar bodies to the Boy Scouts Association is that such bodies frequently include items which relate to benevolent, charitable and other special activities, in their general accounts, a practice which deprives them of the right to the benefit of rebates and concessions provided in the taxation legislation. Similar applications to the one under consideration were made by an ex-servicemen’s organization and also by the Victorian branch of the Bush Nursing Association, to which the honorable member for Flinders devoted a great deal of attention. To be eligible for tax concessions, such bodies must draft their rules in a certain form, and follow particular methods of accounting which segregate general funds from special funds. I have previously advised similar organizations to consult the taxation authorities in those matters, and instructions have been issued by the Commissioner of Taxation that advice is to be made available to such representatives when they are drafting the rules of their organizations. I do not know whether the grievance of the body mentioned by the honorable member for Wide Bay could be remedied in that way, but I shall ask the Commissioner of Taxation to review the matter and, if necessary, to direct his officers to discuss the matter with the organization.
– I address a question to the Treasurer concerning section 84 of the Bankruptcy Act. Until recently the Commissioner of Taxation was given a limited priority for one year in respect of taxation debts in a bankrupt’s estate. As. the right honorable gentleman knows, under section 221 of the Income Tax Assessment Act, as amended in 1947, the time limitation was withdrawn and the priority of the Commissioner of Taxation was made absolute.
– What is the question?
– Have not the InspectorGeneral of Bankruptcy and other persons concerned with bankruptcy administration in Australia protested against the action of the Government in making the commissioner’s priority absolute instead of leaving it limited to one year? Has not that action dealt a very serious blow to small traders in the community who, having extended credit to a bankrupt, will now be ousted in favour of the Commissioner of Taxation? Will the right honorable gentleman consider the repeal of section 221 of the Income Tax Assessment Act and the restoration of section 84 of the Bankruptcy Act in its original terms ?
– Due to the prosperous state of the community, there are not now many bankrupts in Australia. I do not remember any showers of protests having been made against the amendment of the Income Tax Assessment Act to which the honorable member has referred. I certainly do not remember any protests having been made to me on the subject. When amendments of the Income Tax Assessment Act were under consideration some discussion took place about the advisability of the amendment to which the honorable member has taken exception. The honorable member realizes that there are technical reasons for the amendment. The most I can promise him is that I shall consult with the Commissioner of Taxation and the Acting Attorney-General in regard to his proposal.
– I draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the fantastic position that has arisen in the lead industry in Australia, particularly in regard to supplies of scrap lead, which is in very short supply. The Government has fixed the internal price of lead at approximately £20 a ton, although the overseas price is approximately £120 a ton. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that users of scrap lead in this country are in desperate need of supplies? Is he aware that the Government has been issuing large numbers of licences for the export of scrap lead, and that some individuals who have obtained licences have made large fortunes from profits on the export of scrap lead? Will the right honorable gentleman review the issue of export licences for scrap lead so that local consumers may be able to obtain at least a proportion of the supplies which they need?
– As I interpret the honorable member’s question, it refers exclusively to scrap lead. Is that so?
– For the moment, yes.
– Some time ago, the attention of the Government was drawn to the fact that marine store dealers and others who formerly had a large export trade in scrap lead had been placed in an invidious position since the end of the war because they had not been allowed to reenter the overseas markets although lead producers were allowed to export a proportion of their output. The Government had a census taken and, after ascertaining the quantity of scrap lead available in Australia, decided to allow dealers in scrap lead to export up to 50 per cent, of the amount that they handled. That decision is subject to review and it will be reviewed if it can be shown that the export of scrap lead has had. a deleterious effect upon the local market.
– As I interpreted the remarks of the Prime Minister on Friday morning during the discussion of a motion which provided that the House would not -meet this week before to-day, he said that the object of not meeting yesterday was to give some members of the parliamentary staffs who had been overworked during recent long sittings a chance to recuperate. “Will the Prime Minister now tell the House how many members of the parliamentary staffs had a holiday either on Monday or yesterday ?
– In discussing this matter last Friday, I indicated that the Government’s decision was influenced, by several factors. For instance, it was thought that honorable members from Victoria might be given the opportunity to enjoy the public holiday in that State yesterday in whatever way they wished. One important factor considered by the Government was that the staffs of the Government Printing Office and Hansard, particularly Hansard, have been working at high pressure while the Parliament has been sitting for four days, including a long day, each week. I did not sUggest that the decision to meet to-day instead of yesterday would give members of those staffs a chance to have a holiday. I did suggest that the break would ease the strain upon them and perhaps enable them to catch up with some of the duties that had been getting ahead of them because of thegreat volume of work thrown upon them when both Houses of the Parliament were meeting. I point out that the Government also decided that the Senateshould not meet at all this week. I did not say that the staffs would be given a holiday, ‘but that the strain upon them would be eased. That was one of themain factors considered.
– When does the Prime Minister expect that a publicannouncement will be made regarding the recent investigations made by the WarGratuity Committee in connexion with the payment of war gratuity to certainmembers of the Royal Australian Air Force who served in the United Kingdom ?”
– I must confess that I have not followed up this matter duringthe last few days. A draft report has been prepared and has been forwarded’ to members of the committee for their concurrence or othewise. When the terms of the report have been finally agreed to by the members of thecommittee, I shall inform the House of the decisions reached. The honorable member will appreciate that the draft report must be agreed to by all members of the committee. I hopeto receive the signed report this week.
– Recently I drew theattention of the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs to the serious effect of the shortage of zincoxide on the manufacture of paint and on the building industry generally. The honorable gentleman was good, enough topromise that an investigation of the exports of zinc oxide would be made with a view to ensuring that Australian requirements were met. There is also a shortage in Australia of electrical fittings, particularly of bakelite fittings, because exports are denuding the local’ market. Will the honorable gentleman make similar inquiries with a view to- ensuring that sufficient supplies of electrical fittings are reserved for the local market? Will he also supply me with data showing the exports of these commodities during the last two years?
– I shall obtain the information which the honorable member seeks and convey it to him as soon as possible.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an Act to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund sums for the purposes of financial assistance to the States of South . Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Chifley and Mr. Lemmon do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Chifley, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to provide for the payment, during the current “financial year, of special grants aggregating £6,750,000 to the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The payment of these grants was recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission in its fifteenth report which was tabled in the Parliament recently. In arriving at its recommendations the commission has followed the same general principles and methods as it had adopted in recent years. Full details of these principles and methods are given in the commission’s fifteenth report, copies of which are available to honorable members. The general principle adopted by the commission . is that special grants should he such as will enable the States concerned to function efficiently as members of the federation. In applying this principle of financial needs to the calculation of the grants, the commission adopts certain standards which are derived from the financial position and practices of the nonclaimant States in the year of ‘review. Because the. audited results of the State budgets on which the commission bases its assessments are not available for some time after the close of the financial year, the year 1946-47 is the year of review for pur-poses of assessing the grants to be paid in 1948-49. When assessing the grants the commission has, as in the last seven years, adopted a balanced budget standard in arriving at the initial approximation to the assessed grants. This first approximation is then adjusted for differences in the levels of certain revenues and expenditures of the claimant States as compared with the other -States. As in recent years, those adjustments have , been confined to expenditures on social services, and to revenues from State taxes. The grants calculated in this way represent the grants assessed in respect of the year of review 1946-47. By the time the assessed grants are receivable, however, they may, especially in a period of rapid change, be greater or less than the current indispensable needs of the States. The commission ‘therefore makes an estimate of the improvement or deterioration likely to occur in the hud- gets of the claimant States in the year of payment as compared with the year of review. On the basis of this estimate, and by the use of its broad judgment, the commission then decides whether it is necessary to recommend either that payment of portion of the assessed grants be deferred, or that an advance payment be added to the assessed grants in order to meet the current indispensable needs of the States.
In its fifteenth report, the commission has examined trends in the finances of the claimant States since the year of review 1946-47, and has reached the conclusion that, having regard to the retrogression expected in the finances of each of the claimant States, the assessed grants would be insufficient in .each case to ‘meet the current .indispensable needs of those States. Accordingly, the commission .has recommended that amounts .additional to the assessed grants be paid to the States this year. Those additional amounts are regarded by the commission as advances on the grants -to ‘be assessed in-due- course in respect of 1948-49. A perusal of the commission’s report ‘indicates that the retrogression in the finances of each of the claimant States is due mainly to increased railway ‘losses. In this connexion, the commission points out that railway losses must continue to ‘be a particularly serious drain on ‘the finances of those States for many ‘years to come unless revenue can ‘be substantially increased by raising- freights and fares. -In -arriving at the amount of the advances recommended for payment ‘this year, the commission has ‘borne in mind the need to compare the charges made by business undertakings in -the claimant States with the charges in the other States.
The special grants recommended for payment in 194S-49 amount to £6,750,000 or £708,000 more than last year. Of this amount, South Australia will receive £2,250,000, Western Australia £3,600,000, and Tasmania £900,000. The Government has carefully considered the fifteenth .report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, and has decided that, as in past years, the commission’s recommendations should be adopted. In considering the adequacy of .these payments, honorable members might bear in mind the proposed increase in the tax reimbursement grants to the States this year. That increase will amount to about £S,680,00Q, of which the claimant States w. ill receive about £1,710,000. The increase proposed in J194S-49 on account of .both the special .grants and the tax reimbursement .grants is such that South Australia will receive an additional £665,000, Western Australia an additional £1,305,000, and Tasmania an additional .£448,000, a total increase of £2,418,000 in respect of those three States. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. HARRISON adjourned.
Motion (by .Mr. CHIFLEY) -agreed to - That leave be given ‘to bring -in -a .bill for an act to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945.
Bill presented, and read a first .time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second ‘time.
This measure proposes ‘four amendments to the Commonwealth Bank Act. To meet current requirements, the limits placed by the present act upon housing loans and .loans through the Mortgage Bank .Department -to primary producers need revision. The two other .matters dealt -with by the :bill relate to the type of security upon which loans maybe made by:the -Rural Credits Department, and the definition of “ efficiency “ for staff’ purposes. Under the present act, Credit Foncier loans for home building may not exceed £1,250 in any individual ‘case. Whilst this figure was considered adequatewhen the act was passed in 1945, experience has shown .that, .with recent increases in building costs, .the existing limit should be raised. As the limit of £1;250 was preventing the housing loans section from fully achieving the objectives for which it was established, approval was given to the bank last June to .raise the limit to £1,750 in anticipation of amending legislation. I considered that the revision, which does not involve any matter of policy, would be generally acceptable to the House, and that intending borrowers should not be deprived of the facilities of the housingloans section while the necessary amending legislation was being dealt with.
The existing maximum for Mortgage Bank Department loans to an individual borrower is £5,000. It has ‘been found that this .limit has prevented the bank from making loans to otherwise eligibleprimary producers who have sought advances from the Mortgage Bank Department. Having regard to present-day costs of equipping and stocking rural properties, it is considered that the facilitiesof the Mortgage Bank Department should: be made available to primary producers requiring finance up to £10,000. Provision is made for the amendment of the act accordingly. It has been the practice of the bank to make rural credit advances to marketing boards and other bodies on the security of a government guarantee. Although the bank has power to make advances upon such security through its general banking division, a doubt recently arose as to the’ legal authority of the Rural Credits Department to lend on this basis. From the administrative point of view, this method of financing the marketing of primary products has many advantages over the alternative method under which the Commonwealth Bank would assume ownership of the primary produce against which advances are made, and the opportunity is being taken to remove any uncertainty as to the Rural Credits Department’s power to secure its advances on a government guarantee.
The definition of “ efficiency “ for staff purposes in the 1945 act was borrowed from the Commonwealth Public Service Act as it stood at that time. The definition in the Public Service Act has since been amended to enable the test of suitability for duties of a higher office to be applied in considering promotions to certain prescribed executive positions. A similar amendment to the Commonwealth Bank Act’ is now proposed. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) proposed -
That Government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
– I should like to have an assurance from the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) that this motion, if agreed to, will not interfere with the debate on the censure motion of which I have already given notice to the House.
– I give the Acting Leader of the Opposition that assurance.
Mp. HARRISON.- On that understanding, I agree to the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative
Motion (by Mr. Pollard) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Whaling Act 1935.
Debate resumed from the 29th October (vide page 2406), on motion by Mr. Pollard -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– Last Friday, when I obtained leave to continue my speech to-day, I had dealt effectively with the claim by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) that the wheat stabilization plan, which the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) has incorporated in this bill, was, a replica of the scheme which the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) propounded some years ago, and I had commenced to compare the scheme which the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) enunciated during the last election campaign with the scheme now under consideration. When the right honorable gentleman was endeavouring to win the support of wheat-growers, he stated that a guaranteed price of 5s. 9d. a bushel was reasonable, but added that allowance had to be made for overseas prices, internal prices and certain other factors. Clearly, he did not announce a positive programme, as the present Government has done. I emphasize that the Government guarantees the farmers a price of 6s. 3d. a bushel f.o.r. ports. That guarantee is firmly related to specific costs of production, and covers an exportable surplus of 100,000,000 bushels annually. The Leader of the Australian Country party considered that 5s. 9d. a bushel was a fair price, and he did not announce that he proposed to tie that amount to a fixed index. If, as he asserted, 5s. 9d. a bushel was a fair price, the Government last year guaranteed to growers 6d. a bushel above that amount, and did not make it subject to “certain other factors”. Had the costs of the basic means of producing wheat risen, the amount of the increase would have been included in the guaranteed price.
The Leader of the Australian Country party based his proposals for the stabilization of the industry on the assumption that an international wheat agreement would be formulated. But the honorable member for Indi attacked the International Wheat Agreement Bill when this House was considering it, and practically said that he was not in favour of such an agreement. The Leader of the Australian Country party said, in effect, that if an international wheat agreement did not eventuate, the guaranteed price would apply to 150,000,000 bushels. As Australia consumes approximately 70,000,000 bushels of wheat a year, the guarantee under the Fadden plan, as I shall describe it, applied to only 80,000,000 bushels for export compared with 100,000,000 bushels under the Government’s plan. Last year, Australia had 70,000,000 bushels of wheat in excess of the quantity guaranteed under the Fadden plan, and, according to the policy which the right honorable gentleman enunciated, it would have been sold on the open market and the profits would have been paid to the growers pro rata to their quota wheat. In a season of bountiful harvest, on a falling market, a great percentage of wheat, under the Fadden plan, would be sold on the open market without any guarantee.
The right honorable gentleman also stated that 50 per cent, of any amount exceeding 5s. 9d. a bushel would he paid into the wheat stabilization fund. The honorable member for Indi, when criticizing the bill, said that the Government was taking £15,500,000 from the wheat-growers in order to establish a fund to guarantee its wheat stabilization scheme, and added that he doubted whether that action was legal. He also criticized the Government for collecting 2s. 2d. a bushel on export wheat for payment to the fund. But the Leader of the Australian Country party, during the last election campaign, did not pro- pose an upper limit for the tax. Had the Fadden plan been put into operation, wheat-growers would have contributed to the fund, not 2s. 2d. a bushel, but 5s. 5d. a bushel. So the honorable member for Indi, who has criticized the present scheme, which imposes a limit of 2s. 2d. a bushel, has advocated a scheme which would have involved wheat-growers in a contribution of 5s. 5d. a bushel on the basis of an average price of 16s. 7d. a bushel at, that time.
– The Minister is not placing the correct interpretation on the plan which the Australian Country party evolved.
– I have obtained the details of the plan from the Land newspaper, which is one of the strongest supporters of the Australian Country party in New South Wales. Actually, the average export price exceeded 16s. 7d. a bushel. I emphasize that fact, because I do not wish to be accused of overstating the position. Had the Fadden plan been adopted, wheat-growers would have contributed to the fund, not £15,500,000, but a total of £38,250,000. The honorable member for Indi also criticized the contract for the sale of Australian wheat to the United Kingdom. Under that arrangement, the Government took 2s. 2d. a bushel for the stabilization fund. Under the Fadden plan, the fund would have received 5s. 10£d. a bushel. The contract with the Indian Government was also criticized by honorable members opposite. Under it, Australian wheat was sold to India at 18s. 6d. a bushel, and the Australian Government again had an upper limit of contribution, which was 2s. 2d. a bushel. Under the Fadden plan the Government would have taken 6s. 4-Jd. a bushel from the wheat-growers. I. emphasize, therefore, that I have taken a very conservative estimate of 16s. 7d. for export wheat, and, even on that conservative estimate, under the scheme put forward by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, which is now approved by this Government, we shall collect £15.500,000. The honorable member for Indi complains about that, and castigates the Government for doing it, yet, under the scheme enunciated by his own party leader, the Government could have collected £38,250,000.
Mr. Adermann interjecting,
– The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) seems to amuse himself by mumbling. If he will speak up I shall know what he is saying.
-Order! The Minister should address his remarks to the bill.
Mr. Adermann interjecting,
– The honorable member for Maranoa has interjected again, and has stated that the Government of which he was a member set a limit. I suggest that he read the policy speech of his own leader. He apparently does not know the contents of the speech. If he did read it, he did not understand it, because in it there was no mention of an upper limit. The Leader of the Australian Country party guaranteed 5s. 9d. a bushel, and stated that one half of any amount in excess of that price was to go into the pool. He did not expect, and neither did any one else, that there would be a great rise of world prices. No government could have anticipated that increase of prices, but the fact is that this Government, under the same conditions, with the same international situation to face, and with the same information available, provided for an upper limit of 2s. 2d. a bushel.
Dealing with the question of ministerial control provided for in the bill, the honorable mem ber for Indi said - . . But woven into the whole fabric of this plan is the principle of direct ministerial control of this product and 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.
I say that those are extravagant words. He stated, in effect that no ministerial control should be provided for in the bill, that this Parliament should create a compulsory pool, in which he says he believes, and then should say to some one without any responsibility, “ There you have complete control of this product “. Such an authority could hold the Australian consumers to ransom. It could have a complete monopoly of the control of wheat, and yet would be responsible to no one, except, he says, to the majority of the wheat-growers. If that were a logical argument it would be equally competent for the timber workers, for instance, to say, “ We produce the timber in the first place. We hew it in the forests and bring it in, and therefore we want a bill to provide that we shall completely control all timber throughout this country “.
– That is a distortion of what I said.
– The fact is that that policy would destroy the basis of democratic government, which is that ultimately the Government shall be responsible to the Parliament The only way in which a government can be responsible to a Parliament is by making provision for ministerial control.
The honorable member stated that the provisions of the bill were communistic. Let us look at the position in Western Australia, where there is a LiberalCountry party government. The Parliament of that State had before it a wheat bill which was submitted to the growers at the same time as was the present Commonwealth bill. The Western Australian bill did not ask the growers to take the scheme or leave it but to take either one scheme or the other. Let us look at some of the clauses in the Western Australian bill. Clause 17 of that bill states -
The Board may appoint any number of its members to be an Executive Committee and may delegate to that Committee such of its powers and functions as the Board, subject to any direction by the Minister, determines.
That shows that Western Australia has provided for ministerial control. Clause 7 (4) (6) of the Western Australian bill states -
For the purposes of the provisions’ of this Act relating to the election by growers of persons to be appointed to the Board, the expression “ grower “ means a person whose name is, with the approval of the Minister, included in the roll mentioned.
The position is that although I grow over 200 acres of wheat each year in Western Australia and am a wheatgrower of twenty years standing, I have not the right to a voice in electing a person to that board unless I have ultimately been approved by the Minister. That bill was submitted by a Liberal-Country party Government in “Western Australia. [Extension of time granted.]
– Will extensions of time be granted to members of the Opposition ?
– The honorable gentleman himself had an extension of time.
– That is different. I was leading the debate for the Opposition.
– I emphasize that the bill which was introduced by a LiberalCountry party government in Western Australia made the wheat industry more subject to so-called communistic control than does the bill brought down by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in this Parliament. The Western Australian bill did not provide for a price guarantee. It was simply a bill to regulate the marketing of wheat. Yet the Western Australian Government, even in a bill of such limited powers which placed no financial responsibility on the State Treasury, considered that there should be overriding ministerial control. The bill now before this Parliament could have far greater financial consequences on the economy of Australia and a far greater claim on the taxpayers because it is underwritten by the Commonwealth Treasury, yet this Government .could see fit not to impose anything like the restrictions imposed by the Western Australian Government. I believe that much of the speech that was delivered by the honorable member for Indi on Friday was for the purpose of endeavouring to persuade some of the reactionary State legislative councils to defeat the complementary legislation, because if all the wicked words used by the honorable gentleman were true, his responsibility to his electors would be to vote against the bill. He is not prepared to do that because he knows he has been elected on adult franchise and knows that by doing so he would brave the wrath of the wheat-growers throughout the country. But he does hope that by damning the measure, those in the more protected chambers, the State legislative councils, where the franchise is much more restricted and where the power rests in fewer hands, may be able to defeat it. Therefore, as an’ operative wheat-grower I contend that it is up to my fellow wheat-growers in this country to see that the complementary legislation is passed by the legislative councils of the States. Although there is no doubt that the bill under debate will be passed by this Parliament, its provisions have still to run the gauntlet of the State parliaments. This bill promises a change for the good to the wheat industry of Australia and to the general economy of the whole country. I was engaged in the industry when the wheatgrowers were no better than paupers or beggars. In those days we had to take the hat around to collect a few pounds in order to finance the cost of sending delegations to Canberra to try to get another 3d. or 6d. a bushel from the Government. This bill will ensure that those engaged in this industry shall never be reduced to those conditions in the future. Under this bill the wheat-growers are guaranteed a return which will be sufficient to meet the interest on the collective mortgage on the industry. At the same time there is within the guarantee payment for interest on the equity of the farmers themselves.
– Yes, 4r£ per cent.
– The honorable member speaks of the rate being only 4£ per cent. It will be of comfort to the wheat- farmers to know that in addition to getting a cash return for their labour, they will be guaranteed 4 per cent, on their money. In the past I have seen men enter the wheat-growing industry with a capital of up to £20,000, and in some instances, within 24 months they could not issue a cheque for £1 without first obtaining the approval of their banker. The farmers can fight fires, floods, droughts and disease, but they cannot fight a falling market. I remember vividly the distress in the industry when wheat fell from 5s. a bushel in 1929-30 to ls. 8d. and ls. lOd. a bushel in 1930-31. No industry can stand such blows. It must not be forgotten that one prosperous wheat-grower can ensure the prosperity of seven to ten workers in the cities and other areas. This bill guarantees security to those in the wheat industry, and will be of advantage to the economy of the country.
On behalf of the working wheatgrowers, and on behalf of their wives and families, also, I congratulate the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) on the introduction of the measure, and als-o his predecessor (Mr. Scully), who did much of the preliminary work involved. I believe that those people will say to this Government, “ Well done, thou good and faithful servants
– We have listened to a long speech by the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) in connexion with the measure under debate. Whilst the Minister continually harped on happenings in the past, it is evident that he has not examined the bill to see if it could be bettered by making provision to protect the rights of the owners of the wheat. I propose neither to harp about conditions that existed in the wheat industry ten or fifteen years ago, or, for that matter, the conditions of two years ago, nor to review what various governments have done. As a member of the only rural party in this Parliament, however, I am determined to do all possible to improve the conditions of agriculturists in this country. Consequently, I propose to show the Government, and the people of Australia, how the bill could be improved.
In his second-reading speech on the bill, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) said -
The purpose of this bill is to give effect to the plan put forward by the Australian Government for the stabilization of the wheat industry. This plan evolves the collaboration of the States, and has been put to a poll of growers by the governments of the four main wheat-producing States.
Later in his speech, the Minister said -
Governments of all parties, and all States, recognized the need for stabilization before the war. They continued to support the principle, but agreement on the details was hard to reach. It was reached in the end, I think, because we all came together with the intention of co-operating fully to solve our common problem.
The merit of the bill before this House, and of complementary legislation which will be introduced into the legislative assemblies of the various States, is that testimony is being paid to the wisdom and common sense of the people of this country, who have repeatedly rejected referendum proposals that the sole control of marketing should be vested in the Australian Government. This bill is a compound of the wisdom of the Australian State governments. It exhibits the effects of federalism in its best form. Although the Australian Government endeavoured to socialize this industry, it failed to do so because of the operation of the federal system, and the refusal of the States to co-operate with the Government’s proposals. Many of the views of the wheatgrowers that have been advanced from time to time have been respected in the drafting of this bill, which arises out of the operation of the Federal Constitution and the relationship of the Commonwealth and the States. Honorable members will remember that following the outbreak of war in 1939, because the Commonwealth was at war the Australian Government had supreme authority, and could disregard the rights of the wheatgrowers and those of the States. It took control of everything. Practically all of the legislation introduced since 1939 relating to wheat was based on the National Security Act, which was enacted pursuant to the defence powers contained in the Constitution. The Government, in exercising that control, took certain action which would be completely illegal in time of peace.
One of the best features of these proposals for the stabilization of the industry is that the wheat-growers, for the first time, have been given the right to say whether or not they approve of them. A majority of growers have approved this legislation. Without that approval the Government would have the greatest difficulty in implementing proposals of this kind. To that degree this measure represents a hig step forward. I commend the Minister for having listened to the voice of the States in abandoning the system of licensing. The regulation of production under previous legislation has been utterly disastrous to the wheat industry.
In the past, Australian Governments, regardless of party, subscribed to that principle. However, due to the influence of the States, this measure does not provide for control of production. Even as late as 1946 the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) enunciated that principle when, as Minister for .Commerce and Agriculture, he introduced the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill. In the course of his second-reading speech on that occasion he said -
Regulation of production is another feature which was brought in as a war-time measure, and now can readily be adapted to peace-time needs.
In view of that statement I doubt whether the Government had any desire to abandon that principle. It was a disastrous feature of previous legislation. It resulted in farms being worn out and it prevented ex-service personnel from entering the industry on a permanent basis. My colleagues and I hammered at the Government in an endeavour to get it to do justice to ex-service personnel but we were voices crying in the wilderness. The Vice-President of the Executive Council, when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, denied to ex-service personnel in his own electorate the right to grow wheat. During the referendum campaign in 1946 he stated in the course of a speech to his constituents -
The Government therefore believes that it will benefit Australia and every section of the community if the Commonwealth is given and exercises powers for the effective organized marketing of primary products by growers’ co-operatively controlled boards.
On the roneoed script of his speech which was issued to the press at that time the words “ by growers’ co-operatively controlled boards “ had been typed in later, obviously as an afterthought. The unamended script expressed the real view held by the Minister, namely, that absolute control should rest with the Commonwealth Government and in the hands of the bureaucrats of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, who have been the real masters of weak Ministers in the past. The words to which I have referred were inserted in the Minister’s speech merely in order to appease the growers. However, the growers can now rejoice that they were wise enough to reject the Government’s various marketing schemes which embodied the principle of control of production. To-day, they have it in their own hands to contract or expand their industry and to bring new lands into the production of wheat or to turn worn-out land to the production of other crops or to grazing. The Government’s recognition of that right on the part of the growers is one of the best features of this measure. However the right of the growers to approve, or disapprove, marketing schemes should be specifically recognized in this legislation. No provision of that kind is included in either this measure or the Victorian measure, which, no doubt, will be taken as a model by the other wheat-growing States in framing their complementary legislation. Recognition of such a principle is essential to the well-being of the farming community.
There has been some criticism of the proposed price of 6s. 3d. a bushel free on rail at ports, bulk basis. That price is based largely, but not entirely, .on a recommendation of the committee which inquired into the cost of production of wheat and furnished its report on the 1st December, 1947. The price which that committee recommended’ was slightly higher than that now proposed, and was calculated on what the committee called the “No. 3 Cost”, which includes all costs of production including cash and non-cash items, interest on money borrowed by the farmer and an allowance in respect of the farmer’s equity in his property. The committee ascertained a cost of 6s. a bushel at sidings which would be a little higher than the price of 6s. 3d. f.o.r. at ports, bulk basis, proposed under the measure. The report of that committee is most interesting because in calculating the cost of production the committee included what it termed the “ sideline income “ of farmers. The committee also revealed that of the farmers who replied to its various questionnaires only one stated that he was solely a grower of wheat and not a mixed farmer. That survey reflects the most heartening development we have seen in Australian agriculture for many years. That diversification of production will contribute more to the stability of farming than all the schemes any government could evolve. Dealing with that aspect of its investigation the committee said -
We are satisfied that the pure wheat-farmer has ceased to play any part in the production of wheat in Australia.
The cessation of mono-culture will be beneficial, not only to farmers individually, but also to agriculture generally throughout Australia. Diversification of production will do much to increase the fertility of our soils. That committee also emphasized that consideration must always be given to the dependence of other primary industries upon the wheat industry. I have said on many previous occasions, both inside and outside the Parliament, that the great poultry industry provides the gateway to primary production to those who have only limited capital. A poultry-farmer finds less difficulty in getting a start than do persons engaged in other forms of primary production and he soon finds himself able to undertake diversified farming. The approximate value of the annual production of eggs in the area within a radius of 25 miles of the Tamworth Post Office is £500,000. It is necessary to assist the poultry industry by fixing prices at a level that will enable the poultry-farmers to operate at a profit, just as it is necessary to fix prices that will enable pigs, fat lambs and the like te be produced profitably. Although there are voluminous tables at the back of the import of the committee containing figures, taken to two places of decimals, relating to what a farm produces, the amount of labour used, and so on, the price for wheat that has been arrived at by this committee is an empiric one, and has been, in effect, guessed. It reminds me of an old valuer who was asked by a barrister - a very distinguished authority on land values, who afterwards became Mr. Justice Pike - how he arrived at the unimproved capital value of certain land. The valuer replied that he considered all the factors that were known to him and then made a wellmatured guess as to the value. It seems to me that this committee made such a guess with regard to the price of wheat. However, it is probable that the price that has been fixed is a fair one, and
I have no adverse comments to make about it.
Although there are 64,000 licensed wheat-farmers in Australia, the committee at first decided to issue the questionnaire to only 5,020. The report does not specify how many of them were actually issued, but it is stated that the response by the farmers was very poor. The committee says that the farmers to whom the questionnaire copies were sent were either unable or unwilling to return them, properly completed. A burning question in the rural life of Australia, and one in which the Government should be deeply interested because it can do a great deal to solve it, is the study of rural economics in our universities. The only rural university college in Australia, with the exception of the one at Mildura, is situated at Armidale. For a long time it has been pressing its parent body, the University of Sydney, to establish a faculty of rural economics. It may be of interest to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to know that in the book Tour in France and Italy, written by Arthur Young, who was probably one of the greatest authorities on agriculture that the world has known, it was stated that in that year there was a faculty of rural economics, with six professors, in the University of Paris. In 1948, approximately 160 years later, there is not a single faculty of rural economics in the Commonwealth of Australia. The Government should assist the farming community of this country by taking advantage of the first available opportunity to promote the establishment of such faculties.
Another disturbing feature of the report of the committee relates to the provision for the replacement of machinery. On page 70 of the report, the following passage appears: -
Another difficult question was the cost of machinery on the farm. The cost of renewing the machinery is much greater than the amount which the farmer has, over the life of his existing machinery, set aside for depreciation.
In any future investigation of the costs of production of wheat, the replacement of machinery on the farm must be taken into consideration.
The bill seeks to make the operation of a levy retrospective. I believe that any legislation that has a retrospective effect is bad legislation. It would be very much better if the levy were made to take effect only in relation to future crops.
In the excellent speech that the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. McEwen) made last Friday, he pointed out that there was incorporated in the platform of the Australian Country party a principle for which it would always fight, that is, the principle of private ownership of property and the right to be allowed to enjoy the benefits of ownership. Under this plan, the growers will not have the benefits of ownership. Clause 10 of the bill provides that the board may appoint any number of its members to be an executive committee, and may delegate powers to that committee, subject to any direction by the Minister. Clause 12, which refers to overseas agents, provides that the board may, subject to the approval of the Minister, enter into agreements with such agents. Clause 13 states that the board may, subject to any directions of the Minister, for the purposes of the export of wheat and wheat products, exercise certain powers specified in the clause. It will be seen that in all those respects the board is subject to the directions of the Minister. This is not a matter that can be lightly brushed aside with the statement that the Minister will not interfere with the activities of the board. Two incidents greatly shook the confidence of the Australian farmers in the integrity of this Government and the effectiveness of the Australian Wheat Beard. The first incident occurred when the present VicePresident of the Executive Council, when Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, entered into an agreement to sell Australian wheat to New Zealand for a period of four or five years at 5s. 9d. a bushel. The fact that such an agreement was made was disclosed by the then Minister for Commerce in the New Zealand Parliament on the 2nd July, 1946. The report of the speech is to be found at page 170 of the New Zealand Hansard of that date. The worst feature of the transaction was that the agreement was made secretly, behind the back of the Australian Wheat Board and without its approval. The VicePresident of. the Executive Council and the
Government supporters in this Parliament denied not once, twice or thrice but on a dozen occasions that such an agreement had been made. Eventually, the Government produced a written document and post-dated it, but the contract was made in telegrams and letters that passed between the Australian Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and the New Zealand Government months previously. It was a fatal mistake of the wheat-farmers to imagine that a marketing board constituted as this one was could operate independently of ministerial control. Another example of the danger of ministerial control was supplied by the action of the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Scully) when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, in issuing instructions, at a time of great shortage of wheat and frightful scarcity of food in Great Britain, that permits were to be issued for the manufacture of 50,000 bushels of wheat into biscuits for consumption by racing dogs in this country. The Minister issued that direction notwithstanding that the New South Wales State Superintendent of the Australian Wheat Board had, on the 11th February, 1946, only three weeks before, issued a circular on behalf of the board that the practice of manufacturing wheat into dog biscuits had to cease. Those two occurrences and other similar decisions shook the confidence of the farmers in boards whose constitutions include a proviso that their operation shall be subject to the control of a Minister. The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture stated that it is necessary for the Government to be able to exercise control over the board because of the amount of Commonwealth funds involved. However, I point out that when the owner of a vessel or the occupier of a house effects a policy of insurance the insurer does not become entitled to interfere with the management of the ship at sea or of the internal ordering of the household. The Government stands in the position of an insurer of the wheat industry, and is not entitled to interfere in its financial affairs or in the handling of it produce until such times as the Government’s own. interests become directly involved-. As long as tie stabilization fund is solvent the Government should- leave control in the hands of the board, and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture- should not interfere; L admit that, if, and when, the fundi becomes, exhausted and the industry is- looking to the Treasury to make- up the. price on the sale of export wheat, the Government is entitled, if it considers that’, the. board has not acted wisely, to intervene; in- its. affairs. I consider, that the measure should be amended at the appropriate stage- to provide for the Minister for Commerce and Agricultures to- exercise control only when the funds subscribed by the wheat-growers . have become exhausted and the Government is called upon to make up. the deficiency from Consolidated Revenue. However,, the Auditor-General should be required to furnish a. certificate that the funds of the -board are- exhausted before the Minister shall be. entitled to intervene.. If such an amendment of the measure were, made, the. producers- would be given real, control over the. industry. After all, they are entitled to exercise, control because they grow the. wheat and subscribe the funds for the stabilization pool. However, in making that suggestion, I emphasize, that I speak not necessarily on behalf of all the wheat-growers of Australia, hut simply as a wheat-grower myself. In its present form, the bill, which empowers the Minister to interfere in the affairs of the board at any time, is simply a veiled form of socialism, and the proposed board will be nothing more than a facade- because it will have no real independent powers.
Another matter to which I refer is the marketing arrangement not only for wheat but also for all other primary produce which may be embraced in stabilization plans. Undoubtedly Queensland has given a lead in this matter to the Commonwealth and the other States of Australia. The act which the Parliament of Queensland passed in 1926 provides for organized marketing of primary produce, yet adequately protects the interests of primary producers because its provisions enable them to demand at any time that a poll shall be taken in the particular industry concerned on the desirability of establishing a scheme of organized marketing, and if a majority of growers approve the proposal- the scheme must be established. Subsequently,, they may at any time demand that, a poll shall be taken on the, desirability of continuing the scheme, and an adverse vote of a bare majority is- sufficient to terminate, the scheme. When 10 per cent. of the growers in a particular primary industry demand that a poll be taken on the’ desirability of introducing a scheme of stabilization, a poll is taken, and if 60 per cent, of the voters approve the establishment of a board to control marketing, and SO per cent: of all registered producers have voted, such a> board is established. Through their representatives the farmers have complete control of the board. Later, if they desire to discontinue the scheme, an affirmative- vote of 5-1 per cent, of registered growers is required to terminate the activities of the board. That principle should be incorporated in any legislation introduced by the Commonwealth or State governments to control the marketing of primary produce. To-day we are experiencing a sellers’ market, a2id it is easy for the Government to make large sales of primary produce to the governments of other countries, but later we may very well be confronted with a buyers’ market, and we shall have the greatest difficulty in disposing of our wheat to advantage. When that time arrives every “ drummer “ and commercial traveller will be needed, and all the skill and experience of private enterprise will be necessary to dispose of our surplus wheat. Under such conditions a marketing organization which is controlled by the growers themselves, and not by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and his departmental officials, will achieve far more satisfactory results. At such a time it may not benefit wheatgrowers greatly for the Government to content itself with efforts to induce other governments, which may not be particularly desirous of purchasing our produce, to buy it because in such transactions the price is invariably hammered down to an absolute minimum.
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture stated in the course of the debate on the International Wheat Agreement that the agreement should operate not for ten years, but for five years in order that the price might be reviewed after a few years. However, I consider that any agreement which is to be of any real benefit to growers and consumers must operate for at least ten years, and certainly for a longer period than the five years provided for in this bill.
.- I trust that the passage of the measure will remove wheat forever from the ambit of party politics. I believe that if this measure is enacted it will never be repealed, because it provides continuing protection for wheat-growers from a repetition of the deplorable experiences of the past. In this measure we have the acceptance of a principle which the wheat-growers have desired for a long time. Between 1930 and 1940, representatives of wheat-growers’ organizations almost beat a track to this Parliament to ask for the enactment of legislation along the lines of this bill. They met with the combined opposition of honorable members opposite, who were willing to do anything for the growers except throw the speculator off their backs. So much for past history!
This measure is based on the view that the wheat-grower gives real service to every section of the community and is therefore entitled to a just reward which will enable him to live as any Australian should live, not as an outcast. From the time when this legislation comes into operation there will not be a recurrence of conditions under which wheat-growers, in addition to meeting the hazards of the seasons, had to accept the hazards of the world’s markets in respect of prices. It is accepted that in 1947 the cost of producing wheat was 6s. 3d. a bushel at ports. That price was based on a report compiled by a committee of inquiry presided over by Mr. Justice Simpson and including representatives of growers’ organizations. The basic price was accepted by the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, which also desired that the guarantee of 6s. 3d. a bushel at ports should not be hard and fast but should be variable as production costs rose or fell. The Government has accepted that principle, and each year a survey will be made to determine what variation has occurred and the price will be adjusted accordingly. The first variation will apply to the coming harvest. This is a far-reaching principle which already operates successfully in the plan under which the dairying industry is conducted. The acceptance of such a principle could be obtained only from a Labour Government. It guarantees that wheat-growers shall not be forced to sell their wheat below the cost of production. That cost will include a wage for the grower and interest on borrowed capital and on his equity in his property. This scheme will completely remove the speculative element from the marketing of wheat.
From time to time the Opposition parties have tried to oonvince wheatgrowers that they favour a guaranteed return to the farmers for their products which will cover the costs of production. No farmer will believe such political tripe. Can the parties opposite indicate why, when war broke out, wheat-growers were selling on an export market at a price of less than 2s. a bushel? Oan they explain why the royal commission which inquired into the wheat industry had to report in 1937 that the wheat industry had a combined debt of £150,000,000? The commission reported that many farmers were insolvent, that fences were falling down, that fodder reserves were exhausted and that machinery was in a sad state of disrepair. Will honorable members opposite tell country storekeepers, some of whom are still misguided enough to support the Opposition at the ballot boxes, why they too were being forced into insolvency because the farmers could not meet their just debts? Will they say why country towns were languishing and shoddy in contradistinction to their prosperity to-day? When we on this side of the House remind honorable members opposite of those facts, they call out, “The old, old story!” Of course, they do not . like it. Hypocrisy begets its own reward. It is just brazen effrontery for honorable members opposite to say that they want farmers to recover their costs when they know all the time that, when they were in power, the wheat-growers and other farmers were literally in rags.
I refer now to the terms of the hill. I approve of the decision of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) to strengthen the Australian Wheat Board by the addition of a. finance member, a representative of commerce, and a representative of the employees. The board will remain a growers’ board, unlike the organization that was created by the Menzies Government in 1939, which had three representatives of merchants and only two representatives of growers, one of whom represented unorganized growers. The new board will continue to have seven representatives of the growers, who will be in the majority. I believe that the inclusion of a finance member and a commerce member will strengthen the already good managerial side of the board. Growers’ representatives, who cannot be expected to know as much about finance and commerce as they do about production, will be -helped by these additions whilst still maintaining their predominance. Furthermore, the presence of a representative of the employees will help the growers’ representatives to deal with industrial questions and undoubtedly will do a great deal to ensure smooth organization. Before the recent ballots of growers were held, we were assured by members of the Australian Country party that 90 per cent, of the wheat-growers of Australia would vote against the Government’s plan. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) and the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) were very voluble. However, in Victoria 11,275 wheatgrowers voted for the plan and only 3,405 voted against it. Those honorable members are so far out of touch with the growers’ opinions that they ought to resign immediately. They ought to hang their heads in shame and walk out of this chamber. In New South Wales, a man named Roberton, who makes a lot of noise but who is never famous for his logic, claimed that he presented the wheat-growers’ opinions. In that State, 8,951 growers voted for the Government’s plan and only 6,360 voted against it. Roberton is just as voluble as ever, but he has never been so discredited. He contested the Riverina seat at the last election, and, of course, finished last in the poll. Now he vents his disappointment on the unfortunate wheatgrowers by trying to mislead them. They, of course, treat him with disdain. At any rate, the wheat-growers have been very definite in their views. In all States, 29,912 voted for the plan and* 16,371 voted against it. That is a complete answer to the obstructors. The vote is a triumph for the wheat-growers’ organizations which refused to be directed by the Australian Country party and other .political parties. Those parties should now leave the growers to manage their own affairs. It now seems certain that the plan will operate in time for the next harvest. The Australian Wheat Board has had considerable experience in handling crops, and everything should run smoothly provided that the State silos and the railway systems are able to meet requirements. The plan is a good one. It must have been solidly constructed to withstand successfully all the battering it has received through the’ misrepresentation of honorable members opposite and their friends. It removes the wheat industry from the party political arena for all time. Those wheatgrowers who, on Friday last, heard the speech made by the honorable member for Indi in this House will, no doubt, be drunk with enthusiasm for the return to office of the honorable member and his colleagues at the next election ! Did not the honorable member tell them that if the Opposition parties again obtained power they would make the wheat industry safe again - just as safe as it was when they were in office in earlier years ? That glorious prospect should cause every wheat-grower who does not want to tread the path of insolvency to vote for Labour candidates. I hope that very many wheat-growers heard that threat and that the honorable member will go on repeating it. It will be very helpful to the Labour party, because if one member of this Parliament is without standing among the wheat-growers he is the honorable member for Indi. On Friday last, he complained bitterly because Mr. Fred Cullen, a Victorian wheat-grower, had spoken in favour of the plan at many centres at which the honorable gentleman had previously addressed the growers. Judging .by the results of the recent polls, the growers were complimentary to Mr. Cullen and uncomplimentary to the honorable member for Indi. I have not met Mr. Cullen, but I should very much like to meet him. I remember that he was appointed to the Australian Wheat Board and later to the Wheat Industry Stabilization Board by the Menzies Government. I remember also that before the war, and even up to the 1940 election, Mr. Cullen had struck many sledge-hammer blows for the wheat-growers. The Labour Government came into office in October, 1941, so that what Mr. Cullen had said in those earlier days, including, uncomplimentary references to the honorable member for Indi, were not influenced by a Labour Minister. Mr. Cullen seems to have plenty of courage, and judging by the “Victorian poll he seems to have the confidence of the wheat-growers. That does not please the honorable member for Indi, who prefers to have puppets sitting^ on the Australian Wheat Board. The honorable member is now in a difficult position from which his .brazen effrontery on Friday last will not extricate him. For very many .months he has told this Parliament that the wheatgrowers were against the Labour Government’s wheat stabilization plan. That has been proved to be untrue by the wheat-growers themselves. In his second-reading speech on this bill, he said that the Government’s wheat plan was socialistic. When the final vote is taken on this measure, however, he will be found sitting on this side of the chamber with members of the Australian Labour party who support it, unless he absents himself from the division as it is rumoured he proposes to do. Time will tell. The honorable member and his friends may wriggle and twist, but they cannot do anything but eat their words on this subject. If, as spokesmen for the Australian Country party declare, this measure imposes socialism on the wheat industry, socialism will be imposed on the industry with the support of the members of that party. The Liberal party will also be deep in the mire. The Liberal governments of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia are engaged in the task of preparing the requisite complementary legislation to enable this wheat plan to operate. Therefore, we can alsoexpect Liberal members of this Parliament not to hunger-strike but to eat their words. It will be a very amusing,, though not a very edifying spectacle. On. Friday, the honorable member for Indi assured us that the wheat-growers voted for the plan only because they had noalternative. He complained that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture had told the growers to “ take it or leave* it” The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) refuted that argument when he said that,, when the Liberal Government of WesternAustralia asked the growers to vote for a State pool, they refused to do so. In Victoria about eighteen months ago, the Australian Country party, led by the honorable member for Indi and the honorable member for Wimmera, started a movement advocating a .State pool; but the Victorian Wheat and Wool Growers Association promptly attacked the proposal and the Australian Country party dropped the movement for a State pool like a hot brick. That is the reason why the Victorian wheat-growers had no alternative plan submitted to them. This Government propounded a plan and offered it to the growers. It was not the duty of the Government to offer a counter attraction. The honorable member for Indi provides the elements of the circus in this Parliament. The Government’s plan is a good one and the growers have voted in favour of it. We anticipate that before the final vote is taken, Australian Country party members will look for some means by which they hope to square off their present attitude towards the bill. That is all they are doing, and I have no doubt that they will continue those tactics when the bill reaches the committee stage.
In conclusion, I deplore the attitude that has been adopted to this measure by the honorable members opposite to whom I have referred. By every device known in political propaganda and parliamentary procedure, they have tried to stop this stabilization plan from receiving the support that it merits among wheatgrowers, and thus becoming law. To gain a party political advantage, they have tried to induce the growers to vote against their own interests. That was a trap into which, fortunately for themselves, the growers were not prepared to be led. The wheat-growers of the Commonwealth have sought a plan such as this for twenty years. The task of translating it into legislation has been left to the Labour party. Ever since I have been in this chamber, members of the Australian Country party have played at party politics. Again I draw the attention of honorable members to an article which was published in the Ouyen Express in 1945, under the heading “ Political Football Again “. Although I have read this article to the House before, I believe that it should beplaced on record again to show in their true light those people who have been betraying the farmers of this country. [Quorum formed.] When I was interrupted by the calling of a quorum by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), an Australian Country party member of this chamber, I was fighting in the interests of the wheat-growers. The honorable member for Bendigo has always made the wheat industry a political football. He has been attempting to-day to prevent the wheat-growers from hearing what I have to say on their behalf. When he called attention to the state of the House, he was the only Australian Country party member in the chamber. It is well that the people of this country should know just how they are being represented in this chamber by the Australian Country party. Members of that party will never get out of the entanglement in which they now find themselves over this measure. When they face the electors, some time next year, they will be completely annihilated, and will go into the political darkness for all time. The article published in the Ouyen Express in 1945 states -
Desperate efforts are being made by members of the Australian Country party to discredit, notonly the Scully wheat plan, but also the whole stabilization scheme, and with it orderly marketing, without which the wheat-grower is doomed.
Over a number of years we have seen what portfolio-seeking politicians have done to the wheat industry. The grower has been used as a “ political football “, especially by men such as Mr. McEwen, M.P., and other Australian Country party members. The game is on again - and God help the grower if he takes notice of the propaganda being poured out by these men who, in the past, have sold the industry again and again.
We think that the daily prayer of such politicians must be: “Please God, give the wheat-grower a short memory, and let us forget (publicly) what we did to him in the past”. This sudden concern for the poor wheat-grower is, to put it candidly, stinking hypocrisy. What did Mr. McEwen do for the grower when he had the chancer How much did the growers lose on the price of 3s.10d. a bushel so graciously given by the government which these men kept in power? What, indeed, has the Australian Country party ever done for any primary producer? Looking back over its sorry history all one may say is that it wept tears over him when it was out of office - and laughed his genuine need to scorn when it was in office.
Cupidity is an inherent vice in many men; and it is in this appeal to greed that the danger of disruption lies. These propagandists assert that millions have been stolen from the grower under the plan. They give figures to prove their case; but ten minutes’ study of those figures proves that they have been manipulated to serve political ends - by men whose record shows that they were slowly but surely robbing the wheat-grower of even the barest existence.
The fact to be remembered when one reads the Australian Country party propaganda is that it is merely part of a. campaign to discredit the Government. Admittedly, the Government has made many mistakes; but, in the midst of its pre-occupation with a fight for Australia’s existence - and with the worst drought the nation has known - it has given the primary producer better treatment than he received from his alleged “ friends “ in normal times.
We repeat that the propaganda is political - in the ugliest sense of the word. It seeks to wreck the Government (for which the Opposition cannot be blamed) ; but, at the same time, it does not scruple to wreck the wheat industry and ruin the grower to attain its end. There are critical months ahead for the wheat-grower, and it would be well for him to remember the old tag: “I fear the Greeks, even when bringing gifts “.
If members of the Australian Country party had any common decency they would bow their heads in shame and walk out of this chamber.
– We have just heard a long speech from the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) which had nothing whatever to do with the bill before this chamber, but which was, from beginning to end, an onslaught on the Australian Country party. The honorable member concluded his quotation with the old saying, “I fear the Greeks, even when bringing gifts “. That may be, but it is a fair indication that the honorable member for Hume, who so bitterly attacks the Australian Country party to-day, is in somewhat the same position as a certain chief of my clan who, upon meeting a gypsy, was told -
Lochiel, Lochiel, beware of the day
When the Lowlands shall meet thee in battle array.
The honorable member will meet the Australian Country party in due course. The true value of his speech may be assessed from the fact that it had nothing to do with wheat and was only an unprovoked attack on the Australian Country party. I propose to make some remarks about wheat, the bill and the antecedents to it, and I may say something about the Australian Country party. In that endeavour, I may not entirely overlook the very obvious merits of the Australian Labour party.
The history of the stabilization of the wheat industry goes back eighteen years, and every political party has had a stab at the problem. The subject arose originally because of the calamitous reduction of the price of wheat in 1930. The first two moves were made by the Scullin Government. In its first attempt that Government tried to place the financial responsibility for stabilization on the States, although it knew perfectly well at the time that South Australia and Western Australia, at any rate, were incapable of carrying it. Shortly afterwards, the discovery was made that New South Wales was far from solvent. Indeed, the only State which might have struggled along with that responsibility was Victoria. As subsequent developments revealed, New South Wales was in no better position to carry the liability than were South Australia and Western Australia. The first scheme failed, and rightly so. The second scheme, which also the Scullin Government proposed, provided for a guarantee of 3s. a bushel to wheat-growers. We have never been able to ascertain why the Scullin Government did not proceed with that plan. The necessary legislation was passed by the Senate, but the government of the day never gave effect to the scheme. As some members of the Scullin Ministry are still in this chamber, perhaps they will explain why that Administration did not proceed with stabilization.
The Scullin Government was succeeded by the Lyons Government. Shortly after I became a member of the House of Representatives in 1934, I witnessed the passage of the Flour Tax Bill. That legislation encountered the bitter opposition of the Australian Labour party, but some of the most critical speeches against it were made by certain members of the United Australia party. Some of those gentlemen are no longer members of this House. The Lyons Government did not have an easy task with that bill, because it had to meet the opposition of some of its own supporters, and it received no assistance from the Australian Labour party. The Flour Tax Bill provided that the people of Australia should pay a home-consumption price for that portion of the wheat crop which was used for local consumption. At that point, no attempt was made to guarantee a special price for export wheat, but it stood to reason that the lower the export percentage of the Australian crop, the more beneficial would be the effect of the flour tax upon the whole crop.
At the outbreak of World War II. in 1939, the Menzies Government faced a most difficult position with the wheat industry. First, it had to consider the crop which was ripening, and, secondly, it had the problem of the disposal of the wheat which was still in the hands of merchants and farmers in Australia. Under the National Security Act, the Menzies Government, quite rightly, promulgated regulations for the compulsory acquisition of that wheat, and compensated the growers by the only method which the High Court had declared to be constitutional, namely, that the growers should be paid the full market value of the produce which was taken from them. Whether a higher price should have been paid at that time is another matter, but the fact cannot be denied that the action of the Menzies Government in 1939 in respect of the old crop and the new crop was strictly in accordance with the Constitution. Consequently, no blame can be attached to the Menzies Government on that account.
An election was held in 1940, and the United Australia party and the Australian Country party lost certain constituencies in the wheat-growing districts. The Government decided to summon a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers to deal with the wheat industry. Although -I was not to retain the ‘office of Minister for Commerce, I was deputed r,o explain the Government’s policy to the Premiers. One matter which I have never had explained to my satisfaction, was why the Government, after I ceased r,o he a Minister, abandoned the policy which 1 was authorized to put into operalion. I say, without any fear of contradiction, that the plan formulated for submission to the Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in Melbourne in 1940, was the best that had been devised for the wheat industry up to that day, and, I still believe, up till this day. On that occasion, I informed the Premiers and representatives if the growers, who were present at the conference, that I had the authority of Cabinet to say that the Government would purchase the whole crop at a uniform price of 3s. 4d. a bushel at the point of delivery. That proposal was founded on my firm belief that the Government could not usefully and morally distinguish between a producer of wheat and. a producer of munitions of war. A person engaged in the munitions industry received payment on a cost plus basis for what he made, and the Government did not tell him that he had to take the articles to “ Timbuktu “ for delivery. The Government bought the articles at the factories where they were made. I could not see any reason why the Government should not treat the wheat-grower in exactly the same way, and, as soon as he had completed the delivery of his wheat, regard him as having carried out his part i>f the contract. I considered that the Government was liable to pay him the price which had been agreed upon at that time. The conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers was held on about the 25th October, 1940. On the 29th November of the same year, the then Minister for Commerce, Sir Earle Page, initiated a further move in this House in connexion with the wheat industry. The methods by which the right honorable gentleman introduced the Wheat Industry (War-time Control) Bill were unorthodox, as I knew at the time, and, subsequently, when another Minister attempted to use the same unorthodox measures, I was successful in preventing him from doing so. The right honorable member for Cowper, when introducing the legislation, said -
Legislation necessary to give effect to the Government’s wheat stabilization plan is as follows : -
National Security (Wheat Industry Stabilization) Regulations which have been promulgated. These provide for the establishment of the Stabilization Board, its machinery and administration ; the registration of wheat farms and the licensing of growers.
National Security (Wheat Acquisition) Regulations which have been drafted but not yet promulgated. These will provide for amendment of existing regulations to ensure the guaranteed price.
Wheat Tax (War-time) Bill. This will provide foi’ a tax of 50 per cent, of the excess market realization beyond 3s. 10d. a bushel on all wheat harvested after the 1st October, 1941.
Wheat Tax (War-time) Assessment Bill. This will provide for assessment of the a mount of tax by the Stabilization Board, and its collection.
Wheat Industry (War-time Control) Bill.
– Was that 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. ?
– No; it was f.o.r. ports and incidentally, 3s. 4d. a bushel at sidings was an infinitely better price than 3s. lOd. f.o.r. ports from the grower’s point of view.
– It was better than the 5s. 9d. charged to New Zealand.
– It was not.
– I know perfectly well that the right honorable member for Cowper had the backing of the Wheat Growers Federation for the scheme that he submitted to the Parliament on the 29th November, 1940. I say that in justification of my statement that it is possible to get almost any decision that is wanted out of the wheat industry on any issue. That statement is certainly true of recent times. In November, 1940, the right honorable gentleman also explained a fodder conservation scheme which provided, very rightly and wisely, that in the event of a big wheat crop being in sight the Government should have the right to compel wheat-growers to cut a certain proportion of their wheat, stack it as hay and insure it.
– The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) introduced that regulation himself.
– I suggested it but the right honorable member for Cowper and others carried it out. I do not think my suggestion was anything new to the right honorable member for Cowper, whose experience in fodder conservation is very great. The present scheme omits to provide measures for dealing with a heavy crop in the event of a fall in prices. The Government will have to deal with that problem in due course. Honorable members opposite may say that the Government will deal with it when the need arises. The Government will have to introduce some measure to deal with excess crops in the event of prices receding below a payable level.
The Menzies-Fadden Government had a short life in 1941. At one stage the Government was changed almost as often as people changed their socks, and then the Curtin Ministry came into office. After that Ministry got into the saddle the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) introduced what is known as the Scully plan. With great respect to him I must say that I consider that that plan was one of the worst things ever proposed for the wheat industry. It was justly condemned and finally the Government had to dump it. The almost immediate effect of the plan was that in a season of drought, coupled with the conditions applying under the plan, Australia was forced to import wheat from the United States and Canada notwithstanding a published assurance by the then Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) on 9th February, 1944, to the effect that if Australia grew no wheat for two years it would still have plenty to see it through. A reduction in acreage was inevitable under the Scully plan, because that plan meant that the big wheat producers would not carry on under the conditions laid down in it. Australia had to import, not only wheat, but also barley, oats and, I believe, maize and other coarse grains because of the plan. The cost to the country of importing those grains has never been told, although we have been given the cost of certain other things since then.
– There were plenty of noxious weeds among the imported grain.
Sitting suspended from 6 to- 8 p.m.
– I shall deal with the attempts of the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) to handle wheat stabilization. He took over from where his predecessor (Mr. Scully), left off. The Minister very soon came to the conclusion that the Scully plan was not a winner, and therefore thought of another one of his own, which he introduced to the Parliament in 1946. That plan has already been dumped by the present Government. It was submitted to the States, which were asked to carry out certain legislative acts. The South Australian Parliament submitted proposed legislation to the growers, a majority of whom, however, opposed it. Why the Labour governments of New South Wales and Victoria did not endorse the plan I do not know. This. Government has never told us. We know that the repeal of one of the taxation measures closely allied to the plan is now under consideration. When the famous plan of 1946 was introduced we were assured by certain honorable members opposite, including the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller), that that would provide for wheat stabilization for evermore that everything in the garden was to be lovely, and that no longer would wheat be the football of party politics. Yet, it is back in the political arena again to-night. It is indeed strange that two honorable gentlemen on the Government side of the House should suggest what should have been done by other parties when in office in the past.
When the present Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) was in a little spot of bother in regard to growing wheat in days gone by, as I was myself, he did not stand for election to Parliament as an endorsed Labour candidate, but as an unendorsed candidate. It was only cn second thoughts that he drifted into the Australian Labour party.
– Second thoughts are always the best.
– Although I am not sure of that, I know that the honorable member for Hume did not make his first attempt to secure election as a member of the Australian Labour party.
– As a Labour member, though.
– At the time, the honorable member was allied to the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang), who was also running a candidate named Gibbons for the Division of Calare at one stage. That candidate favoured a guaranteed price for wheat of 7s. 6d. a bushel.
– The honorable gentleman should direct his remarks to the bill before the House.
– My remarks have relation to the bill being debated.
– While I am in the chair, honorable members must confine their remarks to the measure under discussion.
– Obviously the history of wheat stabilization is part and parcel of the subject-matter under debate. The honorable member for Hume is still fifteen pence short of the guarantee proposed by the former master. This Government can of course claim that whatever the merits or demerits of the present measure may be, it has been submitted to the wheat-growers of Australia, and has been given a remarkably favorable vote in Victoria. When the farmers of South Australia asked for my advice, I advised them to vote against the confounded scheme. I do not believe in it now any more than I did before. The Government may hope that this matter is removed from party politics. It ought to he, so far as Government members are concerned, because this law will be out of force in four or five years’ time and it is to be sincerely hoped that the present Government will not survive two more elections. The basis for their wild hopes must rest on the Opposition -which will probably be in power when legislation of this character will have to be reviewed. One of the main arguments on the bill has revolved around whether or not the political parentage of this bill should rest with the Australian Country party. I say without any hesitation there is nothing contained in this bill which was not, in principle, contained in the speech of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page; on the 29th November, 1940. I have yet to learn that criticism of a measure must always mean opposition to it. There is no escape from the fact that so far as political parentage is concerned, the Australian Country party will be given some credit, for this hill is on all fours with the policy which was enunciated by the right honorable member for Cowper in 1940, and with the present policy of the Australian Country party. The Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. McEwen) was perfectly entitled to tell the Government that it ought to be paying copyright fees to the Australian Country party for the use of its ideas. There is no question that that should be so. This is not the first time that the Government has had to fall back on Australian Country party ideas. I suppose it will not be the last time. The more closely Government members confine themselves to that procedure in future, the better it will be for all concerned. The annual prices review is a feature that is contained in the policy of the Australian Country party. It is an old policy which was introduced by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) in connexion with the wine industry. It was laid down in connexion with that industry that in order to .qualify for the export duty on wine, the wine-maker must pay a certain stipulated price for grapes. There is no novelty about a charge on the export of wheat. That was part of the scheme of the right honorable member for Cowper and it is still contained in the Australian Country party’s policy. There is nothing new either about having a fixed price for wheat for home consumption. As such a measure was put on the statute-book by the Lyons Government, there is no great novelty in that. There was some difficulty in obtaining the grower’s consent to the principle, but the Playford Government of South Australia, in 1946, insisted on the growers giving their consent. We come up against controversial issues with regard to control by the growers, because, as I have said on more than one occasion, I believe that in many instances a Minister of the Crown could pick a better board to run an industry than could the growers themselves.Whilst that may sound like rank heresy and dangerous politics, nevertheless it is my view. It does not always follow that the best nien are obtained by ballot. If proof of that assertion is wanted we have only to look around at one another in this House.
The next controversial point is that relating to the trust fund, which was discussed in South Australia and in another State. Growers are let to believe that there is something sacrosanct about a government trust fund, especially a Commonwealth trust fund. The Parliament low has before it a proposal to deal with certain trust funds. One of them is the Import Procurement Trust Account, from which the sum of £4,000,000 was paid into the War Gratuity Trust Account.
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the question before the Chair.
– Provision is made under the bill in respect of a trust fund and I want to show what the Government can do with such a trust fund if it is so minded.
– The honorable gentleman must confine hi9 remarks to the bill.
– Trust moneys do not necessarily remain in .the one trust forever, and the Parliament has no power whatever to prevent a future government, or even this Government, from transferring money paid into a trust fund in respect of the wheat industry to any other trust fund. So long as the Government has a majority in this chamber and that majority supports the proposal, it may use that trust fund for the purpose of financing its free medicine scheme, or for any other purpose. In such instances it would not require a majority in the Senate, because such a measure would be a money measure and the powers of the Senate are strictly limited in respect of matters of that description. There is no insurance to the wheat-growers of Australia merely because certain taxes on wheat exported have been paid into a trust fund. Furthermore, this bill falls short of the scheme laid down by the right honorable member for Cowper in 1940 in so far as it does not provide for fodder conservation when the price of wheat may be low and there may be good prospects for a heavy fodder crop. I refer to this aspect because I want to disabuse the Parliament of the illusion that we can go on guaranteeing a price for wheat in excess of the cost of production and continue exporting a portion of the crop at a loss. We cannot do that for an indefinite period. The Government may disregard that fact for a while and things may prove to be all right for a year or two, but as sure as we have had surpluses in the past we shall have surpluses in the future, and unless the Government is absolutely irresponsible, or profligate, it will insist upon a reduction of the acreage which is sown and also a reduction of the acreage which is reaped for grain should there happen to be a particularly bounteous crop in prospect. This measure is silent on that aspect. I point out again the direct relationship in principle between this legislation and that introduced by the right honorable member for Cowper in 1940 when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.
We must ask ourselves certain questions. Why should a wheat-grower have to stabilize his own industry? I revert to the point I raised earlier when I dealt with the action taken by the honorablemember for Balaclava when he was Minister for Trade and Customs to put the wine industry on its feet. He did’ not say to the grape-growers of Australia, “Look boys, you have to put so much for every ton of grapes into a stabilization fund “. No Ministerhas ever gone to the dairyfarmerswhen things were tough and saidto them, “ We will stabilize the price of your product, but as soon as the marketprice rises above the guaranteed pricewe will put 50 per cent, of the increase- into Consolidated Revenue or into some trust fund “. Why has the wheat industry been singled out for this special treatment? I have not yet had an answer to that question. Personally, I stand by the policy which I put before the State Premiers on behalf of the Government of which I was a member, and that is that if it be in the national interest to grow a certain crop the producers of the crop should be guaranteed a payable price. There is no alternative. However, as the wheat-growers have approved of this legislation, who am I to say that the 20,000 growers who voted in favour of it are wrong and the 16,000 who voted against it are right, or that the thousands of growers who were not sufficiently interested to vote on the proposal at all are in favour of or opposed to this legislation? On that point, I have been rather amused to hear supporters of the Government claim that growers who did not vote are in favour of the proposal, whilst honorable members on this side of the House claim that those growers are not in favour of it. The fact is that the growers who did not vote were not sufficiently interested to say whether they are in favour of or opposed to this legislation. However, that does not get over the problem of stabilization. In an industry so basically vital to our economy as is the wheat industry stabilization is not to be limited by time. It cannot be limited effectively by time. There must be a permanent policy with regard to the industry. By the subterfuge of this bill, the government may remove this problem from the arena of party politics for a few years, but it cannot do so indefinitely. Unless stabilization is put on a permanent basis, this problem will inevitably re-enter the arena of party politics.
I come now to the subject of the ownership of the wheat. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) dealt with this aspect on Friday last, but it is one point on which I do not see eye to eye with him. He spoke about the grower having the right to own his wheat. So far as this scheme is concerned, that is an illusion, because the moment the wheat goes into the pool, and there is no other place to which it can go, the grower loses ownership of it. Once it goes into the pool, he has no more control over it than if he had never grown it, excepting insofar as he may be accorded a vote to decide who shall represent him on the board which will decide what is to be done with the wheat. If ownership of the wheat is to continue to reside in the grower, there can be no such thing as a pool. This issue was fought out bitterly in the Parliament of South Australia before I was elected to this Parliament.
– There can be joint, ownership in a pool.
– Yes ; but many of the growers who voted against these proposals do not believe in joint ownership. Joint ownership is not a substitute for complete ownership. If a producer is entitled to own his product he can sell it according to his judgment, or he can give it away. He can do anything he wishes to do with it, but once he becomes a joint owner in a pool he is entitled only to a dividend.
– But he is entitled to a full dividend. That was the point I made in my speech.
– Under this legislation there is no guarantee that any grower will ever get his full dividend. The Government will have the right to do certain things with his wheat. However, before dealing further with that aspect, I wish to make myself clear on another controversial point. I have discussed it on previous occasions, but the views I then expressed have been misrepresented. I believe in ministerial control, and when the Opposition parties again assume office I shall not forgo my belief. I cannot visualize any government surrendering its obligations under the Constitution. The contingent liability which the Australian Government must carry in relation to this scheme, or that propounded by the right honorable member for Cowper when he was Minister for Commerce, is a heavy liability which may arise from time to time. The second justification for ministerial control is that the Government now holds approximately £15,000,000, allegedly in trust, for the wheat-growers. The Ministry cannot part with ministerial responsibility for the safe custody of that money. Again, it is necessary to have ministerial control. I can easily visualize sets of circumstances in which it would be necessary for any ministry to have ministerial control. For instance, one of the responsibilities of the Parliament is in relation to international affairs. “We shall shortly be called upon to ratify the agreements that were made at Havana. I say quite frankly .that I have not thoroughly studied the relevant documents, and I doubt whether many honorable members have done so. Recently we ratified an instrument known as the International “Wheat Agreement. It is not operative at the present time, but, if the United States of America and other countries decided to ratify that agreement or a similar one, certain responsibilities would arise that could only be undertaken, so far as Australia is concerned, by the Australian Government. I have never been in two minds on these matters. In my opinion, there is either ministerial control or no control at all. The whole basis of demo,cratic government in British communities is that only the appropriate Minister is responsible to the Parliament. We cannot hand over to any outside authority money that has been raised by taxes. The Constitution provides that it must be paid into a consolidated revenue account and that it may be paid out of that account only with the authority of the Parliament. Australia might become engaged in trade negotiations with, say, India. India may need our wheat, and we certainly need Indian jute for use in our wheat, sugar, wool, and other industries. We must have jute. Circumstances may easily arise under which the Australian Government may have to conclude an agreement with the Indian Govenment The basis of such an agreement, or to put it bluntly, the pawn in the game, will be Australian wheat, and unless the Australian Government has control of that wheat, it will not he able to safeguard the general interests of the Australian people. Therefore, I favour ministerial and no other ultimate control. I condemn vigorously actions such as the negotiating of the New Zealand Wheat Agreement. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) has nodded his head. That was a mistake. I am sure that the honorable gentleman intended to shake it. The original intention of the
Australian Government was that the cost of that scheme should be borne by the wheat-growers.
– That is not so.
– The Government could not get away with that, and finally it had to pass the. cost on to the taxpayers. The Vice-President of the Executive Council now shakes his head.
– I can prove that the honorable gentleman is wrong.
– I shall be happy to have such proof. So far, honorable members have been denied a copy of that agreement so that they mayexamine it.
– It is recorded in Hansard.
– Another matter that is of great interest to the wheat-growing industry and other industries is the policy of the Government in regard to wheat for feeding stock in Australia. There is nothing in the bill, nor was there anything in the speeches that were made by the Minister for Commerceand Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) and theMinister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon), to clarify this point. TheGovernment must have some policy in this connexion. My view is that if, as an. act of government, it is necessary to allow an industry to buy wheat, steel, wool,, or other commodities at prices below the ruling market prices, that should not be the liability of those who grow or produce the commodities and who, but forthat act of government, would have obtained the full market prices for them.. All that I have read upon the stock feed question are certain statements that were attributed to leaders of the wheatgrowing industry. I do not know with what authority they spoke, but it appears that the Australian wheat-growers have been committed to selling 15 per cent, of the export surplus of Australian wheat for stock feed at the home-consumption price. I do not know whether that will continue to be done, and the bill does not clarify the position. It is one of the matters which should be discussed, and upon which an agreement should be reached. If the export surplus of wheat is small, then the percentage to be devoted to stock feed will also be small..
If the export surplus is a large one, then the percentage available for stock feed will be large. In view of the way in which the wheat-growers voted at the recent ballot, I do not propose to ask for & division on the motion for the second reading of this bill, but, if a division is called for, I shall vote with the “ Noes “, as I have done in the past. No politics are involved in this question at the present time. The general election is a long way off, and I should no more attempt to forecast what conditions in the wheat industry will be in twelve months time than I should attempt to forecast the result of the next general election.
I leave the matter there. I sincerely trust that the hopes of the Minister in charge of the bill will be justified and that the troubles of the wheat industry will be settled to the satisfaction of growers, consumers, exporters, millers and everybody else for a period of not less than five years, but I have my doubts.
.- It has been one of my life-long ambitions to see the wheat industry stabilized, and I have lived to see it. This measure gives me great pleasure for several reasons, among which are first, because it will give the great multitude of small wheat-growers in Australia what they have been seeking for many years; secondly, because it will be to my own personal benefit as a wheat-grower; and, thirdly, because it has incurred the criticism of Opposition members in this House. The two greatest battles that I have had to fight in election campaigns were fought on the wheat question. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) made statements in this House that were, in effect, great compliments to Mr. Cullen of Victoria. Mr. Cullen represents the bona fide mouthpiece of the wheatgrowers of Australia, that is the Wheat Growers Federation. It is the only organization that truly represents the small wheat-growers of Australia. The honorable member for Indi admitted that he had travelled thousands of miles to tell the Victorian wheat-growers that they were being led into a trap and that this scheme was a confidence trick. He also admitted that he was fol lowed throughout Victoria by Mr. Cullen, who told the people the truth. I think that the result of the poll is a magnificent compliment to Mr. Cullen, who obtained a majority of more than three to one in support of the proposal. What a slap in the eye for the honorable member for Indi, who travelled thousands of miles in a determined effort to defeat the plan ! I hope that Mr. Cullen stands for election to the Parliament as a Labour candidate next year. It has also been rumoured that he is to be appointed to the Australian Wheat Board, though I do not know whether or not the rumour is true. Whilst I do not approve of political appointments, I shall welcome the appointment to that board of a man who has the interests of the wheatgrowers at heart.
Although the bill is intended to advance the interests of wheat-growers the Opposition do not support it for that reason. That is evident because until the recent ballot of the wheat-growers was taken they opposed every measure introduced by the Government for the improvement of the wheat industry. Although I would not give two “ bob “ for the word of many of the members of the Opposition I must say that I admire the honorable member for Barker (“Mr. Archie Cameron), who is, at least, honest in his utterances. Indeed, I agree with some of his points of view, although I emphatically disagree with others. It is a pity that other members of the Opposition do not follow his example.
I support the bill not merely as a politician but also as a practical wheat-farmer. My grandfather and my father were struggling wheat-growers and I know their experiences. My own experience of the industry began when I was a child. I worked very hard and suffered many bitter disappointments. I know, therefore, of what I am speaking, and the introduction of this measure represents the fulfilment of one of my life’s ambitions. Never before has such a splendid opportunity been given to the wheat-farmers of this country. Those honorable members opposite who have criticized the measure have made some remarkable statements. The honorable member for Indi contended that the present scheme was modelled on the scheme. introduced by an anti-Labour government eight years ago. I have been a member of the Parliament for the last eight years, and I know what happened eight years ago. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) said that we should not revert to the conditions of 30 years ago. I should not imagine that even any honorable member opposite desires to revert to those conditions, and t certainly do not. The adoption of the plan embodied in this measure will protect the wheat-farmers of Australia against any repetition of the tragic happenings of the past. We all are more or less gamblers, and the adoption of the present plan will put the wheat-farmer in the position of a gambler who enters a two-up school with a double-headed penny. He cannot lose! Honorable members opposite may laugh, but I had some experience of gambling in my youth, although I never held the kip while I had two double-headed pennies in my hand. Never before has such a magnificient prospect been presented to the wheat-growers, and the fact that Labour, which is alleged by our opponents to be the enemy of the wheat-growers, has made it possible makes it all the more remarkable. The members of the so-called Australian Country party, who pose as the traditional friends of the farmers, and who participated in anti-Labour governments for many years, were never able to introduce a plan comparable with the present one. The honorable member for Barker said that he thought the Scully plan was a bad one, but I remind him that it was based on the 3ame principles as the scheme which was placed before the wheat-growers at the recent poll. When the Menzies Government was in office I attended some of the many meetings with the then Prime Minister and members of his government in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. All we sought was a guarantee of 4s. a bushel for the first 3,000 bushels offered for sale by a wheat-farmer. Our pleas fell on deaf ears, and I remember how bitterly disappointed we were. My disappointment at that time led to my entering the Parliament. At that time the foremost plank of my platform was a guarantee of 4s. a bushel for the first 3,000 bushels produced by wheat-farmers. One of the biggest meetings which I addressed during the campaign was at Wyalong, after which I was approached by representatives of the Australian Country party to contest the next elections as a member of that party. I am glad to say that I declined their offer, otherwise I should not be addressing the House this evening. The then honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson), who was an honorable man with the interests of the wheat-farmers at heart, made a special trip to Finlay to place his views before a meeting of wheatfarmers. Meetings were held at Wyalong, Coolamon and Berrigan, as well as at other large centres in the electorate which I now represent. Those meetings were held because of the refusal of the Menzies Government to consider our very reasonable demands. Eventually that Government produced a plan, which came to be known all over New South Wales as the Page-Nock scheme, which was supposed to give wheat-growers a guarantee. That scheme was based on an estimated crop of 140,000,000 bushels and the magnificent sum of £26,750,000 was appropriated for its purchase. Members of the present Opposition parties, who were then members and supporters of the Menzies Government, have the hide of a rhinoceros. They actually told the farmers that they were conferring a wonderful benefit on them! I was a member of the Parliament at the time, and on three separate occasions I asked the present right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who was then Minister for Commerce, what would happen if the crop exceeded 140,000,000 bushels. On each occasion he replied that he did not anticipate that the crop would exceed that quantity. However, the honorable member for Corowa in the Parliament of New South Wales, who was a genuine representative of the wheat-farmers, revealed .that if the crop exceeded 140,000,000 bushels the sum of £26,750,000 was to be spread over the entire crop, and that is a fact. Ultimately, instead of receiving the promised price of 3s. lOd. a bushel, farmers received only 2s. lOd. f.c.b., subject to payment of all expenses and handling charges, so that they actually lost approximately ls. a bushel. Had the crop exceeded the estimated yield they would have received even less. That is the plan which the honorable member for Barker claimed was the fruit of twee, years’ consideration. Indeed., it must have been hatched 28 years ago, because I have been a member of the Parliament for the last eight years. I am shocked at the hypocrisy of members of the Opposition, who profess to represent the interests of the man on the land, and are trying even now to persuade people that they support the present measure because of regard for their interests. Members of the Opposition are thinking of their own political future. At the last election, they thought they would wipe the floor with us, but we are still here, and we shall he here after the next election, also. Naturally, I am very pleased with’ the bill before the House. For the first time in the history of the industry, the wheat-growers can look forward to stable conditions for five years at least. They will be able to plan ahead, knowing that they cannot lose and, if prices rise, they will obtain the benefit. Members of the Opposition have had a lot to say about the Government keeping the wheat-growers’ money. “Well, there is nothing new in that. Under the very first pooling arrangement introduced when the- right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was Prime Minister, the Government of the day retained some of the growers’ money for a considerable time. It is of no use trying to stabilize the wheat industry when prices are at bedrock. A stabilization scheme must be introduced when prices are good, and then we must put something into “ kitty “. That is what the Government now proposes to do. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has said that, when he left the Ministry years ago, he left behind him a scheme under which the growers were to be guaranteed 3s. 4d. a bushel at country sidings, which was a very good price at the time, I admit. However, that scheme was never put in+« effect, for just after he left office there was introduced the Page-Nock scheme, under which the growers were given, not 3s. 4d. but 2s. 2d. a bushel. I do not doubt that the honorable member for Barker was sincere, but those who succeeded him were certainly not sincere when they professed to have the welfare of the wheat-growers at heart. The scheme of which the honorable member- for Barker spoke never saw the light of day. Indeed, no one but himself ever seems to have heard of it. Certainly, the wheatgrowers never saw it; and yet, honorable members opposite have the audacity to stand in their places and say that the scheme which the Government is now putting forward is a copy of one which was evolved when their party was in power. It is nothing of the sort. If a stabilization plan could not be introduced this year it could never be introduced. In other words, if the Labour Government had not brought in the scheme, it would never have been brought in at all. When the Opposition was in power, the history of the wheat industry was a tale of suicides and bankruptcy and homeless families. Three thousand wheat-farmers left their farms in South Australia, and about the same number did so in Western Australia. In New South Wales, 8,000 walked off, or were put off, their farms, while many more thousands would have had to leave but for moratorium legislation, and the Loan (Farmers’ DebT Adjustment) Act. To-day, most of the farmers are independent men. but no credit for that belongs to the Opposition. Never had the wheat industry been at such a low ebb as when the present Government came into office. Honorable member’s opposite talk about confiscation, but the only time the growers’ wheat was ever confiscated was under the No. 1 pool in 1939, when, despite the fact that a royal commission had found that wheat could not be produced for less than 3s. 6d. a bushel, the Government acquired it at ls. 6d. a bushel, and there were three members of the Australian Country party in the government that acquired it at that price. Country party representatives had not one word of condemnation to utter against that action, but they now declare that 7s. 7d. a bushel is not a just price. If 7s. 7d. is not a just price, what could be said for ls. 6d? When the Opposition was in power, conditions were bad in all the primary industries. Not only were the wheat-farmers in difficulties, but so also’ were the dairyfarmers, and the pig raisers. Pigs were sold at ls. a dozen. The honorable member for “Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) asked what the Labour Government has done for the primary producers. I shall tell him. Under the Labour Government, the price of wheat has risen from ls. 6d. to 17s. a bushel, and the price of pigs from Id. to more than £4 each. More than £70,000,000 has been paid in subsidies for primary products, and the Government is still paying subsidies, including one on superphosphate. This Government is well aware of the hardships of the man on the land, and has set out to give him a fair deal. I was growing wheat and hay years ago when droughts struck the farmers severely. “We approached the anti-Labour government of the day and asked it to pay a bounty on the production of hay and oats as well as wheat. “What was the result? All we got was sympathy, mere lip-service. But the Labour Government, realizing that the conservation of fodder was just as important as the production of wheat, paid hay-growers a bounty of 12s. 6d. an acre. What did the Opposition parties give to the oat-growers when their crops failed? Nothing! This Government gave them a bounty of 7s. 6d. an acre, and also increased the bounty paid to wheat-farmers when their crops failed from 2s. 6d. to 12s. 6d. an acre. That is what this Government has done for the farmers and what anti-Labour governments failed to do, and in fact, never intended to do. The honorable member for Wimmera should be able to appreciate that. The men whom he and his colleagues represent are the financiers of Australia, who want poverty, not prosperity, amongst the farmers. Once a farmer is free of debt, he is of no use to the financial institutions. He is a free man. They want the farmers to be kept in bondage, and the Opposition parties strove mightily when they were in power in order to achieve that end. Primary industries had never been at such a low ebb as when the Labour party took office in 1941. The honorable member for Wimmera should be able to understand why that was so. The Labour Government has enacted some of the best legis- lation in the interests of men on the land ever introduced into this Parliament.. That legislation was opposed tooth and nail by the Opposition parties.
The scope of the Government’s practical interest in primary producers isindicated by the amounts of the subsidies that it has paid to them. Since the Labour party came into office, the Commonwealth has paid, for example, £20,000,000 to dairy-farmers and £2,000,000 to apple and pear growersAltogether, it has subsidized primary industries to an amount of £65,000,000.. Yet the honorable member for Wimmera wants to know what this Government has done for men on the land ! Subsidies and bounties have been paid irrespective of the price increases which I have already described. The Government’s achievements have been magnificent, but it has not ‘ relaxed its efforts. The Prime Minister said that subsidies on primary production would be discontinued if the people decided at the recent referendum to take away from the Commonwealth its power to control prices. Honorable members opposite did everything in their power to defeat the Government’s proposals, and they succeeded. Nevertheless the Prime Minister realized’ the national importance of the primary producers and decided that the subsidy on superphosphate should be continued. Farmers in Western Australia benefit by a rebate of £2 15s, a ton on superphosphate. The rebate in other States is at the rate of £2 5s. a ton. That alone is a wonderful contribution to the welfare of farmers. Superphosphate is used in every primary industry, and is of special importance to the wheat-growers.
This Government has achieved a greatdeal for our farmers by relieving them of a huge burden of interest. The royal com- mission which inquired into the financial commitments of wool and wheat producers found that their debts totalled1 £290,000,000. But, collectively, Australian primary producers owed debtsamounting to £500,000,000 and a reduction of li% in the interest rate on that amount would have made a difference of £7,500,000 annually. One of thefirst things that the Labour party did when it came into power was to peg rates of interest at reduced levels. Giving- evidence before the royal commission, the late Mr. Ernest Field proved conclusively that the interest charges levied on the farmers, both directly and indirectly, amounted to ls. 3d. for each bushel of wheat produced. That was more than we received for our wheat during the depression. I sold wheat once for ls. a bushel. The banks took the lot. The fact that I have mentioned in relation to interest charges was established by a man who knew the wheat industry backwards, and who, I am pleased to say, had the interests of all growers, especially the poor men, at heart. His conclusions were not based on guess-work, but were substantiated by sworn evidence. This Government has already helped the farmers considerably by reducing rates of interest, and, if its plan for the nationalization of banking succeeds, it will be able to help them even more. Has it had any support from honorable members opposite in this magnificent work? No! They brought petition after petition to this Parliament in opposition to the banking, legislation,, although they know that the greatest individual item affecting the cost of production of any primary commodity is bank interest. They opposed the nationalization plan tooth and nail, because they wanted the bankers to get their pound of flesh. If the moneyed interests had remained in power in this, country, they would have kept the men on the land down and out for the rest of their lives. I have no knowledge of the legal situation, but. I am confident that the bank nationalization plan will finally be carried into effect. It is linked as closely to the wheat industry as is a. mother to her child. It is linked with all primary production. The cost of every item of machinery and equipment that we purchase, every article of furniture in our homes, and every piece of clothing that we wear reflects indirectly the interest charges which the men on the land have to pay. The farmer is at the bottom of the ladder. He carries the load for everybody. That is why I compliment this Government upon its achievements on behalf of primary producers during the last few years.
The days of desperation have gone. Farmers now enjoy the best conditions that I have known in my life time. I have seen their ups and downs, and I have witnessed robbery by monopolies which, with the able support of honorable members opposite, have kept the farmers down and out. I make no apology for my wholehearted support of the bill which was introduced into this Parliament for the purpose of giving, effect to the proposed international wheat agreement. I was sorry when the scheme failed, and I did not think then that 1 had the fortune to support a government which had the courage and wisdom necessary to frame legislation such as we are now considering. The plan for which the bill provides may be even better for the wheat-farmers than that upon which the proposed international agreement wasbased. The draft international, agreement provided for a ceiling price and a floor price. This bill provides for a floor price but no ceiling price. What a great plan! Since I have been a member of this Parliament, I have not heard thehonorable member for Indi, or any of hiscolleagues, support any scheme for thebenefit of men on the land. Yet, he has said in this debate that he will support the bill when it is put to the vote. Why?’ Because he has an eye on the next general election.. He is not interested inmen on the land.. He has twisted, only because he has had to do so. He and his colleagues support this bill because of political expediency. They have said that the Labour party cannot produce men fit to govern. We boast that we have men in this party as good as any in the world. I make no apology for that boast. Our Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and our Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt), who is playing a dominant role in international affairs with credit not only to Australia but also to other democracies, are great, men. While we have such men as those, and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) and his predecessor in that office, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), we shall always have great men capable of governing Australia and fighting the battles of the primary producers. The time comes when the king must doff his purple and the queen lay down her crown, and the so-called representatives of the farmers on the Opposition side of the House must finally stand aside. Then, but not before, the primary producers of Australia will get their rights, and will have their future made permanently secure.
In conclusion, I refer to a statement made by the Prime Minister. It will remain fresh in my memory as long as I live. When replying to the secondreading debate on that magnificent legislation dealing with the nationalization of banking the right honorable gentleman referred to the light on the hill. That light is still shining brightly to-day, and with the passing of the years it will grow brighter. As the result of this legislation, it will not only illuminate the wheatfields of Australia but will also brighten the lives of the wheat-growers of this country and the thousands of small businessmen in the little country towns. The wheat industry is the greatest of all our industries. At times, the wool cheque may be greater than the wheat cheque, but on the basis of the number of persons employed the wheat industry is by far our greatest industry. It occupies a unique position because, throughout the length and breadth of the country, the people depend upon its successful continuance for their sustenance. Consider the position of the wheat-grower to-day with what it was in the dark days of the financial and economic depression. During the depression years, in one small corner of my electorate the storekeepers were owed over £1,000,000. Who derived the benefit of the farmers’ debt adjustment legislation? Certainly, not the farmers. The moneys provided under that legislation went solely to the big financial institutions of this country. The secured creditors of the farmers were paid off and the storekeepers whose debts were unsecured were left to get on as best they could. The commission agents and the storekeepers who stood by the farmers as long as they possibly could are the people who, among others, will see that this Government is kept in office. They, too, see the light on the hill. They know that the light is shining brightly in every little country town. They know that it is part of the policy of the Opposition parties, which are the mouthpieces of the big financial institutions, to keep the farmers on the verge of bankruptcy. That is why the
Prime Minister’s reference to the light on the hill has remained in my mind. As the result of the legislation passed by this Government, Australia is enjoying a period of full employment, which is a blessing to any country. Full employment means prosperity for all: unemployment means stagnation for all. For the growers of wheat, wool and fruit, for dairymen and producers engaged in every phase of primary industry, it means bigger home markets. By putting into operation a policy of full employment, the Government has provided a ready-made market for our primary producers. I compliment the Minister for . Commerce and Agriculture and his predecessor in that office, the Vice-President of the Executive Council upon their splendid efforts to stabilize the wheat industry. When the honorable member for Gwyder was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, he had to face unprecedented conditions brought about by the war and by the severest droughts we had ever experienced and he carried out his task with distinction. His successor in office, the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, has also done a magnificent job. I congratulate the officials of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation upon having placed the facts concerning this plan fairly before the wheat-growers, upon having invited them either to accept it or reject it. The wheat-growers have indicated in no uncertain way that they favour the plan. Some honorable members opposite have said that the farmers voted as they did without knowing what they were doing. If there was any uncertainty in the mind of any wheat-grower it was brought about by the misrepresentation of honorable members opposite who advised the growers to reject the plan. I support this bill with complete confidence. It will be regarded by future generations as a milestone in the progress of Australia and no government of the future will dare to abandon it. I have no fear that the Opposition parties will ever again assume office in this Parliament. They are on the “ outer “ for all time. Because they misled the wheatgrowers in the past they were thrown out of office and they will never be trusted again. From the time this Government assumed office it has never once let up in its efforts to serve every member of the community, from the youngest to the oldest, wheat-grower, primary producer, industrialist and worker alike. The Government has reached the highest pinnacle of success. Its achievements have been all the more noteworthy because of the obstacles which it has had to overcome. Honorable members opposite have said that before this plan can be put into operation complementary legislation must be passed by the legislative bodies of the States. No State government would dare to reject the plan by refusing to pass the necessary complementary legislation. The wheat-growers have endorsed the plan in no uncertain way and if any State government attempted to defeat it by refusing to pass the requisite complementary legislation it would quickly be relegated to obscurity. I congratulate the Government upon having brought this plan before the Parliament and I also congratulate those honorable members of this House who will give it their unqualified support. Many of them represent industrial areas and know little of the problems of the wheatgrowers. As a wheat-grower I learned the hard lessons of experience. I have been down-and-out and broken - I make no apology for that - as the result of the policy followed by the Australian Country party when it shared the reins of office with other anti-Labour parties, [n one year, although I produced 4,000 bags of wheat, I went broke. The wheat industry did not recover from the setbacks of the depression years until this Government took office. From that day onwards the industry has gone on to even greater heights of success. Wheat-growers are now enjoying a measure of prosperity they have never previously known. Most of them have discharged the debts which they incurred in earlier years. It is the policy of the Australian Country party to keep the farmers in debt. I do not suggest that that policy is ardently supported by all members of that party. There are, I think, some decent “ coves “ among the younger members of the party, but the “ die-hards “ of the old school will always try to keep the farmer in a down-and-out condition. I shall not thank them one scrap for supporting this bill as we expect them to do before it is finally passed by the House. Their support will be given solely in an attempt to save their hides when they face the electors again in the not distant future. I thank the Prime Minister and the members of the Government for the way in which they have administered the affairs of this country and brought prosperity to all of us.
.- We have listened to the usual farrago of misrepresentation to which we are accustomed from the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Langtry). I propose first to reply to his misleading statements about the reduction of interest rates on public loans. Interest rates were reduced from 4 per cent to 3J per cent, by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) when he was Treasurer. The honorable member for Riverina also indulged in misrepresentation about the subsidy on superphosphate. In July, 1941, I myself, induced the Government to grant that subsidy to meet extra costs, as honorable members will ascertain if they care to examine the Hansard record. When a guarantee of 3s. 10s. a bushel was given by me in respect of the 1940-41 wheat harvest, the growers actually received 4s. 0 1/2d. a bushel. The story told by the honorable member for Riverina of how the people were robbed of the price of 13,000,000 bushels of wheat is sheer nonsense. Every one of the 13,000,000 bushels mentioned was paid for at the full price of 4s. 0 1/2d. a bushel. The honorable member has repeated that story so often that he himself now believes it to be true. The truth, of course, is that under the nation fodder conservation scheme provision was made by me for the handling of the whole of that quantity of wheat as hay, and for the payment of the full price for it. Unfortunately, however, the Curtin Labour Government did not continue that policy. When I returned from England I asked Mr. Curtin to use the surplus 13,000,000 bushels in excess of the 140,000,000 required for home consumption as the basis of the national fodder conservation scheme. He refused to do so. Had he done so he would not have had to buy wheat at 13s. 9d. a bushel from overseas for two years in succession in order to keep our stock alive’. He would have saved 20,000,000 sheep, he would have prevented the pig population of Australia from being cut in halves, and he would have avoided the necessity for rationing bread and stock foods. The honorable member claimed that the wheat-farmers had enjoyed substantial benefits under this Government. He said that the Government had stuck to the farmers. Actually, what the Government has stuck to is the farmers’ money. Just prior to relinguishing office, the last Western Australian Labour Government set up a royal commission to investigate conditions in the wheat industry. The royal commission reported that, by 1946, since the advent of the Labour Government, the wheat-farmers had contributed no less than £70,000,000, and, by 1947, £100,000,000 towards the stabilization of the Australian economy. Tallow producers have been accepting £30 a ton for their product in this country while the price on the world markets has been £160 a ton. In this way they have contributed £50,000,000 towards our economic stability in seven years. Similarly, while the price of hides in this country has been 6d. or 7d. per lb., the price overseas has been 24d. per lb., and thus, another £50,000,000 has been contributed to Australia’s economic prosperity. I venture to say that since the beginning of the war, Australian primary industries have been called upon to contribute a total of £300,000,000 to our national revenues a stabilization of prices for the community generally. Government supporters have the audacity to talk in this chamber as if they were responsible for the high prices ruling for primary products on overseas markets. Were they responsible for the war? Admittedly Labour may have been responsible to some degree because of its opposition to defence measures in the pre-war years, but it cannot claim any credit for the prosperity of Australian primary industries. Warcaused shortages are responsible for the high prices of primary products. The Government has no more to do with those high prices than with the rising of the sun in the morning. What has happened during the last eight years in the wheat-
Sir Earle Page. growing districts which, according to the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), have been so prosperous? Population in the Lachlan River district has . diminished from 91,000 to 77,000, a reduction of 14,000. In addition, the natural increase of 16,000 has been entirely lost, making a total migration of 30,000. Similarly, the population in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area has decreased from 101,000 to 98,000. This reduction of 3,000, together with the natural increase of 21,000 which has been lost, makes a total of 24,000 people who, in effect, have migrated from those districts during the lifetime of this Government, due largely to the scurvy treatment that has been meted out to them.
However, I, did not rise to deal with this aspect of the matter. I desire to make a constructive contribution to this debate. The wheat industry is one of Australia’s greatest primary industries, and one of the three or four upon which this country really depends for the maintenance of its trade balance, without which Australia cannot remain solvent. At present SO or 90 per cent, of our total exports come from wool, wheat, ‘ meat, butter, sugar and subsidiary industries. Without those exports, we could not import essential goods such as tea, coffee, motor cars and petrol. Some of our imports, it is true, have to be rationed, but we would not have any at all were it not for those progressive primary industries. Ever since this Government came to office, seven years ago, and sabotaged my wheat, stabilization scheme, the numbers and acreage in the wheat industry have declined until stimulated by high overseas prices. I am glad that, at last, the sinner is repenting. We are told in the Bible that there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over 90 and 9 just persons who need no repentance. At long last the Government is endeavouring to undo some of the mischief that it created. I desire to keep this discussion on a high plane. Great industries, such as the wheat industry, should not be the pawn of party politics. I can claim to speak with some authority on this matter because I was the author of the two measures which have done more than any other, and will do more, if given a proper chance, to keep this great industry outside the sphere of party politics. The first was the creation of the Rural Credits Department of the Commonwealth Bank, which enables primary producers, if they co-operate, to receive advances of up to 80 per cent, of the value of their crops at low interest rates while their products are being marketed in an orderly way. A few years ago, the Labour Government curtailed one of the best activities of that department and, now, honorable members opposite are making a half-baked attempt to remedy the damage by the legislation brought down to-day. The second measure to which I have referred, was the creation in 1934, by me, of the Australian Agricultural Council. Meetings of that body are attended by representatives of all Australian governments, regardless of their political complexion. Its meetings, like those of Cabinet, are held in camera, and are not attended by the press. Representatives may speak their minds freely. In this way, the council is able to draw up plans which have the backing of all political parties, and of the primary producing community generally. For instance, in 1935, legislation was introduced which would have stabilized the wheat industry completely, but unfortunately the Privy Council ruled that it was unconstitutional, and the scheme broke down. In 1937, a referendum was held with a view to clothing the Commonwealth Parliament with the additional powers necessary, hut the proposal was opposed by the Labour party and defeated. However, in 1938, we made another attack upon this problem. We fixed a home-consumption price for flour and for wheat, which has operated up to the present time, and is one of the key points of Labour’s present plan, even though the entire Labour party voted against its introduction in 1938. That scheme was implemented as the result of the work cf the Australian Agricultural Council which had met in a non-partisan atmosphere and drawn up proposals which it considered to be in the best interests of Australia. The homeconsumption price for wheat was fixed at 5s. 2d. a bushel at a time when wheat was selling overseas at 2s. 6d. or 3s. a bushel. It was intended that the homeconsumption price should not remain at that figure, but that, as production costs increased, it should be increased to maintain the same margin over world parity. Unfortunately, nothing was done during the war years, although costs rose by nearly 100 per cent. The price of machinery, fertilizers, labour, and, in fact, everything that the farmer had to buy, increased, whereas the price of the only thing that he had to sell remained stationary. For that reason, amongst others, the wheat industry languished. I consider, therefore, that I am in a strong position to urge that the subject of the stabilization of the wheat industry should be considered on a high plane. I am pleased indeed to see that the Government has repented, even at the eleventh hour, or I should say the eleventh hour plus 59 minutes, because the Government’s time is fast running out. This bill is only a weak echo of my stabilization scheme of 1940, which Labour sabotaged in 1942 and 1943, and then completely destroyed. Labour’s present plan is “too little; too late”. The period that it covers is too short. The guaranteed price is for five years instead of ten years as provided for under my scheme. It is certain that for five years at least world parity will be more than 69. 3d. a bushel. For ten years after the last war the price of wheat exceeded 6s. 2d. a bushel. The wheat industry will require the assistance of a stabilization fund more urgently in the second fiveyear period after the end of the war than it will during the first five-year period. I agree with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) that the period of ten years was fixed in order to ensure that during the war and for a number of years after the cessation of hostilities, a stabilization plan would be in operation, and that the ultimate objective would be of the introduction of a permanent constitutional arrangement in the interest of the wheat-growing industry.
I now propose to examine the prices which have been paid for wheat during the past five years, and to compare them with the prices which would have prevailed had my plan for a contribution by growers to increase the stabilization fund been retained. During that period, wheat-growers made substantial contributions, not to a stabilization fund, but r,o the Commonwealth Treasury through the medium of high taxes. The growers made a greater contribution to the Treasury as the result of high taxes during the period of rising prices than they would have paid into a stabilization fund at the rate of 2s. or 3s. a bushel. Prices f.o.r. ports during the last five years were as follows : -
I.n those amounts, allowance has been made of 2s. a bushel for the concession granted in respect of wheat sold to Great Britain. Had the scheme which I formulated been in operation, substantial contributions would have been made to the stabilization fund during the last five years. About a year ago an export tax on wheat at the rate of 2s. a bushel was imposed. This has since been declared invalid by the High Court. Approximately six months before taking that .action, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) announced that 60 per cent, of the amount received in excess of the home-consumption price would be paid into the stabilization fund. Now, however, the Government appears to have developed cold feet about the matter of the size of the stabilization fund, and has assured the growers that it will return to them practically all the proceeds from the sales of wheat when the fund reaches an amount of £15,000,000. That proposal is stupid. During the 1930’s, amounts totalling £21,000,000 had to be provided to assist the wheat industry, and, at that time, advances to growers were only 3d., 4d. or 5d. a bushel. As costs will remain high long after wheat prices fall, the payment of ls. a bushel in future may be approximately equivalent to the payment of 3d. a bushel in the 1930’s. Disbursements at the rate of ls. a bushel will quickly exhaust the fund. Growers should make substantial contributions to a stabilization fund in a period of high prices, so that when values fall, the fund will he able to compensate the producers. The Labour Government, which has been in office for seven years, has not contributed one penny towards the guaranteed price for wheat. As the result of great pressure exerted in this House and by the country generally the Government has been forced to return to wheat-growers a certain percentage of the money of which is had robbed them by selling their produce at concessional rates. As the royal commission on the wheat industry in Western Australia has stated, the wheat industry itself has made a contribution of approximately £100,000,000 towards stabilization of prices in Australia.
Quite apart from the financial aspect, I regret that the Government missed the wonderful opportunity during the war and in the post-war period to make the stabilization machinery a permanent par! of our economic system. The wheat industry is large and important. It supplies one of our essential foods, and one of our principal exports. We must place it on a secure basis. The Labour party has done three things to set back stabilization, and, in my opinion, each has been caused by Treasury pressure. Some of the methods which were adopted during the war were actuated by the craven fear that the Treasury might have to make a monetary contribution to the stabilization of the wheat industry. I cannot believe that the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, which must and does continually strive to maintain the stabilization of the primary industries would have accepted the scheme, except under pressure. I am certain that the department fought hard all the time for the proper treatment of the industry. The first blow which the Labour Government administered to the wheatgrowing industry was to sabotage my stabilization scheme in 1942. The only fault of that scheme was that it lacked a proviso that the guaranteed price should rise in accordance with an increase of the index figure. Had my scheme been adopted with that proviso, the homeconsumption price would have been higher than the present homeconsumption price of 6s. 3d. The report of the royal commission stated that the homeconsumption price should be 6s. 9d: s bushel, and that provision should be made for a review of that amount. I hope that the review, when it is made, will be on the basis not of 6s. 3d. as at present but of 6s. 9d. a bushel. Although wheat-growers cannot receive world parity for all their wheat, they should be paid as high a price as is practicable.
As soon as I returned from abroad in 1.942, I dealt comprehensively with the whole problem in a speech in this House. Whilst urging the need for price stabilization in general terms, I pointed out that we were able to maintain the price at the then existing level only because the people of Australia were living on the home-consumption price of bread, butter and sugar, which had been fixed in 1938. The plan under which all those prices had been determined, was opposed by the Labour party when it was in Opposition. In 1942, the Labour Government introduced the Scully wheat stabilization plan, the object of which was not to stabilize the industry but to reduce the total production. That scheme was really dictated by Treasury considerations, because the purpose was to reduce the amount of money that would be payable under the guaranteed price. While [ am dealing with this subject, I shall read an extract from a speech by Mr. J. Noel Barrett, who was official adviser to the Department of Commerce and Agriculture at the time. He stated -
In 1943 the Scully plan was introduced to afford some relief to the so-called small grower and at the same time to prevent too much wheat being sown. From that point of view, the plan was more than a success, and the industry went back over 5,000,000 acres. The so-called small grower who was usually a grazier or fat lamb raiser said the scheme was good. The genuine grower, who lived by wheat and employed labour, had a difficult trot, and struggled to pay his men the £3 a week while his friends in munitions, shipbuilding and manufacturing paid out £10, £12’ and £14 with pleasure, especially when it was cost plus. Things got dear for the farmer and he lost his labour. Not so very good.
In 1944, the export price of wheat was rising rapidly, and Australia was suddenly short of that commodity. We encountered not only the Scully plan but also a drought, and I do not know which of the two produced the worse effect. We were forced to import food for our people, and grain sorghum, at a cost of 13s. 9d. a bushel, for stock. At that time, growers were receiving from 4s. 8.5d. to 5s. 6.23d. for their wheat. That was the second setback which the Labour Government gave to the wheat industry. Thirdly, we had . the Chifley stabilization scheme of 1946. . The growers promptly rejected that scheme, but it is worthwhile remembering that the supporters of the Government talked night and day trying to get the primary producers to support the scheme, which would have ensured that the homeconsumption price would be 5s. 2d. at the present time. The same men now . pat themselves on the back and say, “ How generous we are. If you had been fool enough to fall for our story a few years ago you would have been well and securely tied to the price of 5s. 2d. “ Now they say they are going to take 2s. 6d. a bushel for stabilization. What did the Chifley stabilization scheme intend to do? It intended to take 60 per cent, in excess of the home consumption price. If the home-consumption price was 12s. a bushel then under that scheme the Government would take 4s. out of the 6s. lOd. excess. The Scully stabilization scheme has helped to bring things to the pass they are in to-day when rural areas are losing not only their natural increase but also their own people. As I have said, the Lachlan area in New South Wales lost 14,000 people between 1933 and 1947 and its whole natural increase of over 16,000. That is one of the most fertile districts of Australia. The some thing is happening in the wheat areas of South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria. The Labour party states that it has the interests of the rural areas at heart, hut we find that under the new electoral distribution the number of parliamentary electorates in the cities will increase whilst the number in the country will decrease. The Labour party wants to disfranchise the rural areas.
One of the main reasons for the rejection by the farmers of the Chifley stabilization scheme was the iniquitous proposal that the crop that had already been harvested should be taken into account. I say that that is not British justice. I know that this Government is probably ready to wipe out the word “ British “ from the title
British Commonwealth of Nations, but do not let us delete it from the term “ British justice “. Let the wheat-farmer know in advance- what he can expect. Po not let him grow his wheat and thentell him that certain sums are to be taken from. him. That is what the Government intends to do again, and it is absolutely wrong. Farmers should, know what to expect at least a year ahead. The present scheme has two major disadvantages for the wheat-grower. The first is that the Government has taken away the advantage of the flour tax. Very often that tax gave a higher internal price when overseas prices increased. The farmers made a certain contribution from their returns from overseas sales- to help to keep down the. cost, of flour.. The Flour Tax Act was repealed, a year or so- ago. Under the present measure the wheat farmer must carry on his back the livestockgrowers the poultry-farmers and everybody else who uses grain. It is wrong that he should have, to do so;. Since the beginning of the Avar the primary producers have contributed £300,000,000 to stabilize the Australian economy. I support assistance to the livestock industry, but I maintain that such assistance is the responsibility of the whole community and not of the wheat-farmer alone. I was very interested to discover that a year ago Mr. Stott, the secretary of the. South Australian Wheat Growers Association made that point very strongly. He said in a letter to me -
It was the unanimous decision of out affiliated organizations of the Australian Wheat Federation that wheat stabilization should continue and we have set out a 15-point plan on these lines. All organizations however, have expressed themselves against the continuance, of selling wheat at concessional prices to stock and poultry feeders and breakfast food manufacturers. We have repeatedly taken this matter up, but so far, have not made a great deal of success. We arc hoping that this letter will bring better results.
There are 21,000,000 bushels of wheat already sold for this purpose at 5s, 2d. per bushel. Export wheat to-day is quoted at 17s. per bushel. It will readily be seen, therefore, that if this wheat which is being sold to stock and poultry feeders was sold for export the growers would receive between 10s. and 17s. per bushel for their wheat. If the Government, in the interests of the nation and for the purposes of national economy wishes to continue to assist the pig and poultry feeders by supplying them with cheap wheat in order that they can continue to produce food for the nation, and the starving peoples of Europe, weco n tend the whole of the nation should bear this burden proportionately and it should not bc taken out of. the pockets of the wheatgrowers alone. . . .
Some people argue that the wheat-growers will get the benefit of the home market when the prices overseas recede below the 5s. 2d. This argument is fallacious and unsound’ because while wheat, can be purchased at the cheap rate of 5s. 2d., and export wheat is lGs. to 17s. per bushel, there must of necessity be an extraordinarily abnormal demand for wheat, for this purpose.. If the overseas prices recede below the 5s. 2d., the demand naturally would fall again to the cheaper figure, so actually, wheat-growers are getting it in the neck both ways. While- this present injustice continues they aire losing the benefit of the high price market while this quantity is being sold at the cheaper rate and the)’ will lose the benefit of the fixed price at 5s. 2d. when prices overseas recede below this figure.
Yon will readily see- that this is- a travesty of justice and a glaring anomaly..
I repeat that assistance to the livestock industry should be the responsibility of” the community as a whole. I consider that this stabilization measure should include provision for the stabilization off the livestock industry. The way in which that could be done would be by having a. national fodder conservation scheme.. The stabilization scheme for the livestock, industry which I introduced in 1940-, waspart and parcel of the scheme to stabilizethe wheat industry. It was supported by farmers’ organizations throughout Australia, by the stock and station agents,, banks, machinery firms and all those whohave to deal with livestock. All those interests promised their help, and theCommonwealth Bank promised to make capital available for the scheme. Later, unfortunately, the State Treasurers and then the Commonwealth Treasurer “ knocked “ the scheme and the necessary capital was not available, and ultimately my successor was not strong enough to secure the money from the Government, and the scheme died. As I pointed out to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin,, when I returned to Australia after repre- senting the Government on the British War Cabinet, if the Government would only put the surplus of 13,000,000 bushels of wheat, which represents money, into the fodder pool, it would gain the necessary capital, by selling it to thestockgrowers and so obtain a revolving fund that would enable it to carry out the wheat stabilization scheme. The- great advantage of a national fodder conservation scheme would be that in flush seasons fodder could be obtained at reasonable prices and stored; and in bad seasons stock-growers could obtain it at reasonable prices and keep their stock alive. It is well known to those associated with the land that a farmer can be ruined by having too flush a season during which too much is produced and prices fall. It is essential therefore that there should be some stabilization of the live-stock industry as well as of the wheat industry, and it is up to the Government and the community generally to take the first step.
Turning to the home-consumption prices of primary products, I consider that the people can carry the burden of the necessary subsidies, because after all, those who eat the wheat or the sugar or any other primary product, enjoy Australian wages, live under Australian conditions, and pay Australian prices generally and can stand it. But how can the people who grow those products for export meet the competition of overseas markets when prices fall, if they are asked to pay higher prices for the grains necessary to keep their stock alive? That is something that should be handled automatically without too much Government assistance, simply by having fodder for conservation bought at the right times and sold in the right places. I am convinced that if that is done we shall he better off than we are now. I shall deal with the way in which the present position can be improved. The farmers have voted for this plan, not because they think it is a good scheme, but because they think it is better than nothing. That apathy has developed regarding the plan is shown by the fact that only 60 per cent, of the whole of the wheatfarmers of Australia voted in connexion with the matter. Of that number only 62 per cent, were in favour of the plan. Although produce worth 200,000,000 or 300,000,000 will be handled in the five years, the farmers thought that it was not worth while voting in connexion with this manner of handling their produce. We should review this scheme in order to make it as good as possible. Although I fought for wheat stabilization for 30 years the party to which I belonged was always beaten by the Constitution, by lawyers, or by dissension in the States. I have always tried to find a way around difficulties so that the ‘wheat-farmers would get a fair return for their produce and be assured of security. I am still prepared to do my utmost to try to make the plan work. We must make a start somewhere, and I hope that, by working harmoniously, we shall be able to better the scheme year by year and ultimately get the industry on to a basis which will be satisfactory to all of the people of Australia.
I think that this measure could be improved by ensuring producer control as far as possible. If the Government intends to provide a substantial sum of money in connexion with this scheme it should specify the amount. Obviously the Government must have representation on the board. That is only reasonable. The property that is to be placed in the hands of the board belongs to the wheat-farmers and they should have a majority en the board. The fact that there is joint ownership does not affect that position, because we cannot identify every grain of wheat, and all farmers would suffer if anything wrong were done. Our experience with export control boards which have been in existence since 1923 has shown that se long as those who control the hoards - not necessarily the same men always - have a permanent tenure of control and know that their organization shall continue, they themselves continue to progress. An outstanding example of that is furnished by the work of Mr. Plunket and Mr. Handbury on the Australian Dairy Produce Board, which has enabled this country to make wide and comprehensive arrangements with Great Britain for the sale of our primary produce since the onset of World War II. The present good prices being obtained are as a result of the arrangements that were made some time ago. The Rural Credits Department of the Commonwealth Bank was established to make money available for the purposes of orderly marketing. Wheat is sold on terms extending over three, six or twelve months. Bills could be issued against such an asset and the handling and financing of the industry could be readily accomplished at lew rates of interest. Wheat is a perishable commodity; whilst it may he stored for a period, ultimately it must be sold before it deteriorates.
I strongly urge that we should take steps to place the wheat industry on a permanent and satisfactory basis. If the Government is in earnest in its desire permanently to stabilize the industry, the period of the stabilization plan should be extended from five years to ten years. In the second period of five years it may be that there will be a period of lower prices. The Government should specify in this bill, a definite amount that the Treasury will make available, should growers’ funds dwindle. Sufficient funds should be built up in the stabilization fund to provide for several bad years, and the Government should also stabilize livestock industries by a national fodder conservation scheme under the control of a practical board. That would give a floor to fodder prices in good seasons and enable producers of live-stock to get fodder at reasonable prices in bad seasons. The Government should help the marketing organization to’ try to make it independent of further Treasury assistance beyond the stated amount. Finally. the producers should be permitted to run the scheme themselves.
If effect is given to my suggestions, not only will the industry be established on a permanent basis, but also there will he evolved a pattern which could be adopted with regard to other industries. The scheme that I propounded in 1940 was the result of continuous and widespread consultation with all members of the industry. Although honorable members scoff at the amount given, that was the amount which was asked for and granted by the organizations themselves, and had relation to the position existing at that time. It was 4d. above the export parity price. Of course the whole position now has been changed by a terrific rise in world prices. I believe that world prices will go back, although I do not believe that costs will recede nearly so quickly as will prices. It is essential that we should have some provision to ensure that over the next ten years at the very least, and possibly longer, we shall be in a position to say to the wheat-
Sir Earle Page. growers, “We are certain to be able to keep you on the land “. We must do something to arrest the drift of population from our rural areas. The position in rural Victoria Ls tragic. The wheat industry is one of the most important subjects to which the Parliament could address itself, and honorable members as a whole should deal with the problem on as comprehensive a basis as possible. There are obvious disadvantages associated with this measure. Cannot the Parliament just for once throw aside all party recriminations in order to see whether we cannot stabilize the industry for at least a period of ten years? That should not be difficult, and the results would be far more conclusive than can be achieved under these proposals which are based on a period of five years. Can we not deal with the stabilization of the live-stock industries also on a basis which will not throw the whole of the burden of their fodder requirements upon the wheat-growers? 7 trust that we shall deal with this problem thoroughly before we conclude our consideration of the measure.
.- The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) has urged honorable members to avoid party recriminations in their consideration of this measure, but he set a very poor example in that respect. At the outset of his speech he. misrepresented the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Langtry), who made a valuable contribution to this debate. That honorable member is an experienced wheat-grower who suffered under the maladministration of the right honorable gentleman when he was Minister for Commerce. Indeed, the right honorable gentleman indulged in the hypocritical tactics invariably adopted by members of the Australian Country party and loosed a tirade of misrepresentation. He blamed the Government for the plight of the wheatgrowers. He should be the last to misrepresent the policy of any government. He punctuated his speech with such terms as “ my scheme “ and “ my proposals “. He has been a member of the Parliament for too long. His record here has been solely one of destruction. He has never presented a constructive proposal to the
Parliament. He was mainly responsible for the abandonment of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers and for placing the Commonwealth Bank under the control of a board, thus depriving the primary producers of this country of the great assistance which had been rendered to them through those agencies. The right honorable gentleman was described on one occasion by a colleague as the “ tragic treasurer “. To-night he has spoken about the Labour Government allowing 20,000,000 sheep to die because it did not adopt some tin-pot scheme he had propounded for fodder conservation. Why did not the right honorable gentleman implement that scheme during the long period he was a Minister? The present Government assumed office while we were at war. That event was fortunate for the Australian people, because the Opposition parties had split as the result of internal disagreement and could not continue to govern. They destroyed their own government. The right honorable gentleman endeavoured to ridicule the Scully wheat scheme, but under that scheme the struggling wheat-farmer received for the first time in the history of his industry the sum of £600 cash as a first advance. During severe drought periods, this ‘Government made available in one year alone 60,000,000 bushels of wheat as stock feed and thereby saved Australia’s flocks from virtual extinction. The Government provided that assistance at a. cost of from £5,000.000 to £6.000,000. tt made a total of 120,000.000 bushels of wheat available as stock feed, and but for such action our drought losses would have been colossal. Yet the right honorable gentleman has the audacity to claim that the Government allowed 20.000,000 sheep to die. At that time, farmers in my constituency, which was not so severely hit by drought as were other districts, were able to purchase wheat at 3s. a bushel when the market price was from 4s. 6d. to 5s. a bushel. The right honorable gentleman harped on his tin-pot schemes. He criticized three acts of the Government which he claimed had set back stabilization of the wheat industry. He said that the Scully scheme was a plan to reduce production. The fact is that the Scully scheme increased the price paid to the wheat-grower but continued the limitation of acreage provided for by the Page plan. That was the first scheme which provided for the limitation of acreage and production. The right honorable gentleman also complained that honorable members on this side had misrepresented the Australian Country party in this matter. The House and the country should be reminded of the right honorable gentleman’s own record. He appealed for British justice for the wheat-farmers. In 1940, when he was Minister for Commerce, a deputation representative of wheat-farmers in Victoria waited upon him. During their visit to Canberra the members of that deputation also interviewed the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), who was a Minister in the government of the day. That deputation requested the Government to increase the guaranteed -price of wheat by 3d. a bushel. The honorable member for Indi replied, “ I will not embarrass the Government “. He thumped the table and told those farmers that they had no right to make such a request when the country was at war. He then bundled them out of his office. That was all the consideration that he gave to them. However, the gem of the piece was provided by the right honorable member for Cowper. A member of that deputation gave the following account of what happened: -
Another Country .party member interviewed on this occasion was Sir Earle Page and, when he learned the nature of our mission, he calmly and deliberately told us that we would need to decrease our wheat production and, to aug-‘ ment our returns from wheat-growing, turn to dairying. He instanced several districts in his electorate where men had gone in extensively for dairying on river frontages and made good.
Imagine any Minister telling a deputation of farmers from the Wimmera and Mallee districts not to grow wheat but to go in for dairying in districts with a 10-in. rainfall !
– When did the right honorable gentleman say that?
– In 1940, just after the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) broke away from the Australian Country party. The right honorable gentleman also said that the wheat-growers had no alternative but to vote for the scheme. The honorable member for Indi made a similar observation. The honorable member for Barker dealt with the history of this vexed problem of the stabilization of the wheat industry. Men have fought for stabilization since 1930. They have combined together in the same way as the members of an industrial union have done. The fight has been an uphill one and they have suffered many disappointments owing to the constitutional difficulties that must be overcome before any stabilization scheme can be put into operation.
The honorable member for Barker referred to the Scullin Government’s plan to guarantee a price of 3s. a bushel for wheat, and asked what became of it. I wish that the right honorable member for Cowper was present in the chamber now, because it was probably chiefly due to his actions that the farmers were not paid that price for their wheat. The Commonwealth Bank Board wa9 at that time dominated by appointees of the Bruce-Page Government, and the Commonwealth Bank refused to advance the money for which the Scullin Government asked.
– Was that in 1931 ?
– Yes. At that time the Commonwealth Bank was completely under the domination of the private banks. That is why the money was not made available. The right honorable member for Cowper has probably done more than any other man to put the Australian farmers into the bankruptcy courts. He is one of the most guilty men in this connexion.
I pay a tribute to the honesty, integrity, tenacity and singleness of purpose of the men throughout Australia who have fought to have the principle of stabilization of the wheat industry incorporated in legislation passed by the Commonwealth Parliament. They have never wavered in their purpose. To-night, we are debating such a measure, and the scheme that it envisages will doubtless be put into operation. The State parliaments are in the process of passing complementary legislation, and I do not think that the Legislative Councils will be game enough to reject this scheme or to amend it considerably. It has not been easy to reach the present position. The great merchant interests always have been and always will be opposed to the stabilization of the wheat industry. I do not blame them for it. They do not desire to see stabilization because the effect of it would be to deprive them of much of the profits that they have been able to derive from this and other Australian primary industries. They hate this Government because they know that it is the only government that will stabilize the industry.
– The Labour party is the best friend that the monopolies have.
– It is not. I shall relate the history of the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) if he does not remain silent. Last Friday the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party attacked Mr. Cullen. In my opinion, the honorable gentleman should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for having done so. He had the audacity to make a cowardly attack upon a man who has worked hard for the farmers. He suggested that Mr. Cullen is in the pay of this Government and that he is betraying the wheat-growers. I do not know Mr. Cullen personally very well, but I have attended meetings that he has addressed. I know the confidence that is placed in him by his fellow wheatgrowers because of his integrity and the high esteem in which he is held. Having regard to the great work that he has done, it is a shocking thing that such an insinuation should be made against him because he followed the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party on his tour of Victoria and, acting in the interests of the wheat-growers whom he represents, spoke in opposition to the honorable gentleman. Mr. Cullen, who was a foundation member of the wheat-growers’ organization in Victoria, has never wavered in his purpose. When he has deemed it right to do so, he has criticized the government of the day, irrespective of its political colour. He has criticized the Labour Government. The aim of Mr. Cullen and his colleagues has always been to establish the principle of the stabilization of the wheat industry.
They supported the 1946 bill. The members of the Australian Country party in this Parliament, on the other hand, although they had not the courage to vote against it, condemned it in every way possible. The attitude of Mr. Cullen and his supporters was that although that bill was not all that they wished for, nevertheless they desired that a measure establishing the principle for which they had fought should be placed on the statute-book, so that they could then work to improve it. It is true, unfortunately, that not all of the farmers are in agreement with stabilization. Owing to the constitutional relationship of the Commonwealth to the State’s, this Parliament is not empowered to put a stabilization scheme into operation without first obtaining the consent of the State parliaments, in the Upper Houses of some of which reactionary interests are well represented. The 1946 bill was passed by this Parliament, and many farmers thought that stabilization was then an accomplished fact. Before the South Australian Parliament passed its complementary legislation, the Government of that State ordered that a plebiscite of the growers be taken. The merchant interests, backed by most of the members of the Australian Country party, got to work amongst the growers, and the result of the plebiscite was that a small majority of the farmers voted against the scheme. That was the end of that legislation. Although the powers conferred upon the Government by the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act enabled it to deal with the 1947 harvest, things looked black for the 1948 harvest until the men to whom I referred earlier got together. I know that the unwarranted and unjustified attack upon a man of high integrity that was made by the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party will be deeply resented by the Victorian wheatgrowers.
– Mr. Cullen is a financial member of the Australian Country party.
– That makes the attack upon him worse. The history of the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party in this connexion is one of sabotage. He played a prominent part in the campaign to kill stabilization, yet in his speech last Friday he claimed that the Australian Country party forced the Government to introduce this bill. At the same time, he said that it was a socialistic measure and that if his party was returned to power it would destroy it. The honorable gentleman is very friendly with a Mr. Teasdale, of “Western Australia. He complained of Mr. Cullen being under the domination of this Government, but it seems that the honorable gentleman is completely under the domination of Mr. Teasdale. He eulogized Mr. Teasdale, and I think that the honorable member is nothing more than the mouthpiece of Mr. Teasdale, who probably writes the speeches which the- honorable member delivers in the House on the wheat industry. However, honorable members and their constituents can decide that for themselves. It seems most extraordinary that twelve months ago Mr. Teasdale, who had never advocated Commonwealth stabilization, and, indeed, had consistently opposed it, should suddenly advocate the introduction of a State wheat pool by the Victorian Government. Indeed, things might go hard with his mouthpiece, the honorable member for Indi, because the wheatfarmers must perceive the reason for their change of attitude. Obviously, the honorable member and his friends said to themselves, “Now is the time for us to get in “, and they initiated the movement for the establishment of a State pool in Victoria. Members of the Australian Country party, who profess to believe in Commonwealth stabilization, organized a mass meeting of Victorian wheat-growers at “Warracknabeal, publicized the meeting at considerable expense, and invited Mr. Teasdale to come from Western Australia to advocate the establishment of a State pool. I wonder whether the farmers who attended that meeting understood the implications of a State pool? Probably many of them did not. I have a copy of the Victorian Wheatgrower, dated the 21st August,. 1947, which contains reports of speeches, delivered by members of the Victorian Wheat and Wool Growers Association,, of which Mr. Cullen is a past president and a present executive member. Strangelyenough, Mr. Cullen and other prominent members of that organization are. the men whom the honorable member for Indi consistently attacks in any discussion of wheat stabilization. However, the record of the honorable member for Indi will not bear comparison with those of Mr. Cullen and certain other members of that organization. Their careers have not been marked by the intrigue and double-crossing which characterizes the record of the honorable member for Indi, who first entered the Parliament on a crusade to destroy coalition government by the anti-Labour parties. We remember that the honorable member was not in the House very long before he accepted a portfolio in a coalition government, and, if ray recollection is correct, he was expelled by his political party for his action. Mr. Cullen and other prominent members of the Wheat Growers Federation became alarmed at the efforts of the Australian Country party to establish a State pool in Victoria, and I think that it is important that the utterances made by those gentlemen at the time should be recorded. Mr. T. W. Lilley, who is a past president of that organization, and also of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, is reported to have stated -
Once again Australian wheat-growers arc having their industry thrown into chaos by the intervention of party politics. I must admit here and now with disgust that I am a member of the party concerned and have been 80 practically since its formation.
Obviously, he is not a. Labour supporter ! I stress the importance of the utterances made by those gentlemen at that time because they are genuine wheat-growers, who have devoted their time, energy and enthusiasm for more than twenty years to the stabilization of the wheat industry. As I say, they were alarmed at the efforts made by the Australian Country party to frustrate their plans, and they were outspoken in their condemnation of that party. Mr. Lilley even admitted that he regarded his membership of that party with disgust. The report of his speech continues -
The sad part of the whole sorry business is that a number of growers, apparently, have very short memories or do not realize that very “deceptively they are being gradually led back to the old days of open marketing . . .
Our political representatives sought return to Parliament and promised to give the industry stabilization, and when the referen- dum va= taken said in effect, “For God’s sake knock it out so that we won’t be able to give what we promised you “.
His reference to the attitude of members of the Australian Country party in that referendum recalls another unpleasant incident in their record. In 1946 the people were asked by the Government to give the Parliament-
Mr. Rankin interjecting,
– The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) did not even have the courage at that time to cross over to this side of the House when the vital division was taken. On the amendment moved by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) in this chamber he voted for the question numbered “ 2 “ on the ballot-paper at the referendum held in 1946, although on the hustings he advised the growers to vote “ No “ to it. The only member of the Opposition who had the courage of his convictions at that time was the honorable member for Barker, who was left out on his own by his political friends. I give him full marks for his action at that time. His straightforward action contrasts with the activities of other members of the Australian Country party, whose political careers are nothing but a long record of deception. By that deception they have endeavoured to undermine the primary industries of this country. At that time they virtually said to the wheat-growers, “We believe in stabilization, but for Heaven’s sake do not give us the power to implement it. If you do we might have trouble with the big interests that finance us “. To-day they are in rather an awkward position. They” .cannot oppose this measure, so they are seeking to claim it as their own. They have told us that the present scheme is no more than another version of the Page plan. However, we remember the Page plan, and the honorable member for Riverina certainly has not forgotten it. We also remember the period before the introduction of the Page plan and the promises made to the farmers of this country by members of the Australian Country party before the royal commission, on the wheat industry was appointed. I have a short article here which may be of interest to honorable members opposite who advocate the establishment of a State pool. That article points out that a State government must obtain finance for any such scheme. Where will a State government obtain finance? Obviously it must come from the private banks, which means that growers will have to go to the banks to secure advances. Only the banks would then acquire the right to their wheat and their properties. I would certainly prefer to deal with the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture because I know that I shall get full value for my wheat from the Commonwealth, and that I shall not get it from a banker. The report of the royal commission which investigated the plight of wheat-farmers before the war revealed an almost incredibly tragic situation. The report states that inquiries into the financial standing of wheat-farmers revealed that 40 per cent, had no bank credit, and 5 per cent, had a credit balance of less than £10. Of course, the honorable member for Bendigo was all right. The report goes on to state that 20 per cent, had a credit balance of more than £30 but less than £20. I remind honorable members that we are dealing not with the savings of schoolboys but of farmers. Eleven per cent, had a credit of more than £50 but less than £100. Twenty per cent, had a credit of more than £100. They were lucky men! Of course, the tragic fact is that there was no real unity amongst the various deputations which pleaded for the wheat-growers at that time. I have here a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald, in which there is a splendid leading article pointing out the necessity for a stabilization scheme in the interests of the farmers and of the community at large. The article emphasizes the importance of establishing the scheme before prices collapse. Members of the Opposition wish to delay the introduction of the scheme, but, in view of the vote of the wheat-farmers in the recent ballot, they now do not know what to say. The honorable member for Indi, who is Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party, has taken a leading part in the attempt to destroy the stabilization scheme. He and his colleagues have declared that the scheme is not the creation of the Labour Government, but is a copy of the Page plan. I point out that there was no cost index provision in the Page plan.
– “Was the Page plan ever put into effect?
– No, it was only talked about. The best part of the present stabilization scheme is the provision for a cost-of-production index to apply to that part of the crop which is consumed in Australia. Because of the influence of Opposition members, and particularly of members of the Australian Country party, the Government’s price control proposals were defeated in the referendum, with the result that prices have increased, including the cost of farm implements, and this will be reflected in the cost of producing wheat. The wheatfarmers all over Australia have expressed their approval of the stabilization scheme. They have said, in effect, “ The Labour Government will do us “. Some honorable members opposite have condemned ministerial control. They have gone around the country telling the farmers that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) is a dictator. I was glad to hear the honorable member for Barker denounce this talk about ministerial control. He recognizes that responsible control must be exercised by the Government. It is evident that the farmers were not impressed by the campaign of members of the Australian Country party against the Minister, because their vote in the poll was really a vote of confidence in him. I hope that those members of the Australian Country party in this House, who are really traitors to the primary producers, will never again be members of a government. The honorable member for Indi said that when his party was in power again he would make the Australian “Wheat Board a body of free men. “Would he victimize the members of the board, or would he restore the arrangement under which there was only one representative of the organized wheatgrowers on the board, all the other members being merchants and millers ? Later the representation of the growers was increased to two, but they never had a majority on the board until the Labour Government came into power. I give full credit to such a stalwart representative of the wheat-farmers as Mr. Cullen, but no credit is due to such men as Mr. Nock, Mr. Teasdale, and the honorable member for Indi. They have consistently tried to sabotage the stabilization scheme, but the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, after long drawn-out negotiations, has finally brought it to fruition.
.- It is a strange thing that, of the Government supporters, we have heard, in the course of this debate, only from those who hold doubtful seats. They have delved into ancient history, and dragged out for examination various wheat stabilization schemes. Above all, they have attacked the Australian Country party. Why? Because they are scared that the Australian Country party, at the next election, will toss them out. We have listened to much criticism of the Australian Country party, but we have heard very little about the bill. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) castigated the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) for his ref erence to a representative of the wheatgrowers in Victoria. I am not concerned about that, but I am concerned about the attack of the honorable member for Wannon on Mr. Teasdale. I know Mr. Teasdale, and I know that he is recognized as a leading authority on the wheat industry. The remarks of the honorable member do him no credit. In trotting out the old bogies, he spoke of what had happened during the Scullin régime. He mentioned the price of 4s. a bushel that had been promised to the growers in 1930, but did not go on to explain that the Senate rejected the measure because it would have placed upon State governments a responsibility which they could not meet. Instead, he went on to discuss another bill introduced by the Scullin Government and said that the guaranteed price for which it provided could not be paid because of the obstruction of the Commonwealth Bank ‘that had been created by the right honorable member for Cowper in his “ régime of destruction “. For the benefit of the honorable member and his colleagues, I refer to a measure which was introduced in this House on the 2nd April, 1930, by the then Treasurer, Mr. E.G. Theodore. Government supporters talk about the composition of the Commonwealth Bank Board. That measure provided that the board should consist of a governor and -
Five other persons representing respectively the following interests: -
That was exactly the same as the composition of the board created by the Bruce-Page Government which, according to the Labour party, brought about all sorts of destruction. The terms of that legislation are clear. No member of the Labour party has yet dared to produce the correspondence that passed between the government of the day and the Commonwealth Bank Board with regard to the honouring of the obligation to pay the wheat-growers a price of 3s. 6d. a bushel, although it has been asked for frequently over the years. I have finished with past history and now propose to refer to the bill.
In my maiden speech in this Parliament I criticized the Government’s 1946 wheat stabilization scheme, and declared that it was based on wrong premises in that it rested upon a guaranteed price that was unrelated to the cost of production. I said that, if the Government would replace it with a scheme based upon the cost of production plus a reasonable margin of profit, it would receive almost 100 per cent. support from the growers. The scheme to which this bill proposes to give effect is, to a large degree, based on a formula of that kind. The words may not be identical, but the intent is the same. As a consequence, I propose to support the measure even though I shall criticize some of its aspects. I shall not emulate some honorable members who speak in support of a measure but vote against it. Last Friday, the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) suggested that one member of the Opposition, during the 1946 debate on a measure similar to this, made the following remarks–
– I said nothing about the 1946 debate.
– The Minister said that a member of the Opposition had declared -
If we give farmers stabilization weshall have nothing with which to attack the Labour Government.
– That is perfectly true.
– Didthe Minister say that?
– That is right.
– Unless the Ministeror one of his colleagues can produce the Hansard report of such a statement, I shall regard his allegation as nothing other than a malicious fabrication designed to achieve some political advantage. Such outbursts are not in the best interests of the Government, the Labour party or the wheat-growers, and are a reflection upon the electors of Forrest, who expect more from a Minister than the mere mouthing ofmalicious propaganda. Attacking the honorable member for Indi, the Minister said that he had declared that this was a socialistic plan, but that we should have similar ones for wool, meat and other primary products, and that the Australian Country party was founded on collective pools and compulsory pools. That was another piece of oratorical contortion by the Minister. The honorable member for Indi was criticizing some of the detailsof the new scheme and was rejecting the right of the Government to exercise complete control over the produce of the farmer. In order to destroy any false impression deliberately created by the Minister, I read the following passage from the speech made by the honorable member for Indi:-
I have made it clear that the Australian Country party supports many of the provisions in the bill.
We shall not run away from that. The honorable member continued -
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 element? 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 the credit for being the first political party to originate the principles of the plan, or however much we may attack impor tant details of some of its provisions, incorporated 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 todo 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 ofthat which he has produced.
I have not yet come to the socialistic portion mentioned by the Minister. The speech continued -
The Australian Country party was brought into existence largely for the purpose of protecting producers against the exploitation of speculators andmiddlemen.
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, compulsory pools where a majority of the producers so decided.
Those are the words used by the honorable member for Indi, not the twisted version used by the Minister for Works and Housing to suit his own purposes. The speech continued -
But never did we conceive that the ownershipof produce so handled should be recognized in law as other than belonging to those who produced it.
The only reference made by the honorable member for Indi to the socialized plan occurred later in hisspeech. It was as follows : -
Australia is at the cross-roads between socialization and free enterprise. Speaking at the Trades and Labour Day dinner at Ballarat, on the 25thApril 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 greater 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.
The Minister twisted those remarks with the idea of using them for propaganda purposes. The Australian Wheat Growers Federation, of which the Minister is a member, also protested about ministerial control, but 1 shall deal with that subject later. As we all know, the
Minister was once allied with the Australian Country party. As the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has said, he described himself as being “ Country party, unendorsed “. Ee sailed under false colours. When the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) introduced the bill, he said -
The success of the war-time wheat marketing organization is certainly the main factor in making the present plan possible and in getting it general support.
That is only partially correct insofar as the growers realized that it was possible to have a central marketing organization. They realized that they could handle the disposal of their own product in peace as well as in war, and, if humanly possible, did not want to return to pre-war marketing procedure. The Australian Country party has fought for central marketing all along the line ever since its birth. Its policy, which is available for the Minister to read if he cares to read it, is entirely different from that of the party which the honorable gentleman supports.
– What does the policy of the party provide in respect of the handling of wheat?
– The policy of the party is clearly stated in its published platform.
– It is the policy of the party to establish a compulsory wheat pool. What is the difference between that and the policy of the Labour Government ?
– In his secondreading speech on this bill the Minister foi” Commerce and Agriculture said -
Governments of all parties in all States had recognized the need for stabilization before the war. They have continued support for the principles, but agreement on details was hard to reach.
With those sentiments I entirely agree. The wheat-growers wanted, as they are assuredly entitled to receive, the cost of production plus a reasonable margin of profit. The bill now before us is the first measure of its kind brought down by this Government in which that fundamental principle has in any degree been recognized. The introduction of this wheat plan is the result of the continued determined fight by the wheat-growers’ organizations since the termination of the war to secure for their members a fair deal. The Government did not introduce this measure out of love for the wheatgrowers, but solely because of the determination of the wheat-growers not to accept the 1946 scheme. Why it has been accepted by 30,000 wheat-growers of the 46,000 wheat-growers who voted on the proposal - according to the Minister’s figures there are 70,000 wheat-growers in Australia, but that, I think, is an exaggeration - I shall deal with later; but even though they have accepted the scheme I feel obliged to make some stringent criticism of the measure while still giving it my support. In order to ensure the success of a gigantic scheme such a? is envisaged in this bill it is imperative that it be satisfactory and equitable to producers and consumers alike. It must ensure a reasonable return to the growers and at the same time guarantee to consumers a stable food at a reasonable price. In formulating such a plan the first and only question the Government must ask itself is whether the wheat industry is of sufficient importance to the economy of the country to maintain it throughout the years. If the answer be in the affirmative, and there is not the slightest doubt that it is, the Government must ensure that the plan shall provide a just return to the grower. The definition of a just return is in plain words the cost of production plus a reasonable or fair margin of profit. There is nothing outrageous in such a demand, and consequently it is incumbent on the Government, realizing the importance of wheat-growing to the economy of Australia, to guarantee at least that return over the years. Does the plan now before us purport to do that? Is it based upon such a foundation? To a degree I admit that it is, but instead of being based on the costs of production it is based on a cost of production. It is not even based on the recommendations of the committee appointed by the Government to inquire into the cost of producing wheat, which assessed the cost of production in Australia at 6s. a bushel at sidings, or 6s. Sd. f.o.r. ports, on a bulk basis. I propose to deal with the findings of the committee, but before I do so let me draw the attention of the House to some contributions made by the wheatgrowers to the taxpayers of this country during the last few years. It is necessary that we should consider these factors because, as I have said, any sound scheme for the stabilization of the wheat industry must be reasonable and just to both producer and consumer alike. I agree that the wheat-growers are under a debt of gratitude to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth. I admit frankly and openly that they have received considerable sums of money from the Commonwealth Treasury. They, too, are willing to admit that and to honour any obligations involved. From 1930 to 1941 they received in subsidies from one source or another approximately £22,000,000. From 1938 to 1943 they received a further £4,500,000 from the proceeds of the flour tax. Thus, apart from moneys made available under the farmers debt adjustment legislation, over a period of thirteen years they received in all approximately £26,500,000. I do not agree that that was nearly sufficient to keep the industry solvent. Every body knows that it was not. Nevertheless, the wheat industry recognizes that obligation.
– What have the wheatgrowers had taken from them?
– I thank the honorable member for his interjection. In the financial years 1943-44 and 1944-45 the wheat-growers contributed to the people of this country approximately £22,000,000. Thus, their indebtedness to the taxpayers was almost wiped off in two years. Since then they have made a further contribution of approximately £32,500,000 per annum by making available up to the last harvest wheat at 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. ports for human consumption in the form of flour, for stockfeeders, breakfast-food manufacturers, dog-biscuit makers and processors of wheat generally. That was equal to a return to the grower of 4s. 4d. a bushel bagged wheat or 4s.1d. a bushel bulk wheat at the average siding when world parity was soaring to unprecedented levels, ultimately reaching 21s. 6d. a bushel. Every fair-minded person will admit that such a contribution not only balanced the ledger but also constituted a magnanimous gesture on the part of the wheatgrowers which entitles them to fair and reasonable treatment on the advent of this so-called new order. Let me return to the finding of the Wheat Costs of Production Committee. The terms of reference of the committee were to find the reasonable cost of producing a bushel of wheat in the main wheat-growing centres of the Commonwealth. The members of the committee, in their wisdom, considered certain factors, two of them being the remuneration to the grower as salary or wages, and interest on capital invested. The inclusion of these factors in the deliberations of the members of the committee leads me to the belief that they attempted to allow, in addition to the minimum cost of producing a bushel of wheat, a reasonable margin of profit. I agree with that as a formula, butI wholeheartedly disagree with the figures applied by the committee to that formula. As the result arrived at by the use of this formula is embodied in clause 5 of this bill, one must assuredly be very candid in analysing this most important aspect of the scheme. Let us look at the committee’s report. On page 3, paragraph 16 states -
In this report, the Committee feels that it cannot do better than repeat the remarks made in the first report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat. Flour and Bread Industries, dated July, 1934- “ Manifestly this is a matter for serious consideration in Australia because the fixation of a standard of living for workers in sheltered and secondary industries had become an accepted principle of the national life. It is not likely that there will be any unanimity of opinion on such a fundamental matter.. . .The people of Australia must decide what standards of living their farmers are to enjoy and must implement their decision by making any necessary adjustments.”.
The Committee is of the opinion that it is not called upon to decide what is a fair remuneration to the farmer for his own efforts, but in as much as some cash wage must be used in formulating the cost of production six pounds ten shillings£6 10s.) per week has been allo cated for this purpose.
The report then lists a number of the advantages that are enjoyed by a farmer. For instance, it points out that farmers seldom pay rent,that local government rates and insurance are usually defrayed by the business of the farm, that a water supply is part of a farm, and that fuel is usually provided from the farm. The report continues -
The Committee feels that the sum of £338 per annum is not an over-liberal allowance.
The evidencebefore the Committee has satisfied us that the average farm labourer receives in the vicinity of £5 per week, plus keep (which would amount in all to £6 5s. per week), and accordingly it will be seen that the figure accepted by the Committee makes little allowance to the farmer for the function of management.
At most, the financial benefits from a farm would not be sufficient even to compensate for the amenities that are available in the cities where workers enjoy a 40-hour week, where even youths of nineteen are receiving £7 10s. a week, and where the average tradesman does not receive less than £8 a week. I have before me the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures showing the average wages paidin the various trades throughout Australia. The figures are as follows: -
Is it any wonder that wheat-growers who have left the industry will not return to it when they can expect a wage of only £6 10s. a week, no extra allowance for the responsibility of management, and no prospect of enjoying a 40-hour week? Having had some experience in one of the trades that I have mentioned for twelve years before I went farming, I am prepared to say that no tradesman who is drawing wages such as I have mentioned, has to exercise any great degree of responsibility, or undertake managerial duties. To obtain the financial benefits of the farm to which reference has been made, such as dairy products, meat, vegetables, &c., the farmer has to remain on his property not for only 40 hours a week, but for the whole week, including week-ends. Contrary to what the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture said by way of interjection when the honorable member for Indi was speaking, the farmer does not work undertime but overtime and plenty of it, and for his work, according to the committee, £6 10s. a week is “ not an over-liberal allowance “. The figure is obviously wrong. As I said earlier, I agree with the formula, but I disagree entirely with the figures used in the formula and with the result. I turn now to the interest allowed on capital invested. The committee states in its report -
In considering a reasonable rate to be allowed the committee concluded that 31/2 per cent., the equivalent of first-class, riskfree investment, is satisfactory.
Farming a risk-free investment! In my opinion, the wage of the wheat-farmer should be at least £10 a. week, and the interest rate allowed on capital invested should be at least the ruling bank rate. That would not increase the cost of production by a very large amount and the farmer is entitled to a remuneration that is in keeping with the job that he has undertaken. On page 1 of the committee’s interim report appears the following passage in relation to machinery : -
Still another difficult question was the cost of machinery on the farm . . . The cost of renewing the machinery is much greater than the amount which the fanner lias over the life of his existing machinery set aside for depreciation.
And here is the priceless passage -
The committee has not been able to make any practical allowance for this in its assessment of costs.
I wonder what is the reaction of the average wheat-farmer to that statement. Members of the committee were paid handsome fees to tour the country taking evidence from wheat-farmers. They were charged with the responsibility of making practical recommendations. Surely an adequate estimate of production costs cannot be made without considering the cost of machinery. The committee, I remind the House, was of this Government’s own choosing. It found that the cost of producing wheat, not including the cost of machinery, and allowing the other figures that I have mentioned, namely per cent. interest on capital invested, and a remuneration of £6 10s. a week to wheat-farmers, was 6s. a bushel at sidings or 6s. 8d. f.o.r. ports, bulk basis. What has the Government done about that? It has not accepted the committee’s recommendation. Instead, it has declared that the home-consumption price, that is, the cost of production plus a reasonable margin of profit, will henceforth be 6s. 3d. a bushel f.o.r. ports, which is the equivalent of 5s. 5d. a bushel at sidings, both figures on a bulk basis. This, from a government that preaches from the housetops that it is the friend of the primary producer! Until quite recently, Labour endeavoured to impose upon the wheatgrowers of Australia its 1946 stabilization scheme, except that the guaranteed price was raised from 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. ports, bagged basis, to 6s. 3d. a bushel f.o.r. ports, bulk basis. In essence, the scheme was still the 1946 plan which the wheat-growers in South Australia rejected by plebiscite. I remind honorable members again that in the length and breadth of Australia there was only one government that did not bring legislation even within smelling distance of its Parliament, and that was the Labour Government in New South Wales. It is of no use for honorable members opposite to talk about what was done by the State governments. Obviously, it would have been a waste of time to continue investigation once the South Australian farmers had rejected the proposal, because, before the scheme could become effective, all States had to pass the complementary or “enabling” legislation. The Western Australian Government appointed a royal commission on wheat, and, as a result of the findings of that commission, the present government of that State introduced legislation providing for a State pool. Not one member who spoke in favour of the State pool said that he preferred a State pool to a Commonwealth pool. All of them desired the establishment of a Commonwealth pool. So did Mr. Teasdale, who was referred to in rather scathing terms by the honorable member for Wannon. But Mr. Teasdale wanted a Commonwealth pool which would be fair to the farmer. He did not favour the kind of pool which this Government endeavoured to introduce in 1946. The Government of Western Australia introduced legislation for the establishment of a State pool as a protective measure in case the Australian Government failed to amend the legislation of 1946. The purpose of the State pool was to protect the farmers against a reversion to the pre-war system of marketing. Of what shade of political opinion is the Government of Western Australia? That question has been asked in this House repeatedly, and, of course, the answer is that it is a Liberal-Country party Government. The introduction of protective legislation for the establishment of a State wheat pool, in the event of the Australian Government failing to establish a satisfactory wheat pool, was something which the Government of Western. Australia did for the farmers in that State. It was prepared to make the move because it feared that the legislation of 1946 would not be amended. Until last July there seemed to be no possibility that it would be amended.
Before I leave this most important factor, namely, the cost of production plus a margin of profit, or, in other words, a guaranteed price, I shall examine the proposals which the Australian Wheat Growers Federation submitted to a meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council in Canberra last February. As honorable members are aware, the Australian Agricultural Council consists of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and the Ministers for Agriculture of the respective States. The representatives of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation had a fifteen-point plan, which, I point out, had the approval of the wheatgrowers as a whole. The proposals had not been formulated by the federation as a body, but were a combination of the ideas of the growers as a whole. The representatives of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation discovered that the Government’s stabilization plan was only the scheme of 1946 with a different price. The wheatgrowers’ representatives thereupon submitted to the Australian Government the following proposals : -
The plan to provide for a guaranteed floor price to be based upon and maintained at the determined coat of production provided that the cost of production shall include a remunerative wage plus interest upon capital involved, the price of fis. 3d. per bushel at bulk basis f.o.r. ports to be accepted as cost of production price as at 1st December, 1047. This price to be linked to an index figure which will adjust periodic fluctuations in costs and to be reviewed annually.
Honorable members are aware that the Australian Agricultural Council is dominated by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture as the representative of the Australian Government, and will be interested to heaT his reply -
Accepted by Ministers Conference up to the words “ Production price “.
The reference to the index figure being linked to the cost of production was eliminated. The representatives of the federation were also informed -
In the event of the cost of production inquiry committee recommending an index figure accepted as practicable by the Commonwealth Government, consideration be given to varying the price up and down according to the index variation.
Even as late as last February the Australian Government would not accept the just claim of the wheat-growers that any stabilization scheme must be based on the cost of production plus a reasonable margin of profit rather than on an arbitrary figure which could, in a season, be unrelated to the cost of production. The conference between the Australian Agricultural Council and the Australian Wheat Growers Federation last February eventually broke down, because of the determination of the Australian Government not to accept the proposals of the federation for a guaranteed price and various other submissions, such as the quantity of wheat to be used as stock feed, the composition of the board to control the plan, and ministerial direction. Unfortunately, the representatives of the federation did not know at that time that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture was reinforced in his adamant determination not to accept the index figure by his knowledge of the likelihood of an international wheat agreement. He had a copy of the proposals in his hip pocket, and would not listen to the representatives of the federation. He knew that if the international wheat agreement became operative, he would be able to commandeer the farmers’ wheat, and they could please themselves what they did about it. In June, the position remained unaltered. When the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture met the Australian Wheat Growers Federation in July, news had been received that the United States of America had rejected the international wheat agreement, and he was prepared, to a certain degree, to “ talk turkey “. It was only then that the index figure was attached to the guaranteed price of 6s. 3d. a bushel. Therefore, the Labour Government cannot take any credit for having adopted that provision. The Government was forced to accept it by the constant fight which the wheat-growers have waged since the Government endeavoured to introduce its stabilization scheme in 1946. The Minister for Works and Housing stated that all the facts had been placed before the growers before they voted on the stabilization proposals, but I remind them that the bill does not provide that growers shall necessarily receive 6s. 3d. a bushel as the cost of production for the next five years. Some of them think that they will have a guaranteed price of 6s. 3d. for the whole period of the operation of the scheme, but that is not so. Sub-clause 2 of clause 5 provides for an increase or decrease of price according to the index figure, which will adjust periodic fluctuations in cost. Thatis as it should be. and I mention the matter only in order to clear up any misapprehension that may exist in the minds of some growers.
Clause 7 relates to the composition of the Australian Wheat Board. It states -
1 ) The Board shall consist of -
Like the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, I am opposed to that paragraph. For years, the federation has urged that South Australia and Western Australia should have two representatives each on the board. The present proposal is unjust. During the last ten years.. Western Australia has grown nearly as much wheat as has Victoria, and. in the same period, has exported more wheat than has Victoria or New South Wales. The figures may be studied in the May issue of the Wheat Summary. compiled by the Commonwealth Statistician. Because of its small population. Western Australia exports approximately 80 per cent. of its wheat. In other words, Western Australia makes a large percentage of its wheat available to the national economy. It is outrageous and audacious to suggest that Western Australia should only have one grower representative on the Australian Wheat Board, which will deal, in the main, with the exportable surplus of the crop. As Western Australia makes available approximately80 per cent. of its wheat for export, it is entitled to the same representation on the board as Victoria and
New South Wales. It exports more wheat than those two States do. When we are considering this clause in committee, I shall make further reference to that injustice. Clause 13, stripped of all its legal trimmings, states -
The Board may, subject to any directions of the Minister, for the purposes of export of wheat and wheat products . . .
I direct attention to the words “ The Board may “. Last Thursday, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), when speaking on the Income Tax Assessment Bill, supported his argument with a statement by an authority that -
When “ may “ is used in legislation in this Parliament, it has the same meaning as “ shall “.
The word of a senior Minister in this House, I suppose, must, to a degree, be accepted. Consequently, the Australian Wheat Board will be obliged to do as the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture directs. Now let us look at point 13 of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation plan. The board should not be subject to ministerial direction in the exercise of its function to sell wheat to the best advantage unless the board is reimbursed for any losses on concessional sales either internally or by export. What is wrong with that request? I do not think that it is outrageous in any degree.
– -The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) negatived -
That the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) be granted an extension of time.
– The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) was granted an extension of time.
– Order ! The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) has the call.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Scully) adjourned.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act -
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1948, Nos.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Health- C. C. G. F. Shellew.
Immigration - R. Annand.
Interim Forces Benefits Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1948, Nos. 136, 138.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for -
Defence purposes - Glenelg North, South Australia.
Department of Civil Aviation purposes -
Geraldton, Western Australia.
Department of the Interior purposes -
Postal purposes -
Kingsgrove, New South Wales.
Murray Bridge, South Australia.
North Strathfield, New South Wales.
Tailem Bend, South Australia.
West Maitland, New South Wales.
Navigation Act - Regulations - Statutory
Rules 1948, No. 140.
War Gratuity Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1948, No. 139.
House adjourned at 11.12 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
r asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Mr.Callwell- On the28th October, the honorablemember for Wilmot (Mr. Puttee)asked the following question:-
I understand thatage and invalid pensioners are required to pay only one-half of the ordinary annual wireless licence-fee in view of the factthat a wireless set is no longer a luxury. Will the Postmaster-General give earnest consideration to extending this concessionto pensioned miners?
ThePostmaster-General has supplied the following information : -
Listeners’ licences at half fee are granted to pensioners who live alone or with another pensioner, or with another person or persons if the income of each such person does not exceed the maximum amount of income and pension allowed under relative pensions and repatriation acts.These provisions are in accordance with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting which investigated claims for licencefee concessions from numerous classes of persons who,like miners, are in receipt of small pensions under superannuation schemes. After exhaustive consideration, the committee expressed the opinion that the indiscriminate issue of licences at reduced fees would react in an undesirable manner. Applications have been received from many different organizations and classes of persons requesting the grant of reduced fee broadcast listeners’ licences, but it is regretted that at the present juncture it is not possible to widen the scope of the concessions on the lines suggested by the honorable member.
s asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice -
Will he obtain the following information:
Mr.Ward. -The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1. (a) Yes.
The State transport authorities administered the control in New South Wales until the 2nd February, 1948, and in Victoria until the 5th April, 1948. The control in South Australia has always been administered by the State transport authorities. No advice has yet been received from the transport authorities in Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania, who administer the control in their respective States.
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Fuel, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Fuel has supplied the following information : - 1, Yes. 2, Output from this district will be substantially increased, although details actual tonnage increase not yet available.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 November 1948, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1948/19481103_reps_18_199/>.